Friday, November 8, 2013

Remembrance Day 2013 - Korea – by Roy Toomey

Not much work needed to put up exhibit panels? Check out what Roy Toomey, one of our education programmers, has to say about his experience writing the Korean War panels for the Remembrance Day 2013 exhibit at Musée Héritage Museum, opening on November 8, 2013. 

For Remembrance Day 2013, at the Musée Héritage Museum, we wanted to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War (1950 to 1953).  This international conflict, in which Canada played a major role, is not well-known.  Most people’s exposure to the Korean War is the film and TV series: M*A*S*H. Some 27,000 Canadians served in Korea.  This was the 3rd largest contribution of all the United Nations, behind only the US and the UK.  Over 516 Canadians died in Korea, showing that just as they had in two World Wars, Canadians were willing to give their lives for international freedom and democracy.
As St. Albert’s museum, we wanted to link the Korean War to St. Albert.  Finding soldiers who served in Korea, and who were actually from St. Albert, wasn’t easy.  We decided to focus on Gerard “Gerry” Harnois.  Gerry was born in St. Albert, and his grandfather, Leon, was the first Harnois to settle in St. Albert.  Leon married Christine Lacombe, the sister of Father Albert Lacombe.  Thus, Gerry had strong ties to the history of St. Albert.  He served nearly 30 years in the Canadian Army, serving in World War II, the Korean War, and Egypt in the 1950s.  His three brothers also served in World War II, and one of them, Philippe, died in the war.
Harnois brothers in military uniform - Maurice, Philippe, Gerard, and Paul.
Being passionate about Canada’s military history, I was given the honour of researching and writing the first drafts of the Remembrance Day 2013 exhibit panels.  The research itself wasn’t difficult but writing the text panels was a challenge.  Working under the supervision of our curator, Joanne White, an expert at writing concise and informative museum panels.  To honour St. Albert’s French-Canadian roots, our panels are in French and English, so fitting all the information on only a few panels can be difficult.
I consulted Veterans Affairs Canada for much of the information about the Korean War, and our own archives for information about Gerry Harnois.  When writing about military history, I tend to be wordy.  To me, all the information is pretty important, but you can’t include every detail on only a few panels.  We wanted three panels about the war, and one about Gerry. 
I started by organizing my facts, and then writing a short, organized history of the Korean War.  Once that first draft was done, I began paring it down.  Sometimes this meant changing the wording; other times this meant cutting “stuff.”  My first narrative was about four pages long!  With Joanne’s help, I cut it down to a page and a half.  Quite the cut, eh?  Once this 2nd draft was done, Joanne took over and made further cuts, creating the final narrative for the exhibit.  The trick to writing museum panels is to tell as much of the main story as possible, and to give a brief history of a subject, focusing only on key elements.  Working with Joanne to create text panels for the museum has taught me to keep it simple and concise.

There are other Korean War veterans that live in St. Albert today. Al McBride and Gord Carter are two of them. For more information about their stories, please visit the St. Albert Leader's articles at:  Credit where credit is due, and A different perspective on Remembrance Day.

The Remembrance Day 2013 exhibit is open at the Musée Héritage Museum from November 8-17, 2013. The Musée will be open on Remembrance Day from 10am - 1pm.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part III by Roy Toomey

So what do museum staff members do when they go on vacation? One of our education programmers, who is a military history enthusiast, went to visit some World War sites in Europe. This blog is the final part of his personal account of what it meant to him.
After Vimy Ridge, we headed for Normandy, France.  World War I was over for us, but World War II was just beginning.  Our first stop was Dieppe.  At the beaches, it became obvious why Dieppe was a failure.  Steep slopes and loose, slippery gravel make it difficult to even walk.  High cliffs still littered with bunkers and pillboxes surround the beaches, especially at Blue Beach: perfect vantage points from which the Germans could repel the Canadians.
View of Blue Beach from front of German bunker
Dan and I left Dieppe, and moved on to Juno Beach, Canada’s own D-Day landing.  The length of Juno Beach is staggering; about eight kilometres!  Five Canadian regiments were spread out across the beach that day.  German defences were formidable, with machine guns, artillery, and fortifications placed at very regular intervals.  Seeing this in person, it’s a wonder the Canadians succeeded at all on D-Day, yet they made it further inland, and achieved more of their objectives, than the British or the Americans!
View of part of Juno from German pillbox
The museum, memorials, and preserved defences along Juno are excellent, and the cemeteries in Normandy are powerful reminders of the aftermath of war.  We visited the Abbaye d’Ardennes, and stayed at the grand Chateau d’Audrieu.  During World War II, these sites saw mass executions of Canadian POWs by the 12th SS.  The 12th SS murdered about 150 Canadians in Normandy.  Standing on the actual sites of these war crimes was sad and surreal.
Juno Beach bunker and centre
Chateau d'Audrieu
We left our car in Caen, France, one of the cities my grandfather was in while serving in World War II.  We took the train from Caen to Paris, and then flew home.  The trip was about nine days.  It was a great adventure, but really could have been longer.  It truly was the pilgrimage we had hoped for.  We paid our respects as best we could, and did our small part to honour the thousands of Canadians who sacrificed their lives for Canada, and for freedom and democracy, in two World Wars.  I strongly urge all Canadians to make a similar trip!  I hope you enjoyed these past few blog entries, and thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you.

If you would like to see more of Roy's trip, please visit Roy's personal Flickr page. Stay tuned for Roy's next blog about his experience researching the Korean War for the Musée Héritage Museum.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part II by Roy Toomey

So what do museum staff members do when they go on vacation? One of our education programmers, who is a military history enthusiast, went to visit some World War sites in Europe. This blog is the second part of his personal account of what it meant to him.
Menin Gate Memorial. Ypres Cloth Hall in the background.
In Ieper, we observed the “Last Post” ceremony at the magnificent Menin Gate Memorial, and visited the “In Flander’s Fields” Museum at the Cloth Hall.  At the Menin Gate, I was again awed by the number of names; all men with no known grave.  I even found a ‘Toomey’ among the dead.  After Ieper, we visited Passchendaele and St. Julian, two battles in which Canadians played major roles.  The St. Julian Memorial is known as the ‘brooding soldier.’  The top of the obelisk is carved as the head of a Canadian soldier, head bowed, eyes cast down: a permanent honour guard for Canada’s fallen of the Great War. 

St. Julian Memorial
We also visited Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.  One of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients of the First War is buried at Tyne Cot.  At this cemetery, the Cross of Sacrifice is built atop a German bunker: an instrument of war turned into a marker of remembrance.  This was King George V’s idea, actually.  When he visited Tyne Cot in 1922, he said, “In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth… than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the destruction of war.”

Canadian Victoria Cross recipient at Tyne Cot Cemetery
We then journeyed to France.  We stayed in Arras, site of fighting in both Wars.  From Arras, we visited one of the most significant Canadian historic sites: Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Ridge viewed from across farm field
Being at Vimy Ridge is like being on holy ground.  The vastness of the park, the immensity of the memorial, the statues, inscriptions, and thousands of names, all created an intensely emotional experience.  The names on the Vimy Ridge Memorial are those of men with no known graves.  Not far from the Vimy Memorial, you can still see the craters upon craters, testament to the great artillery barrages the soldiers would have faced.  Fences prevent people from crossing into these areas, and signs warn of unexploded ordnance; weapons of a war nearly 100 years in the past but still just as potentially deadly today. 

Roy at Vimy Ridge
On the Vimy Memorial, I was able to locate and photograph the names of three men from St. Albert: Moise “Moses” Beausoleil, John Hugh Kennedy, and Clarence Harrold Maloney.

Moise “Moses” Beausoleil
John Hugh Kennedy (1889 - 1917)
Service men with girls, ca. 1914. John Kennedy's younger brother, Dan, is seated to the far right. Both were killed during World War I.
Clarence Harrold Maloney (1894 - 1916)
Maloney family farmstead in St. Albert, [ca. 1900 - 1915].
Hopefully these pictures will help to tell the story of St. Albert’s sons who never came home from the First World War.  Besides the memorial, the preserved trenches and tunnels at Vimy are some of the best anywhere.  While at Vimy, we ran into several Canadian high school classes on field trips.  It’s good to know that our teachers still educate their students about Canada’s role in the World Wars, the importance of these events to our history, and the sacrifices made by those thousands of Canadians.

Please check in with the Musée Héritage Museum’s blog later this week to read about our trip to the World War II sites in Normandy, France, and the conclusion of our pilgrimage of Remembrance. You can check out the first part of the blog at Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part I.