Work of lo­cal sol­dier is among First World War replica cave carv­ings in Es­sex ex­hibit

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - SHARON HILL shill@post­media.com twit­ter.com/win­starhill

It’s known as the bleed­ing heart. Wa­ter stains streak down and through Wil­liam Wyeth’s printed name and the heart he carved in 1917 while hid­ing in an un­der­ground cave in France await­ing the start of the piv­otal Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge.

Wyeth would sur­vive Vimy and a Ger­man pris­oner-of-war camp where he was held for 17 months be­fore be­ing freed and then set­tling in Wind­sor af­ter the war. But he and the other Cana­dian sol­diers carv­ing their names and some­times in­tri­cate bat­tal­ion badges into the chalky cave walls didn’t know their fate.

“Here they were in th­ese dark, wet, cold caves and they ’re carv­ing and writ­ing and leav­ing some­thing about them­selves and the rest of their bat­tal­ion. It just gives me goose­bumps,” said Lisa Wach­eski, cu­ra­tor and man­ager of ed­u­ca­tion at the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Mu­seum and Her­itage Vil­lage where repli­cas of the cave carv­ings are on dis­play un­til Nov. 16. This Re­mem­brance Day marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War, and the mu­seum is hold­ing a spe­cial event Sat­ur­day from 10 a.m. to noon with an ex­hibit called Souter­raine Im­pres­sions. The cave was re­dis­cov­ered in 2001 by a French mil­i­tary arche­ol­o­gist. A short Bri­tish video of the carv­ings in­trigued Zenon An­drusyszyn, a re­tired Lon­don, Ont., teacher who started the non-profit Cana­dian His­tor­i­cal Doc­u­men­ta­tion and Imag­ing Group, known as CANADIGM, which was as­signed in 2011 to pho­to­graph and laser­scan the images to cre­ate 3D repli­cas.

An­drusyszyn, who will be speak­ing at 10 a.m. on Sat­ur­day, said be­ing in the cave was like be­ing in a church.

“It’s ex­tremely quiet and you can hear your heart beat, and just look­ing around and see­ing some of th­ese carv­ings, it was a re­ally, re­ally mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me.” Many sol­diers care­fully carved copies of their bat­tal­ion badges on the walls and some were think­ing of home, said An­drusyszyn, not­ing one sol­dier carved a cow and a pig. “It leads you into re­flect­ing on what they were think­ing of when they were there, 40 feet be­low ground, fully hear­ing the bom­bard­ment that went on at the front lines.”

Wyeth, who had come from Eng­land to Canada when he was 19 be­fore sign­ing up with the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, worked at the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in Wind­sor af­ter the war and lived to be 94, said An­drusyszyn. Wyeth’s carv­ing isn’t the only lo­cal link. Robert Shuel, who en­listed in 1914 at the be­gin­ning of the war and went on to be awarded the Mil­i­tary Medal of Gal­lantry, is be­lieved to have ties to Es­sex County. Shuel, who would live to be 90, drew a pic­ture of a woman in a fancy hat. She was his girl­friend and would later be­come his wife, Wach­eski said of the draw­ing that gives her goose­bumps ev­ery time she sees it.

“I’ve never been in war, but I would think that I wouldn’t be able to sleep much,” she said. “This is what they were do­ing to pass the time and leave some mem­ory of them­selves. They didn’t know if they were go­ing to be com­ing out of there or not.”

There are more than 45 replica carv­ings or draw­ings in the ex­hibit and more than 250 names of sol­diers in the cave. More than 100,000 peo­ple have seen the ex­hibit since it opened in France in 2017. See­ing the carv­ings and read­ing about the sol­diers leaves many emo­tional and moved to tears as they leave the ex­hibit, An­drusyszyn said.

Few peo­ple are given ac­cess to the site on a French farm, and An­drusyszyn doesn’t know how long the carv­ings on the frag­ile, chalky walls will sur­vive or how much longer the ex­hibit will run. Some his­to­ri­ans say the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge, which be­gan April 9, 1917, helped Canada come of age, with all four di­vi­sions of the Cana­dian Corps fight­ing to­gether for the first time as one. The Cana­dian vic­tory came at a steep cost, with more than 10,000 Cana­di­ans killed or wounded.

“This is our Cana­dian her­itage.”


First World War vet­eran Wil­liam Wyeth, who sur­vived a Ger­man pris­onerof-war camp, set­tled in Wind­sor af­ter the war. A replica of his carv­ings is fea­tured in an ex­hibit un­til Nov. 16.


Wil­liam Wyeth carved his name and a heart in a cave be­fore the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. This Re­mem­brance Day marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War.


Lisa Wach­eski of the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Mu­seum and Her­itage Vil­lage says she was moved by the sol­diers’ carv­ings.


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