Stitch in time

Royal Flying Corps aircraftman James Armishaw, in 1917 tunic tailored by Beauchamp & How.

First, they told me to stand still. For an hour. Then, a man I didn’t know except through my father ran a tape measure across my shoulders, down the length of my arms, around my waist and chest. A little later, when he needed a measurement down there, he ran the tape measure from my ankle up into my crotch. I kept on smiling even though, at about age 10, I had never done this sort of thing before. The man with the tape measure finally smiled and gave me a pat on the back.

“Ted, you’re going to love this,” he said, “your first ever tailor-made suit.”

Making history then and now

Tish MacDonald gives her students - bound for Vimy next year - last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.
Tish MacDonald gives her students – bound for Vimy next year – last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.

Sometimes, achievement comes in very small packages. And sometimes it arrives when you least expect it. In this case, a friend of mine, a teacher who’s been working diligently to pull together a major event this weekend, was in the middle of something else. Suddenly, one of her students interrupted to show her his latest piece of work.

“He was completely covered in sawdust,” my teacher friend Tish MacDonald said, “and he showed me this wooden silhouette he’d been working on. It was incredible.”

The silhouette is the outline of a soldier, a First World War Canadian soldier, whose figure will join the décor and displays that, in a few days, will transform the local high school in Uxbridge, Ont., into the site of “The Samuel S. Sharpe Gala” fundraiser.

Weathering Vimy then and now

Students from Uxbridge Secondary School display their Vimy 95th anniversary banner at precisely the spot where Canadian troops made first contact with German soldiers on the morning of April 9, 1917.

It had rained all day. The sun had tried to poke some light through the low-lying clouds and mist of the ridge. But the strong westerly wind – that seemed to cut right through you – quickly erased every attempt. It was not a day to be outside. And yet, people came by the thousand. In particular, the young Canadians – about 5,000 high school students – paraded with banners, cheers and a resolve that was characteristic of their forefathers. One of their teachers summed up the scene.

“They’re wet and chilled to the bone,” she said. “But they realize it’s not right to complain. They’ll get through it.”

Teacher as student of living history

It was probably the final phone call she made last Sunday night. I’m sure that she had been dealing with a myriad of errands. I imagine that she’d probably checked her to-do list a hundred times. I know for a fact that she had responded to a long list of messages from fellow teachers, her principal and concerned parents. After all, she was about to lead more than 60 students from Uxbridge Secondary School on a 10-day-long trip into history. Nevertheless, U.S.S. instructor Tish MacDonald phoned me.

“Just wanted to say thanks,” she said on the phone. “We’re down to the last few hours before we take off for Holland. Everybody’s all fired up.”