Week of Remembrance in Tillsonburg

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There are three main areas of focus for the 2013 Week of Remembrance in Tillsonburg, organized by the Tillsonburg Military History Club.

First, they want to take advantage of the centre court mall traffic at the Tillsonburg Town Centre.

“Last year we were there for the weekend of Remembrance,” said Robin Barker-James, president of the Tillsonburg Military Club, “and we had 10 times more people stop at our display than everything else through the week added together. So we said 'we want the message to get out' and that's why we're focusing on the mall.”

A Week of Remembrance static display has been set up in the Town Centre Mall, November 4-10th, and a number of special events are planned.

“We're asking people who would like to come and tell their family war stories to visit. We're going to record those and hopefully within 4-5 years we can put together a publication, 'Tillsonburg at War', based on family experiences. I think that would be interesting for people.”

Barker-James opened Tillsonburg's 2013 Week of Remembrance on Monday in the Town Centre Mall giving the Rick Esseltine Memorial Key Note Address. His theme this year was how critical Canadian air crews were to winning the air war in 1918.

“It's something very few people know about,” said Barker-James, who drew upon his research when finishing his M.A. at UWO. “Our air force was actually pivotal in the air war campaigns of both wars, World War I and World War II. People know about the Commonwealth Training Program in World War II, but it actually started in World War I. A huge flow of pilots, air crew and mechanics went over from Canada in World War I, starting in 1917, and they had an absolutely critical affect on stopping the Germans in the air, which was of course a main component of the victory in 1918.”

On Tuesday, Chris Jezovnik spoke in the Town Centre Mall about the Allied Code Breakers in the Second World War. Part 1 of his two-part presentations.

“It's become really apparent that if we didn't have that (code breaking)... maybe we would have lost the war,” said Barker-James. “Without it I don't know if we would have pulled through.”

Wednesday, also at the Town Centre, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., the Tillsonburg Military Club is hosting a community Antique Military Road Show with Randy Wallis and Barker-James. Bring family artifacts, objects, uniforms, paper documents from the world wars and military service. In true antique road show fashion, have your antique military items appraised and learn more about them.

“It's kind of a fun thing,” Barker-James smiled. “People can bring the helmet Uncle John brought back from World War II, bring documents, post cards, whatever they have from the world wars. Randy Wallis and I will be able to tell them more, probably, about it, and probably give them an estimate of what it's worth.”

Jezovnik returns to the Town Centre Mall Thursday at 7 p.m. to continue his Allied Code Breakers in WWII, Part 2, including visuals.

Friday, Barker-James will focus on the Korean War at the Town Centre Mall.

On Saturday, Nov. 9 and Sunday, Nov. 10, the Barker-James Outdoor History Site will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Explore more than 1 km of trenches, tunnels, bunkers and forts, located at 164886 New Road, RR2, Tillsonburg (from Tillsonburg head east out of town on North Street to Zenda Line, making a quick jog south at Five Points to New Road).

“It's an Open Trench event and families are welcome. I'm going to have a route marked out with flags and they can explore the whole site. A lot of people don't know how extensive it is. Some people have this idea that it's 100 feet of trenches, and that's probably what we had when we started (nearly 18 years ago), but now there's over a kilometre of trenches if you straightened them out. And three simulated tunnels.”

Visit the First World War museum and see the WWI weapons display, as well as a Casualty Clearing Station. Browse and buy world war artifacts in the Barn Sale Fundraiser featuring uniforms, hats, helmets, blade weapons, badges, crests, display shadow boxes, trench art, history and military books – all available for sale as a fundraiser for the Outdoor History Site. There is no entrance fee, but donations of books, artifacts or funds are welcome. Call 519-688-0066 for more information.

“People can buy actual artifacts – buy a piece of history – from the wars. And the World War I stuff... I think it's going to double in value over the next 3-4 years because of the 100th anniversary. They are absolute antiques. As collectors, we've been finding that stuff has been getting scarcer and scarcer to find.

“It's my hope that this will start people, and young people in particular, on the path of collecting, because as you're collecting you are learning more and more about the history, and there's a heightened meaning as a result.”

From Monday, Nov. 4 to Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Station Arts Centre (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Jerry Turner of the Military History Club will have a display featuring Tillsonburg and area service personnel from the Second World War, including a Roll of Honour and short biographies of those in uniform killed during the war. More than 800 men and women from Tillsonburg and area had joined the services. See if a member of your family is listed.

“Eight hundred – that's a huge number if you consider what the population was then,” said Barker-James. “Even for today's population, that would be huge.

“Jerry will be at the Station Arts Centre to answer people's questions, and to get more names because we know the list is not complete. We're welcoming people to look at the list and if a name is not there we will add it next year.”

Also at the Station Arts Centre, panels of the First World War's Oxford Battalion, the 168th, record its history.

“Between the Outdoor History Site on the weekend, the Tillsonburg Town Centre mall throughout the week, and the Station Arts Centre,” summed up Barker-James, “we think we are offering a really neat program for the community.”

chris.abbott@sunmedia.ca

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