Flag a reminder of Petrolia’s contribution




When veteran Gene Smith offered to help clean up the office at the Petrolia Legion, he had no idea what treasures he’d find.

There were photographs and old notes but the item which captured his attention is a handmade flag bearing the names of most of the people of Petrolia who served during World War I. “It was at the bottom of a filing cabinet bundled up in plastic,” he says.

The flag is made of cotton and each of the yellow felt letters have been cut by hand and then placed on the white background. Green maple leaves surround the names and the flag is bordered by a red and blue edge. “Someone put a lot of work into this,” he says.

Smith was stunned to find the flag and says even the oldest member of the Legion didn’t remember seeing it.

He recently took it to the Heritage Committee’s Open House where officials from the Lambton Museum recommended it be mounted with museum quality materials to preserve it. The museum has offered to do that and then return it to the Legion for display.

For Smith, the find is particularly poignant. Canada is preparing to mark the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The Canadian Army took the hill which other nations could not and many historians see it as the victory which brought Canada together as a nation.

Smith says it was also a turning point in the way armies fought battles. “What occurred at Vimy changed the way we do battle… where every man knows what his job is and what is going on each day… the idea of dropping their packs to go into battle and leapfrogging over each other.

“The standards we live by today were set by these guys.”

That’s even true for Smith who says he learned from the soldiers at Vimy that “I was scared but I had a job to do and I had to do it.”

The veteran has visited Vimy Ridge and says it was an emotional moment.

He adds the proudest moment of his life was being at Vimy Ridge in his uniform and watching a medal ceremony.

So Smith and members of the Petrolia Legion are planning to honour those who served there. On April 9 at 2 pm, Legion members will hold a half-hour service to mark the seminal battle.

Before the service, veterans are welcome to gather at Victoria Park to hear music from the World War I era.

And Smith says the Legion is planning another tribute – it will plant a Vimy Oak Tree on Legion property.

The oaks come from Vimy. Smith says a soldier named Leslie Miller gathered up a handful of the acorns on the ridge as a remembrance.

When he came back to Scarborough, he planted them. Today, a number of the oaks still thrive.

A nursery in the area took cuttings from the strongest trees and grafted them into mature rootstock and then raised them. More saplings were grown from the acorns.

Smith has been able to secure one of the oak saplings from the Vimy Oaks and says the local legion will plant it near the flag standard as a tribute to those who served Canada at Vimy Ridge.