Notre Dame students learn about the Great War

Notre Dame students Tyler Swanson and Hayley Sweet wearing military uniform headgear worn by Canadian soldiers and other members of the British Empire Forces during the First World War. – Lucie Roy Photos

by Lucie Roy

Retired Sergeant Ted Peacock, a 20 year veteran who served as a Combat Engineer and did five tours overseas, was the guest speaker at Ecole Notre Dame School Oct. 27. Sgt. Peacock brought a trunk full of First World War artefacts from the Canadian War Museum, including garments and gear.

Peacock spoke to students about the uniforms, equipment and how soldiers lived during WWI. The retired soldier explained how soldiers used Semaphore Flags in the trenches because there were no cell phones or other modern communication devices.

large notre dame 3The WWI Discovery Box contained 22 objects, five authentic artifacts, and 17 high-quality reproductions of archival materials.

One of the items was the aviator’s scarf, which Peacock said was most often made of silk and worn by pilots during the First World War. Flight training was expensive and not initially provided to pilots. Many WWI pilots were wealthy members of society whose habits and dress followed them into the service. The scarf became a fashionable accessory that airmen wore in civil life before the war and problems were solved by making them an essential piece of military kit that served a practical purpose. First World War aircraft cockpits were open and cold winds blew down the necks of pilots’ coats. Pilots would wear the scarf to cover their neck and keep warm.

Peacock also displayed the service dress jacket, a garment made of khaki wool serge cloth worn by Canadian soldiers and other members of the British Empire Forces. Veterans of Canada’s first overseas contingent, known as the original firsts, often displayed distinctive blue shoulder straps on their jackets. By the end of the war this was a proud distinguishing mark that few men survived to wear on active service.

The puttees, shown over the jacket collar, were strips of wool cloth worn over the ankle boots. They were wrapped around a soldier’s lower leg from the ankle up to below the knee.

Another item Sgt. Peacock brought was the service dress uniform for nursing sisters, a blue double-breasted blouse with open collar and a long blue skirt that lead to the nickname Bluebirds. The nursing sisters’ apron was worn over the service dress uniform.

But the exhibit was not only show and tell. Some students got an opportunity to put on some of the gear and garments Sgt. Peacock brought with him.

Notre Dame student Tyler Swanson had the opportunity to put on the service dress cap, a military hat made from khaki-drab wool serge cloth, like the service uniform. It was the standard cap worn by British and Canadian troops during the First World War. The winter service cap was known by the troops as the Cor Blimey. The nickname is from the Cockney slang for God blind me, an exclamation of surprise. It applied to the cap because of its soft peak, floppy appearance and loose fit. The cap could easily slip forward over the eyebrows, leading British soldiers to say “Cor Blimey.”

Hayley Sweet got the chance to wear the Mark 1 steel helmet, introduced in 1915-16. The Mark 1 helmet was the standard steel helmet used by the British Empire Forces. It protected soldiers from shrapnel bullets, shell fragments and other flying debris.

Sgt. Peacock’s presentation was a lead up to Veterans’ Week, Nov. 5-11. Notre Dame will hold their Remembrance Day ceremony Nov. 6 at 10:30 a.m.

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