The Saskatoon Museum of Military Artifacts (SMMA) is home to a large collection of Canadian military artifacts spanning the Boer War to current peacekeeping missions — many of which have been donated by local veterans and their families.
StarPhoenix reporter Erin Petrowvisited the museum to check out a few of the artifacts available to view this Remembrance Day at the SMMA or at the Western Development Museum until the end of November as part of the SMMA’s They Were There … Over There exhibit.
Ammunition belt — the Second Boer War
The museum’s oldest artifacts can be dated back to 1889-1902 when Canadian troops were — for the very first time — dispatched overseas to aid in the British Empire’s battle against the South African Republic and the Dutch Orange Free State in what is now South Africa.
During the more than three years of warfare, Canada sent 12 nurses and around 7,000 soldiers to the region — 270 of whom died during the conflict. Each of these Canadian soldiers would have been issued an ammunition belt — or bandolier — like this one, which would have been worn slung across the chest diagonally.
Death Penny — the First World War
Originally called a Memorial Plaque, but quickly nicknamed the Death Penny or the Dead Man’s Penny for its similar appearance to the much smaller coin, it was meant as a token of remembrance given to the widows or mothers of a fallen soldier.
The SMMA has a few Death Pennies in its collection, including one issued to Manitoba-born nurse Victoria Hennan, whose original uniform is also on display. Though these memorials were created for all British and Empire service people who died during the First World War, the cost and materials to manufacture them couldn’t be maintained into another conflict.
“I think they didn’t realize how much metal was going to be involved in all of these things,” SMMA volunteer Malcolm Gibson said.
More than 1.3 million of these memorials were issued, using more than 450 tons of bronze in their creation.
Cigarettes — the Second World War
Ration cards and coins as well as cigarettes played a big role in life on the home front in Canada during the Second World War.
Canada was a nation of only 11 million people at the time, with more than one million people serving full time in the armed services between 1939-1944, so the war effort was felt by everyone in the nation. Whether it was kids, like Gibson’s mother, who went door-to-door collecting scrap metal or parents giving their children the lion’s share of the rations — everyone went without.
But everyone was still smoking — even if servicemen were only rationed seven cigarettes per day.
Hat and barbed wire — the Korean War
Though it’s not a huge collection, the SMMA does have a few artifacts supplied by Canadian soldiers who served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 — including a piece of barbed wire taken from the demilitarized zone.
“It’s sort of forgotten about,” said SMMA president Shirley Timpson. “I don’t know if it’s because it wasn’t as intense as the previous two wars or as interesting — I guess the guys who were there would differ on that.”
When the conflict broke out between North and South Korea, Canada initially sent three destroyers along with a transport squadron. But by the time Canada withdrew from Korea in 1956 — after remaining for three years as military observers — more than 25,000 servicemen had served in the region.
UN Peacekeeping regalia — peacekeeping missions
Peacekeeping has always played an important role in Canada’s development as a nation.
Canada has participated in 37 missions so far. The first was to oversee elections in South Korea in 1947 and lasted into 1949, just before the Korean War broke out. The most recent saw peacekeeping forces dispatched to Mali on July 1, 2018. Canada’s dedication to worldwide peacekeeping efforts directly led to the country becoming a prominent player on the world stage.