Lest we forget – The Great War in Kennebec and Olden Townships

Written by  Monday, 24 September 2018 15:35
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Malcolm Sampson always has a project on the go. When he first arrived in Arden 15 or so years ago he instigated the establishment of a soccer league. Over the years he has organised numerous events at the Arden Legion, all aimed at enhancing the profile and/or raising money for the legion. Coming up to Canada 150 he took an interest in the names on the Cenotaph in Arden, particularly the names of WWI Vets from the former Kennebec Township. Sensing there must be a story behind the names of those men who set off from isolated hardscrabble in Arden and Henderson and set off to see the world, not having any idea what they were heading into until they got there, he began to do research.

“I also knew that the people in the next generation, the last generation who remember who these people were and what they were like, are getting on and if their memories are not recorded in some way, those memories will disappear pretty soon,” he said, when interviewed this week with Rhonda Noble at the Frontenac News office.

Malcolm is no stranger to the Frontenac News. He has been talking with us about this project, and others, on a regular basis for a couple of years.

Once he knew he wanted to collect the stories of the men whose names were on the Cenotaph, he began to reach out, through word of mouth, notices in the paper, and through the Arden Legion, for information. Pretty soon the scope of his inquiry expanded to include the names on the Cenotaph in Mountain Grove because he realised the two communities were inextricably linked. Later, it expanded to people who are connected to long time Arden residents, even those who arrived after 1918.

In the end, with one exception, he found out something about every name on the list, save one, J. Dawson-Mountain Grove.

There are 34 names on the Arden Cenotaph and 32 in Mountain Grove.

“There are two or three duplications,” said Malcolm, “and with all the other names people brought forward to us the book has 101 written entries, and 127 photos and documents. But try as we did, no matter where we looked, all we know about J.Dawson is his last name and first initial, nothing else.”

Malcolm decided that the best thing for this project was to produce it in booklet form for the descendants of the men and anyone else who is interested in the history of Kennebec and Olden townships and how it was changed by a generation of men, most of whom were volunteers, who left and either came back profoundly changed, sometimes physically and sometimes psychologically, or who never came back at all.

His only problem was that, although he knew we could print the booklet for him and that he could convince local businesses to support it so that he could sell copies for $10 without being out of pocket, he had not computer skills. None at all.

That’s where his friend Rhonda Noble came in.

“I was ready for a project,” Rhonda said, although she did not necessarily know how big an effort Malcolm was signing her up for. Rhonda typed and proofread and laid out the entire book, 250 or so entries.

The result is a 70 page book, with original documentation and anecdotal memories from descendants. Of the men in the book, 12 died before returning from the war, and many others came back debilitated in some way. Each of the items in the book paints a distinctive picture of the past. This is apparent just by flipping to any page in the book, at random. For example, there is John Monds on page 35. He was born in 1896, was 19 when he enlisted on December 8, 1916. He had a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. He sailed to England on September 25, 1916, fought at Vimy Ridge and died on April 11, 2017.

Rockwell Newton, who was about 23 when he joined the army in 1918, made it to England within 6 weeks of enlisting and arrived in France just 5 weeks before the end of the war. He got back to Canada, uninjured as far as we know, on May 19/1919. His life ended in tragedy however, as he died in 1931 in a truck/train accident at Arden that also claimed one of his brothers, Freeman.

Virtually every entry in the book manages to tell a compelling story, even those that have only the bare minimum of information available.

Now that this project is over, Malcolm is planning the next one.

“We thought of World WarII but not only would it be a huge project, we are also not able to use the archives because the records will be sealed for another 20 years, and without the archives we would not have been able to do this book,” said Malcolm.

“Maybe, and I haven’t told Rhonda about this because it is a new idea, we should do all of Frontenac County,” he said.

Rhonda did not respond.

The book is available between 2 and 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Arden Legion.

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