By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — Every year, the Neepawa Banner publishes a special Remembrance Day feature. The space is supported by local advertisers and includes first-hand accounts of those who have experienced war, either at home or abroad.
In previous years, we have talked to veterans, not just of World War II, but also more recent conflicts. We have talked to those at home who worried about their loved ones at the front. We have talked to people who were children when Neepawa was a busy air force training base and those who grew up in Europe during the war.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and we’ve done some extra coverage throughout the year to mark the end of the war in the Europe and the war in the Pacific.
As the years pass and fewer of those with memories of what it was like to live in a world at war remain, we were able to do something different this year. With our purchase of the Neepawa Press in September, we acquired the paper’s archives, which go back to 1896. The front page of the May 10, 1945 paper proudly proclaimed “European Peace Declared.” For this year’s feature, we went back in time for a unique, first-hand account of local reaction to victory in Europe.
The front page was dominated by the news and stories that talked about the celebrations. On VE Day, “The wailing of the town’s siren and the ringing of the church bells ushered in the peace… after five years of bloodshed, death and suffering in Europe.” When the early news of the German surrender arrived over the radio airwaves, telephone operators noted heavy traffic as people phoned to spread the good news to friends and neighbours. Area residents gathered around radios in cafes to hear the latest updates. These gatherings led to impromptu celebrations, including a Victory Parade. The paper reported, “All plans for this function were formulated in the cafes and on the streets, no one individual being responsible.” Special services were held at the town’s churches, as well as the cenotaph.
The front page also carried the good news that area men had been liberated from prisoner of war camps in Europe. ABS. W. Dearl Trickett, of Kelwood, was a member of the Navy and had been taken as a POW after the sinking of his ship, the HMCS Athabaskan, on April 29, 1944. The paper reported that his parents had received word of his release.
Two Neepawa men, L. Cpl Ralph Harvey and Anthony Wolochyn were taken prisoner at Dieppe in August 1942. Harvey enlisted in September 1939 and went overseas in December of 1940. Wolochyn enlisted in June 1940 and went overseas in September 1941.
Despite the stories of victory and freedom, the front page also contained many reminders of the losses. PO Alvin R. Jackson, of Norgate, had been missing since August 26, 1944 and the paper told that he is now, for official purposes, presumed to have died in Active Service. The front page also notified that community that FO Jim Gen Lee was reported missing while serving the RCAF.
Despite the celebrations, the paper continued to remind readers that the war in the Pacific was still underway. They were used to buy Victory Bonds and to continue with rationing. A promotion continued in which participating businesses were sending “30,000 cigarettes to our boys overseas.”
Though Neepawa was far from the action, flipping through other papers from that year show that the war was always at the forefront. Local casualties were reported on the front page and throughout the paper, there were updates from the front lines, as well as ads about ways in which those at home could support the war effort.
To be able to read these first-hand accounts, written at the time, offers a truly unique perspective of this important era.