PEI

Library exhibits pay tribute to Island soldiers

The exhibits, put together by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, feature life in the trenches, Mi'kmaq service and women in wartime. They are on display at the Montague Rotary Library, Cornwall Public Library and Murray River's Leona Giddings Memorial Library, respectively. 

Exhibits display life in the trenches, Mi'kmaq soldiers and women in war

Matthew McRae, curator of the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, shows a gas mask from the Second World War. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

Three Island libraries are showcasing special exhibits as Remembrance Day approaches. 

The exhibits, put together by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, feature life in the trenches, Mi'kmaq service and women in wartime. They are on display at the Montague Rotary Library, Cornwall Public Library and Murray River's Leona Giddings Memorial Library, respectively. 

Matthew McRae, curator of the foundation, says the exhibits give the foundation an opportunity to partner with P.E.I.'s libraries to share their artifacts and remind people that the sacrifices that were made by these previous generations are still important today,

"Just make people think about how lucky we are that we do live in a stable and peaceful community and country," he said on CBC Radio's Mainstreet P.E.I.

McRae said the trenches exhibit shows where the majority of the Canadians who served in the First World War fought and died.

"It was a horrific experience," he said. 

"It was muddy. It was messy. There was disease, there was rats and mice and people in the trenches had a bit of a troglodyte existence. They lived in barracks and they lived underground all day long and then they would come out in the night and they could crawl into what was known as no man's land. And that was the land between the Canadian-British allied trenches and the German trenches on the other side."

This shell casing from the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation shows the year 1915. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

The exhibit includes pictures of no man's land taken by Island soldier Jack Turner, who brought his camera to the front, as well as art created by the soldiers and postcards that were sent home by those on the front.

"There was a dark gallows humour," McRae said. "There's a postcard of a soldier getting his haircut in the trenches and there's shells going overhead and the barber saying, 'Don't flinch or I'll take your ear off.' The humour of that, I think, isn't necessarily lost on us even now."

Soldiers from Lennox Island

The Mi'kmaq exhibit is special, McRae said, because during the First World War no group on P.E.I. provided more recruits per capita — 32 of 64 eligible males — than the Mi'kmaq from Lennox Island. 

Seven were killed and at least 13 wounded, according to P.E.I. historian Ed MacDonald. Many also served in the Second World War, in Afghanistan and in peacekeeping missions.

Barney Francis of Lennox Island began running while serving in the First World War. He later became an accomplished runner and was inducted into the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame. (Submitted by Matthew MacRae)

The exhibit includes images provided by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.

One is a photo of Barney Francis, a soldier from Lennox Island who served in the First World War. While serving in the war he began participating in running races. 

He became an accomplished runner when he returned from war and is in the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame.

"[He] is just one of the many Mi'kmaq veterans who not only served our country during wartime, but also went on to achieve amazing things afterwards," McRae said.

Women in the war

The other exhibit pays tribute to women who served in the wars. More than 60 Island women served as nurses in the First World War, and became even more involved in the Second World War, McRae said.

"These women at the time weren't in military fighting roles although many of them did put themselves in harm's way on the front. We have a lot of examples of that. Other women stayed here, but did very vital service."

The uniform worn by Lois Reta Mackay Thurgood is part of the display at Murray River’s Leona Giddings Memorial Library. (Submitted by Matthew MacRae)

One woman, Lois Reta Mackay Thurgood of Albany, enlisted in 1943 and became an instructor. 

"Her first posting was in Regina and she served as a physical training and drill instructor and she was in a school entirely of men, but was in charge of physical fitness for the women at the school, the trainee women who were entering, and apparently acquitted herself quite well," McRae said.

'Beautiful uniform'

"She actually was promoted to the rank of sergeant before the war ended but the promotion didn't go through before she was discharged. Despite that, afterwards she went on and became the first woman to get a master's degree from Dalhousie University. So we have some achievers among our veterans."

The exhibit includes pictures of Mackay Thurgood as well as her uniform.

"It's in pristine shape, it's an absolute beautiful uniform," McRae said. "You really get a sense of how proud they must have been to wear that at the time."

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With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.

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