Every Friday is a remembrance day for Karen Auckland.
That’s the day of the week the Southwold native unlocks and opens a large glass case in a hall off the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital atrium, dons white gloves and turns over a lambskin page of the Elgin County Book of Remembrance.
It’s a tradition which dates to old Memorial Hospital, built in 1923-1924 on Pearl St. to honour those who served in the First World War.
The Book of Remembrance lists names and details First World War service of some 2,250 men and women who enlisted in Elgin.
It originally was placed in the rotunda of the Pearl St. hospital until the building was closed with the construction in 1990 and opening of STEGH’s new continuing care centre.
Created by the famous designers William Morris and Sons, and said to be hand-lettered by the same artisan responsible for the Vimy Memorial, the book was presented in 1931 to St. Thomas and Elgin by the nowdefunct 25th Elgin Regiment Chapter, IODE.
Bound in English oak with bronze bands and locks, and bearing a bronze maple leaf, the book bears the simple pledge: “They Served. We will remember them.”
Ensuring that pledge is kept has become a family tradition for Auckland.
Her late father, Albert, started turning pages with friend Don Graham after the two men, volunteers at Memorial Hospital, realized the task had been forgotten.
“They realized the pages were never turned. They took it upon themselves to turn the pages.”
Graham continued following Albert Auckland’s death, and Karen, who is a retired STEGH employee, eventually joined him. “I was honoured to take Dad’s place doing this.” Graham now has passed, as well. The book lists names of men and women who returned from war, as well as those who didn’t.
But two large bronze plaques on the wall behind the book list names of Elgin’s war dead. And when Auckland sees a name of a fallen soldier in the book, she looks for it on the wall, and pauses a moment to pay a community’s respect.
She says the Book of Remembrance reminds her of, “The sacrifice that people made. That families made – in a few places, there are two or three sons who didn’t come back. The sacrifice that families made for our freedom and for our country.”
For Remembrance Day, she will turn to the page which lists hero Ellis Wellwood Sifton, the Wallacetown native who received the Victoria Cross for gallantry at Vimy. The medal was awarded posthumously – he was killed in action wiping out an enemy machine gun nest.
Auckland will place a poppy next to Sifton’s name, and one in each corner of the book’s case.
A transcription of the book has been posted by Elgin County Museum to ww1elgin.ca/elgin-county-book-rememberance
Karen Auckland places a poppy on page of Elgin County Book of Remembrance, which records the First World War service of more than 2,000 veterans.