Cheryl Cornacchia: Canadian Historians Puzzle Over Veterans' War Souvenirs





On April 9, 1917, a soldier from Montreal surveyed the bloody battlefield that was Vimy Ridge and did what many other troops did at that moment.

Vincent Wallace, a 29-year-old private with the 2nd Signal Company, looked around for something by which he could remember Canada's victory at the battle zone in France.

Now, almost 90 years later, that young soldier's First World War prize - a German Mauser rifle - has surfaced in Montreal and is raising questions.

The standard-issue German firearm is just one of hundreds of "military heirlooms" making their way into the public domain as Canadian veterans of the First and Second World Wars die.

The question has now become what to do with the booty.

"I think the Mauser belongs in a museum," said John Garley, 74, a Montrealer and the current owner of the weapon recovered by Wallace at Vimy Ridge.

"If we were in the United States, they (museums) would be clamouring for it."

Garley purchased the rifle for $150 at a Greene Ave. military memorabilia shop that was going out of business in 1971. He has been taking care of it ever since.

Garley said he researched Wallace and found the soldier had been honoured with the Military Medal, a gallantry award for service above and beyond the call of duty. Garley also learned Wallace died in 1942.

Garley said he thinks the gun Wallace picked up is valuable because "they say Canada became a nation at Vimy Ridge."
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Over the past 10 years, White said, hundreds of artifacts brought back by Canadian soldiers during the First and Second World Wars have surfaced.

White said he was offered more than 3,000 guns in 2002, when Canadians were obliged to register all firearms.

The museum took as many as 750 for its collection, including a musket from the War of 1812, and gave donors gift-tax receipts, he said.


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