On Saturday, Nov. 2, Bill Findley, Ret. Gunner died peacefully at Parkwood Hospital in London.
A resident of Courtland and member of The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 153, in Tillsonburg, he was the first recipient of the Tillsonburg Military Club's 'Local Hero' award.
On Nov. 9-10, during the military club's Week of Remembrance, Robin Barker-James opened his Outdoor History Site, east of Tillsonburg on New Road, to the general public for Trench Tours and a fundraising 'barn sale.' He estimated about 150 people visited Saturday, and although numbers were a little lower Sunday because of the weather, Barker-James was thrilled to see Findley's sister, Jean Fex, with Judy Falkner and Bob Fex from London.
“There's a little piece of Bill over this place,” Barker-James told Findley's relatives early Sunday afternoon, “and there always will be.”
“It's beautiful, really good” said Fex, 84, walking among Barker-James' mile-long trenches. “They must have done a lot of work.”
“I think it's good having the kids come out,” said Faulkner. “They can educate them what went on during the war. I think a lot of them have some idea, but not a lot.”
“It's good for them to know what they did,” Fex agreed.
Winding through sandy soil on Barker-James' farm, the wood-metal-and-dirt trenches have a rustic, homemade feel, complete with props, and in some areas require some care in navigating.
“Homemade, that's right, that's the word for sure,” Fex smiled, standing near a white-painted tin strucuture, near the exit of a tunnel system.
“That's a funk hole,” said Baker-James. “In World War I slang, if you were in a blue funk, you were terrified. The highest level of terror. Funk holes were illegal, but soldiers made them anyways. There were two types – that's like a four-star hotel funk hole. It's three-sided, and because it's in the trench, most of it stays dry. It gives a little bit of shelter from shrapnel, but not much.”
The 'usual' funk hole, he said, was a shelf scooped out of the side of a trench.
“The biggest problem was if a shell hit nearby you were buried alive. And that happened quite often, so they passed orders 'don't do that' because it also weakens the side of the trench. But the soldiers still did it – they needed shelter.”
Showing the trench map to another visitor, Barker-James described two separate trench systems, and in the south field three more trenches and a fort, barbed wire fences and a bunch of pillboxes.
“There's also a museum where you can do a lantern tour,” he added.
“So far... it's interesting – very interesting,” said Wilfrid Riddle, visiting the trenches for the first time from Branford.
“I would say it's pretty ambitious,” said Brantford's John Newstead, noting the importance of people seeing what happened in war. “You have to dig deeper though, eh? In reality, if your head was sticking over the top, you usually got a bullet through it.”
For Barker-James, the best part of the weekend was interacting with the visitors.
“The people have been really friendly and have interesting stories. And several people, seeing what we're doing, want to join the military history club, so that's been great.
“Bill Findley's relatives here... that was extra-extra special, because that's the official name of this site – the Bill Findley Outdoor Education Centre. His nephew said, 'where is the actual building?' and I said, 'well, you're in the building and it's all the trenches' and they were quite pleased.”