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Mementoes of war

Artifacts from First World War passed down through generations

Earlier this year, we asked readers to share memorabilia that has been passed down through the generations. The response uncovered unique artifacts and colourful stories.

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Mildred Wright’s father was contemptible — or at least that’s how the German kaiser saw him and others.

Wright’s father, Albert Rosenberg, fought for the British army.

Under the headline "Contemptible — But they held off Kaiser’s Army," Rosenberg was one of four former soldiers who had moved from Britain to Winnipeg in the years after the war and were profiled in the Winnipeg Tribune on the 40th anniversary of the war’s outbreak. The Old Contemptible Association in Winnipeg met monthly for decades after the war ended.

Rosenberg was born in England and served with the Duke of Cornwall light infantry. He was in France in 1914, when the British Expeditionary Forces stopped the German army from crossing France to the ports on the English Channel, after the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, reportedly called the English force’s a "contemptible little army."

Wright said a medal her father received lists the battles of Mons and Ypres that her father fought in.

"He had four brothers who all fought in the war and they all survived," she said.

"But their mother and father died during the war — the worrying got to be too much for them."

Wright said after the war, her father worked for the Vanderbilt family in New York City and met her mother, who also worked for the family. They both came to Winnipeg after the stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.

"He really didn’t like to talk about the war," she said.

"He told us a few stories about the shortages and having to step over bodies in the trenches. He hoped we would never go through another war.

"When World War Two came, he wanted to sign up for it, but he was too old by then."



It might not have held a soldier’s gear for years, but Robert Galston still has a First World War footlocker.

Galston said the footlocker belonged to his late wife Dawn’s dad, Peter G. Agnew, who was in flight training in eastern Canada during the war.

The footlocker, shaped like a trunk, has metal corners and fasteners and the initials P.G.A. inscribed on one side.

Galston said the footlocker was used decades after the war ended because it still contained a dress pattern from 1927, a couple of receipts dated 1937 and 1942, and an old steamship route map.

It also contained a stub for an upper berth train ticket on the Grand Trunk Railway for Toronto to Winnipeg in 1919.

"We’ve had it for a long time, and we always took it with us when we moved. We took it because of family memories," he said.

"We never even stored anything in it."



On a wall in Rick Weind’s house is what looks, at first glance, like a vintage garden implement or a tool used by miners.

In fact, it was one of the most important pieces of equipment soldiers were issued: a personal entrenching tool. It’s the type of shovel used by Canadian soldiers to dig foxholes — from the First World War through to the Korean War.

Weind said the shovel belonged to his wife’s grandmother’s second husband, William "Bill" Jones.

"When we bought our house, my father-in-law, who had worked with Bill, pulled this shovel out and said Bill had been at Vimy Ridge and this was there. That’s the only source for it."

The metal has a fading stamp embossed with the year 1915 on it.

"All we know is he (Jones) held onto it," Weind said.

"You can sure see you can use it for digging. And because it doesn’t have a long handle, I could see someone carrying it."



It may only be a piece of paper, but the one in Pauline Rowe’s possession is heavy with history.

Her father, Clayton Sands, was a signaller and at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, he received a message sent out in Morse code by the 4th Canadian Division.

"Hostilities will cease at 11:00... troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour which will be reported to Corps H.Q... defensive precautions will be maintained.

"There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy."

Sands ran the message over to his superior at 10:45 a.m.

Rowe doesn’t know how her father kept the message after it was delivered; all she knows is her dad knew its importance and kept it. He later framed it where it was displayed on a wall in the family home for decades.

"It was very special to my dad," she said.

"You can just imagine. He was 20 years old and sitting there in the morning and then he gets a message the hostilities will cease. It must have been ‘wow!’ "

Other than the signal message, her dad didn’t talk about his wartime experiences, Rowe said.

"He was only a signaller for a very brief time," she said.

"He was a gunner and he was injured and got shrapnel in his knee. He was sent to England to recuperate, and when he was sent back he returned as a signaller."

Rowe said her dad’s war injury had to be treated through his life.

"The shrapnel would come up to the surface and we’d have to go to Deer Lodge and get it taken out — this happened a few times.

"But he came back — his brother didn’t."

As for the framed signal, Rowe — who worked as a secretary at a school in Pine Falls — would bring it in to show the students during Remembrance Day activities.

"It really brought the war home to them."

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