Probus honours veterans and the stories of young soldiers

Their numbers are getting fewer but they still march in and are appreciated as Saugeen Shores Men’s Probus Club held its annual Remembrance Day meeting on Tuesday, November 6th.

   Piper Steve Wolfe piped in the                       Veterans
             Veterans (L-R) Watt Rodgers, Mike Crossling, Harry Mazmanian, Peter Day and Peter Zinkan

At this year’s meeting, there were three guest speakers, David Gray, Peter Zinkan and Bill Streeter.

    Peter Zinkan (Lt.Col. ret’d)

Peter Zinkan, introduced by former Probus President John Kyles, is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) who, as a pilot did three tours with NATO, two in Germany and one in France as a Squadron Leader in Air Weapons Control and commander of Instrument Check Pilot.  He was also a trainer of pilots in Penholdt, Alberta for seven years and in Winnipeg.  He also spent time at the Staff College in Toronto and was with NORAD as a military commander in the Northwest Territories and was Deputy Squadron Commander in Comox, British Columbia.  Zinkan was also part of NORAD headquarters in Winnipeg and Colorado Springs.  He retired in 1986 as a Lt. Colonel.

Zinkan spoke about a little known war, ‘The Cold War’. “Seldom do we hear about the ‘Cold War’ that went on from 1945 to 1991,” said Zinkan, “and how it developed, how Canada got involved and what Canada’s Air Force contribution in Europe was and the sacrifices made. It was a very serious operation.”

According to Zinkan, the Cold War was defined as a military intervention between Russia and the United States after the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. “What was important was that rules of war changed,” said Zinkan. “In 1948, Russia decided to restrict all access to Berlin but the Commonwealth allies and the U.S. came together in the Berlin airlift that provided support to West Berlin with supplies.  It was the first time that the combined forces came together to stop Russia from ‘flexing’ her muscles.”

Russia set out to build a buffer between her and the western allies and tensions continued to rise and the western allies signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April, 1949. The surprise invasion of North Korea into South Korea on June 25, 1950 further complicated things as both China and Russia supported North Korea while the United States and NATO supported South Korea.

Canada was a founding member of NATO.  “Pilot and training mills in Canada began to ramp up and the F86 fighter jet began production in Montreal built by Canadair and which was the best aircraft in Europe at the time.”

Military personnel spent three-year terms in Europe, along with their families. The military contribution remained for another six years and, as nuclear weaponry came into being, Canada was asked to “switch from air superiority role to nuclear strike and reconnaissance”.  Then, in 1967, all Canadian forces in Europe were moved to Lars, Germany.

The link to Remembrance day, added Zinkan, were the pilots and service personnel who were lost during the ‘Cold War’.  “There were 250 personnel who died in service during that time,” said Zinkan. “These members are on the back pages and, unlike today’s Highway of Heroes where military are honoured as they are brought back home, no military members from the Cold War are remembered and they are buried in Europe under simple white crosses in France, where there are approximately 1,300 graves of Canadians, including military personnel and their dependents.

“We made a significant contribution that is seldom recognized and we trained for war every day,” said Zinkan.

Guest speaker, Bill Streeter, who calls himself an “amateur historian”, is passionate about the history of Canada’s participation in the wars and the young service personnel who were lost.  He has researched extensively the local young men who lost their lives, not only their military records but their personal lives and who they were.  He has personally contacted descendants of young soldiers in an attempt to learn more about the person behind the regimental number.

Streeter has given several talks not only to various organizations, but has also conducted walking tours in the community of Southampton where banners hang from the lamp posts, picturing the young soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned from war.

“When I was doing the research,” said Streeter, “I felt there was a story that needed to be told and I thought 2018 was the appropriate year with the 100th anniversary of World War I.”  Streeter talked about the War in the ‘big picture’, the War from a Canadian perspective and the War from a local community perspective.

“Looking at the War overall, we see it was very significant.  There were 1,700,000 Russians that died and 4,900,000 wounded and it puts into perspective how brutal the war was.  The Americans lost 126,000 but did not come into the war until late 1917 and most of those were during the 100-day offensive of pushing the Germans back to Germany,” explained Streeter.

The Austrians, Turks, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire were all aligned with Germans.  “Whether it was nine million that died or 20 million who were wounded, it was a horrible war.  From a Canadian perspective, 619,000 enlisted and, of those, 424,000 served overseas.  Of those, 60,000 non-expeditionary force died and 172,000 were wounded and 138,000 were battle casualties.  Among the causes of death however, was pneumonia along with dyptheria.”  Steeter has many statistics about the men who served such as, the 1,388 died flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force .

Britain declared war on Germany on August 1st and, on August 10th, word was sent to Canada to muster 25,000 troops to go to England.  At the time however, there was only an army of 3,000, so it was a major undertaking.  The only camp at the time was in Val Cartier near Quebec City and each province had a militia but despite the small army, 35,000 answered the call immediately and 21 Bruce County young men who enlisted were all signed up by the same, Joseph Lionel Tranner.

Streeter’s extensive research lays out the history of all the local men who went to war.  I found Sam Steel, who enlisted, of particular interest,” said Streeter.  “He had gone to the Klondike in command of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), he was also involved in the Riel Rebellion in Manitoba, he was also the first Canadian to go to the Boer War and, after enlisting, was commander of the Canadian 2nd Division from May to August, 1915 and he was quite old at that time.  He was probably one of the biggest heroes of Canada and the one we know the least about.”

In Saugeen Shores, the 5th Canadian Division formed in 1917 and disbanded in 1918.  In 1915, the call went out to rural areas and recruitment began in Bruce County with a goal of 1,000 for troops and 150 for administration. In each little town, a platoon was formed and then they all went to Walkerton.  By mid-june, there were 1,250 that went to London for training and then, in 1916, they went on to Halifax and sailed to England where they were deployed to two camps.  The 5th division remained in England and became back-up to all the regiments fighting in Europe.

“In Saugeen Shores, there are three cenotaphs – Southampton, Saugeen First Nation and Port Elgin,” Streeter pointed out.  “Saugeen First Nation record keeping is superb because of the treaties. Every treaty person is documented throughout their lives so we can access regiment numbers for every First Nation man who enlisted and every man who served from Saugeen, is on the Saugeen First Nation cenotaph.”

“When you think of it, 56 local men died in World War I, – two in 1915, nine in 1916, 13 in 1917, 28 in 1918, 3 in 1919 and one in 1920.  Those who died before 1920 were considered casualties of war and, after 1920, they were considered survivors.  Of the 28, 24 died after August 8th, 1918, which was the start of the 100th day offensive and that is the story I wanted for 2018.

Of the 160th Bruce Battalion, all enlisted. The 100-days offensive was a combination of all the allied troops that the Germans were unable to react to and that potentially lead to the end of the war.  There were five million on either side, ten million men fighting.

“When you look at numbers like 100,000 killed in one battle and casualties like 12,000 the numbers are staggering,” Streeter pointed out. He has researched every local man, who died, by regiment and date of death.  “One interesting story is about Isaac Akewenzie.  On the Southampton cenotaph, there is an I. Akewenzie.  After checking his military number through the First Nations, I found that his father’s oldest son was in the military and he didn’t want his youngest son to go. The son at 18 however, found his way to Wingham where he enlisted with the Huron Battalion and he died in the Battle of Aras.  There were five Saugeen First Nations men who never came home.”

Streeter has written about several of the local men who died and is working to complete the rest.  “These are stories that must be told.”

Lest we Forget