March 27, 2017
Chronicle Journal (A2)
Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.
By March 1917 the populations of Fort William, Port Arthur, and cities around the world were struggling with a war that didn’t seem to have any end in sight. The Russian Revolution had begun and the United States was on the cusp of entering the war in April. At home, pressure was building for support to the war effort and other causes from the Cities.
In early March the Cities and citizens were asked to contribute larger and larger sums of money to support the Red Cross, the Patriotic Association, the Soldiers’ Aid Commission, and War Bonds. In total, the figures requested or proposed totaled more than $3 million (in 2017 Canadian dollars) in the span of a month. The task of reviewing the requests and determining what sort of contributions were possible fell to the Finance Committees for the Cities. Beyond the push for financial support to the war effort came the call for increased food production; including but not limited to the transformation of residential flower beds to food producing garden plots.
Other developments in March included the 257th Railroad Construction Battalion breaking all recruitment records in Canada. The Battalion, which recruited in Fort William and Port Arthur late January and early February, took only four weeks to reach full strength with 1017 men. The 141st Bull Moose Battalion put on a public demonstration at the Lyceum Theatre for close to 2000 members of the public. This two day event, called Assault at Arms, featured physical combat and weapons training. Members of the 28th Battalion and the 52nd New Ontario Battalion were also on display in March 1917 with the latest war film to be presented over three days at the Colonial Theatre. Depicted in the film were local soldiers, many of whom had already returned home from the front and were on hand to witness the account. The women’s suffrage movement was pushing ahead with the support of Fort William City Council and the Twin Cities Veterans Association was in search of a home and support from the Cities.
The fourteen letters that were published in the local newspapers this month covered a wide range of matters and from many perspectives. One soldier visited Buckingham Palace to attend a ceremony at which King George awarded him a medal for valor. He notes in his letter that the staircase is “whiter than snow”. Other letters talk about life in the trenches, being surrounded by ducks or waging an attack on a German line. Another provides a lengthy description of the town of Hastings, where Canadian troops were being quartered. The familiar names of Manion and Rutledge crop up in this month’s batch of letters as well.
Last but never least are the deaths reported in the local newspapers for the eight men killed in or as a result of the line of duty. Information about each of these men and their sacrifices can be read in full via the March 1917 Timeline & Local Obituaries section of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project.
This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. Jesse Roberts is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit www.tbayworldwarone.com for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.