Special to the Tribune/Advisor
One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the British allies signed an Armistice with Germany to end the First World War. The Armistice was a victory for the Allies, and it ended the battles, but the war wasn’t officially until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, and took effect Jan. 10, 1920.
There were many causes for the Great War, but the actual fighting was triggered in June, 1914 when a Serbian rebel assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary. At the time there was unrest in Europe and alliances had formed, Britain, France and Russia on one side, Germany, Austria and Hungary on the other. After the Duke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany declared war on both Russia and France and went through Belgium to attack France. Belgium was an ally of Britain and the war was on.
Canada, as a British colony, joined the hostilities. Some 619,636 Canadians enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 418,042 served overseas, 66,655 were killed, and 172,950 wounded. Few who served overseas came home unscathed. For a country of only eight million people, this was a considerable sacrifice. WW1 was not the war to end all wars, as hoped, but it did lead to Canada’s signature on the Treaty of Versailles, and to Canada’s taking its place as a nation, no longer just a British colony.
After the First World War, a number of veterans’ support associations were formed, but they didn’t get together until 1925 when the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League was incorporated by a special Act of Parliament. On December 19, 1960, the organization became the Royal Canadian Legion.
The Legion’s original objective was to provide a strong voice for those WW1 Veterans, but subsequent wars led to the extension of services to include everyone who has served in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and their families.
Williams Lake Branch 139 was formed in 1934 and got underway in September that year. E.G . (Tony) Woodland was the first president. Other Charter members were T.C. Denny, R.M. Blair, W. Walker, T.G. Harvey, F.W. Gallagher, H.C Richardson, G.S. Woodland, J.W.H. Fawcett, D. B. Melville, W. Nicholson, J.J. Beesley, R.K. Wylie, W. Tomlinson and C. Barber.
The group’s first home was a Quonset hut near where the Tribune is today. In 1957 they built the present building on Barnard Street for $25,000. The building has seen many improvements since then.
Some might think the Legion’s mandate is to sell poppies and conduct the Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11, but members do so much more than that. Canada’s values and social traditions are very much mirrored though the community work supported by the Legion.
Branch 139 is one of the oldest community organizations in the Williams Lake area. For 84 years their major concern has been supporting local veterans and their families, but Legion members have played a big part in the day-to- day life of the community. They have raised thousands of dollars to assist local groups ranging from seniors — such as Deni House, Meals on Wheels, to youth — Army and Navy cadets, school activities, and everything in between—such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Williams Lake Pipe Band — and it gives many bursaries. The downstairs meeting room is available for community events and the branch has a campground at Felker Lake.
How do they do it? The Branch has five paid staff and over 350 members, dozens of whom spend hours every week involved in different projects. Some have been volunteering for decades. Many have been Legion members for 30-40 years or more (Vivian MacNeil 45 years). Cliff Stinson , who passed away earlier this year at 92, was a member for 72 years.
The branch has a business to run and a building to maintain along with the community services it provides. The branch has many projects to keep everyone busy. The best known probably is the annual poppy sales but there are regular events like the steak nights, spaghetti dinners, wing night and meat draws, and special events like the biannual fashion show and dinner, and breakfasts and dinners during stampedes. The Branch also has a bar and receives a percentage of the profits from the games it runs under the Gaming Commission.
Living Lifetime members are Sandra Abbott, Harry Kristoffersen. Reg Norberg, Joyce Norberg and Vivian MacNeil. Two husband and wife teams, Reg and Joyce Norberg and Malcolm and Lucy Stewart have served as presidents. Joyce is the current President, Vivian MacNeil 1st Vice President, Ken Wilson 2nd VP, Jackie LaFlamme, secretary and Wayne Reeves Treasurer.
A number of streets in Williams Lake are named for local veterans — Cornwall, Hodgson, Coxon, Davidson, Blair, Huckvale, Norquay, Mayfield, Pigeon, Smith, Paxton, Pearkes, Spencer, and Woodland.
The Ladies Auxiliary plays a large part in branch activities. Along with assisting with Legion activities, the Ladies sponsor a seniors’ luncheon with the Williams Lake Old Time Fiddlers each month, and they have a pancake breakfast every Monday. Capt. Mary Crawford is the Auxiliary president.
The large carved wooden plaque in the lobby bearing the names of those from this district who died in the First and Second World Wars was made by Williams Lake businessman C.H. Dodwell. This honour roll originally hung in the foyer of the old War Memorial Hospital. The cairn commemorating WW1, WW11 and the Korean War veterans which is now by the Legion on Barnard Street was originally in Gardner Park.
The Legion held a dinner Nov. 3 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice and will be conducting the traditional Remembrance Day ceremonies on Sunday, Nov. 11.