July 1st may have been a rainy damp day throughout our region this year, but the spirit of celebration was far from damp at the Albert County Museum for the annual Canada Day & RB Bennett Day event. This year commemorated the “joyous return” of the Albert County WWI soldiers in 1919, as well as the fact that Albert County won the provincial 1919 Victory Loans Campaign competition.
Stuart Liptay, President of the Albert County Historical Society (ACHS), officially welcomed everyone and shared the news of an important donation. The museum recently received the WWI British War Medal that had been awarded posthumously to the 15-year-old boy soldier, Private Clifford Robinson Oulton from Bridgedale, who was killed on Nov. 1, 1917 at the Battle at Passchendaele. Sadly, Private Oulton was one of hundreds of underage boy soldiers who never returned from the Great War. The donation of Private Oulton's WWI British War Medal is greatly appreciated; it will be displayed in the County of Heroes exhibit.
Brent Wilson, historian and author of Family of Brothers: Soldiers of the 26th Battalion of New Brunswick was the invited guest speaker. Brent showed WWI photos and talked about the activities of the soldiers in Europe after the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918 until they returned home in May 1919 on the ship SS Olympic. Brent also shared several personal stories from WWI letters written by Albert County soldiers (included in Family of Brothers).
Dawne McLean, ACHS VP, spoke briefly about her great uncle, Hugh Wright who served in the 26th Bn. sailing from Saint John on June 13, 1915 on the ship Caledonia for Europe. Hugh was 24 years old when he returned home in May 1919 to the Wright family farm in Shepody.
To celebrate the joyous return of the NB soldiers in 1919, Saint John held a two day “Soldiers' Joy” event August 14-15. Invitations were sent to all the NB soldiers who had served in the war, inviting them to come to Saint John with their families for the two days. Hugh traveled by train from Shepody to Saint John to participate in this two day joyous event. In the WWI County of Heroes exhibit at the Albert County Museum, his 1919 souvenir button with a printed ribbon is included in the wall shadow box with his other war memorabilia and photos. A photo of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) is on the button. On the red ribbon, “Souvenir of H.R.H. Prince of Wales Maiden Visit to American Continent Entering at St. John, N.B. Aug. 15, 1919” is written in gold print. August 15th was “Prince Day” when the Prince of Wales arrived in Saint John Harbour, the first point of his Canadian tour.
In later years, Hugh was the lightkeeper on Grindstone Island from 1936-1950. On his first Dominion Day (now called Canada Day) on Grindstone Island, many community friends and family members went on a boat trip to the island to visit him. So, Dawne thought it was appropriate on Canada Day to show this signature list of 33 visitors to Grindstone Island on July 1, 1936.... 83 years ago.
President Liptay explained the historic background of Albert County's Victory Loans Campaign. As a way to raise funds to help with the financial debts of WWI, the New Brunswick government organized a 1919 Victory Loans Campaign competition between the provincial counties. The citizens of Albert County “dug deep” reaching a total amount of $347,600 which more than tripled their set goal. Albert County won the competition! Not only was Albert County awarded the Prince of Wales honour flag for winning the 1919 Victory Loans Campaign competition, but the citizens of Albert County were also awarded the war trophy of the German 10.5cm K-14 field gun captured at Vimy Ridge.
The Victory Loans Campaign also held an important connection to Prime Minister RB Bennett because it was RB's brother, Captain Ronald Bennett of Hopewell Cape, who was the chairman of the 1919 Albert County Victory Loans Campaign.
It was a pleasure to have RB Bennett's nephew, William Herridge of Toronto and his daughter, Elizabeth, attend the July 1st event at the museum again this year.
Mr. Herridge gave an informative talk about his uncle Ronald Bennett who had served overseas in the navy during WWI and had an impressive career. In 1933 Ronald and his wife acquired the property and stately home in Sackville known as Anchorage, where Prime Minister RB Bennett often visited. Tragically, Ronald Bennett and his wife, Elva, suffered the loss of their two sons, Major Edwin Ronald Bennett and Lieut. Henry Harrison Bennett. Both members of the Black Watch, the brothers were killed in action ten days apart during the invasion of Normandy, France in 1944. At the time of Captain Ronald Bennett's death in 1961, he left his sizable estate to Mount Allison University. Today, Anchorage House or the Bennett House is Mount Allison's Centre for Canadian Studies.
The July 1st event ended with everyone enjoying the celebration cake and ice-cream!
It was definitely a rewarding and enjoyable day to have so many people attend the July 1st event and be interested in listening and learning more about the proud heritage and history of Albert County.