Own­ers of old homes get war his­tory les­son

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - LOCAL NEWS - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN

Check the mail. For 18 Lon­don homes — and a se­lect few else­where in South­west­ern On­tario — a lit­tle bit of First World War his­tory is com­ing signed and de­liv­ered just in time for the cen­te­nary of the armistice that ended the so-called War to End All Wars.

Pick­er­ing author Rick Pyves penned 310 per­son­al­ized post­cards to cen­tury-old ad­dresses across Canada linked to sol­diers from the 60th Bat­tal­ion, the Vic­to­ria Ri­fles of Canada.

Eigh­teen post­cards are destined for Lon­don, 10 are head­ing to Brantford, three are ear­marked for Wood­stock homes and a few more were sent to ad­dresses in St. Thomas, Strat­ford and other small towns in South­west­ern On­tario.

“I was try­ing to think of what I could do for the 100th an­niver­sary,” Pyves said. “I thought if I was a home­owner and some­one sent me a post­card that said ‘Soand-so left your house to go to war 100 years ago,’ I would be pretty amazed.”

The post­cards are an ex­ten­sion of Pyves’ main project, his new book Courage, Sac­ri­fice and Be­trayal: The Story of the Vic­to­ria Ri­fles of Canada, 60th Bat­tal­ion, in the First World War.

Pyves’ grand­fa­ther and great un­cle were mem­bers of the 60th Bat­tal­ion. At first, he wanted to tell their sto­ries but soon ex­panded the scope of his re­search. It took him eight years to tell not only the his­tory of the bat­tal­ion, but also the story of the sol­diers who served in it.

“I re­searched 2,776 sol­diers and I got about 25 facts on each one,” he said. “It was worth it.”

Pyves used on­line ge­neal­ogy web­sites to find liv­ing rel­a­tives of the sol­diers. With the help of the sol­diers’ de­scen­dants, he gath­ered let­ters writ­ten dur­ing the war and pho­to­graphs of 220 of the men.

“I got 86 per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions and sto­ries, which re­ally took the book from be­ing an av­er­age book, I think, to be­ing a great book,” he said, adding the sol­diers’ own words are used in sev­eral sec­tions.

Like many oth­ers in the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, the 60th Bat­tal­ion had mem­bers from across the coun­try. Though it was raised in Mon­treal, the bat­tal­ion was re­in­forced by re­cruits from At­lantic Canada and On­tario as the war dragged on. All told, the 60th Bat­tal­ion in­cluded nearly 1,000 men from On­tario, Pyves said.

Pyves’ post­cards are hand­writ­ten and in­clude the name, rank, reg­i­men­tal number and birth­day of the soldier linked to the ad­dress.

Lon­don’s 18 post­cards were sent to homes in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the city, from Te­cum­seh Av­enue in Old South to Pic­cadilly Street in Old North and St­ed­well and Pine streets in east Lon­don.

Get­ting them into the hands of un­sus­pect­ing home­own­ers wasn’t easy, Pyves said. Us­ing the data he’d spent years com­pil­ing, it took him six weeks to check if sol­diers’ old street ad­dresses were still around.

“Ob­vi­ously you don’t want to spend money mail­ing a post­card to an ad­dress that no longer is in ex­is­tence,” he said.

The post­cards have a hash­tag #CourageSacri­fice­andBe­trayal so re­cip­i­ents can share their home’s hid­den his­tory on­line. Pyves sent out his sec­ond and fi­nal batch of post­cards ear­lier this week.

Through his book and his postal project, Pyves wants peo­ple to re­mem­ber the in­di­vid­ual peo­ple who went off to fight in one of the dead­li­est con­flicts in hu­man his­tory.

“I re­ally wanted to pre­serve the sto­ries of the sol­diers. The re­al­ity is that they’re all dead now, but even their children and grand­chil­dren are dy­ing now,” he said. “Re­ally, what I’m try­ing to do is pre­serve his­tory.”

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO/RICK PYVES

Pick­er­ing author Rick Pyves penned 310 per­son­al­ized post­cards to cen­tury-old ad­dresses across Canada linked to sol­diers from the 60th Bat­tal­ion, the Vic­to­ria Ri­fles of Canada. This is the front and back of one of 18 destined for homes in Lon­don.

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