The chair of an organization that has done much work preserving local military history remains committed to the effort, saying it’s important that the stories of the people who served their country are known and chronicled.
George Egan, a Yarmouth-area resident who chairs the Wartime Heritage Association, says it’s great that people honour Canada’s war dead at this time of year, but he says more needs to be done to remember those who served.
“I find that, as time goes on, we are getting further and further away from remembrance,” Egan said. “Yes, we have Remembrance Day services. That’s one thing, but truthfully, the history that goes with it, I think, is being lost ... Even the Second World War, the history of the town (of Yarmouth), very few people know.”
The Wartime Heritage Association has a website with a great deal of information on local and regional military history, covering the first and second world wars and the Korean War. The process of gathering names of those who served – and, as much as possible, getting biographical details on them – is ongoing.
Interviewed in Yarmouth when Remembrance Day was just under two weeks off, Egan said, “I guess what I’m saying is on Nov. 11 we go to the cenotaph and somebody may read the names, but it’s a name. The real story is behind the name. And there are stories behind names that are never even read because nobody ever put them on a monument. To me, when you’re reading the names, you don’t know: was that a 16-year-old or was that a 47-year-old? Did they serve in France or did they serve in Nova Scotia?”
This year, of course, much of the Remembrance Day focus is on the centenary of the end of the First World War. Four years ago, the Wartime Heritage Association started gathering names and information on men and women with a connection to Yarmouth (town or county) who served in the First World War. As of mid-October, the list had grown to 1,574 people.
Recalling how that initiative took shape, Egan said, “(At first) we were only going to do casualties and then one day Glen (Gaudet, the association’s vice-chairman) said ‘I wonder how many people served from Yarmouth during World War I.’ Let’s see if we can find out, and we started, but what an undertaking.”
Todd Muise, a local resident with a military background who works for the Town of Yarmouth, shares Egan’s view that local military history should have a higher profile. He cites as an example Frost Park, wondering how many people know about the person for whom it was named. Charles Sydney (Syd) Frost was born in Argyle, Yarmouth County, and joined the 1st Newfoundland Regiment. (Later, working for the Bank of Nova Scotia, Frost rose through the ranks to become its president and CEO.)
“Not too many people knew about Frost Park and Sydney Frost,” Muise said. “We should get that story out, so when (people) are in there enjoying that park, they realize this guy was a First World War vet. Same thing with that monument (the Yarmouth cenotaph across the street from the park). People walk by it every day, but they don’t really see names ... It’s important that we don’t lose that.”
Indeed, in this 100th-anniversary year, Muise encourages people to check out the Wartime Heritage Association’s website to see if they can find someone from their family who served in the First World War, saying it might help people see the war in a different light or from a different perspective.
Egan said the site gets about 400-to-420 visits daily “and literally from all over the world. It’s amazing. Almost every country.”
Egan is the scheduled guest speaker for the annual Remembrance Day banquet to be held Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Wedgeport legion. To help commemorate this year’s special anniversary, the Wedgeport legion is looking to get the churches in its catchment area to take part in Bells of Peace, a national initiative in which churches are invited to ring their bells to mark the centenary of the armistice of 1918. Andre Boudreau, secretary of legion branch 155 in Wedgeport, said they hope other churches in the region will take part as well.
But beyond Remembrance Day – and long after this year’s centenary activities are over – Egan says the effort to preserve the area’s wartime heritage will continue.
“Yarmouth has one of the most expansive war histories of any community in Nova Scotia,” he said, citing, for instance, higher-than-average enlistments for the First World War. He also noted that Yarmouth was a busy spot during the Second World War, with the bases that were here, the training of telegraphist air gunners etc.
“You really want to know what I think?” he said. “I think Yarmouth should have a war museum that tells the story of World War I and World War II and the Korean War because I think we’re losing our own history.”