When I mention that I am a member of The Prince Albert Historical Society to my ‘friends’ they often say. “Oh, are you one of the artifacts?” That is when I let them pay for the coffee.
Kidding aside, ‘artifacts’ can tell some very interesting stories.
I recently attended a meeting at our Historical Museum and heard a very moving account about one of the artifacts. The story was particularly significant as we near the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War One – November 11, 1918. The artifact is not from that Great War; rather, it is a remnant of World War II. It, the artifact, reminded me that we need to pause on November 11th at 11 o’clock, remember all wars and renew our efforts to end them in order that those who gave of themselves, ‘did not do so in vain.’
At the meeting mentioned above, Connie Gerwing, the President of the Historical Society, pointed out that the museum is undergoing a major rearranging of its artifacts to represent themes arising from our area’s past and tell the stories that bring that past to life. In particular, Connie pointed out a recently designed War Display, and used one of the artifacts in that display to bring the message to life.
The artifact in question is a Mark III Helmet (referred to as a Turtle Shell). The helmet was specifically designed to provide greater protection to the forehead and back of the head and neck of the wearer. When first viewed some might think that it is not a Canadian soldier’s helmet, as it does not resemble the Canadian helmets most often pictured. But, it was, for the first time, worn by Canadian troops on D-Day (June 6,1944) - a battle that opened Western Europe to Allied forces.
The D-Day battle was deadly and costly, but those that fought established the road to freedom.
The person wearing the helmet was Alfred Walter Vermette, the son of Joseph and Sarah Vermette of Prince Albert. Walter survived that battle and the remainder of the war to come back to his home town and re-enter civilian life. Walter’s contribution, and the helmet that represents it, merit deep appreciation. But behind Walter’s story lies an equally moving story directly tied to Prince Albert.
As members of our Historical Museum researched the helmet, they unearthed the story of Walter’s brother, Urban, and a very close friend of the Vermette family – Robert Parenteau.
The ‘Helmet’ continued to talk.
Urban Vermette and Robert Parenteau had joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers in 1941. In December of that year the Grenadiers were sent to assist the British Army in the protection of Hong Kong when it faced invasion by the forces of Imperial Japan.
14000 Allied troops, including 2000 Canadians, were defeated in a bloody battle that lasted 18 days. Every Allied soldier was either wounded, captured, or killed. Among those captured were Urban and Robert.
Taken to a POW Camp in Japan, Urban and Robert faced four years of torturous captivity. Starved, beaten, and forced into slave labour, the two, along with their fellow prisoners, barely clung to life. Later, they were to say that they could not have survived without the deep friendship they shared. Yes they survived, but not without serious mental and physical scars that remained with them the rest of their lives.
Urban passed away in Prince Albert in 1984 – Robert in 1990.
One helmet assisted in the revelation of three stories – stories of three heroes.
They and the helmet were there for us. Let us listen to what they tell us.
'LEST WE FORGET!'