Lest we forget: 100 years after the Great War

By Trevor Hutchinson

75 men from Victoria County left with the first shipment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in October of 1914. In the spring of 1916, another 829 soldiers and officers shipped out to England.

This Remembrance Day marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice — the end of hostilities in the Great War, or the War to End All Wars, or sadly, what became known as the First World War. There were of course wars that followed what was envisioned to be the last war and all who served in those conflicts — the men and women who sacrificed body and mind (and in too many cases their own lives)  — will be honoured at Remembrance Day services throughout the City of Kawartha Lakes this Sunday Nov. 11.

The last living Canadian who served in the Great War, John Babcock, died in 2010; the last living Allied soldier who served, Florence Green, died in the U.K. in 2012. So like in previous years we must honour their service through our communal and institutional memory.

For local resident Gail Johnson, remembering the sacrifice made by so many people has been an integral part her life, particularly in the past 11 years. Two of Johnson’s great-uncles were killed in action in the First World War — Percy Junkin and Martin Johnson. The two were among four people killed from the Red Rock area (between Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon).

After discovering some of Martin Johnson’s wartime letters, Gail Johnson began researching everything she could find on her uncle’s service. Her research resulted in a book (shared with families and friends) called “Cackleberries and Whizbangs.” The title comes from expressions that her uncle used in his letters home, referring to eggs and overhead shells.

The 100th anniversary is important to Johnson in that it provides “a bit of closure in a way,” allowing her to move on to other interests.

“But it is something that will always be important to me. At the same time it is just one of several different hundredth anniversaries with my uncle’s service,” she adds.

75 men from Victoria County left with the first shipment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in October of 1914. In the spring of 1916, another 829 soldiers and officers shipped out to England as part of the 109th battalion, according to Where Duty Leads: The 109th Battalion in WW1 — published by the Victoria County Historical Society. The 109th was a volunteer force composed of recruits from Victoria and Haliburton counties. This number does not include the 27 women — with a connection to the City of Kawartha Lakes — who volunteered as nurses.

To encourage enrollment when the battalion was being formed, men who signed up from villages that had at least 25 recruits were allowed to train in their own community. It is because of this you see the formation of the Woodville, Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, Coboconk and Victoria Road platoons in the 109th.

Sadly, many of those men would not return home. At least 204 men and 1 woman from Victoria County would not return from the Great War. (That number may not include all men killed in battle who were originally from Victoria County but did not register it as their home.)

St. Paul’s Anglican Church (45 Russell St. W., Lindsay) will be hosting We Will Remember Them: The Armistice @ 100 at 7 p.m. for Remembrance Day. It is billed as an “commemorative evening of music and word,” featuring the choir of St. Paul’s and guest performers Sophia, Joey and Natasha Mackey and members of the I.E. Weldon Secondary School’s Writers Guild.

The Fenelon Falls United Church (123 Colborne St., Fenelon Falls) will be hosting Lest We Forget, a WW1-period play by Barbara Dunn-Prosser and Don Deathe. Sharon Johnson will be displaying some of her images from her research before the play itself.

Between Nov 9-11, there are 11 different Remembrance Day Services being held throughout the City of Kawartha Lakes, to commemorate all who served, the details of which can be found here.

Lest we forget.

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