Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seedy Saturdays- Sweet Rocket

Happy Saturday Everyone!  Today's blog is looking back on those pretty flowers we seem to find all around our ditches in the springtime.  Oh if only it were spring again!

This plant is a herbaceous plant species in the mustard family and has many common names, such as “dame’s- violet,” “rogue’s gilliflower,” and “summer lilac.”  Found around the property at the Backus-Page House Museum, sweet rocket, coming in white to purple to pink, are biennials or short-lived perennials that bloom from April to July.  Though it can be cultivated, in many areas it has become a weed species.  Its scientific name Hesperis means “evening” in Greek and most likely because the smell of the flowers becomes more prominent towards evening hours. 

Sweet rocket grows best in full sun to partial shade, is undemanding and self-seeds quickly, forming dense stands, thus having the potential to crowd out native species when growing outside of cultivated areas. This plant is commonly found in roadside ditches, dumps and in open woodland settings, where it is noticed when in bloom, much like the ditches along Lakeview Line where they can be seen growing.  It also makes an attractive, hardy garden plant.

Enjoy your upcoming week!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

World War Wednesdays: Ike: Scandal of a Soldier's Soldier

     General Dwight David Eisenhower is one of the most infamous faces of the Second World War, in addition to his legendary status in American history as a whole. A lifelong military career led to his role as commander of Operation Torch (Allied landings in Algeria and Morocco) in 1942, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1943 during which he forged the path to Allied victory with the D-Day landings, and eventually the thirty-fourth President of the United Sates. However, there is an aspect of Ike's personal life that has been the subject of markedly less flattering discussion. It's a story right out of a "historical" drama film, and grade twelve me was absolutely captivated by it: Did Ike have an affair with his gorgeous ex-model assistant, Kay Summersby?

Ike and Mamie in 1915 (Left) and in 1916 (Right)

     Dwight David Eisenhower was born in 1890 in Texas and was brought up in Abilene, Kansas. He attended the prestigious West Point military academy, and it was during his first posting to Texas that he met Mamie Geneva Doud. The two were married in 1916 and went on to have two sons, one of whom died in infancy.
Summersby attaching a pennant to Ike's Cadillac
      Kay Summersby had been a model before war broke out with Worth, the Paris house of haute couture, and subsequently joined the British Motor Transport Corps (MTC). This was a volunteer unit whose original members were bright, attractive British post-debutantes who had driven ambulances during the Blitz in East London. Summersby started working for Ike in London in May 1942, during which time they became close friends. 

     Unfortunately for Mamie, she was not permitted to be with Ike while he was overseas. His London residence during the war consisted of three large  rooms at a first-class hotel, The Dorchester. During his entire time away, Ike wrote Mamie a total of 319 letters, to which she responded just as frequently. Interestingly, Mamie kept the letters she received from her husband, while he did not keep hers. Shortly after his arrival at The Dorchester, Ike wrote her:
     "I cannot tell you how much I miss you... An assignment like this is not the same as an absence from home on maneuvers. In a tent, surrounded by soldiers; it seems natural to have to get along alone. But when living in an apartment, under city conditions, I constantly find myself wondering, 'why isn't Mamie here?' You've certainly become most necessary to me."
     Kay Summersby, however, was much more available. Ike had to put in some effort to locate her and secure her as his permanent driver, and he ended up having to steal her from another general. When he began planning for Operation Torch, he was given a retreat in the English countryside called Telegraph Cottage. It was there that he spent many nights a week playing bridge with Kay against his aides. 
     With a sort of family being established, Ike asked Kay if she would like to have a dog. Since he had never had one before during his military career, he let her narrow down some options and he finally chose a Scottie, naming it "Telek" and saying that its origins were "a military secret". He told Kay that "It's a combination of Telegraph Cottage and Kay, two parts of my life that make me very happy." He did write Mamie about the dog, saying "You can't talk war to a dog, and I'd like to have someone or something to talk to... A dog is my only hope."

     Kay got to accompany Ike on an inspection trip to Scotland, and he even invited her to come to North Africa with him, though she had to wait about a month. This trip would be an assignment far removed from her role with the MTC. In order to keep his departure top-secret, a cover story was devised that he was returning to Washington, and Mamie prepared to receive her husband at their apartment. Due to security, there was no way he could tell her that he was not actually coming, and he even had to write her forty-sixth birthday letter in advance:
     "I'd like to be there to help you celebrate, and to kiss you 46 times (multiplied by any number you care to pick). I will be thinking with the deepest gratitude of the many happy hours and years you have given me... I've never wanted any other wife-- you're mine, and for that reason I've been luckier than any other man." 

     Kay finally joined him in Algiers with other female assistants after a harrowing journey on a troopship that was sunk by a German submarine. Major-general Everet Hughes, Ike's right hand man, recorded in his diary following the grand reunion and Christmas party: "Sat around with Ike after the party broke up. Discussed Kay. I don't know whether Ike is alibiing or not. Says he likes her. Wants to hold her hand. Doesn't sleep with her. He doth protest too much..." That very same day, Ike penned a passionate love letter back home to Mamie. By New Year's, he was attempting to reconcile love for Mamie with his growing feelings for Kay, and wrote home again:
       "...I've never been in love with anyone but you! I never will."
The cover of LIfe containing the scandalous article
     Ike and Kay enjoyed many more private times during retreats in North Africa. On 22 February, 1943, an article published in Life magazine called "Women in Lifeboats" featured "the irrepressible Kay Summersby, Eisenhower's pretty Irish driver" and included two photos of her. Mamie saw the article and was hurt and embarrassed, but a desperate letter of explanation from Ike squashed these feelings. However, Kay soon became his personal assistant, and the two began spending more time together than ever. Ike and Mamie had not seen each other by that point in almost a year. 
     The relationship between Kay and Eisenhower continued to become more passionate during his intense planning of the D-Day landings, and by January 1944 she was wearing uniforms made by Ike's own personal tailor. On the eve of D-Day in June, he chose to spend the dreadfully anxious period waiting for reports alone in a trailer with Kay.

     After the successful landings and downfall of the war, Ike was regarded as an all-American hero. Heroes, however, don't have mistresses, and he was forbidden to take Kay back to the USA with him in 1945. After having traveled with him throughout the war, Telek remained with Kay and died in 1959 at the age of 17. Ike and Kay never spoke intimately again; he returning to life with Mamie and Kay to eventually marry. In 1974, she wrote of her wartime affair with America's great general based on his wartime diaries and died shortly after.

     Information for this post comes from Dan Parry's D-Day: Reflections of Courage (2004) and Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower: In War and Peace (2012), which is a highly recommended read for those interested in Ike. 

     What do you think? Was Ike just a lonely man looking for companionship during the most trying times imaginable? Does this affect how we think of him today? How do you feel about Kay Summersby? Let me know!

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#GivingTuesday Membership Matters

Tyrconnell Heritage Society
Privileges of Membership
 Charitable Tax Receipt for the full amount of your membership and/or donation.     Membership Card and Vote at the Annual General Meeting.
Recognition of your support on our website.
All charitable tax receipts are sent in February of the following year.

Choose one of the following:
___ Lifetime Individual Membership - $250.00
___ Annual Individual Membership - $30.00
___ Annual Couple’s Membership - $35.00                         
___ Annual Family Membership - $40.00                              
___ Annual Organization Membership - $45.00
___ Annual Business/Corporate Membership - $75.00

___I would like to add a donation in the amount of $_________.                                                                            
Name of Member: ________________________________
If this is a family or couple’s membership please list spouse and/or any children under age of 18:
Name of Organization of Business: ____________________
Mailing Address:_________________________________
City: _______________________  Postal Code: __________
E-mail: _________________________________________
Please make all cheques payable to the Tyrconnell Heritage Society and return to:
Tyrconnell Heritage Society, P.O. Box 26, 29424 Lakeview Line, Wallacetown, ON, N0L 2M0
We thank you for your support and generosity.

We also accept cash, Visa, Master Card, and American Express.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Memory Mondays: The Kitchen Garden

Today we are remembering our kitchen garden, from where it started to where it is now.  In the location where the kitchen garden is presently, used to be simply grass, until the ground was tilled up and maintained as a growing area for vegetables and herbs.  Most of the herbs around the perimeter are perennial, so come back each year, however new heirloom vegetables are planted each spring.  This is done to show how food was provided during the 1850s and also to grow plants that can provide healthy additions to the meals of volunteers and the community.  This year we had tomatoes, onions and carrots planted, as well as corn, beans and squash in the orchard garden. Take care!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seedy Saturdays- The White Pine Tree

Happy Saturday Everyone!  Another area tree for you.

This tree is native to eastern North America and is known to the Iroquois nation as the “Tree of Peace.”  The needles of the Eastern white pine make an excellent herbal tea and contain 5 times the amount of Vitamin C of lemons.  This type of tree is also used to make pine tar, which has multiple uses and is made when the roots, branches or small trunks of the trees are burned in a partially smoldering flame.  Pine tar can be mixed with beer to remove worms, mixed with sulfur to treat dandruff or be processed to make turpentine. 

The white pine also had many uses when it came to the Native Americans.  The Iroquois would call their neighbours, the Algonquians, the “Adirondack,” which means “tree-eater.”  This was in reference to the fact that the Algonquians would collect white pine bark during times of winter starvation, separating the inner and outer bark and using the white soft inner bark, after being dried and pounded, as a flour.  The sap of this tree was used by various tribes as a way to waterproof baskets, pails and boats as well. 

The British Royal Navy used white pine wood to build their ship masts, because it was high quality wood.    Pine was common and easy to cut, so many colonial homes were built with pine for paneling, floors and furniture, just like the floors in the Backus-Page House Museum!  Pine was a favorite tree of loggers since the wood is soft and consequently you will find cup-shaped depressions from normal wear and tear on almost every old white pine floor and there is evidence of this in the museum as well.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Family History Friday with the Elgin Branch of the O.G.S.

We believe in supporting and promoting other local organizations, one of which, is the Elgin County Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.  Our Cultural Manager, Angela Bobier, is a member.  Why not attend the next meeting and see what they are all about?  Everyone welcome and the meeting is free.

Wednesday, November 25

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

St. Thomas Public Library, Carnegie Room

Topic: Who is in your Family? Members can talk about their ancestors and their family trees.

Election of Officers for 2016 - All positions available. Help is needed to run the branch!

Silent Book Auction - Treasures from the Archives and other places.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fighting Two Wars: Canada's Mennonite Communities and WWII

     The majority of stories related to both world wars involve those directly involved or affected by the conflict. However, it is not very often that we discuss those who chose not to be involved for reasons of Pacifist beliefs. While this can certainly be a sore subject for some, it is important to recognize that holding such ideas and acting upon them at a time when an entire nation urged otherwise also created lasting problems for those who did. One of the most significant Pacifist groups in Canada at the time was the Mennonites, a group familiar to readers from Elgin County who of course will recognize the large Mennonite community in Aylmer, Ontario. Members of these communities ultimately faced two wars between 1939 and 1945, and the one at home proved to have as big an impact for them as the one in Europe.

     Information for this post comes from a National Film Board documentary called "The Pacifist Who Went to War". If you're interested, here's the link:
Mennonite settlers in Altona
     The film focuses on Mennonite communities in Southern Manitoba, namely the towns of Altona and Winkler. It tells the story of brothers John and Ted Friesen, sons of a Mennonite deacon. John enlisted in the air force and served overseas, while Ted made the decision to object. Neither brother felt anger or resentment towards the other, but reluctantly accepted the differences in life experiences that had led to those decisions.

Ted (L) and John (R) Friesen

     Unlike the experience of the Friesen family, when Canada entered WWII in 1939, the decision about whether or not to participate caused a major rift among Mennonites. The fundamental teaching of the Mennonite Church is to "love thy neighbor," which was a clear divergence from the Canadian government's call for volunteers to 'go kill Germans'. Previously, the Canadian government had agreed to exempt Mennonites from military service, which was one of the conditions involved in their immigration from Russia and settlement in the Canadian west.
A certificate proving a Mennonite's exemption from military service, 1918
     However, this agreement was discarded during the Second World War. This caused the Mennonites to divide into two groups and appeal to the government: the first group refused any participation in war, while the second was willing to accommodate to a degree. On Christmas Eve 1940, the government described alternative options for military service, though objectors had to personally plead their cases in order to gain Conscientious Objector status. Such cases in Manitoba were presided over by a Judge Adamson, who rarely allowed the men to speak at their trials and asked them the loaded question, "If someone broke into your house and threatened your family, what would you do?'"

     Further complications arose from the Mennonites' German ethnic background. Some actually sympathized with Hitler based on the image he was presenting to the world in the 1930s, and Low German was spoken by some in the communities. The other non-Mennonites in the towns fueled an atmosphere of suspicion towards them, and the social pressure ultimately caused about half the population of young Mennonite men to break tradition and join up.
Manitoba Mennonite Peter Enbrecht gets his wings as an air gunner
     Mennonite boys overseas were not supposed to participate in sports with fellow soldiers for recreation, but many did anyway and sustained numerous injuries while trying out boxing for the first time. When they were told by officers that they were in for the duration of the war, the church sent Mennonite ministers over to join them.

     Back at home, family members of those who had enlisted on their own free will faced discrimination from the rest of the community. Special War Bonds designed for non-military purposes such as the Red Cross were created and sold for Mennonites.

     After the war, the sons who had stayed home to farm were considerably wealthier than those who had served, due to the government's program for food production. Most Mennonites were horrified to hear of the Nazi atrocities, but some denied they even happened. Ultimately, the destruction that resulted from the war meant that it had accomplished nothing, and it reinforced why the Mennonites wanted nothing to do with war.
     Some families with sons who had returned from war were shunned by the Mennonite Church and communities. The church would accept those servicemen who repented, but most did not. The veterans felt no need to apologize for what they did because their service was a difficult, sobering experience which they ultimately did not regret. In the years following the war, no one talked about the subject of Pacifism, though it is supposed to be a central aspect of Mennonite faith. It took fifty years to build the cenotaph pictured above in Altona to commemorate the town's veterans. Divisiveness persists even today, with some people gathering to commemorate veterans while others host conscientious objector gatherings based around religion. There are mixed feelings about whether or not Mennonites will ever fully be reconciled on the issue, though distance and time seem to make things easier with every passing year. Ultimately, the changes brought about by war had as significant and lasting impact on these Mennonite communities, regardless of whether or not they all actively participated.
     Thanks for reading,