On Reviewing Reader Reaction

While preparing the annual Flashback quiz published on Jan.3rd., I browsed through a file of letters, e-mails, notes of telephone calls, conversations and interviews that accumulated during 2000. Reading these again proved a rewarding experience, so much so, that I decided to share some impressions with you.

Every effort is made to answer reader contacts as soon as possible; however, if you have not heard from me as yet please be patient. The important thing is to continue refilling this file during the coming year! Although all columns published in 2000 inspired reader reaction, several stood out, as having generated the largest number of responses

Leading the way were those that considered the historical heritage of Yorkshire 2000. This came as no surprise, as it was the major historical observance of the past year on the Tantramar. The influx of Yorkshire settlers has sometimes been called the forgotten migration of Canadian history. Many people, including those not of Yorkshire descent, appreciated reading about its history and background..

Another column with widespread appeal was A Century of Service For Canada published on Feb. 16. It outlined the history of the IODE, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Reaction to this column underscored the importance, both locally and nationally, of a sometimes unheralded service organization. Especially gratifying was the fact that a number of correspondents found this column while surfing the Internet

Two columns that appeared during the summer of 2000 also struck responsive chords. The Lazy Hazy Days Of Summer was popular because many readers either own a cottage that fronts the Northumberland Strait, or spend time each year at one of its many beaches. I must admit being taken to task by one reader who noted my missing New Brunswicks best kept secret the beach at Kouchibouguac National Park.

Marking the 60th anniversary of Camp Ta-Wa-Si proved that generations of local campers hold positive memories of summers past at Johnstons Point. As I suspected, a photograph of unnamed campers, taken sometime during the 1950s, helped spark this recall. Darrell Mesheau, now of Fredericton, was able to identify almost all of the campers. It turned out that he had a copy of the same picture!

There is an old saying that peoples names make the news and this holds true for a historical column. Mary Cannon, Grace Annie Lockhart, Amos King Seaman and Toler Thompson were all prime examples. I am indebted to descendants of the Seaman and Thompson families for getting in touch. Although more than a half century has passed since the classes of 48 and 49 graduated from Mount Allison, several letters and phone calls revealed that memories of Max Fergusons famous Halloween hoax of 1948 are still very much alive.

After the Yorkshire Migration, second place for the number of responses goes to a recent column on The Significance of Vimy Ridge.

First off the mark was George Musgrove of Sackville, who called immediately after the Trib hit the streets. His father, Bill Musgrove, a native of England, served in World War I and saw action in this famous battle. During our conversation, George mentioned that he had a book tracing the history of his fathers battalion and kindly offered to loan it to me. Shortly afterward, we met and I was soon absorbed in reading a fascinating firsthand account of World War I.

Bill Musgrove was attached to the 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion, whose numbers were drawn mainly from southern Saskatchewan. As a result of their distinction in battle they quickly earned the name The Suicide Battalion. Appropriately, this became the title of the book written by James L. McWilliams, from Moose Jaw, home town of the unit and R. J. Steel, whose grandfather served at Vimy.

Although Bill Musgrove passed away in the early 1990s, he was one of a number of Vimy survivors interviewed by the authors. Musgroves conclusion on the outcome of the battle was particularly revealing: After the Vimy attack, I first thought it was a mistake For the amount of men and material we lost was it worth it? However, a little later I came out of the line and struck across the country. I landed in the old German front line. There was a periscope left there. I took a look through it for curiosity and almost flipped! You could see into our old front line, the communications trenches, and for miles back of the line. Realizing the full extent of our victory, I quickly changed my mind about Vimy being a mistake. His son George concluded, Like hundreds of others, my Dad bore injuries suffered at Vimy Ridge for the rest of his life. Subsequently, a leg had to be amputated as a result of wounds inflicted on that fateful Easter Monday in 1917.

Helen Petchey, formerly of Dorchester now of Saint John, noted that her father Fred, was a member of the famous 42nd Royal Highland Regiment. A Vimy veteran, he was one of the fortunate few who came through relatively unharmed. It is well known that Vimy has inspired many place names from Vimy Siding, New Brunswick to Vimy, Alberta. Helen pointed out that the battles impact also included the naming of children. In 1917 a son, born to Dorchester Penitentiary Warden George T. Goad and his wife Jean Piercey Goad, was christened Vimy.

One further eyewitness account. It came in a letter from 93 year old Jack Williams of Windsor, NS. He wrote in part: Your column certainly stirred memories, and then some! These go all the way back to August 1914 when I was 7 years old. We were at Evangeline Beach, the day war was declared. My Dad enlisted in the spring of 1916 and lived through the four day Vimy battle of April 1917. Fortunately, he was more or less unscathed. Three months later, he was on night patrol in the Lens area and was wounded by German artillery. He lost part of one leg and was invalided home by Christmas 1917.

On 09 April 1945, 28 years later, I was a member of #418 Squadron RCAF stationed at an aerodrome in Belgium, not far from the French border. A group of us were invited to make a trip to the Vimy Memorial. When we arrived, we noticed movement around the memorial and soon realized that special ceremonies were about to take place, for this was the anniversary of the battle. It was overwhelming! I remember clearly the monument itself, the trenches, dugouts, sand bagged areas, the parades and the spectators. Of all the things I saw in my time overseas, from celebrations to monuments to cathedrals Vimy was the most memorable.

For certain, the very word Vimy is a significant and hallowed part of many family histories on the Tantramar and throughout Canada. Equally important, it was also a major turning point in the history of our country.