I would presume that most people working in museums inherently believe that preserving history is important – I would certainly hope so at least. And while preservation can be a monumental task all on its own, it’s really only half of the challenge. The real value comes in being able to share this history – to make it accessible in some ways.
When we think of museums, the first method of achieving this that usually comes to mind is through exhibits. Visitors can see – and in some cases touch – real artefacts and are provided with additional background, context and perspectives to better understand the history we present.
This might be considered the ideal approach and while over 350,000 people visit our museum’s exhibits each year, we also know that many people around the world with some link with our Regiment, may never get that opportunity. With that in mind, we’ve tried to digitize much of our collection and make it available online, here on our website, on our Flickr site (over 10,000 photos currently), Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And we’ve also made our collection catalogue available online as well with images and descriptions of almost 2,000 objects entered to date.
All of this takes an incredible amount of work and coordination, and most of our volunteer team have contributed to this effort in some way or another. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally wondering if anyone actually accesses any of this information, and if all this work is worth it. The stats tell us that our Flickr site has had over 1,000,000 views and our website gets about 80,000 page views annually which is very exciting but still somewhat impersonal.
Occasionally though we get comments on our website about how the information helped them connect with a relative or letting us know they have more information to share – even objects to donate, and those always seem to make our efforts worthwhile.
Last month though, we received an email that couldn’t help but recharge the whole museum team:
“My name is Liz Grogan and I am the granddaughter of Sgt. J. Lutton 6164.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting with my 95 year old mom, John’s middle and only surviving daughter, Kathleen ( Kae) Smith who was browsing through a book I was reading for my book club called “The War that Ended Peace, The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan.
Knowing that her father, my grandfather had been in WW1, I decided to google his name, and you can imagine my surprise and excitement to discover this:
John Lutton WWI Letter to Annie Deyell
This letter in our collection was written in 1917 in England by Sergeant John Lutton, 198th Battalion, to Annie …
I had researched his name prior to Remembrance Day on other occasions , but I had not seen this letter before!
So Mom and I sat together and I read the letter out loud as mom watched the screen. I had not scrolled through to see how long it was, so my thanks to WO Emily Kenny for her hard work!
I can’t express how magical this moment was, that I will never forget. We laughed, we cried and we were simply in awe of having this amazing opportunity to have a personal peek at the life and love between mom’s future mom and dad and my future grandmother and grandfather.
And to reflect that this letter is 100 years old is beyond magical!!”
When I read this email, I couldn’t help but smile and was clearly reminded that our efforts are definitely worthwhile!
Of course Liz was interested in how we came to have the letter. In June a stamp collector in Nova Scotia contacted us because he had this letter in his collection and had found online that we perpetuated the 198th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. We quickly accepted his offer and the letter was soon in our collection. WO Kenny just happened to be directing staff on a music course at CFB Borden for the summer and offered to transcribe the letter in her spare time so we could put it online. The letter is long and rather rambling, and proper punctuation was not Sgt Lutton’s strong point but she soon had it done and we posted it to our website.
While this was happening we also researched Sgt Lutton’s life and service. While training in England he contacted meningitis and was hospitalized for 6 months before being found unfit for overseas service and returned to Canada where he was hospitalized for another three months. Though he never made it to the trenches of France or Belgium, his story does illustrate the other dangers many soldiers faced from diseases and poor health conditions they faced just getting to the front.
Lutton was lucky enough to recover from his meningitis and married Annie in 1919. He died in 1948 and is buried in Park Lawn Cemetery.
We’re very thankful that Liz took the time to share their experience and to send us the delightful family photo below of Annie and John.