Curator and founder brings a personal touch to 31 Service Battalion Museum

Article / October 28, 2015 / Project number: 15-0149

Hamilton, Ontario — For Captain (Retired) Steve Waldron being the founder and curator of Hamilton, Ontario’s 31 Service Battalion Museum is an extremely rewarding pursuit, born out of his very personal passion for military history.

Capt (Rtd) Waldron may technically still be an amateur historian, but the museum that he founded recently received official accreditation from the Canadian Armed Forces Directorate of History and Heritage. That’s a strong endorsement of the hard work – research, cataloguing and many other steps – that goes into every display.

One area in which he’s taken a special interest is the story of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). The museum’s collection includes a unique and substantial selection of CWAC uniforms and memorabilia that is now on display.

In 1939, Canadian women began lobbying to be allowed to join the military. Two years later, government and military officials came around to the idea, reasoning that women could replace men in support roles, thus freeing more men up for combat.

[CWAC members] are under-represented in the museum world,” Capt (Rtd) Waldron said. “And they played a huge part [in World War II]. These women went out and joined the Army; that changed the whole society. Their fathers didn’t want them to join; their brothers didn’t want them to join. These women were patriotic.

The first piece of the CWAC collection was a donation: the uniform of Private Bertha Elizabeth Glynn, who joined in 1944. As Waldron researched her story, he uncovered more CWAC uniforms. The collection also encompasses female uniforms from later periods and other related memorabilia. The idea for a unit museum came to Capt Waldron in 2007, when it was announced that the three southwestern Ontario reserve Service Battalions — 21 Windsor, 22 London, and 23 Hamilton — would be merged under the 31 Service Battalion banner.

I commissioned from the ranks,” Capt (Rtd) Waldron recalled. “I was a Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). We knew the unit was going to be amalgamated and, being an ex-RSM, I’m pretty proud of my unit. I decided something had to be done to preserve our history in Hamilton. We’d been there in one shape or another since 1905, so it needed to be kept. Not only am I the historian, I’m part of the history. Half way through the museum is where I started wearing those uniforms.

Waldron’s love of history actually began much earlier in his life, but its origins are no less personal.

My family has at least three generations of military in it. I have my grandfather’s Enfield Snider rifle in the museum and it was issued to him in 1880.

With his unit commanding officer’s blessing, Capt (Rtd) Waldron set to building upon what was originally a very modest collection of military garb. What started as a collection of three pieces, the museum currently holds more than 300.

There are also firearms: Enfield Snider rifles dating from the late 1800s, a No. 1 Mk III Lee Enfield rifle from 1917 with its bayonet, Smith and Wesson pistols of First World War vintage.

The museum’s collection of medals includes Distinguished Service Orders, Military Crosses, and honours from the Boer War and First World War. Wherever possible there are pictures of the individuals who received them and visitors can also access their written histories.

There is also a family connection with one of the museum’s rarest pieces: a letter of condolence for the death of Capt (Rtd) Waldron’s cousin, Private Arlen Charles Lewis, who was killed while serving with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Korea. It’s signed by General Douglas MacArthur, who led UN forces in Korea. Capt Waldron says there are only two other letters like it.

The museum also has many rare finds: friends connected Capt (Rtd) Waldron with a woman in the U.S. who had her grandfather’s Canadian Army uniform and wanted to see it returned to Canada and housed in a museum.

I opened up the bag and it was a complete World War I [uniform]. It’s unheard of to get something like this.

He’s done a phenomenal job,” said Capt (Rtd) Waldron’s assistant curator, Sergeant (Retired) Craig Marvin, who began volunteering at the museum just a few months after it opened.

It’s always important to maintain the history and what better way to do that than display it for others to see and learn about what we’ve done? I just wanted to help out with preserving the history of that unit because it was the last unit I served with.

I get a tour every time I’m there,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Sean Harding, 31 Service Battalion’s commanding officer, who added that the museum has become a point of pride equally for members in Hamilton and elsewhere. “I can see the soldiers are proud. It does reflect the present as well as the past.

Capt (Rtd) Waldron said he’s on the lookout for someone to take over the curator role at some point.

It does take up a lot of time. When you get something you don’t just put it immediately on display.

For more information on the 31 Service Battalion Museum, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/31-Service-Battalion-Museum/413122562111894

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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