The Early Days of War

As 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War, two exhibits at the Galt Museum & Archives will examine the impact of the war on the homefront, and the contributions of people in Lethbridge and area.

The first of these, Lethbridge's Experiences in the First World War (1914-1915)—on display until September 29—examines the beginnings of the war and its impact on the community and its citizens. Stories include initial response and mobilization efforts, Lethbridge's militia history, the spread of patriotism and the rise of xenophobia, recruitment, and the life of Lethbridge's most well known soldier: General J.S. Stewart.

We are sharing exhibit research by guest curator Brett Clifton here on the blog: the first installment looked at War Fever Strikes Lethbridge. This is The Early Days of War:

August 3, 1914 Lethbridge Daily Herald cover

August 3, 1914 Lethbridge Daily Herald cover

The first contingent of Lethbridge volunteers left the city on August 18, 1914 bound for Valcartier, Quebec. The group included 25 members of the 25th Independent Battery, more than 50 British reservists, and a handful of other locals hoping to get on with one of the infantry battalions.  Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19831018000

The first contingent of Lethbridge volunteers left the city on August 18, 1914 bound for Valcartier, Quebec. The group included 25 members of the 25th Independent Battery, more than 50 British reservists, and a handful of other locals hoping to get on with one of the infantry battalions.

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19831018000

Although patriotic sentiment was abundant in Lethbridge during the early days of the Great War, the social and economic climate of the city also played a significant role in the events that unfolded during the fall of 1914.

Recruitment was not a problem, as the excited young men of Southwest Alberta lined up to take the few coveted spots available in the newly formed Canadian Expeditionary Force.

British reservists collected their families and returned home to rejoin their pre-war units, while an initial draft of twenty-five men from the local militia unit were sent to Valcartier, Quebec for training.

On August 27, 1914 a second group of 100 eager volunteers boarded the train for the trip to Valcartier, Quebec. A large number of these men would serve together in Calgary's 10th Battalion, which was part of the first division and fought in the early battles in France and Flanders.  Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 20131017002

On August 27, 1914 a second group of 100 eager volunteers boarded the train for the trip to Valcartier, Quebec. A large number of these men would serve together in Calgary's 10th Battalion, which was part of the first division and fought in the early battles in France and Flanders.

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 20131017002

It was widely believed that the war would be over by Christmas and these young men did not want to miss out on the big adventure.

Since Lethbridge was in the midst of a severe economic downturn, the declaration of war brought a renewed hope for economic prosperity through lucrative military contracts and new employment opportunities.

Not everyone in the city was celebrating the news of war.

There was a silent, apprehensive group of immigrants, mostly those of Central and Eastern European descent for whom the future was uncertain.

The enthusiastic war supporters built a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism, which also served to dehumanize their former friends, neighbours and co-workers, who were now considered the enemy.

The next installment will look at the Lethbridge Detention Camp. The second exhibit Lethbridge's Experiences in the First World War (Local Contributions), runs OCT 11-FEB 8.15.

Guest Curator Brett Clifton was born and raised in Lethbridge, attending local schools as well as the University of Lethbridge. Graduating in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education, he now teaches Grade 7 and 8 Social Studies at G.S. Lakie Middle School. He has published two books documenting the lives and service of local men commemorated on our cenotaph, and is contributing a section on Lethbridge's war time experiences for an Alberta centennial publication coming out this year.

George Bathgate is believed to be the first Lethbridge man to enlist for service in the Great War. He travelled to Valcartier, Quebec with the first contingent from the 25th Independent Battery and served as driver on the lead gun team.  Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 20141015

George Bathgate is believed to be the first Lethbridge man to enlist for service in the Great War. He travelled to Valcartier, Quebec with the first contingent from the 25th Independent Battery and served as driver on the lead gun team.

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 20141015

Lieutenant C.R. Magrath Godwin was given command of the first contingent of Lethbridge volunteers to leave the city. He served overseas with the 2nd battery Canadian Field Artillery and was killed in action in Belgium on April 4, 1916.  Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19841009002

Lieutenant C.R. Magrath Godwin was given command of the first contingent of Lethbridge volunteers to leave the city. He served overseas with the 2nd battery Canadian Field Artillery and was killed in action in Belgium on April 4, 1916.

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19841009002