History in the making

Someone has to keep the memory of the war dead alive. Someone has to remember those who fought and died - and remind the rest of us what role they played in our history. Jeff Lodge keeps track of the men we've lost and who they were

His father fought in Normandy.

His step-father was a veteran of the First and Second World Wars. His step-brother served in Vietnam in the Australian army.

Even his nephew did duty in Afghanistan.

Jeff Lodge became a welder.

He has always had an interest in the military, but not from a fighting perspective. His interest is historical.

And he has spent decades cataloguing and piecing together the lives of the men who died serving their country.

"I've had a lot of family in the military."

Despite never joining, he voluntarily signed on as a researcher, a military historian, a cataloguer of the Kamloops war dead.

"What makes me do this? I can't explain it. There's just something in me," said the 53-year-old. "It's not an obsession for me, but it's an interest."

He was given his first military medals when he was about six, bought for him, probably by his mother, at a downtown coin shop. At 13, he remembered putting his own money on the counter, paying $3 for the military medals that have always intrigued him - medals he continues to collect.

And so it went, until 20 or 30 years ago, when he watched a TV movie about some young men
in a small British town who were called into the First World War, then returned afterward - changed by their experiences.

In the last scene, the town's residents are gathered at the cenotaph. The camera zooms in on the names engraved on it, then zooms out to show the town years later, in modern times.

That movie stuck in Lodge's memory and his heart.

He went to the museum, but couldn't find much information about the people Kamloops has lost in battle. So he went to the cenotaph on Battle Street and copied down all the names of the war dead - almost 300
of them.

He has found pieces of their stories: information, dates, photographs and sometimes, medals.

"I take it as a responsibility," he said.

During the First World War, medals bestowed on those who fought were engraved with their names and a serial number.

Lodge has found medals belonging to the men on his list and put them together. Sometimes the medals have come from different places, including military collectors and coin shops. And eBay.

"I try to track things down and bring them back together," he said. "They're all interesting."

The military seems to inspire order and record-keeping. Lodge belongs to a national military collectors' club. He owns some reference books that include lists of the men who served in the wars, such as the one published by the Bank of Commerce that contains letters and photographs.

They all help him put some flesh on the bones of the men whose lives he's trying to fill out.

Several years ago, Lodge contacted the federal government for service records of some of the men who he hadn't found information on, including Peter John Fernie.

As a result, his name became part of the government's records. Some time later, he got a phone call from a woman in England who was related to Fernie.

She saw Lodge's name on the federal documents when she was looking up Fernie, who was a relative.

They spoke on the phone for more than half an hour and she sent him photos.

In a corner of Lodge's basement are shelves with military books and frames containing photographs, medals and short write-ups.

He has 15 of them. Some feature one man, some have brothers, some include a few men who were all killed on the same ship or unit.

He calls them portraits of honour.

"I've gotten to know these guys. Each one had a mom, a sister, a brother, a father."

For example, one of those portraits contains the medals and write-ups on two brothers from the Shuswap area, the Hoffmans.

Arthur Blake Hoffman was killed in battle on the first day of fighting at Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917. His sibling, George, survived that skirmish and became a fighter pilot. He died on Nov. 1, 1918 - 10 days before a ceasefire was proclaimed.

He bought one of the brothers' medals in a coin store when he was in his late teens or early 20s. Obscurely enough, he found the other brother's medals in a shop in Prince George.

Now they're both in a frame, along with photographs.

"I was able to bring the brothers back together."

Others on the cenotaph include the son of the late alderman John Fremont Smith and a Kamloops man who actually fought in the U.S. army during the First World War.

There's also a Swiss man who was working in Knutsford when he signed up with the Canadian military during the Second World War. He was killed on D-Day.

Another man enlisted during the Second World War, fell out of a truck during training and died from his injuries.

The cenotaph list also includes at least four First Nations men and one man who died during a large influenza outbreak at the end of the Second World War.

Lodge's well-thumbed blue notebook contains page after page of names of Kamloops men who fought in war and neatly written details about them.

Some of the notes are long and thorough; others are sparse and wanting for information about who the man was.

"It's been so long now, I've got to the point where I feel like I know them," he said. "It's almost personal."

There have been connections. Some of the men - and yes, all the names on the cenotaph are men - who he has researched have been related to people he knows.

Some appear to be long forgotten.

"These people are lost to history," he said.

What has surprised Lodge is that during all his years of research, he didn't think he'd see a time when he'd be seeking information on someone who died in war during his own lifetime.

"I never thought I'd see the day," he said.

Then Cpl. Erin Doyle died in Afghanistan.

Lodge's nephew was in Afghanistan, too. He was injured in an explosion that shook him around and compressed his spine, but he lived to return to his home in Fort St. James.

Even though Lodge is delving into the lives of people he has never met, he's reluctant to contact potential family members. He doesn't like bothering people, he said.

So he goes on the Internet, to the museum's archives and flips pages in his military reference books.

It's his private time. But what he finds is information about lives he hopes to make public some day.

"There's probably nothing else I'll do to contribute to society. This tells their stories," he said.

"I'd like to think the museum would take these (portraits of honour) and keep them."

And put them on display so Kamloops residents can put a face, and a story, to the men whose names are engraved on the Battle Street cenotaph.


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