By Tim Kalinowski
The hamlet of Suffield held a Remembrance Day reception at the Community Hall last Wednesday afternoon. The event featured a meet and greet with CFB Suffield base commander Lt. Col. John Scott and BATUS commander Col. Marcus Evans. Complimentary food and beverages were served for everyone who came out.
One of the highlights of the day was certainly the collections of medals and family memorabilia on display covering many of Canada and Britain’s past wars from a very personal point of view. Among the items on display Medicine Hat military collector Chris Enslen brought out a wonderful collection of early medals and photos from local soldiers who served in the early part of the 20th century.
Undoubtedly the treasure of Enslen’s medals on Wednesday was an early medal for a Douglas L. Woods who served in Medicine Hat with the 63rd Halifax Rifles during the Riel Rebellion. Enslen saved the two campaign medals from being melted down by a gold and silver buyer in Halifax.
“The important thing about this set is it’s a really early Canadian campaign medal pair. Often you will find single medals, but to get early pairs like this to the same soldier is a bit uncommon. The unit Woods served with during the Riel Rebellion was posted on garrison duty in Medicine Hat as well as Swift Current, Maple Creek and the Saskatchewan Landing. The photo displayed with the medals is of this unit at Medicine Hat during that time,” explains Enslen.
Another gem of Enslen’s collection is a campaign medal set belonging to Lance Sgt. Robert Messenger, another soldier with Medicine Hat roots, who served with the 1st and 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles during the First World War. As Enslen explains, one of the medals has a storied history.
“The first medal in the group is the Military Medal for Bravery. Messenger was awarded that for his actions at Vimy Ridge when both his platoon officer and sergeant were wounded early in the advance. He took over the platoon and led it up the Ridge and took that position.”
Another medal set belongs to Sgt. Major Michael Bennett who served with the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade of the British Army during the Boer War in South Africa before moving to Medicine Hat as a settler in 1910.
“Bennett immigrated to Medicine Hat and enlisted in the militia there with the 21st Alberta Hussars. And when the First World War broke out he enlisted in the 175th Medicine Hat Battalion and went overseas with them. He was then transferred to a couple others and served in France and was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery for his actions during the Hundred Days campaign at the end of the war.”
Enslen says his love of local military history is what drives him to seek out and collect medals and other local war memorabilia. He is honoured to be part of preserving these powerful artifacts of southeast Alberta’s wartime past.
“I just always had an interest with local history and the military. So I wanted to combine those interests, and this is the route it took.”