The First World War had a profound impact on the entire world. Its mark was also left on Revelstoke, as hundreds of men headed off to fight and the community felt the impact of this transformational conflict.
The lives of soldiers and the impact of the First World War on Revelstoke will be explored when a new exhibit, Answering the Call: Revelstoke during World War One, opens at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives on Friday.
“We’ve got a photograph that actually shows a train with the soldiers going off to war with the banner on the train, ‘Answering the call,’” said Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives. “That was really the theme of people going over. They saw it as a call to duty. They saw it as a call to patriotism, to protect the British Empire. Of course Canada was a part of that at the time.”
Revelstoke was mostly British at the time, with most of the 5,700 people living in the area either from England, or only a generation or two removed. They were very patriotic and men of fighting age were encouraged by the Board of Trade and the churches to enlist in the army.
“The idea of the exhibit is to show the impact the war had on Revelstoke, and it was a huge impact,” said English. “We’re looking at upwards of 600 to 1,000 men. We’ve got about 600 names confirmed of men from Revelstoke who served, and about 100 who died.”
The exhibit will commemorate the soldiers that died by displaying a profile of each one every two weeks over the course of the war’s centennial anniversary. The museum will also display newspaper articles and letters to show how attitudes to the war progressed over time. Early letters home were graphic and conveyed the true horrors of war.
“I guess the censors realized it wasn’t good policy to let that graphic information get back to the public,” said English. “In later years the letters that were published were more like travelogues and cheery little missives from the front, rather than the gore and what was really happening.”
The exhibit will also look at the impact on the community. At the start of the war, Revelstoke was thriving and was one of the most important centres in the B.C. Interior. By the end of the war, the town’s star would stop shining so brightly.
“It put a stop to a lot of new constructions. Things stagnated, and by the end of the 20s you go into the depression,” said English. “I think the war really changed how the community developed.”
Support for the war remained strong throughout the four years of conflict. A big parade was held when Italy entered the war on the Allies side, and many Italian Revelstokians enlisted to fight.
Still, even though the newspaper continued to spout patriotic rhetoric, as the war progressed the mood in the community grew more sombre. The museum hopes to convey this change in the exhibit. “It really changed the nature of the town,” said English.
Answering the Call: Revelstoke during World War One opens at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives on Friday, Aug. 15, at 4 p.m.