Artifacts

GNATs versus CATs
Artifacts

GNATs versus CATs

For a couple of years into the Second World War, it looked like German U-boats might prevail in the Battle of the Atlantic by starving Britain of food, troops and supplies, and smoothing the way for an invasion of England. But by 1943, the Allies had learned how to fight a submarine war. More ships, better air cover, new tactics, improvements to sonar and radar equipment, and better weaponry and defensive devices had begun to turn the tide midway through the five-and-a-half-year battle. But in September 1943, German Admiral Karl Dönitz dispatched 29 U-boats for a battle that he mistakenly believed would re-establish the wolf pack’s dominance of the Atlantic. The subs were equipped with a new weapon: the acoustic torpedo. The German Naval Acoustic Torpedo (GNAT) homed in on the noise ...
Mementoes from Afghanistan
Artifacts

Mementoes from Afghanistan

Uniforms, equipment and explosives are reminders of Canada’s involvement in Southwest Asia   Though fresh in memory, the war in Afghanistan has entered the annals of national history. Aside from personal mementoes brought home by military and civilian personnel, museums have begun building their collections of artifacts. Bruce Tascona, director of Legion House Museum in Winnipeg, carefully lays out an artifact from the war in Afghanistan, an IED —improvised explosive device—confiscated from a captured terrorist. “We were using the latest in technology, smart bombs and the like, and facing an enemy that made weapons from stuff you could get at any hardware store,” said Tascona. Explosives and shrapnel—ball bearings, nails and screws, tin cans cut into bits—would have been p...
Night terrors
Artifacts

Night terrors

In moonless nights, silent as clouds, Zeppelins floated over Britain, the original stealth bombers, raining destruction on military targets and unsuspecting civilians. They flew so high it took planes of the day an hour to climb to their height, and when they got there, their bullets just poked holes in the air bags. Initially, Germany’s First World War airships provoked helpless outrage. Zeppelin crews called themselves Knights of the Air; the British called them baby killers. High-altitude bombing by the German navy’s Zeppelins and the army’s Schütte-Lanz airships was meant not only to damage factories, but to sap the Allies’ will for war. The second goal went unmet, but Zeppelin raids destroyed an estimated one-sixth of British munitions output to 1916. But by the fall of 191...
Hong Kong craftsmen
Artifacts

Hong Kong craftsmen

PoWs turned scraps into works of art   Few artifacts survive to remind us of the fate of Canadians who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong, the then British colony that surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941, after a fierce, 17-day battle. The Winnipeg Grenadiers and Royal Rifles from Quebec City were sent to join 14,000 Allied defence troops, who were no match for the 52,000 seasoned, heavily armed Japanese invaders. The Canadian contingent was undertrained, under-armed, and their transport and heavy equipment never arrived. Every one of the 1,975 Canadians became a casualty of war: 290 were killed, 493 were wounded, and everyone who survived the battle was taken prisoner. Survivors spent 44 months as prisoners of war, during which 260 of them died, almost as many as...
The housewife
Artifacts

The housewife

Sewing kits were a surprisingly versatile tool for soldiers in the field At fleet school they said, ‘If we wanted you to have a wife, we’d issue you with one,’” recalls navy veteran Jim Ross. “And then they did.” In his six months at Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis in Nova Scotia in 1958, Ross became intimately familiar with his housewife—a sewing kit with everything he needed to keep his uniform shipshape. “We had to sew our names on everything we were issued with,” said Ross, who lives near Charlottetown. “That was a big thing. It took up so much time because we had so much kit…summer uniforms, winter uniforms, shorts and underwear and everything. Hats.” That navy-blue housewife, with his name and service number neatly embroidered in red on the outside flap, now resides in...
Blue puttees
Artifacts

Blue puttees

Puttees provided ankle support and stopped muck, debris and critters from getting into the boots   Newfoundland’s governor answered Britain’s call to arms in August 1914 with a promise: the dominion would raise a regiment, enlisting the first 500 soldiers within a month. But with Newfoundland’s situation—a population of only 241,000, a depressed economy, and the last military unit stationed on the island disbanded since 1870—how could the citizens’ committee so charged recruit, train and equip the Newfoundland Regiment? “Your King and Country Need You! Will you answer your country’s call?” asked an Aug. 22 advertisement encouraging men 19 to 35 to enlist “for the duration of the war, but not exceeding one year.” Pay was a dollar a day, plus rations. By Sept. 2, 74...