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Canadians in France - World War I: Banjo
Canadians in France
This is a full-size five-string banjo, with 11" head. The banjo has parts missing and is not in playing condition at this time. I have deliberately left it so pending any Museum's interest in it.. The skin is either calf or goatskin; very dirt-blackened on the outside but a creamy colour inside, where the names are. I would think that a more forensic examination would yield much more information - for instance underneath 'Amiens' there appears to be a list and this is all in the same handwriting.
In April of 2011 I bought an old banjo in England - this instrument (an English one ca 1900) was in dreadful but restoreable condition. This is one of my hobbies. Inside the banjo - that is on the reverse of the 'skin' there are multiple writings, mostly names and with almost each name a 'home town' There is also the date written twice of 'Paris, August 24th, 1917' Other than that only one of the names is dated, and this is 19/12/1917. I have been able to decipher 22 names and towns, all in Canada and in every Province except New Brinswick and Prince Edward Island. (Newfoundland was not part of Canada then) From Canadian Govt records I have been able to read 17 of these sam names, ages, date of enlistment, etc., on the 'Attestation Documents' In Canada, these soldiers were volunteers, but aso had to volunteer to serve overseas. Their ages range from 18yrs to 47yrs and they are of many occupations; some married, others single. Many were born in England, some were Americans. From their papers I found that later remarks had been addes such as 'Gunner' and Bombardier' which tells me that they were artillerymen. I noted a name from a small Ontario town and on checking telephone records found two families of the same name there (the name was James PLATTS) I telephoned the first one and spoke with James Platts' daughter-in-law, and elderly woman. She said that James Platts came from England as an orphan to do farm work and then joined the Army when the war came. She knew he had been at Ypres; Vimy Ridge, and Amiens. Obviously he survived and came home, married and had a family. The name next to his was 'R.Roland' from a nearby community - she said she had heard this name and thought that they had enlisted together. I found that this was so, they joined the same day in Toronto, Ontario. So when these men were in Paris on that date - they had already fought at Passchendaele and were on their way to Vimy Ridge! With Amiens waiting... The word 'Amiens' is written in among the names, also Ste. Nazaire de ???? both of which were battles in 1918. There are Englich names in there as well, mostly of a 'Walsh' family and one as late as 1928, so I am presuming that the banjo went back to England either late in the War or after it. There is no way of knowing if it belonged to a Canadian soldier or to a British soldier who met this group of Canadians (on leave?) in Paris. So far I have not tried to contact any other descendants of any of the soldiers who signed the banjo. The Canadian War Museum do not appear to have any interest in this item, judging by their lack of response. I would have thought it would have made a poignant and heart-wrenching exhibit.