Mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion high­lights the Swift Cur­rent area’s con­tri­bu­tion to First World War

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Swift Current - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG mlieben­[email protected]­

The cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion at the Swift Cur­rent Mu­seum re­flects on the con­tri­bu­tion of the Swift Cur­rent area to­wards the First World War through the his­tory of the 27th Light Horse and the 209th Bat­tal­ion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also in­cludes in­di­vid­ual his­to­ries of soldiers who en­listed with these two units to serve in the war.

Mu­seum Di­rec­tor and Cu­ra­tor Lloyd Be­g­ley said the ex­hi­bi­tion is im­por­tant for two rea­sons.

“First and fore­most, it's the cen­te­nary of the end of the First World War and sec­ondly, it serves as a re­minder to the com­mu­nity this is partly where we've come from and these are the chaps who helped us live the life that we live now,” he ex­plained.

One of the chal­lenges dur­ing his re­search for the ex­hi­bi­tion was to find im­ages of soldiers to use with their bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tail.

“The im­age in the ex­hi­bi­tion is so peo­ple can iden­tify with whom they're read­ing about,” he said. “There of course were 2,000 more names. The prob­lem is that finding im­ages of each of these fel­lows was a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge.”

Men de­cided to en­list for var­i­ous rea­sons, in­clud­ing a sense of duty and pa­tri­o­tism.

“Of course, then there was this thing called jin­go­ism gone mad,” he said. “This whole thing about an­tic­i­pat­ing war, be­ing ex­cited about it. It was ad­ven­tur­ous, I'll be home for Christ­mas and I got to en­list so I can see it, I can par­take in it, I can ex­pe­ri­ence it. So it was a rush to en­list.”

There was a sense that the war will be over soon and few an­tic­i­pated the ter­ri­ble hu­man toll as the con­flict dragged on for four years. One of the rea­sons men en­listed was to get a free trip back to Bri­tain.

“It sounds silly, but lots of them were Brits and then lots of them were Boer War vet­er­ans,” he said. “They came to Canada as an op­por­tu­nity to have a bet­ter life. A lot of them were what they called re­mit­tance men who were sent here by their fam­i­lies of wealth. A lot of them were fourth or fifth sons of well to do Bri­tish fam­i­lies and they sent them an al­lowance not to come home be­cause there was no fu­ture for them. So the one rea­son was to get a trip back home.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes in­for­ma­tion about the Dum­bells, a pop­u­lar Cana­dian com­edy stage troupe that was es­tab­lished dur­ing the war.

“I did a lot of in­ter­est­ing re­search on the com­edy troupes and the concert par­ties and just how many there were, and the fact that one of the mem­bers of the Dum­bells was from Swift Cur­rent,” he said.

Al­bert Ed­ward (Red) New­man was the only orig­i­nal mem­ber of the Dum­bells who was not born in Canada. He was from Dover, Eng­land, but em­i­grated to Swift Cur­rent. He was work­ing as a clerk at the Em­press Ho­tel and en­listed as a sol­dier. He was orig­i­nally a mem­ber of the Y Em­mas, an­other concert party, and was re­cruited by the Dum­bells.

The Dum­bells bol­stered the morale of Cana­dian soldiers with their shows. Their motto was “Any place, Any­where” and they even per­formed near the bat­tle­front.

“There's some de­scrip­tions that I was able to find,” Be­g­ley said. “Dur­ing one per­for­mance, a Ger­man shell ac­tu­ally flew over the stage. So they were up there.”

Pri­vate An­drew Hay, one of the soldiers fea­tured in the ex­hi­bi­tion, is the grand­fa­ther of Swift Cur­rent res­i­dent Barb Parch­man. She pro­vided some of his items for a dis­play, in­clud­ing a photo of him in uni­form, a small tobacco con­tainer, medals and his 209th Bat­tal­ion but­ton, which ap­pears to be dam­aged.

“It made me won­der was it from his time at war that it all got bent up like that,” she said. “I imag­ined it was.”

Pri­vate Hay was born in 1891 and en­listed at the age of 24 with the 209th Bat­tal­ion in 1916. He served six and a half months on the bat­tle­fields of France be­fore he was in­jured at the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele with a gun shot wound to his right arm. He con­va­lesced in Red­ding and he was even­tu­ally dis­charged on Jan. 1, 1919 at the age of 27. He re­turned to the Swift Cur­rent area, where he farmed un­til his death in 1952 at the age of 62.

“It was May, and he was com­bin­ing,” Parch­man said. “So they must have had an early snow or some­thing, be­cause he was com­bin­ing in May. He home­steaded at Dun­cairn Dam and he had a heart at­tack on the com­bine. ... My mom told me that he had been ex­posed to mus­tard gas and that he had problems with his lungs af­ter the First World War.”

Stephanie Ka­duck, the mu­seum’s ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic pro­grams of­fi­cer, re­searched the mil­i­tary units that were formed in Swift Cur­rent and the First World War bat­tles where soldiers from these units fought.

The 27th Light Horse was al­ready formed in 1910 as a re­serve force with head­quar­ters in Moose Jaw and ad­di­tional squadrons in Maple Creek and Swift Cur­rent. Soldiers from this unit was at­tached to dif­fer­ent Cana­dian contin­gents on the bat­tle­front in Europe.

The 209th Bat­tal­ion was formed in Swift Cur­rent in early 1916 and 1,050 men from the area en­listed. Soldiers from this bat­tal­ion were also ab­sorbed into dif­fer­ent units in Europe.

Ini­tial train­ing of re­cruits took place in Swift Cur­rent. The Im­pe­rial Ho­tel was used as a bar­racks, the base­ment of the Lyric Theatre was con­verted into a gym­na­sium and drill hall, and drilling ma­neu­vers were prac­tised at var­i­ous other lo­ca­tions in the city.

Swift Cur­rent was used as a lo­ca­tion to cre­ate these mil­i­tary units be­cause it was the largest com­mu­nity in south­west Saskatchew­an and men were re­cruited from the en­tire re­gion. A unit with men from the same area was con­sid­ered to be more co­he­sive.

“That's why a lot of the 27th, when they were given the op­por­tu­nity to go into the 209th, went to­gether, be­cause they liked be­ing with peo­ple that they knew,” she said. “This didn't re­main some­thing to be done when fam­i­lies started los­ing like three sons. .... So they started to want to split peo­ple up, par­tic­u­larly fam­ily re­la­tions, so that that kind of hor­ror wouldn't hap­pen.”

The 209th Bat­tal­ion suf­fered 167 ca­su­al­ties and 429 were wounded, while 51 mem­bers were dec­o­rated. Bat­tal­ion mem­bers had a re­union in Swift Cur­rent in 1934, and the ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes a large pho­to­graph of them at the ceno­taph in Me­mo­rial Park.

Ka­duck felt this ex­hi­bi­tion is rel­e­vant to lo­cal and area res­i­dents for a num­ber of rea­sons.

“Many of them have fam­ily his­to­ries that re­flect this kind of thing and that a lot of peo­ple don't know about,” she said. “It's rel­e­vant to ev­ery­one, new­com­ers in­cluded, be­cause there were a lot of dif­fer­ent coun­tries in­volved in the wars, a lot of coun­tries and lives im­pacted, and it set up the un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances which led to a sub­se­quent war. We live in scary times. It's good to know our his­tory in or­der to com­pre­hend our present.”

This ex­hi­bi­tion, Swift Cur­rent at the Front, will be at the Swift Cur­rent Mu­seum un­til Dec. 30.

The mu­seum is open Mon­day to Fri­day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Satur­days from 1-5 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is free.

Pho­tos by Matthew Lieben­berg

The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes a dis­play of items that be­longed to Pri­vate An­drew Hay, who en­listed with the 209th Bat­tal­ion in Swift Cur­rent in 1916.

Barb Parch­man with the dis­play about her grand­fa­ther, Pri­vate An­drew Hay, who en­listed with the 209th Bat­tal­ion in 1916.

Swift Cur­rent Mu­seum Di­rec­tor and Cu­ra­tor Lloyd Be­g­ley speaks dur­ing a Lunch and Learn pre­sen­ta­tion about the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, Nov. 14.

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