Military collection captivates ASES students
By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 16, 2017
Standing in front of the red Second World War era Canadian flag, history buff Jimmy Chapman spoke passionately to students at Archie Stouffer Elementary School on Nov. 1 about the tragedy of war on all sides. The prolific collector of First and Second World War artifacts told the students it’s about remembering those who died and those who returned, but were never the same again.
Doing presentations for students fulfills a duty to be a young voice for children, he said.
Veterans are aging and there are few young men and women who have an interest in learning about what happened during the world wars.
“I just want to share [my knowledge] with the youth and [spark] their interest to see where their family was. Pretty much everyone was affected by it. It was a world war,” he said.
Researching his artifacts has led him to hear the stories of people from every nation involved or affected by the wars.
The Minden stop was the first of 10 schools he visited in and around the Lindsay area, which started after Halloween and ended on Remembrance Day. He has been doing his touring presentation for three years.
Chapman gave historical context for the Second World War, explaining the politics and the coalitions that formed making up the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allied Powers (mainly Great Britain, Soviet Union, France, China and U.S.).
The presentation was organized in a sequence that corresponded to seven countries involved in the world wars: Canadians, British, Germans, Russians, Italians, Japanese and Americans. Chapman moved from one country’s collection of artifacts to another, speaking about each nation’s role and then adding a relevant anecdote or historic facts.
There were three presentations. One for intermediate students, one for junior students and one for primary students. The students were allowed to browse the collection during the breaks.
Chapman is the great-grandson of a First World War dispatch runner and grandson of a Second World War veteran, who fought with the Royal Air Force. He has a passion for history and has amassed a collection to rival a small museum.
The 38-year-old has been collecting articles all over the world for 10 years. He said his collection started when he came into the possession of his grandfather’s flight jacket, flight helmet, goggles and assorted military tools.
ASES principal Jane Austin invited Chapman in hopes of giving the students a greater understanding of Remembrance Day.
“Jimmy has the ability to really speak to students in a way that is meaningful to them. They listen to him and value his stories and his word. I think that part of the power of his presentation is that it reflects all aspects of war and the way that it affects individuals, families, communities and countries on both sides of the conflict,” she wrote in an email.
During his search for historical pieces, he rarely leaves without a story or an anecdote. There is a common thread, he said, among all the stories.
“When I start thinking about it: we’re all humans still. Everyone is a person. Everyone has their orders and their jobs. In some of the countries [the people] didn’t want to do this, but ... they had to. They had to do this so when you meet all the people and hear their perspectives you realize that the enemy has a mother too. Basically, that they have a family, a son, a daughter, a mother, a father that wants them to come home,” he said.
His hope is for the students to be inspired so they can ask questions and, in particular, research their own family history. Through that process, they may find out how war affected family members, whether in military service or not. It also invokes a sense of pride for Canada and honours those who served.
There were 45,000 Canadians who died because of the Second World War. Some estimates suggest that around the world there were some 50 million casualties, but that number rockets up to 80 million when casualties related to starvation or sickness are also factored in. The Soviet Union and China lost close to a staggering 50 million people, both military and civilians.
“There’s so much history involved with it. It’s just overwhelming,” Chapman said.
Along with his striking pieces – whether it was the Second World War era Canadian flag, a highly decorated sword used by a German tank commander, a 300-pound Russian machine gun on a tripod, letters from soldiers, military awards, knives, swords, radios, helmets or rifles – the stories of survival and regret are equally important to Chapman.
An interesting fact he shared about the First World War was how Germany attacked Canada off our shores. The Germans at the time were highly effective on the oceans, utilizing their U-boats (submarines) to attack in groups, or commonly known then as “wolf packs” to decimate enemy ships. The Germans, he said, would wait for the Canadian naval ships to leave the St. Lawrence and then attack. The numbers weren’t good; for every five ships that left Canada, only two ships ever returned, he said.
Another story he shared was of a group of Korean men used by the Japanese, which had invaded and occupied Korea since 1910. The Koreans were forced to fight for the Japanese, wearing Japanese uniforms during the invasion of China and against other Koreans. The Koreans eventually were captured after they were forced to fight the Russian army. The Koreans were taken to a work camp in Siberia and had to fight the Germans in Russian uniforms when Germany invaded Russia. The Germans captured the Koreans and made them fight the Americans, wearing German uniforms.
“These guys went through all these things. On D-Day the Americans found a bunch of Korean guys wearing Nazi uniforms, which made no sense [to the Americans],” he said. “Crazy times. Crazy times.”
Although it is difficult to locate Italian, Japanese and Russian items, he has had luck with locating Canadian and German artifacts in the area because of veterans who served and fought against Germans.
He has also purchased his artifacts online, at auctions and many things have been found through meeting people.
His ultimate goal is to have a permanent display at his own museum to showcase his collection to the public in Peterborough.
Chapman said one of the prized articles in his collection is a Japanese flag with characters, also known as a good luck flag. It was common practice among Japanese soldiers to have their national flag, covered with the written names of family, friends and co-workers to be folded and pocketed on their body. Many of these flags were taken by Allied soldiers during or after battles. It was a known practice for soldiers to take souvenirs from the bodies of the dead.
He bought it from a former Dutch marine, who was part of a Dutch contingent of soldiers with the mission to notify Japanese soldiers about the end of the war since they were presumably unaware of the surrender. However in the Japanese military, surrender was not an accepted practice so many soldiers fought long after Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered, officially ending the war in 1945. The last Japanese soldier surrendered in 1974.
Austin, the principal of ASES, has known Chapman since 2015 when she worked at Parkview Public School where he came in to teach students how to break dance. They had a conservation about his passion for history and collection of artifacts.
“We were all so impressed and impacted by the experience of listening to Jimmy’s stories and explanations of the artifacts. The ability to not only see but to touch history (literally) was very impactful for all of us. I was excited to be able to bring it to our ASES community in order to share this knowledge with our students,” she said.
Growing up, she remembers how there wasn’t school on Remembrance Day. The importance of the day remains relevant for her with many former students of hers who serve for the Canadian Armed Services.
“Today, that has changed, and we spend Remembrance Day at school. I understand why this was an important change. As we become more distanced from the events of [First World War] and [Second World War], the effects that these wars had on our country and on the world become more abstract for young people. It is important that we continue the practice of remembering, learning about and talking about history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I appreciate the work of the Royal Canadian Legion and the partnerships that they undertake with schools to help support us towards this end,” she wrote.