Each one of them is captured in a pair of books of remembrance at the Highlanders regimental museum in Amherst and could be lost to the community if the museum is forced to close.
“This is our history, it’s about the men who fought and died during the war – including 76 from the Amherst area,” museum curator Ray Coulson said. “We can’t lose these books or these artifacts. Everything here is about Amherst.”
The books include a photo of each soldier, when and where they were killed and the location of their grave.
He’s afraid of what could happen to the books should the museum be closed.
The future of the museum is up in the air after the Department of National Defence said earlier this week that the Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury in downtown Amherst will be closed and the property sold.
No timeline has been set for its closure.
Coulson, who was the secretary of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Memory Club, created the museum as a tribute to the regiment.
“Year after year there were less and less members so I thought we would start the museum to remember them,” he said. “We started with just a few photos but the people of Amherst have been so generous. Now we have three rooms of items.”
He said the collection is invaluable not only in financial terms but in the story behind each item.
The museum has one of the biggest collections of military memorabilia outside Halifax with artifacts dating back to the First World War as well as an extensive collection and history of the North Novies, who formed in Amherst in 1936, embarked for England in 1941 and landed at D-Day and fought through northwest Europe until the end of the war.
“If we lose it, it will be the end of the military presence in Amherst. The unit is gone, the armoury and the museum will be gone and the mural downtown is pretty much gone now,” he said.
“This is not only representing Amherst’s presence in the war but this was the North Nova Scotia Highlanders headquarters, this is the home of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. It wasn’t in Truro or Pictou, everything was here. We’re one of the few small towns in Canada that had their own unit fighting overseas. To me that’s worth preserving.”
Among the artifacts is the first Nova Scotia flag to fly on German soil during the war, the First World War uniform and saddle of Amherst native and former defence minister James Ralston, photos and items from the First World War internment camp in Amherst as well as uniforms, medals and other artifacts that have been donated the museum since it opened in 1986.
The museum has also played a key role in urging children to remember. Coulson has hosted numerous class trips and he and others have gone out to schools to talk about the museum and the sacrifice made by Canadian soldiers in two world wars, Korea, peacekeeping missions and most recently in Afghanistan.
One of the items he is most proud of is a Nova Scotia flag that flew in occupied Germany soon after the war. Several years ago, the flag was sent to Afghanistan, where many Nova Scotia soldiers hosted it and had their photo taken with it before it was sent back to Nova Scotia.
Brian Spence of Springhill spent 36 years in the military between the regular forces and the militia. He’s disappointed with DND’s decision.
“This building means a lot to me. When I was a boy I couldn’t get into the coal mine so my dad asked me if I was interested in joining the army. He drove me to Amherst and I joined up in this building,’ said Spence, who served three times with peacekeeping missions in Cyprus. “This upsets me because this is where it began for me and this is where I trained with the militia.”