We Did Our Bit: WWI Exhibition Favourites Part 2 – The Trenches

This is the second installment of the We Did Our Bit series. Please see read the first post in series here

This post was contributed by Norm Whitehead, volunteer docent at the St. Catharines Museum.

The Trenches 

Norm stands in front of the reproduction trench on display at the Museum’s WWI exhibition.

I have been volunteering at the St. Catharines Museum since the 1990s, and I have seen many, many exhibitions throughout my time here. However, the Doing our Bit exhibit has particular meaning me. My father, Harry Fenton Whitehead, and two uncles, Jack and Norman Fenton Whitehead, fought in the First World War. I had family who fought at the front, and who lived in the trenches – trenches that have been reproduced in the exhibit. For this reason, the replica trenches on display in the Doing Our Bit exhibit resonate with me the most.

 

Harry, Norman, and Jack Whitehead (left to right) pose together for a photo before the two older brothers went off to war. Norman, the youngest, joined later. Photo courtesy of Norm Whitehead.

My father and uncles served with the Lancashire Fusiliers in the British Army during the First World War. They fought in the trenches at Ypres and Passchendaele, and they fought alongside the Canadians. I recall my father often referring to the Canadians and their efforts, especially at the Second Battle of Ypres. They were brave men.

My father never talked about what he experienced during the war until much later in life. It was too traumatic and difficult to talk about, especially back then. All three were attacked with poison gas in the trenches. My father and one uncle both suffered serious wounds after a shell exploded, penetrating them both with shrapnel. My father lived with shrapnel remnants lodged in his back for the rest of his life – he never fully recovered

Norman Whitehead eventually died of the injuries he sustained during the First World. Photo courtesy of Norm Whitehead

The trenches and dugouts replicated in the Doing our Bit exhibition help us to understand what trench warfare might have been like. These displays also give us a chance to talk about the sights, sounds, and even smells soldiers would have experienced in the trenches – things we could not depict here. My father and uncles lived in horrible conditions. The trenches were rat infested, with water up to soldiers’ knees. The food was poor, and sleep, comfort, and rest were nearly impossible. Seeing these displays at the Museum really contextualizes soldiers’ experiences during the First World War.

My Uncle Norman was seriously injured during the war and he did not recover. He succumbed to his war wounds in 1928, at the age of twenty-eight. He died a single man. I was born five-years-later. My parents named me after my uncle. I am directly linked to what my father and uncles experienced during the war and I am honoured to share this story now.

Doing our Bit: WWI from St. Catharines to the Western Front officially closes on Friday, November 30. Please join us as we close out this exhibition with a 1918 Victory Party celebrating the end of the First World War. Enjoy live jazz music, swing dance lessons, food, and drink throughout the evening.

Friday, November 30, 8pm-midnight | $10 per person | Tickets online or by calling the Museum at 905-984-8880| Visit our website for more details | 

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