News

Pop-up museum provides hands-on history

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Andrew Kicak of Port Dover brought his “pop-up museum” of First World War artifacts to the Eva Brook Donly Museum on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Kicak spoke for an hour about interesting aspects of the Great War 100 years ago with the help of hands-on exhibits.  MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Andrew Kicak of Port Dover brought his “pop-up museum” of First World War artifacts to the Eva Brook Donly Museum on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Kicak spoke for an hour about interesting aspects of the Great War 100 years ago with the help of hands-on exhibits. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

SIMCOE  - 

The First World War was a hot topic of discussion in Simcoe and surrounding area 100 years ago.

Norfolk had recently lost 29 men in the battle for Hill 70, bringing to 200 or more the number of county soldiers killed since hostilities broke out in 1914.

In the first half of December, 1917, the Americans made headlines by declaring war on the Austrio-Hungarian empire, the British captured Jerusalem from the Ottomans, and Germany and Russia entered into peace negotiations.

There was plenty going on and the war wouldn’t end for another 11 months.

A century later, they’re still talking about the First World War in Norfolk. About 20 people gathered at the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe Thursday to take in a hands-on presentation about the conflict from Port Dover historian Andrew Kicak.

“The last victim of the First World War hasn’t been born yet,” Kicak said, referring to the large amount of unexploded ordnance buried in the killing fields of Europe from 1914 to 1918.

“A farmer will be out plowing his field and he’ll hit something that blows up. Every two or three years there will be a news report of that happening. This war is not something in a bubble that lasted five years. It remains with us to this day.”

Other lingering effects include the Islamic militant group ISIS. During its reign of terror in Iraq and Syria, ISIS frequently cited border decisions and treaty obligations arising from the Great War among its grievances with the West.

Tension and unrest in the former Yugoslavia erupted into civil war in the 1990s and persist to this day. This too is largely the result of border and administrative decisions made as a consequence of the First World War.

The same applies to guerrilla wars in Africa. The continent’s political ecosystem was disrupted on a number of fronts after defeated and exhausted European powers were forced to abandon their colonies there.

Kicak’s presentations are unique because he’s supported by a “pop-up museum” of artifacts. Kicak encourages audience members to handle and examine them as he speaks.

These include a selection of bayonets, barbed wire, a battlefield telephone kit, a working gramophone, and helmets among other items.

Perhaps the most haunting item was an authentic trench whistle from England. Kicak demonstrated its piercing, shrill sound before explaining its significance.

“When the whistle blew the first couple lines in the trench had to go over the top into no-man’s land,” Kicak said. “This is the last sound many soldiers would have heard.

“And you had to answer the whistle. If you didn’t the consequences were unpleasant. You might be put on trial and then shot for desertion. Or you could be shot on the spot. There are documented cases of that happening.”

Finally, Kicak had high praise for the contribution women made to the war effort. Women laboured in munitions factories, as farm workers and as nurses in field hospitals under dangerous, miserable conditions.

“They basically won the war for us,” Kicak said. “Some nurses worked from sun up to sun down helping with as many as 70 surgeries a day.”

Kicak attended the museum as part of the Norfolk Historical Society’s Gallery Speakers series.

The next guest is aboriginal seed-keeper Terrylynn Brant of Six Nations. Jan. 25, Brant will speak about aboriginal gardening techniques and traditional approaches to native horticulture.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com