The Mary C. Moore Public Library in Lacombe recently honoured the legacy of First World War veteran Lieutenant Lance Corporal Leo Henry Baxter, who served both at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele
The library created a display of Baxter’s legacy, which has been collected by his grandson Ron Barclay and has been showcased throughout Alberta including in Lacombe, Innisfail, Spruceview, Penhold and Caroline.
Barclay said his grandfather, who was born in England in 1895 and came to Canada when he was six years old, was a member of the 8th Machine Gun Brigade and registered for service when he was just 17.
After completing his training, Baxter shipped off to France and was one of the 100,000 Canadians who captured Vimy Ridge. Baxter was severely injured by shrapnel and also was affected by an ineffective gas mask, which led to him being pulled off the front lines at Passchendaele.
During his time at Vimy, Baxter wrote a poem about the horrible conditions of war, including the lice living in the trenches:
Here I sit in a dugout in France
My shirt is just covered with crumbs
But I pick them off patiently one by one
And crack them between my thumbs
How the little one crack and snap
The bigger ones squirt and fly
And a bit of blood which at one time was my own
Flys up and hits me right in the eye
When I’ve picked off all those I can see
I put on my shirt inside out
For I may break the hearts of the ones that are left
By keeping them marching about
Could the Kaiser be made to wear this shirt
His war problems he could not attend
For with scratching, catching and cracking so busy he’d be
That the war would soon come to an end
Baxter nearly died on the operating table in France, but managed to survive and was sent back to England to be an instructor for the remainder of the war. He was 22-years-old when he returned to Canada, where he was a given a land grant in Whitecourt, Alta where he settled.
Barclay’s’s mother was born and raised in the area and Baxter farmed and was heavily involved with the local Legion until he passed away at 96 years old.
Since then, Barclay has made it his mission to carry on the legacy of Baxter’s service and has grown his collection of artifacts with the help of the Legion, family members and the Whitecourt Star, who wrote a feature on Baxter when he was in his 80s.
Barclay said it is important to remember the legacy of the people that served and the many who gave their lives.
“My grandfather stated quite vividly that when he was going over the hill at Vimy — the bodies were dropping all around him. He said he was waiting for the bullet with his name to show up and it never did,” he said.
“He was a Canadian hero like all of them that went there. We have to remember that. They gave so much for our country and for us. Many of them lost their lives doing it.”
Barclay said the response to the display, which has since moved from Lacombe to the Penhold Library, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are proud to see this display because it covers who he was, where he registered, where he fought and it can be a sense of pride for all Canadians,” he said.
He added, “It is a unique honour to be able to do this for the community.”