CALGARY – In a bid to recognize the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, an exhibit at The Military Museums (TMM) in Calgary tells the story of the war by using veterans’ accounts.
Rory Cory, senior curator and the director of collections at TMM, said the exhibit – They Never Talked About It: Untold Stories WWII – brings together the personal and largely unknown stories of more than 40 veterans through artifacts, art and historical accounts.
The stories tell the history of Canada’s participation in the Second World War throughout all the theatres of war, including the European and Atlantic theatres.
“Rather than us as historians [saying] this was this battle, this is what happened during the battle, we’re telling it more like here’s Ralph MacLean’s story: He was at Hong Kong, this is what happened to him during the Battle of Hong Kong and later as a prisoner,” said Cory. “So, you get the information on the battles and the campaigns from the people that were actually there, and who better to tell it?”
Along with veterans like MacLean, who died in March at the age of 97, the stories also include the voices of women and Indigenous people, including Mary Greyeyes, a Muskeg Lake Cree Nation member in Saskatchewan.
Greyeyes was the first Indigenous woman to enlist in Canada’s military during the war. She joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942 and served as a cook in England at bases at Aldershot and London.
“She was one of several Indigenous women that served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the war,” said Cory. “She was a bit of a trailblazer in that way.”
Relying on personal experience to share the history of war is an approach TMM has used in previous exhibits about the First World War and the Vietnam War.
“It’s a lot easier for people to connect with the personal stories. From those experiences, there’s a lot of commonality in terms of our experiences over the years,” said Cory.
Most of the material featured in the exhibit comes from the eight partner museums located at TMM.
“It was a real partnership exhibit between all of the museums and entities here,” said Cory. “It was a chance for everybody to select the best stories from their individual collections and showcase people that really told the story of their particular regiment or branch’s participation during the war.”
Along with veterans’ stories, Untold Stories WWII also includes nose art from Royal Canadian Air Force planes, pen-and-ink drawings by Maxwell Bates, a Calgary artist who spent most of the war as a prisoner-of-war, and a series of propaganda pictures given to Adolf Hitler as birthday greetings in the war years. Cory said a Canadian soldier purchased the propaganda material in Berlin at the end of the war and later donated it to TMM.
They Never Talked About it: Untold Stories WWII, held in the Founders’ Gallery, will be on display until the end of 2020.
TMM is asking visitors to wear a mask in the museum, maintain physical distancing of two metres and wash hands upon entering.