Newspaper Man Enlists: Huron County and the First World War in Black & White

From Nov. 21st, 2017 to March 2018, the museum’s temporary Hot off the Press: Seen in the County Papers exhibit will look behind the headlines to the men, women and changing technologies that have brought Huron’s weekly papers to press for over almost 175 years. In this Remembrance Day post, Sinead Cox, Curator of Engagement & Dialogue and curator of the upcoming exhibit, examines the life of one Huron newsman who was also a veteran of the First World War, and follows the story of his return from service via mentions in the local weekly papers.

The Dungannon News, 1915-04-15

From my research into Huron County’s newspapers, it’s clear that a lot of effort, long hours and personal sacrifice often went into putting a paper to press and ensuring the latest edition reached local subscribers’ doorsteps on time. There were few excuses that could justify a late paper on the part of its proprietors: perhaps broken equipment, the precedence of a contracted print job (ie printing election ballots), adverse weather, public holidays, or even the rare editor’s vacation. One of the most notable reasons to stop the presses, however, occurred in 1916 when The Dungannon News ceased publication entirely because its editor enlisted to serve overseas with Huron’s 161st Battalion.

Pte. Bellamy’s attestation paper. You can access his full personnel file at: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/

Born in 1891 in Blanshard Township, Perth County, Charles Arthur Harold “Harry” Bellamy had moved to Huron by 1908 when his step-father, Leslie S. Palmer–a former staffer at the St. Marys Journal and owner of the Wroxeter Star–founded The Dungannon News. His sisters, Amelia and Luella Bellamy, also worked locally as operators for the Dungannon telephone office. When his mother and step-father moved to Goderich in 1914, Harry became both editor and publisher of the News while still in his early twenties.

As editor, H. Bellamy strongly supported Canada’s involvement in the Great War within the pages of his publication, and by March of 1916 had decided to enlist himself. At only 24 years old, and a newlywed of less than two years with his wife, Annie Pentland of Ashfield Township, Editor Bellamy signed up to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces at Goderich. With the departure of its proprietor, The Dungannon News merged with Goderich’s Tory weekly, The Star, and the newsman became the news as fellow editors praised Harry Bellamy’s decision in the columns of their papers.

The Wingham Advance, 1916-03-23, pg 5

Assigned to the 58th Battalion in Europe, Pte. Bellamy appeared once again in the pages of the local weeklies through his letters from the front. Stationed “somewhere in France” on Dec. 26th, 1916, Harry wrote to his friend F. Ross of how his “three or four days’ trench life” had begun with digging out a trench collapsed by shell-fire; he had become accustomed to ducking down for enemy fire “no matter how deep the mud and water is.” While evading sniper bullets in a no man’s land crater, Bellamy says he pretended he was at home, practicing with friends at the Dungannon Rifle Association.

The Wingham Times, 1911-12-28, pg 4

Imagining away the conditions he described would have no doubt been difficult: “We sleep and rest in the dugouts, which are twenty to twenty-five feet underground. After splashing, crawling and wading through trench mud for hours at a time, we find it quite a relief to get down in these underground quarters.” On Christmas day he witnessed “a fierce bombardment…It was a magnificent sight to see the green and red flames and the shells with their tails of fire flying…The noise and din of the various kinds of explosives in use was deafening.” In the same letter, which Goderich’s The Signal printed on its front page, he claimed that the brutal lifestyle had not dampened the soldiers’ spirits: “we never worry over here. We content ourselves with singing, ‘Pack all your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.’”

Although he was writing for the local papers, Pte. Bellamy was not able to regularly read them in Europe, and complained that the delays in mail also prevented him from keeping up-to-date with happenings in Huron County. According to his service records, a year after he had enlisted at Goderich, Harry fell ill with trench fever–an infectious disease carried by body lice. He left France for treatment in the U.K., and after complaining of pain in his limbs at York County Hospital, doctors at the King’s Red Cross Canadian Convalescent diagnosed him with myalgia (joint pain) and an abnormally fast pulse.

The Huron Expositor, 1917-10-12, pg 5

In articles subsequently written for the Goderich Star, Pte. Bellamy did not detail his failing health, instead returning to his pen to share his experiences sightseeing on leave in Scotland and Ireland in August, 1917. Ever a committed imperialist, he enjoyed witnessing the Glorious Twelfth celebrations in Belfast, but reported caring less for his time in southern Ireland, since “there is no love lost between those in khaki and the Irish rebels.” He felt wistfulness upon the end of his holiday, but Pte. Bellamy’s belief in the righteousness of the war had not wavered; he used his Star articles to rally homefront sentiments against peace until the enemy could be decisively defeated: “let…every one of us, as Canadians, recapture the heroic mood in which we entered the war.”

The Signal, 1917-12-06, pg 6

Unable to resume his duties as a soldier, Pte. Bellamy returned to Canada, where in addition to his persistent trench fever, he received a diagnosis of neurasthenia–a contemporary term broadly used for nervous disorders. After his homecoming, he reappeared frequently in the local news columns, usually receiving mention for promoting the war effort at local patriotic events or canvassing for Victory Loans.

Other brief news items hint, however, that although Pte. Harry Bellamy had returned home to Dungannon, he had not left the trenches entirely behind. He received treatment at a London hospital in early 1918 according to The Signal. Following a social call from former editor Bellamy, the Clinton New Era classified his nervous illness as ‘shell shock’: a mental and emotional disorder common to returning soldiers, which today would probably be understood as post traumatic stress disorder.

In April 1918, a medical board at Guelph honourably discharged Harry as medically unfit due to illness contracted on active service. His records list a ‘nervous debility,’ as well as trench fever as the causes for his dismissal, and note that “this man would not be able to do more than one quarter of a days [sic] work.” The listed symptoms in his medical records include dizzy spells, light headedness, restlessness, hand tremors, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat. The Board determined that the probable duration of his debility was “impossible to state.”

The Wingham Advance, 1918-06-13, pg 5

Despite experts’ doubts about his ability to cope with a full-time job, Harry received a temporary government position as North Huron’s Registrar for 1918’s National Registration Day effort. The federal government intended this wartime “man and woman power census” to identify available labour forces for the homefront and overseas by requiring all Canadians over sixteen to register.

Nothing in the newspapers suggests that Harry Bellamy returned to printing or publishing on a full-time basis in Dungannon. After the war was over in 1919, Ashfield accepted Harry’s application for the township’s annual printing contract with special consideration to him as a “returned soldier,” but according to an item in The Wingham Advance he later declined the work for the pay offered. There was evidently a vocation that Harry Bellamy now felt more passionately for than journalism, because in May of that year the New Era records that he moved to Toronto to accept a bureaucratic position “in connection with the re-establishment of soldiers.” In 1921, Harry ultimately sold The Dungannon News printing equipment to a buyer from Meaford, and he and wife Annie settled permanently in Toronto.They didn’t entirely disappear from print, however, as local news columns over the next decade continued to note the couple’s visits to friends and family in Huron County.

The Signal, 1921-3-31, pg 4

Following Pte. Bellamy’s story via short items in the county papers certainly does not provide a full picture of his life, nor the toll of his experiences in the trenches of France. The information gleaned, though, does speak to the value of these local weeklies as historical resources, and that comparing them against other records–in this case Pte. Bellamy’s military personnel files– can help us to read between the lines. It’s also a pertinent reminder that both historical and news sources are better understood if we know a little about the context and perspective of the people creating them. What emerged in this case was the story of a man whose politics on the page never changed, whose service to the Canadian government continued beyond the battlefield and loyalty to the British empire never faltered, but who nevertheless could not quite pack the personal consequences of war away in an “old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.”

Hot off the Press: Seen in the County Papers opens Nov. 21st at the Huron County Museum! Visit the exhibit to learn more about the stories behind Huron’s historic headlines. You can browse the newspaper collection from the comfort of home at www.huroncountymuseum.ca/digitized-newspapers. Information for this blog post came from Huron County’s digitized newspapers and Library and Archives Canada’s digitized service records.

Treaties & Huron County

What is now Huron County includes parts of the traditional territories of multiple Anishinaabe communities. Liz Duern is  a current University Student, and worked as a Museum Assistant at the Huron County Museum & Historic Gaol during the summer of 2017.  In this guest blog post for Treaties Recognition Week, Liz shares what she learned during her initial research into the treaty history of this area.

What is a Treaty? How were they created?

Treaties  are agreements between First Nations and the British Crown. While the Crown used treaties to gain access to land for settlement and mining, First Nations understood treaties as building nation-to-nation relationships and protecting their continued stewardship of the land. The Crown often promised to protect First Nations’ rights and to set aside tracts of land for the exclusive use of the First Nations and their members. Today, the elders of many indigenous communities hold a great amount of knowledge regarding the intent of the treaties passed down through oral history.

Detail from https://files.ontario.ca/firstnationsandtreaties.pdf

Treaty 29: The Huron Tract (1827)

The Huron Tract Treaty was signed by eighteen Anishinaabek chiefs in 1827 in Amherstburg; the area included most of what is now known as Huron County, and parts of Perth & Middlesex. This treaty ceded 99% of the communities’ remaining lands to the British Crown, and designated four reserves: one along the south of St. Clair Township, one at Sarnia, and two on Lake Huron (Kettle and Stony Point). 

Treaty 45 ½: The Saugeen Treaty (1836)

Treaty 45 ½, signed on August 9, 1836, dealt with part of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s traditional territory. The British promised the Saugeen Ojibway Nation that they would protect the Indigenous peoples who resided on the Saugeen Peninsula and that the Saugeen Peninsula would be protected for their use. Not long after this, the British claimed that the Saugeen Peninsula could not be protected against settlers unless another treaty was negotiated. This treaty was Treaty 72, which  ceded about 500,000 acres of the Saugeen Peninsula to the British Crown.

Huron Signal, 1852-09-16, page 4
via https://www.huroncountymuseum.ca/digitized-newspapers/

Treaties are not just historical documents, but outline ongoing rights and responsibilities that are protected by the Constitution Act, 1982. These rights and the spirit of the original agreements have often been violated “by colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate” First Nations communities and their cultures.  Access teaching resources to better understand what it means to live on Treaty Land.