Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tourism Thursdays: St.Thomas, Eagle and Dutton

Railway Museum, Anniversary Dinner, and Creative Writing 

       The North American Railway Hall of fame is a non-for-profit charitable organization housed in St.Thomas. St.Thomas is rich with historical significance for both locals as well as the country of Canada. Free tours now available from Sunday-Friday, 10am-4pm.  Come see the beautifully restored 1873 Canada Southern Railway Station. Donations appreciated.   

          On July 22nd , it's the 50th anniversary of incorporation for Eagle Community Centre. 3pm opening ceremonies, dignitaries and cake cutting, beverages and food available for purchase. There will be 50 years of pictures, stories and memorabilia on display. Check out the WESS mural as well, made by Gr. 11 visual art students. Make sure to bring your lawn chairs.

       Be creative, be Canadian!  Write about  how much you love Canada, or how proud you are to be a Canadian. write a simple sentence, poem, story to help raise "150" flags at the Dutton Library. Submit online at or drop off your submission at the Dutton, West Lorne or Rodney Libraries by October 6th 2017. 

Whats happening at the Backus-Page House Museum 

            Backus-Page House goes Gone With the Wind at the first ever American Civil War Re-enactment.  Museum, Barn and Trench (as safety allows) open for tours during the event.  Admission $8/person.  Children 12 and under FREE.  Food and gift shop items available for purchase.     

Thanks for reading
Sabrina Merks 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

World War Wednesdays: He Served his Country: Maj. George Stirrett, M.C. D.C.M. Part Three

     Thanks so much for staying tuned for the third and final edition of Maj. Stirrett's First World War reflections. This will be a marathon wrap-up of his experiences, which are absolutely incredible and touching to be able to read from his own perspective. I've heard it said before that a person is only truly dead when those still living stop speaking their name, so I am doing my best to keep Mr. Stirrett's memory alive!

     "We always figured we were not being used properly but knew our time would come. We were often formed up and waiting to act as cavalry but our time never came. We were a second line of defense. Finally, in March, 1917, we were to be used in an offensive role as cavalry. The Canadian Light Horse was concentrated near Divisional Headquarters, given a couple of weeks refresher training in mounted work, and ordered to recce the Vimy front. This was done in anticipation of a breakthrough planned for sometime early in April.

     During the early part of April, the Canadian Light Horse reconnoitered, established and maintained communications with forward infantry posts. The Regiment was finally doing real cavalry work. One troop advanced six miles in a week and got in behind the Germans. One patrol of 12 men got themselves surrounded but were able to hide in a farmhouse till dark. This patrol, under command of a Sergeant Poynton, were too far into German territory and didn't know much about the area. When night fell, Poynton got his men together and told them that he thought his horse was more sensible than any of them. He said that he would tell his horse to go home and then he would take hold of the horse's tail. If any of the men wanted to go with Poynton and his horse, each could take hold of his hand and they would form a string in the dark. The horse would then take them home. Not another word was spoken. They went through the German lines. When they began to hear English voices, they knew that they were safe and spoke up. They had followed the horse about five miles to get back to their lines.

     The big attack the Canadians made was the 8th of August - everybody who was in the war remembers the 8th of August. It was the first time the Allies surprised the Germans and were successful in an initial assault. We had to move at night and on the road for the cavalry that I was with, I put a man on each corner from start to finish. We covered 12 miles each night and anybody from the 3rd Canadian Division who came along our road was given directions on where to go. It was very dark and nobody could have a light - you couldn't even smoke a cigarette. You couldn't be seen as a unit in daytime, no more than three men together in daylight. On the night of the 8th, everything was ready and, around two o'clock, one big gun a the back fired and that was the signal for everything to open up. Where I was I heard this great big boom and we were all standing to from then on. We looked back and it looked like everything was on fire - every gun we had was firing and then we'd turn and look the other way and see them breaking. It was the most exciting thing that ever was. There were three bridges in front of us over a creek that was no more than 8 feet across and my men had to gallop down to see if they could be crossed or if they'd been blown up. They were all intact so they had to go to each unit in 3 Division and tell them it was OK to go. By late morning our guys were playing baseball and kicking footballs around behind what had been the German's 3rd line of defence. There was no one left to fight. A train load of Germans who were just returning from leave was surrounded by a British Cavalry unit and the entire train load was taken prisoner without a shot being fired.
A patrol of 'C' Squadron crosses Vimy Ridge

     Following the action in the Vimy area, the Regiment was quartered until mid-summer near Corps Headquarters. I came down with a fever of 103 so Major McEwen wouldn't let me go out. He sent me to a nearby field hospital were they said I had typhoid fever and was sent back to England for three months. When I returned fit for duty, I was at the Cavalry Depot in England where I met the RCD who had just been put in charge of the Depot. He wanted to make me the Depot's Sergeant Major, saying I would not have to go back to the lines for the rest of the war. That night I talked it over with other wounded members of the 1st Hussars who were also returning from England. We all decided we'd go back to the Regiment. When I told this to the Depot Commander he said that he had a letter from my Commanding Officer saying that I was to become an Officer. The rest of the Hussars went back to the Regiment but I had to stay behind and take an Officer Training Course. I was promoted to Lieutenant and when I returned to the outfit was given the same Troop I had been in as a Sergeant. Gordon Cockshutt was promoted to Captain. McEwen, who had been so important in recruiting us, became our Major. Billy Patterson, another officer with us, had been wounded trying to find a weak spot in the enemy lines. He came home and later became the premier of Saskatchewan.

     I was sent up to join the 3rd Army Engineers with 30 of our men to assist the Engineers in running a pipeline for water supply from the heights of Vimy Ridge up to the front lines so nobody would have to go back for water. I believe they ran 6 miles of this water line. Each night we would lay about 40 feet of line, each man would have 3 feet to dig, and we had to carry the pipe up with us. Then we would cover it over and it had to be covered over so that the Germans couldn't detect a line being put in. We had to bring the ground back so it looked natural again and had to be very, very careful about that. We would put a small stake or something else to mark the place where we had finished up so we would know where to start the next night. So I would go up there with me men and we were only 3 miles from the Germans so nobody could go in front of the building in daytime because you'd be in view of the Germans, especially their balloons. We had that job for over a month and we stayed in an old mine that had been broken down but it had walls that were six foot thick, a swell place to be. I lost five men, 1 killed and 4 wounded on that job.
Canadian Light Horse at Complain Abbey, the Canadian Corps's HQ near Vimy Ridge
     Soon after being promoted to Lieutenant, I had a very unusual experience. My troop competed in a competition in which we would travel about half a mile, then set up a machine gun and engage a pre-determined target. We had a Trooper named Scott in our Troop who could get a bulls eye no matter where we laid down our machine gun. Scott won the championship as the best shot in the Canadian Corps. Because of Scott's shooting ability, we won the troop competition and were to compete against an English Troop. When we arrived for the competition, an English Officer, a stranger, introduced himself and asked me what was going on. When I told him, he invited me to stay with him and let the men use my tent. I agreed since he was living only a few hundred feet away. He had been all his life connected with the military and the secret service. He gave me a knowledge of what was actually going on. As an example, he took the newspaper and showed me an ad which said a house with so many rooms was able to be rented at a certain time for a certain amount. He said that this was all secret service work, and this ad would be picked up by someone in Holland, Norway, or some other place and decoded. He said there wasn't an issue of the London Times that didn't have at least a dozen coded messages in it. He went on to say that German Secret Service were being touted as superior to the British. However, the policy of the British Secret Service was to underrate themselves and look stupid, while saying how smart everyone else was. He said that in England every square mile in the country and every city block in the city had a secret service man on it. He said that nobody could move anyplace in England without the secret service knowing where and why.

     This Officer came over to my troop and took the Lee-Enfield rifle and gave about an hour's lecture on the rifle. He told whit it could do, the history of its development, and what improvements had been made. He made a most interesting lecture out of nothing. Then he told us all about the German rifles, the French rifles, and improvements they had been making. He had been all his life at this sort of thing and seemed to know about everything and everyplace. He even knew where Sarnia and Petrolia were, that there were refineries, and that there was a tunnel under one of the refineries. He was very helpful and informative about things that counted. I had much more faith in the British system after hearing this Officer tell me about it. Before the competition got started, the Germans started a big offensive and we were called back to our Regiment. The competition never did occur.

     We were told the plans to take Cambrai, a big city that was there. They'd have all the fast moving stuff, the cyclists, the cavalry, and the mortar and machine guns, put under one command into a brigade that was to operate independently. They had a plan to cross this creek and then take this hill that stretched back towards us almost 6 miles. The Germans were defending the ridge of course. We went over the plan to organize this attack for almost two weeks. The first thing that was to go was the tanks to crush the barbed wire and the next to go was my troop of cavalry, followed by the motorcycle gang. We would then all proceed down this road to a town called Ewi. We were called to a meeting with a General and, as I was to lead the attack, he told me to come up and explain the plan. I explained about following the tanks and then going down the road to Ewi but I also pointed out that a little dot on the map of Ewi was really a red brick grocery store which I intended to capture and make into the R. Stirrett Company store. By the time the rest of the guys got to Ewi, I'd be ready to sell stuff to everyone. This brought a good laugh from the group and the General wished me well.

     The infantry got through the lines one night, which wasn't part of the plan, and we got the message about two in the morning to get going. When we got to Cambrai, just at dawn, we proceeded down this street, with firing still going on in the town, and there was perfectly open territory and about a mile ahead was a hill. Major McEwen said to me, "go take that hill - take the highest point". I had the troops get rid of everything except swords, rifles and ammunition and we started out at the trot. As we entered the field we found it full of German infantry who had been in hiding and it startled us somewhat. We managed to handle most of them and even took over a couple of their machine guns. I told my men to wait, there was only about 25 of them now, and I went forward to reconnoitre. I only gone about 50 yards and came to high ground overlooking a road chuck full of Germans getting their fires going to make their breakfast. I got up on my horse to get a better look down and I figured there was a thousand of them, a whole damned battalion at least. Major McEwen had given me to flare pistols, one to shoot a red flare if I need reinforcements and one to shoot a white flare if I succeeded in taking the hill. I didn't know what the hell to do as I only had 25 men but I brought them up on horseback and scattered out. The Germans surrendered as they didn't know there only a few of us. I fired the red flare and about three in the afternoon they sent up about 60 cyclists who took over the prisoners. I took my troop back to pick up our saddlery and stuff we'd dumped before the charge.

     They tried a charge again the next day with 2 of our troops and the Germans, whose machine guns were set up for infantry, killed every horse in both troops. The men hid behind their dead horses, waited for darkness and then made it back to our lines. They never got replacement horses and walked with us for the rest of the war - they walked into Germany. They never used horses in the next war so I guess they didn't think a hell of a lot about what we did as cavalry. During the fall of 1917, the Regiment moved back to the vicinity of Ypres. Mud and bad weather made mounted operations impossible. As a result, all men and officers who were available went forward with the infantry, carrying ammunition to the artillery, and manning observation posts. Casualties were heavy both in the front lines and in the rear since the whole area was subjected to heavy artillery shelling.

     The winter of 1917-1918 was spent near the Corps Headquarters on the Lens front, preparing for an expected German attack in the spring of 1918. During this time, many of us went away on courses which lasted from two weeks to a month. I was sent to one on the French coast at Comte-sur-la-Mer during December, 1917. This school was for riding and horsemanship and included 48 Officers divided into four groups. All but myself were from famous old British Cavalry Regiments. To become an Officer in one of these famous Regiments someone, usually the family, had to guarantee as much as 10,000 pounds against your getting into trouble. Our group of 12 included officers from the Household Cavalry, the Scots Greys, the 17th Lancers, the Bays, and the Royal Horse Artillery. I was the only one who did not fit into this caste system which had been in England for hundreds of years.
The soldier in the center and the officer are 1st Hussars of the Canadian Light Horse

     I started things off wrong the first night by not dressing for dinner. Even though I assured them that the reason was simple - I had no other clothes to dress in - it took some explaining and many laughs. The second big difference was that I had attended a Public School, with girls attending the same classes. Then they discovered that I had worked in a store and stood behind a counter taking money for goods. I was nothing but a common tradesman. Things really got bad when they discovered that the Cavalry Regiment that I belonged to had never been engaged in combat (as the First Hussars) and that I had never been on a fox hunt. The worst thing though was that I had a decoration that showed that I had been in the ranks. They wondered what kind of an army I belonged to. My groom and batman both realized this. They were named Fartar and Bradley. They came up to my room the second night I was there and asked me to bawl them out whenever any of my classmates were around and to do it properly. They said that they would know that I didn't mean it, but would accept it because the other officers would not think that I was a good officer if I didn't bawl them out.

     I had taken a mare with me on this course. She was a good mare physically, but she had a peculiarity in that she wouldn't lead. She would follow or go beside other horses, but she would never lead. Major McEwen suggested that since this was a riding school, I should take this horse, called Daisy, with me. On the first day, I was on Daisy and all the English boys were on their own hunters taking the jumps. When my turn came, Daisy, instead of getting over to the right, pushed the whole line out of control. Here I was, with a big Stetson on, looking like a cowboy, and unable to keep control of my horse. The man in charge, a Major in the Scots Greys, said, "Can't you control that horse, Canada?" I said, "No sir, do you want to try it?" He got on and put the spurs and whip to this horse, but instead of going ahead as he expected her to, Daisy just backed off and acted worse for him that she had for me. Well, here was a Scots Grey major, the pride of his Regiment, in front of officers from all the best cavalry regiments, unable to control a good looking horse. He was humiliated. He got off Daisy and said, "Where in the hell did you get this thing?" When I said that she had come off the Canadian prairies, he said, "Can't you send her back?" From then on, everyone in the class wanted to ride Daisy, and I was called Daisy for the rest of the course.

     I never did get accepted into the class because I was the odd ball. The only thing that redeemed me was on the last day when we had a shooting competition. We took all the empty whiskey bottles, put them about a yard apart on the coast side, and then drew a line about 30 feet away. When the sergeant called your name, you took your revolver and tried to hit as many bottles as you could. I went to the sergeant, who was sympathetic towards me because he knew I had been a sergeant, and asked what we were shooting for. He said that each time you hit a bottle, everyone in the class would have to pay you ten francs, which was bout $2 Canadian. That meant every shot could be worth almost $100.00. I seemed to be the only one who took my time and aimed my revolver. I came out the best shot and was able to clear up all of my mess bills and still come out ahead. I was using my issue weapon, a Smith and Wesson . 45 pistol.

     At the end of July, 1918, in preparation for the Battle of Amiens (August, 1918), the Canadian Light Horse was ordered to move by night to Saleux, south of Amiens. Here we were broken up and a squadron attached to each of the attacking infantry brigades. LCol Leonard took command of the Hotchkiss Gun Detachment (18 guns) which worked along the Amiens-Roye Road and helped to maintain liaison with the French on the right. 

     During the early part of August, I was attached, with my troop, to the Canadian Third Divisional Headquarters. As the attack started on August 8th, the Brigade Major came to me and said that the first thing that they had to do was to get over a small creek about ten feet wide. There were three bridges in Third Division sector. Our job was to determine as soon as possible after the attack started, whether or not these bridges had been destroyed. As soon as this was determined, my troop would have to deliver messages to the advancing elements of Third Division. This was done right at dawn.

     By 9:00 A.M., the Brigade Major came to me and said, "Stirrett, we've got so far that they have passed their objectives. Now we have lost our troops and haven't any communications with them." He said that I was to take all the men I had and send them out. They were to try and contact anyone from the Third Division and bring back a message telling where they were and what they were doing. There were not yet any radios and the signals had not yet had time to get our their signals wire. We spent the rest of the day trying to contact advancing elements. My troop was with Third Division Headquarters for over three months, usually being used to deliver messages. From this time on, it was just one attack after another.
Royal Scots Greys entering a French village

     During this time, we got a report that a German artillery unit had disappeared into a hollow about a mile away. A squadron of the Scots Greys was in this area and was asked if they wanted to go after these Germans, who were to the right, on the French side of the road. The Scots Greys officer said that he could not go. Lieutenant Freddy Taylor, a First Hussars Officer, and a bit tight at the time, commanding the 1st Troop, took five men and headed out towards where the Germans had been seen. They found the Germans about 2000 yards ahead of the advancing French infantry. It was a German artillery ammunition column, hidden in an excavation, and their horses had nose bags on as they were on a rest stop. One man held the horses while Taylor and the others moved forward with their rifles to the edge of the bank. From there, they were able to shoot every horse and a few men so that the German column couldn't move. Then Taylor said every man for himself, and to get back they best way you can. They went back, losing one man while two were wounded. LCol Leonard asked me to determine exactly what had happened and to determine whether or not Taylor should get a decoration. After I turned in the full story, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the surviving men were awarded Military Medals (MM). When I had talked to the men involved, each had told a different story, as if they had not all been in the same place at the same time. They all said they had never seen anything so ridiculous or so foolish in the whole war. I concluded that I thought the whole action quite reckless.

     In mid-August the Canadian Light Horse was again broken up and attached to the forward infantry brigades, since the trench systems were too involved to permit any large scale cavalry action. Later, the Canadian Light Horse was again concentrated and formed part of an independent force of Cavalry and motor machine guns whose task was to push out along the Arras-Cambrai Road during the operation against Drocourt Switch (2 September, 1918). Unfortunately, the German defence was too stubborn and the breakthrough never came. 

     From Arras, the Canadian Light Horse moved forward the night of 26 September. About noon the following day, we crossed the Canal du Nord. From here the Regiment stood to each day waiting for the German resistance to weaken sufficiently to permit cavalry action. Each day we conducted hazardous recces in order to keep closely in touch with the front line situation and have lines of advance clear of wire and suitable for forward cavalry action. Casualties were heavy. During this time, in late September, I was awarded a Military Cross (MC). This decoration was given to me as a result of a reconnaissance action carried out by my troop on 26 September, 1918, north of Sailly and again on 01 October, 1918, east of Tilloy. By this time I had been promoted to Captain.

     At last, on 9 October, 1918, the long awaited chance for offensive cavalry action came. Our Squadron, under command of Major McEwen, crossed the only unblown bridge of L'Escaut Canal at Escamdoeuvres just north-east of Cambrai and seized and held a piece of high ground until relieved by the infantry that night. This action greatly assisted the advance of the day but resulted in 2 Officers, 24 men and every horse in one troop being killed. Many of the enemy were taken prisoner.

     It was about this time that we first saw German tanks in action. One of my men, when asked what they were, replied, "Why it's the Irish Navy, can't you tell." The Regiment, now considerably reduced in strength, stood to for the next few days while it was refitted and brought back up to strength. A squadron of Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which had just arrived from England, was added to the Canadian Light Horse as 'D' Squadron. After Cambrai, the Canadian Corps shifted its front north to the Senee Canal and advanced on Douai and Valenciennes. The Canadian Light Horse kept contact in front of the infantry and gained considerable cavalry experience in open warfare. During this advance wherever possible, our patrols entered small villages ahead of our infantry, enabling the infantry to continue their advance without deploying. Our squadron would move with Major McEwen to the north taking a sector about a mile wide and myself to the south taking a similar sector.

     Gordon Cockshutt went to visit some friends of his at 1st Brigade HQ and mentioned to them that they should have a troop of cavalry to do reconnaissance as they needed to find the Germans. They sent for me to come up and McEwen said, "You aren't going without me" so we both went, me first and McEwen followed the next day. My Troop arrived about dawn and the Brigade Major sent us right out saying, "I want you and your troop to ride out there until somebody shoots at you. I've no idea where the damned Germans are." We did this for seven days from Deayi to Valenciennes. We'd pick a place a half a mile to three quarters of a mile away where we thought the Germans might be - a little house or a clump of trees. I'd go straight at it and two troopers would come in from each side, form like that, and when we got about 100 yards from it we'd get up in our saddles, hold the horse up, look over, then turn the horse and go the other way at the gallop. We knew they'd never shoot as us when we were going towards them as they would want to take us prisoner. They would shoot at you with machine guns if they thought they'd been spotted. If we didn't get shot at, we'd go back to that clump of trees or house and rest our horses for a half hour or so and pick out the next objective. As soon as we were fired on, we would retire and the infantry would take charge. The third day at this, on 21 October, 1918, Major McEwen was killed while on personal reconnaissance at Hesnon. On the first day, my diary states "started contact patrols at Montagny. Lost Bliss, Clark, and Thompson, all wounded by machine guns. Not bad as an infantry attack would have lost a hundred.
French civilians with various gas masks at Marbache
     The fourth day, we ran into civilians whom the Germans had not had time to clear out. As we rode into a village, we trotted down the cobblestone streets. All windows for 300 yards to the village square were drawn and covered. As we reached the village square at the Catholic church, we looked to see the road full of women, older men, and children, filling the road with anything they could wave. We dismounted and the old pries took me by the ears and kissed me. This started things. The priest kissed the three men with me. Then they all seemed to go crazy at once. They even kissed our horses. Then the priest called for prayer and the entire village went to their knees at once, including my men and myself. We had a very similar experience in every village from then on. We were first into at least twenty villages with the infantry about a mile behind following us in column of route. 

     Open warfare continued. Valenciennes was captured and the Germans fell back to Mons. The Canadian Light Horse pursued the retreating Germans and was among the first units to enter Mons which had been under German occupation for fifty-two months. Armistice came on 11 November, 1918. The infantry formed a static line and the Canadian Light Horse was reassembled as a Regiment. Following reorganization, the Canadian Corps advanced from the Mons line to the Rhine.The Canadian Light Horse provided the advanced cavalry screens for the Canadian Corps. In the triumphal march over the bridge at Bonn, the Guard of Honour to the Corps Commander was commanded by Lieutenant F. A. Taylor, D.S.O. of the First Hussars.

     I didn't come back with the unit. When we got up into Germany we had Christmas dinners and things like that and everyone started wondering about how and when they were going to get home to Canada. Discipline became a big thing as everything was going haywire - discipline was disappearing so I took my men aside and told them I didn't care what they did as long as they looked after their horses every day, acted like gentlemen and let me know where they were. I woke up one morning with an awful tooth ache so I went to see our dentist and he filled my tooth. That night I could hardly sleep because of the pain in the tooth so I went back the next morning and asked him what he had done to me and told him about the pain. The dentist started laughing and said that was the best story he'd heard for the last month so I was to keep it up and he'd send me home as a stretcher case on the afternoon train. I never saw the Regiment again until much later in my life. I was also told that I should have the tooth re-filled when I arrived in England so I went to London and a dentist there filled it with gold - it didn't hurt anymore. I got home three months ahead of the Regiment.

     Thanks again for following through to the end with this one. I hope you'll agree that it was well worth the wait and extra scrolling! Many thanks again to Petrolia Heritage for the information and images. We'll be changing gears next week with some new material so continue staying tuned!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Civil War Meme Monday #3

Most Likely to Secede ....hahaha a little history humor:
Did you know the pier at Tyrconnell was built to sell goods to the US during the American Civil War?  Local families, mostly famers, gathered $2000 in capital for the Dunwich Pier Company in 1861, So many men from Elgin County crossed the border to serve.  They deserve to be remembered by us for their sacrifice.  Join us for our first ever Civil War Reenactment July 29-30 at Backus-Page House Museum.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Behind the Scenes with Sabrina


🌸🌸Behind the Scenes with Sabrina 🌸🌸 

       First off HI , I'm Sabrina Merks, resident of Dutton and I'll be attending St. Lawrence College for musical theatre performance in the fall. You may have seen me in the Elgin County area wearing many hats, such as volunteer at The West Elgin Dramatic Society or have seen me as one of the cashiers at Dutton Foodland, or even possibly as current reining Miss Elgin County Globe. I spent my past year at Sheridan College in the performing arts program and I'm excited to be Assistant Museum Manager for the summer.

      My week at the museum was an entertaining one. At the moment we keep a quote book where we fill it with all the hilarious things we've said this summer. Some of the funny things we have said so far are;
when I was writing my blog on breakfast at the lions den I was confused because I typed the word, HASHBROWN, and then all of a sudden a swiggly line pops up underneath and I ask Angela how its spelt and she goes " one word, at least thats how McDonalds spells it" and the whole office just breaks out in laughter, but I couldn't stand that stupid red squiggle  underneath it so I separate it into two words and call it a dun deal.

         Along with quotes about spelling Angela was hilarious on Wednesday we were all talking about how we had the police go to the lookout because we had thought a car had been left there all weekend. The people had actually just parked in the same spot both days we (meaning Ben) checked it out . We also found out they went behind the fence! DON'T GO BEHIND THE FENCE! Angela was getting really upset, when the people from behind the second fence finally showed up, she asked them why they thought it was okay and their response was "We thought the first fence was a warning" ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! So Angela is telling us about how she waned to respond but didn't actually in the moment "So the first fence is a warning the second means were serious this time ". I would like to say on behalf of everyone at the Backus-Page House Museum. DON'T GO BEHIND THE FENCE. The dangers are very, very real. When you step over that fence, where it says do not step over that fence, at any given time, these cliffs could fall away. You may not realize when people need to be rescued that they are endangering the lives of the firefighters who use ropes to lower themselves down, as well as the firefighters who hold those ropes. So do us all a favour, enjoy the park but don't go behind the fence. 

          This week we also had our day camp, this weeks theme was all about food. Children learned about the other uses for herbs and vegetables, planted seeds and made all sorts of crafts. Its always hard to get work done with the kids everywhere so I stayed in the office and worked on scanning gift forms. A process where I look back from 1996 and scan all the gift forms so we have an electronic copy. 

For the most parts thats been our week. 
Thanks for reading
Sabrina Merks


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saturday Sightings - You Should Have Been Here!

Saturday Sightings - You Should Have Been Here!
What’s up Canada!  It’s me again, Ben the MNR guy at Backus Page House Museum.  I’m here to give you your weekly Saturday Sightings.  This week has been a very fun and eventful week for the staff at Backus-Page House Museum. 

We here at Backus-Page House Museum have put up a chicken wire fence around the house garden.  This fence was meant to stop bunnies from entering our kitchen garden so our plants will be happy and not eaten.  Well sadly a bunny had still gotten into our garden.
Also this past week it was my job to clean the upper shelf in the office.  Well if you have been to Backus-Page House Museum you would know that we have a flying stuffed hawk beside our upper shelf.  When I was cleaning the shelf I had sat the hawk down in the front office chair and it looked like the hawk had taken charge of the front desk.  The hawk got an 8/10 for work performance.
Thursday we had an awesome day running our day camp.  If you are interested in signing a little one up for day camp, give us a call at 519-762-3072

That is your weekly Saturday Sightings with Ben the MNR guy.  Hope to see you soon and remember to stay cool.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Baseball, Dancing, and the US Civil War

Watch Some Baseball and Dance the Night Away

      On July 15th -16th all day both days head down to the Lions Den to watch baseball and grab a hot dog and soda. Teams from the baseball tournament are from all over the Elgin County area. This is part of a weekend of events; which includes, a swim meet and Annual Dutton Street Dance.

      Saturday night July 15th grab your dancing shoes and get ready to party! Annual Street Dance is $15.00 tickets (Age of Majority). The entertainment by: Vigilante Underdogs, EXIT 137 & DJ Alpha. This annual event is held to raise money for the local sporting groups and the recreation department for the municipality of Dutton-Dunwhich.  The dance starts at 9:00pm - 1:00am at Co-Trac Ford Dealership, 204 Main Street, Dutton. 

What's Up at The Backus-Page House
Backus-Page House goes Gone With the Wind at the first ever American Civil War Re-enactment.  Museum, Barn and Trench (as safety allows) open for tours during the event.  Admission $8/person.  Children 12 and under FREE.  Food and gift shop items available for purchase.     

                                          American Civil War Schedule of Activities  
Saturday, July 29th, 2017
10:00 AM                                  Camps Open to the Public
10:00 AM – 10:45 AM           Company and Battalion Drill (Main Field)
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM                Cavalry Demonstration, Artillery or Volley Gun Demonstration,                                                     Infantry Demonstration
2:00 PM – 2:45 PM                Skirmish
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM               Camp life Displays
5:00 PM                                    Camps closed to public
Sunday, July 30, 2017
10:00 AM                                  Camps open to the Public
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM            Company and Battalion Drill (Main Field)
12:30 – 1:30 PM                       Cavalry Demonstration, Artillery or Volley GunDemonstration,                                                      Infantry Demonstration
1:45 PM – 2:30 PM                Skirmish
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM                Camp life Displays                

4:00 PM                                    Camps closed to public
        Come  check out the Museum Tuesday- Sunday and keep a look out for the incredible events the Backus-Page House Museum has to offer.
Thanks for reading
Sabrina Merks

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

World War Wednesdays: He Served His Country: Maj. George Stirrett, M.C. D.C.M Part Two

     Welcome back to part two of Maj. George Stirrett's incredible memoirs. You'll recall that at the end of last week's post, George, Lt. Billy Bishop, and the rest of the Second Canadian Divisional Cavalry Squadron embarked for England aboard the S.S. Caledonia on June 9, 1915. Read on for the rest of the story!

      ”On the Caledonia, with three decks of horses underneath, our main duty was to feed and water the horses. There were no kitchens on board and the cooks had to prepare our meals on the open deck. It was awful food. It was the worst conditions I had ever seen. The ship wasn't designed for this kind of duty and there wasn't even a doctor on board. Fortunately we had good weather and were able to set out hay and sleep on the deck. There were hammocks below but the air was too foul to sleep there. The next day, the hay we had used for our beds would be fed to the horses. We swung wide to the south while sailing across the Atlantic and still thought that we were going to Egypt. However, we landed at Devonport, England. We had crossed the Atlantic without any escort ships, without even a machine-gun on our own ship. It was not until later on in the war that shipping was being attacked by the enemy, creating a need for escort ships.
SS Caledonia,

     We landed at South Hampton and moved to Devonport. From Devonport, our squadron entrained for Canterbury where the Cavalry Headquarters for England was located. The 2nd Division was scattered all over the south coast of England. Two days later we rejoined the Second Canadian Division at Dibgate Plains (near F o l k e s t o n e) where we went under canvas. At Dibgate Plains the squadron was issued 168 riding and light draught horses, new Lee-Enfield rifles and swords. Training was continued at an accelerated pace. However, the area was very heavy clay and after every rain the horse lines became almost impossible. One day when the mud was very bad, two Royal Air Force planes went over. While Bishop, who hated to be dirty, and I stood in the mud watching them, only a few hundred feet high, Bishop turned to me and said, "It's clean up there George. And if you were killed, at least you would be clean. Imagine being killed in this mix of mud and horse manure." Lieutenant Billy Bishop joined the Air Force that afternoon and was replaced in the troop by Lt. C. G. Cockshutt, a member of the family that owned the Cockshutt Plough Company. Lt. Bishop hadn't told anyone in the Hussars where he was going or what he was going to do so we didn't know where he was for about two weeks.

     Billy Bishop, while with the Royal Flying Corps, became the world's greatest flier during the First World War. He received many decorations including the V.C. and the D.S.O. and the Saturday Evening Post ran a series of articles about him. He told us that they paid him $75,000 for his story. He told Evan Cobb his story in three hours and Cobb made the series run almost two years. Bishop would visit us at least once a month; he was always popular with all ranks. He once invited me to his new lines where he made me stand on a grand piano and have a drink. Around the room on the wall were the names and ranks of Officers and beside each name were women's garters. Some had one or two and some had six or more. Billy told me you could only hang a garter if you'd personally taken it off the woman. Also, there was an indication by some names that this particular Officer had been killed.
A group of despatch riders of the Canadian Signal Corps on Hendee motorcycles (Indian Powerplus) , Camp Valcartier, Quebec, ca 1917.
     The fellows flying the airplanes were given more privileges than we were and almost all of them rode motorcycles. I guess it was because their work was so intense that they wanted them to be able to relax when not training. They had some older airplanes and we watched one day as they drove them all into the hedges to break them up so they could get new ones. They were never disciplined for anything they did. Billy's batman was a guy we called Slim Adams from Alvinston, Ontario. He was a terrible horseman, we used to say he looked like a sack of potatoes riding behind Bishop. One day Billy asked him to send a dozen roses to his girl friend. When Adams tried to do this, they wouldn't extend any credit so he paid for the roses out of his own pocket. When he asked Billy for the money back - he didn't have any to give him.

     In mid-September, the squadron sailed from Southampton and disembarked the next morning at Le Havre in France. The same day the squadron moved up to the front by train and went into billets near Westoutre In Belgium. We took over from "B" Squadron, Surrey Yeomanry Divisional Cavalry of the British 28th Division. On reaching France, I had been made a Sergeant with the second troop. During the fall and winter, our squadron was engaged in frontier patrol duty, trench mapping, classification of water supplies, assisting engineers, artillery spotting, stretcher bearing, and other similar duties under the direct orders of the Divisional Commander. Twenty-five of our men were designated to act as mounted police and to keep order in the camps assisting the Provost Marshall. We were to do very little in a cavalry role for much of the war.

    In January, 1916, through the efforts of Colonel Leonard, authority was granted by the Canadian Government for the Second Canadian Divisional Cavalry Squadron to be known as the Special Service Squadron, First (Canadian) Hussars. Later, in the spring of 1916, the Canadian Corps was formed to include the First Canadian Corps Cavalry Regiment, subsequently known as the Canadian Light Horse. This unit was formed from the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Divisional Cavalry Squadrons. The Canadian Light Horse was formed into three squadrons of four troops each. The total strength was to be 36 Officers, 600 men, and 550 horses. Each troop had a Hotchkiss machine gun mounted, and each squadron carried two extra Hotchkiss Guns in echelon (a total of 18 guns in the Regiment). The three squadrons each retained their own unit identity. They all wore should flashes showing Canadian Light Horse but wore collar dogs and cap badges from their own unit - 'A' Squadron 19th Alberta Dragoons; 'B' Sqn First Hussars; and 'C' Sqn 16th Light Horse (Regina). Colonel Leonard was given command of the Canadian Light Horse. Later a battalion of cyclists, made up of three companies, and the motor machine gun elements were placed under Colonel Leonard's command as well. This whole command was known as the Storm Troopers.

     During this time, even though we were not being used in a cavalry role, our cavalry training continued whenever it was possible. General Haig, who as the senior cavalry officer, believed that there was still a need for cavalry and kept all cavalry units up to strength and well trained. During 1916 and part of 1917, when the war was being fought in the trenches, 100 yards was a major advance. Since there was little opportunity to use cavalry, most of our time was spent in training, looking after the horses, or on duty in various capacities as sub-units attached to the advanced units in the trenches. When on the line we would stand to for two or three hours at a time as there were always rumours about the Germans attacking. Our job was to go forward if the attack came but we knew that with the trenches and barbed wire, our cavalry would do no good.
Mounted Canadian troops heading into action at Vimy Ridge, April 1917, Canada at War

     The RCDs had heard that horses could see in the dark and would be able to jump over trenches and barbed wire in a night assault even if their riders couldn't see. The RCDs made up a series of trenches and barbed wire behind the lines and one night sent a troop of cavalry over them at the gallop believing the horses would jump when necessary. It was an awful mess and all of the horses had to be shot. That's the way you learned. What happened to me then I don't know but all fear was gone, in a trance you might call it. I walked and went any place I wished to that day and night without fear. I came back in about an hour and emptied his pockets. We worked that day, that night, and the next day as stretcher bearers under continuous fire. By the next day, I had only 18 of our 60 men who were able to come home to our own lines. I had been working with four men and told them to wait here while I went forward to see where we should go next. A shell got all of them but only wounded them. They couldn't hear for awhile. Eighteen to twenty had been killed and the rest wounded. It took one man to help a walking wounded back to the line and they could use some cover but it took two men to carry a stretcher and they made good targets. As a result of the good work done by the 1st Hussars, and because of an incident I was involved in, the 8th Battalion recommended I be decorated. I was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). The incident was when I was with three Officers who were looking for their CO. I could hear a person calling and I said to the three Officers, "There's somebody out there calling for help". They said "We know but the Germans aren't likely no more than 100 yards out there, you can't go" I said, "You just watch me. Just boost me up." So I went out and a Sergeant that was there wanted to go with me. I said, "No, you stay here cause if there's two they'll shoot at us but if I go alone, they won't." So I went out towards where this fellow was yelling for help and, holy Moses, before I got to the shell hole he was in, I got eight of them that were out there wounded and lying waiting for dark. I got them out and pulled them over to our trenches and then waved over at the Germans because I knew they were close enough to see what I was doing. So I just waved at them and dropped down into our trench. These three Officers were there and immediately a bullet came over as if to say, "we saw you and could have killed you but we didn't - we saw what you were doing." So that's what got me the decoration. In my diary for this date I have written, "Whoever it was that said war is HELL is correct."

     Thanks so much for continuing with George's amazing story. I anticipate there being one or two more editions, so stay tuned for those! Credits once again to Petrolia Heritage for making this material accessible.
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)