If you had a relative who served in the First World War, you might find yourself searching for photos in the 2018 Alberta in the Great War calendar, produced by the Archives Society of Alberta. “Perhaps that’s him,” you might think as you look at a shot of young men from the University of Alberta, who joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Then again, you might hope he is not shown on the November page, which depicts a hospital full of soldiers, some of them without legs, circa 1918. The photos represented in this calendar are clear and telling. There’s a story to be told by looking at them of what war may have been like for Albertans from 1914 to 1918.
The June page was contributed to the Archives Society by staff at St. Albert’s Musée Heritage Museum. The caption reads, “Armoured vehicle from the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade.” It says nothing about whether the men shown were from Alberta. The St. Albert connection was Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel, who invented and developed the tank-like structure in the foreground.
Something about the photo appears staged as the men, the machine gun they are holding and the tank itself are spotless. It’s almost like a car ad for the latest new Chevy.
“It may have been a set up shot. You wonder if it may even have been taken after the war,” said Musée Heritage Museum archivist Vino Vipulanantharajah.
Brutinel himself is not in the photo. His claim to St. Albert was a house he owned here. He was a railroad speculator and attempted to start a rail line between Edmonton and St. Albert. He used his wealth to contribute to the war effort in France.
“Brutinel financed the metal for the tanks,”said Vipulanantharajah.
For a more realistic view of war, thumb back to April’s page, showing soldiers of the 20th Battery from Lethbridge bringing ammunition during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Here you see men standing in mud holding horses loaded with ammunition. The horses’ legs are muddy to their flanks. The men’s’ faces and uniforms are black with mud. They stand in a row with their horses, almost like a row of taxis hoping for fares. The men do not appear exhausted but they don’t look victorious either. Rather, they appear wary as they wait and wait and wait.
The photo that may cause you to catch your breath is on the inside back cover but modern Albertans might not admit to recognizing any relative in this tiny snapshot. It’s easy to glorify war and to go “Rah, rah! It’s over! We won!” Victory, we might think, was honourable and proud. This photo of a parade in Banff circa 1918, shows a cheering, hating crowd viewing a Ku Klux Klan-style cross bearing an effigy of the German Kaiser.
One remaining thought after looking at all these photos might be this: “Great-Grandpa’s photo is not here. He did not come home. How many of these men returned to Alberta?” And in thinking all that, you will mentally pay tribute and you will remember.
Alberta in the Great War ($5) is available at the Musée Heritage Museum at 5 St. Anne Street.