What be­gan as a fas­ci­na­tion with the Cana­dian mil­i­tary led to a life­long pas­sion for col­lect­ing pre­cious ar­ti­facts

Our Canada - - Contents - By Edward James, Elkhorn, Man.

Ihave com­mit­ted my en­tire life to teach­ing his­tory, and at 72 years old, I am still at it. While of­ten be­ing ac­cused of “liv­ing in the past,” I have de­vel­oped a strong in­ter­est in Canada’s mil­i­tary his­tory. Grow­ing up in Hal­i­fax, I was con­stantly ex­posed to a mil­i­tary life­style. My fa­ther, brother, un­cles and in-laws all served in var­i­ous branches of the Cana­dian mil­i­tary. Their in­volve­ments ranged from serv­ing on the front line to sup­port and ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions, as well as Cold War ini­tia­tives and peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions. I tried the army cadets and sum­mer mili­tia pro­grams, but dis­cov­ered that I was the type who tends to run with scis­sors and did not play well with oth­ers. How­ever, I quickly de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary and have be­come a life­long col­lec­tor of re­lated ar­ti­facts.

As a his­tory teacher, I did my very best to spark in­ter­est in Cana­dian his­tory and re­mind all of my stu­dents that there will come a day when our war vet­er­ans and his­to­ri­ans will no longer be here. Re­mem­brance Day, me­mo­rial statues and mu­se­ums serve their pur­pose; how­ever, they aren’t enough. There­fore, I took it upon my­self to cre­ate my own col­lec­tion and de­cided to ap­proach it in a dif­fer­ent light. I want it to act as a de­vel­op­ing mu­seum in or­der to al­low our vet­er­ans’ voices to remain alive. I have as­sem­bled old uni­forms, hel­mets, badges and equip­ment in an at­tempt to rep­re­sent what it was like for sol­diers who took part in war­fare. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on fa­mous lead­ers or prom­i­nent mil­i­tary fig­ures, I do my best to show the big­ger pic­ture by fo­cus­ing on the ev­ery­day lives of the men and women who served in Canada’s armed forces. In or­der to ed­u­cate my au­di­ence in an im­pact­ful way, I al­low them to hold, touch, smell and wear the items I use for my shows. The dura­bil­ity, dis­tinc­tive qual­ity and an­tiq­uity of the ar­ti­facts, I think, makes the ex­pe­ri­ence much more mean­ing­ful for ev­ery­one. One of my more suc­cess­ful pre­sen­ta­tions is called, “The Mu­sic that Helped Win the War.” The items within this dis­play con­sist of a WWII mil­i­tary jeep, ac­com­pa­nied by an army mu­sic sys­tem and large speak­ers that emit a very unique tinny sound. This pre­sen­ta­tion is a trib­ute to “The Army Show” of World War II era, a group of tal­ented

Cana­dian men and women who en­ter­tained troops here at home and over­seas. Two of its big­gest stars were Johnny Wayne and Frank Shus­ter, com­monly re­ferred to as “Wayne and Shus­ter.” With this an­tique sound sys­tem, I am able to play orig­i­nal 78-rpm records from the Sec­ond World War. My col­lec­tion in­cludes the mu­sic of Glenn Miller, Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby, The An­drews Sis­ters, Guy Lom­bardo, and Mart Ken­ney and His West­ern Gentlemen.

This type of mu­sic has the power to trig­ger old, for­got­ten mem­o­ries in war vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. See­ing smiles, hear­ing laugh­ter and wit­ness­ing a few tears is why I put the ef­fort into mak­ing this col­lec­tion.

Many of the items have been pur­chased at sales; how­ever, some of them are given to me by vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies who no longer have a need for them. As a his­to­rian, I also con­duct in­ter­views with war vet­er­ans in or­der to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their lives. To fur­ther en­hance the raw feel­ing of war­fare, I have vis­ited many bat­tle sites abroad such as the sands of Juno Beach, the peb­ble-stone beach at Dieppe, the bat­tle hills of Hong Kong, the tun­nels at Vimy Ridge and the slopes of Monte Cassino in Italy, as well as his­toric lo­cales here in Canada in­clud­ing the Ba­toche bat­tle site in Saskatchewan and the Plains of Abra­ham in Que­bec. While ex­plor­ing each of these grounds, I re­al­ized how ex­tremely vi­tal they are to Canada’s his­tory.

My col­lec­tion should not be mis­con­strued as a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war. I sim­ply wish for ev­ery­one to re­mem­ber and ac­knowl­edge the sac­ri­fices our Cana­dian sol­diers made and con­tinue to make for us. I read this quote in Le­gion Magazine: “The way a na­tion re­mem­bers and hon­ors its war dead is a mea­sure­ment of its char­ac­ter and great­ness.” My col­lec­tion is the way I choose to hon­our our vet­er­ans.

While col­lect­ing and work­ing with these ar­ti­facts, I some­times con­nect with the peo­ple who pre­vi­ously owned them. It makes me won­der where their story be­gan and how it ended. As fewer Cana­dian vet­er­ans remain who re­call sto­ries of WWI and WWII, we risk for­get­ting the sac­ri­fices of the many Cana­dian sol­diers who gave up their lives. One ques­tion I al­ways ask my au­di­ence to­wards the end of a pre­sen­ta­tion is, “Given the mil­lions of peo­ple, both mil­i­tary and civil­ian, who en­dured the gru­elling years of war, is it not pos­si­ble that among those who died, there might have been some­one who would have come up with a cure for cancer? Could we per­haps have had an­other in­flu­en­tial fig­ure such as Mozart, Al­bert Ein­stein, Mother Teresa or even Wayne Gret­zky?” War of­ten takes our best and bright­est in­di­vid­u­als. Yes, some­times I do live in the past, but only to keep the his­tory alive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Lest We For­get!

Left: Sheet mu­sic for three very pop­u­lar songs dur­ing the war years; Ed dressed in an orig­i­nal WWII uni­form.

Top: a col­lec­tion of Cana­dian reg­i­ment badges and a Cana­dian WWII hel­met. Above: a Wwii-type Cana­dian army jeep, with early WWII loud speak­ers, largely used for ad­dress­ing size­able crowds of peo­ple.

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