MIDDLETON, NS - Many people probably don’t know it, but the West Nova Scotia Regiment was in the thick of things during World War Two, and no reserve regiment in Canada saw more action than the Annapolis Valley-based soldiers.
May 6 the artifacts, stories, and memories were unpacked and put on display in a permanent exhibit at Macdonald Museum in Middleton. Soldiers and civilians alike came from across the province to mark the opening of West Novas in Peace and War on the second floor of the museum, about a block away from the refurbished WNSR armory.
The regiment’s Commanding Officer Lt.-Col. Ken Butterworth was among the many guests and his pride in the West Novas and their place in history – now accessible to the public via the permanent exhibition -- was obvious.
“This is a country regiment. This is a regiment that grew up in the Valley – traces it’s roots back to 1869,” he said. “And this regiment stood up in 1936. Now is the first time we’ve had a home to put our artifacts, to put our memories down where future generations can see them – and they can hear the stories. My intent is to have all of the soldiers to come through here to learn the past so we can chart our future.”
Some of the soldiers who came through the regiment since 1936 are already legendary.
Ken Keddy of Greenwood Square was on hand for the event. He was a West Nova soldier in World War Two and served in the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (1SSF) – also known as the Devil’s Brigade. All told, 18 members of the WNSR were also members of the special ops brigade.
Charles Sheppard’s father Gub Sheppard was one of those other Devil’s Brigade members. Charles Sheppard came down from Whitney Pier for the May 6 event and remembers his father as a stern but fair man who never talked about his time as a soldier.
Gub Sheppard was described as a formidable soldier but was forced to leave the 1SSF because the segregated U.S. Army didn’t want a black soldier in the brigade.
Two World War two snipers of renown were members of the West Novas – Cpl. Charles Jeremy of Middleton who was described as setting the standard in his discipline, and Pte. Oran Foster of Deep Brook who was presented with the British Empire Medal by King George VI.
Ernest Doucette of Tusket was also a World War Two veteran who served in the WNSR. He, along with Keddy and Leo Glavine, Minister of Communities, Culture, and Heritage, were the first through the door to the exhibit.
“The very first thing you’ll see when you enter the museum here, to the left, is World War Two,” said Lt-Col. Butterworth. “And there’s not a single regiment in Canada that has more battle honours than the West Nova Scotia Regiment. We achieved 24 battle honours in World War Two – and that was in all theatres.”
They landed in Sicily in 1943. They were in Italy from 1943 to 1945. And in 1945 were in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands where some of those soldiers were responsible for rescuing a Middleton woman who had escaped from a Nazi prison that had caught fire during an Allied bombardment. That woman was World War Two heroine Mona Parsons – recognized as Nova Scotia’s Heritage Honouree in 2018.
Glavine told that story during opening remarks. Parsons had been sentenced to death for helping Allied airmen in Holland.
“Now to see this permanent exhibit of the West Novas regiment here, to be able to trace its prominent and its noteworthy history through the years – to see it on display – I think is wonderful for both the regiment and museum,” said Glavine. “Indeed as the minister responsible for culture and history, the province certainly welcomes this addition here in Middleton.”
While those tough-as-nails West Nova soldiers distinguished themselves across Europe during World War Two, members have also gone on to distinguish themselves in modern day warfare.
Lt.Col. Butterworth points along the wall of the newly opened exhibit.
“As you scoot around the side here, you’ll also notice there are Afghanistan displays and how many soldiers have served in Afghanistan,” he said. “So many in fact that this regiment will emblaze the word ‘Afghanistan’ on our regimental colours when we’re presented new colours in the very near future.”
From 2001 to 2014 a total of 34 members of the West Novas served in the region, some completing two tours. They provided security for the Kandaher Airfield, support for NATO training missions, and helped train the Afghan National Army – among other things.
A WNSR member from Annapolis Royal who went on to command battalions in the regular forces, was Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, sometimes referred to as ‘Canada’s Man in Afghanistan.’ He commanded Task Force Orion. His desert camouflage uniform is part of the exhibit.
Because the West Nova Scotia Regiment covers from Windsor to Yarmouth, mayors from several communities were on hand for the exhibit’s opening, including Middleton Mayor Sylvester Atkinson, Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow, Windsor Mayor Anna Allen, and Kings County Mayor Peter Muttart.
Macdonald Museum Director Janice Slauenwhite was given kudos from the regiment for helping them establish a permanent location for a few years – at least. Both regiment and museum personnel seemed confident the exhibit would continue well into the future.
While Lt.-Col. Butterworth noted that the West Nova exhibit is secured at in Middleton for the next five years, he sees a longer presence.
“Interest will grow, artifacts will come in, generations that are moving on will want their memories to have a place, tell their story,” he said. “I hope they find a place here and I hope we can expand to make ourselves a bigger presence here in the Valley.”
West Novas in Peace and War is based on the regiment’s temporary Canada 150 exhibit opened at the museum in 2017. That exhibit was on the first floor and was larger in scope.
The May 6 opening attracted almost 170 people.
The West Nova Scotia Regiment is accepting new members. For more information go to http://www.wnsr.ca/
Visit Macdonald Museum at 21 School Street in Middleton, or go to http://macdonaldmuseum.ca/