100 Years Ago

A century ago, a man was killed in a battle that almost no-one remembers. In France, during World War I, Private Reginald Johnston died in the Battle of Hill 70. The battle began on August 15th, 1917, and Reginald died that day or the next. He wasn’t alone. By the time the battle ended on August 25th, some nine thousand Canadian troops were killed or wounded, and German casualties amounted to some twenty-five thousand.

Reginald was my great uncle by marriage. He was 22, had not married, and had no children. However, his brothers did have children, and one nephew and one niece survive. The niece is my mother-in-law, Ethel. So Ethel is off to France this week to lay her uncle to rest, and my wife Caroline is travelling with her. Caroline is the family’s genealogy buff, and one of the more experienced at international travel.

The remains of some soldiers were uncovered in 2011, when foundations were being dug for a new hospital and a new prison. It took time, but Private Johnston’s identity was confirmed by a tribunal: a military historian, a forensic specialist and a DNA expert agreed that it’s him. His Manitoba Métis ancestry made it easier to get a clear match through mitochondrial DNA. He will be laid to rest this week, and a new memorial to the battle will be unveiled.

For more background on Private Johnston, see this CBC article. For an overview of the Battle of Hill 70 and its significance, try this BBC piece.

On a personal level, Ethel and Caroline’s trip is proceeding more or less according to plan. More, in the sense that they got to Toronto, then Paris, and then Arras okay. Less, in the sense that Caroline’s cousin Carol was supposed to be escorting Uncle Dale, but as dates and travel arrangements changed, no one noticed that her passport was going to expire 83 days after she came home, rather than 90. Until she went through security at the Winnipeg airport, and was denied boarding. Ethel, Dale and Caroline set off for Toronto while Carol paid a frantic visit to the Winnipeg passport office. Miraculously, she was back at the airport within hours, and the same agent who had turned her away before was still on duty. He greeted her with a hug and rushed her through. She got on a later flight and arrived in Toronto with just forty minutes to travel the length of Pearson International, but was able to board the plane to France with everyone else.

Last I heard, the whole group was going for lunch, then taking a nap to try and cope with jet lag. Caroline is keen to try some French food and wine, but the schedule is quite busy after today. There’s a visit to Vimy Ridge with a ceremony for an unknown soldier, a talk with a historian, a meeting with some military brass and a reception, then a tour of the battlefield at Hill 70, the interment of Reginald Johnston, and probably some interviews with a CBC crew. Then the return trip.

I have it easy. I just have to look after two cats and a dog for a few days.

 

Genealogy in Bath, Napanee, and Cloyne, ON

Started our day with a very nice buffet breakfast, then made our way to the lakeshore to walk part of the Lake Ontario Trail. Saw an albino squirrel, and so many black and grey ones that we began to suspect that they were herding us into a trap. Escaped their evil design when it began to rain and we returned to the car early. We’ll give them another chance tomorrow.

Then on to the day’IMG_0848s work. Caroline wanted to find Hawley House in Bath. This is where her loyalist ancestors ended up after they fled Arlington, Virginia. The house is still there, although it’s an unassuming duplex nowadays. The museum in Bath might have been worth a look, but it doesn’t open much after Labour Day.

Onwards to Napanee to visit the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives. A nice little county museum with exhibits about the Great War and some of the industries of the area, but the highlight for me was a display explaining how women’s fashion changed during and after WWI. Fashion, of course, was only the tip of a cultural iceberg; everything changed for women during and after the war. Clothing went from ornamental and impractical to work-oriented and comfortable as women entered the workforce to replace men gone to war and lost to combat or influenza. Women took to breeches and coveralls as they took to the workforce and the war effort. Afterwards – short version – Coco Chanel invented the little black dress and women got the vote.

While we were there, Caroline popped into the Archive Library to take a look at the Hawley file to see if there were any essential documents she had not seen before. No, but a copy of her great-grandfather’s death certificate was on file. Very helpful staff at both the museum and archive desks.

Went downtown for lunch at Ellena’s Cafe. You order at the counter and they bring your food to the table. Then you pay at the counter on the way out. Both the soup of the day, pea, and the quiche of the day, ham, tomato and cheese, were wonderful. Caroline took a chance on the roasted red pepper sandwich, but the grilled bread went soggy fast, so she wouldn’t order it again.

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Back on the road to run an hour north to Cloyne, where Caroline’s dad’s mother was born. The tiny museum there was done for the season, but people at the post office directed us to the Pioneer Cemetery. Most of the markers are lost – they were probably wooden – but a plaque records the names of those settlers most certain to have been buried there. The graveyard is no longer used, but it is still maintained.

Back to Kingston. Fall colours spectacular, but weather very gloomy, so no opportunities for pretty pictures. Tonight, dinner downtown, probably at Tango Nuevo Tapas and Wine.

 

Bennington, VT to Saranac Lake, NY

Found our way to the One World Conservation Center in Bennington for a one-hour walk at the Greenberg Reserve. What began as a meadow walk had me wishing for my hiking boots and staff after we ventured onto the Woodland Trail.

The second stop of the day was Arlington, Vermont. Once upon a time, this community was home to one of Caroline’s ancestors, Jehiel Hawley, who founded the St. James Episcopalian Church there. However, he was a Loyalist, and most of his neighbours, notably Ethan Allen, were Patriots. Must have made for some lively block parties before he fled for Canada. Appropriated by the Patriots, his old house became the governor’s mansion for a time. Supposedly, one of the views from the house is featured on the Vermont state seal. Here’s the house.

Chittenden Home. Probably.

Chittenden Home. Probably.

Finding it was a challenge. After visiting the church and asking at town hall, we ended up consulting a historian at the library. (We just happened to be there on the right day of the week.)

A mixed bag of driving today. From Arlington, we headed into New York and onto County Route 61. Remember what I said  about having to turn a corner every ten miles yesterday, just to stay on the same road? Same deal today, but every mile and a half! We even saw a covered bridge in New York, as well as (ho-hum) a last example in Vermont.

Stopped for lunch, and the sun came out. Bonus. It was supposed to be cloudy all day. 20141014_111323Somewhere around here I got mayonnaise on the lens, because all the pictures I took after this are artfully soft-focus.

North through the Adirondacks on I-89, then small highways to Lake Placid.  We were hoping it would be like Bozeman, Montana but it’s more like Banff, Alberta, being more touristy than we expected. Our hotel was rustic and rather lacking in desks and electrical outlets. Moved on to Saranac Lake instead, where we have a larger, quieter, more modern room.

There are not a lot of restaurants here, so we may not stay two nights.