It was meant to be the war to end all wars. Many believed it would be over by Christmas, yet the Great War of 1914 to 1918 went on for well over four years, claimed over 17 million lives, and ruined the futures of millions of others.
In Langley, close to 400 young men and boys enlisted. Of these, one in 10 would never return to their loved ones.
In honour of those from Langley who took part in the war — both on the frontlines and at home — the Langley Centennial Museum is hosting a special exhibition on the First World War.
Sacrifice and Sorrow — running April 9 to July 16 — opens on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and examines the war from several perspectives, with a focus on what the conflict meant to the people of Langley.
In 1914, Langley was still largely-forested, its economy based on both agriculture and the lumber trade. The community had virtually no military heritage of its own, yet when Britain declared war against Germany, Langley’s young men — many of them recent immigrants from England and Scotland — streamed into Vancouver and New Westminster, hoping to join the First Canadian Contingent.
Making extensive use of artifacts, artwork, and archival materials such as wartime uniforms, equipment, weapons, drawings and paintings, medals and decorations, letters, and memorabilia, Sacrifice and Sorrow traces the men (and a handful of women) of Langley as they volunteered for service, made their way overseas, underwent training, and faced the enemy in the trenches of the Western Front.
Notable artifacts on display include Canadian, British and American army uniforms; 100-year-old nursing uniforms; handguns, rifles and bayonets; artillery shells and hand grenades; battalion cap and collar badges; soldiers’ letters home and examples of “trench art” created by soldiers from discarded shell casings and other frontline military debris.
Audio-visual elements within the exhibition include recently restored archival film footage of British Columbian soldiers drilling and embarking for overseas as well as the full-length film The Battle of the Somme, released in 1916 and touted at the time as “the most remarkable moving picture which has ever been produced.”
The exhibition also features a sound track and video presentation prepared by Langley Fine Arts student Alex Houlihan.
Join the museum and guest curator Warren Sommer at the exhibit opening on Sunday, April 9 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Sommer will also be launching his newest book, Canucks in Khaki: Langley, the Lower Mainland, and the Great War of 1914-1918, at St. George’s Church Hall.
For more information, call the museum at 604-532-3536 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— with files from Warren Sommer