News Local

Safeguarding war memories

Lauren Carter Special to The Packet

Members of the Orillia branch of the Royal Canadian Legion are looking to put some order to their archives.

"There are hundreds of pictures glued on the memorial wall," said Ray McCullough, a member who was in the navy for 15 years but didn't see active duty. "We're trying to scan and digitize them all."

McCullough is hoping to find volunteers or students interested in archival work to help with the project. "We'd like to archive all the memorabilia but it comes down to dollars and cents."

"The archives are important for the records. All the guys from the First World War are gone. The average age of World War Two vets is 86," he added.

Digging around in the legion's memorabilia also unearthed an important page from The Packet & Times, dated Jan. 25, 1945.

The laminated page is a list of the names of 578 overseas officers receiving cigarettes through the Orillia Overseas Cigarette Fund. Local organizations contributed to the fund and some, including Otaco Limited and Orillia Water, Light, and Power Commission, sent cigarettes directly to former employees who were overseas.

It is interesting to note that between August and January 1945, the project mailed 648,000 cigarettes to Orillians fighting in the war.

"When we found [the paper], we wondered 'how many of these guys are still alive?'" he said. "All the old vets have a meeting every morning so we went through (the list) with a dozen people and we came up with five names (of people still living)."

Only two of the five belong to the legion and they must be in their 80s, McCullough said.

During the archival work, McCullough would like to try to connect the names on the Cigarette Fund list with the images in their archives in order to provide more information for the records.

The pictures on the memorial wall are numbered and the numbers link with information in a book, but currently there isn't very much information, he said.

Many of the photographs on the Legion's wall were taken on the steps of Orillia's old YMCA where people signed up.

"Some of those pictures are the last ones that were taken of them, with them in uniform before they went overseas."

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