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Memorializing Simcoe County's Heroes

​Blog originally posted May 8, 2018​​​

Victory in Europe

​May 8, 1945 brought victory in Europe, inciting celebration throughout Canada. Although this was a period of excitement and relief, it was overshadowed by the reality of staggering casualties. As we commemorate the 73rd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day during our celebration of the County of Simcoe's 175 years of incorporation, we highlight the county's efforts to monitor and memorialize residents who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

Simcoe County War Records Committee

As the war raged on, the county sought to stay informed about residents who enlisted into active service. The Simcoe County War Records Committee was created by council to monitor military personnel, paying special attention to those who perished while in service. The committee sent out letters requesting that the clerks of the County's townships, towns, and villages create an ongoing report on the status of military members in their communities. They continually updated their lists and maintained correspondence with the War Records Committee so that it could compile accurate and up-to-date data.

 Letter of thanks from the Simcoe County War Records Committee

972-27 Letter of thanks from the Simcoe County War Records Committee
Copyright: Corporation of the County of Simcoe

Newspapers became a valuable resource, since publicity made residents eager to report corrections and updates on the status of family members. As The Alliston Herald explained, keeping up with constant changes was difficult because: “almost every day we get a change or a new name to add to the list" making the project “…quite an expense". Even so, they assured “continued cooperation" with the War Records Committee.

Letter from the Alliston Herald ensuring “continued cooperation" 

972-27 Letter from the Alliston Herald ensuring “continued cooperation"
Copyright: Unknown

The collaboration of the various municipal and newspaper offices enabled the War Records Committee to compile a seemingly complete list of those on active service, and it became an invaluable resource at the end of the war.

Working list of Simcoe County residents in active service 

972-27 Working list of Simcoe County residents in active service
Copyright: Corporation of the County of Simcoe

Simcoe County War Memorial Plaque Committee

With the declaration of victory in 1945, residents sought ways to remember the friends and family who had been lost to them. The County of Simcoe promptly established the War Memorial Plaque Committee, which was tasked to commemorate the County's heroes. With the previous work the War Records Committee had completed, the War Memorial Plaque Committee had only to validate and finalize the list of names that would appear on the county's memorial.

Notices were placed in Newspapers across the county 

972-27 Notices were placed in Newspapers across the county
Copyright: Corporation of the County of Simcoe

Newspapers were asked to publish a notice requesting family members to confirm the county's war dead. Only individuals who had specified their residence as being within Simcoe County at the time of their enlistment have been remembered on the plaque. The municipal clerks collected the information and then forwarded the details to the committee.

Letter from Midland's Clerk confirming local casualties 

972-27 Letter from Midland's Clerk confirming local casualties
Copyright: Unknown

With the collection of names underway, the committee focused on making plans for the physical plaque. It was decided that the county memorial would be placed in the rotunda of the courthouse and that a leather-bound remembrance book would accompany it.

Sketch of the Simcoe County Court House WWII Memorial 1947 

972-27 Sketch of the Simcoe County Court House WWII Memorial 1947
Copyright: Unknown

Even as the plaque was being constructed, new names were acquired and changes submitted. The Committee which had originally calculated 275 names, had a total of 346 by the end of the process. The Committee subsequently received word several names had been missed. After looking into the claims, the names were added to the plaque bringing the total number to 349. The Simcoe County Archives has no evidence that the official Book of Remembrance was ever created, but SCA staff have compiled a list of the names which is available here.

The plaque remained at the Court House until it was moved to the new Simcoe County Administration Centre when it opened in 1972. In preparation for the expansion of the Centre, completed in 2012, the plaque was removed to the Simcoe County Museum for safekeeping. It is currently located in storage at the Museum.

The importance of the Simcoe County War Records Committee, and the Simcoe County War Memorial Plaque Committee cannot be underestimated, since their ambition to keep track of the county's servicemen and servicewomen made it possible to commemorate our World War II casualties.  Their creation, in fact, was likely a result of the realization that the absence of similar committees during the First World War meant no records existed for those with ties to Simcoe County who served and/or died during the conflict.  As a result, while cenotaphs were erected in communities throughout Simcoe County, there is not a county-wide commemorative memorial.

As we remember Victory in Europe day, we pause to remember the many men and women of Simcoe County who participated on the home front and overseas.

Visit the Simcoe County Archives to access more information about the county's involvement in the Second World War. You can also learn more about county war memorials using the Simcoe County memorial map. For further inquiries, please contact the Archives at archives@simcoe.ca.

 

 By Veronika Mikolajewski, Student Archives Assistant

Posted: May 8, 2018