John and Esther Sharp visited the Ladysmith Archives a year ago to learn more about their genealogy but now have found themselves at the forefront of an incredible discovery after finding potentially hundreds of local veterans not honoured on the local cenotaph.
“It started with us picking up and carrying on work that had already been started by other people,” said John, whose grandfather is a veteran of the Great War and has his name is on the Ladysmith memorial. “It’s been a team effort for sure.”
The Sharps helped picked up the work so started by the late Brian Bornhold and a team of volunteers who looked back at letters sent from the front lines in Europe to the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle.
“The original project was always the letters and we just started to find more people and then finding people who weren’t on the cenotaph, that was just a byproduct,” John said.
The research started with the 41 Veterans of the Great War they already knew about who are listed on cenotaph and many of whom have been honoured over the years at the Remembrance Day ceremony.
However, even from that starting point Esther found there was still lots to learn about the men behind the names.
“There’s two names on the Cenotaph that we found no reference to and we couldn’t find them anywhere so I thought maybe there’s reference in the Chronicle at the time so I started reading from 1914 on that’s what all these notes are,” said Esther recounting her research process.
Those notes now span pages upon pages as the Sharps and Archives volunteers sift through birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as census data, looking for Ladysmith connections and the results have left many shocked.
Esther was pointed to a Victoria Daily newspaper article April 1, 1917 with the headline ‘Ladysmith Honor Roll’ with 86 names and even a few photographs that helped balloon the list to over 420 Veterans with a possible local connection.
Six Veterans with ties to Ladysmith have been selected and will be honoured at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony.
It was former mayor and Ladysmith Secondary councillor Rob Hutchins who took the research collected by the Sharps and others to create one page biographies that could be read aloud at both ceremonies, as well as the Veterans’ Luncheon hosted by the Legion.
Hutchins said all too often Remembrance Day is about just the names rather than the stories of those people who left behind their families to go to war.
“All of these years we’ve been doing a good job of remembering and then to find out these people were never even listed, they were never even party of the roll call,” said Hutchins, who while serving as mayor made the Empty Chair ceremony an important part of the tribute to Veterans.
“The sad thing is that these people definitely are from Ladysmith but their names for one reason or another are not on the Cenotaph – one is on the Revelstoke Cenotaph but not on ours.”
Six LSS students were also selected to read the pieces prepared by Hutchins at the school’s own ceremony on Nov. 9 as part of collaborative effort between the Ladysmith & District Historical Society and the high school.
“I wanted in the Remembrance Day assembly to make the point that we know wars happen, whether you agree with it or not, the second thing is that wars involve real people and to give the students that understanding,” said Principal David
Anyone would think the Sharps are amateur historians by listening to the couple share stories of what they’ve discovered in only a few short months.
In fact, John’s background is a physicist and Esther a lifelong passion for volunteer work.
Both have traveled the work and spent time living in Asia.
Esther adds so much of the research goes beyond just looking in the right place for names.
It’s understanding the other factors at play during that time period.
“It is so tied up in other politics, economics and other things going on – the reasons for things happening.”
John points to the miner strike from 1912-1914.
“Ladysmith had a very transient population anyways because of all these young miners and then you have the strike which made it even more transient,” said John, describing the labour of love that is research and fact-checking.
“The strike makes finding all the stuff very difficult because people dispersed, came back, did whatever to get a job.”
Esther adds that “the only people who stayed around were the ones who had family here that could help and support them.”
The Sharps are confident that while a strong case has been made for the six Veterans lost in the pages of history until now, there several others that they’re certain have a local connection and a story that is waiting to be told.
“We know there four bank clerks and we know all four were here in Ladysmith but they’re all British and they went back to join the British Army,” John said.
Esther has read the Chronicle up to 1920 and part of her research was published in the November issue of the British Columbia History Magazine.
LDHS president Ed Nicholson is proud of the work being done by the Sharps and other volunteers to uncover and share the town’s history.
“They have lived and breathed this project and this is the first time that an article has been published in a provincial level magazine about Ladysmith’s history,” he said. “I want our society to see their potential as part of a world network on information and Ladysmith can provide a source to wherever these people have ended up in their lives.”