The Man in the Military

Greetings and salutations to all my esteemed readers. This is Sam here and today I’ll give you some clue as to what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks. So as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, my real passion lies in military history. From the first organized spear blocks of Sargon of Akkad in Sumeria to the mechanized infantry formations of the modern period, all things combat related piques my interest. Working at Banting House slakes this thirst quite well, as some might be surprised to hear. Frederick Banting served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War as a captain, participating on the front lines of the most successful Canadian offensives during the famous “Last Hundred Days” of the War. It really was a raucous affair that ended up in Banting getting a severe arm wound and the Military Cross from King George V! But what I am doing is more focused on the administrative nitty-gritty of Banting’s military service record rather than what Banting biographer Michael Bliss would call “needless hero worship and adoration”. My main task is to create a map that details Banting’s day to day movements, his unit’s actions, it’s transfers, and it’s billets. It will allow those who follow Bantings stop-by-stop journey to have a better understanding of what it looked like to fight in the Great War, aside from the mud and blood of the trenches. I want to show where Banting was when he served on the front lines, what he was doing, what units he would have been close to and their participation in the various Canadian offensives of 1918. I want people to know that Banting’s was not simply a instant hero story; the man was just another field surgeon of the No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance and was moved about as such.

To do this research, I called on the plethora of resources available to me at Banting House. I first started with the war diaries of the 13th Field Ambulance and the 44th Canadian Infantry Battalion which it was attached to (recently digitized by the gems over at Libraries and Archives Canada). While testing on my vision (not all war diarists were created equal, as I found out), these documents provide much information on the unit movements, positions and personnel transfers. The second big collection I drew from were Banting’s military records, which helped me piece together the financial and social situation that Banting inhabited at the time of the war. With those official, government sanctioned resources out of the way, I am now turning to more personal accounts. For the last two days I have been slowly working through Banting’s personal memoirs and Michael Bliss’s biography of the man in search of any tiny stories that official records do not cover. Doing so has really given me an idea of the man that Banting developed into being after these military adventures. It removes the vernier of hero worship that can sometimes accrue when you work at a museum (Banting was a product of his father’s generation, I’ll leave it at that), which can be quite harsh, but ultimately it builds up a respect for the subject. For all the silly, petty and anti social actions that Banting took in his life, I can still say that he was a great man and this military project makes him human again to me, after the myth has been stripped away and the immature feelings of disgust and betrayal dissipate of course.

When this mapping project is completed, I really recommend that you check it out. It will educate you on the war in a rather interesting fashion and reveal the sheer scale of the conflict just on the western front alone. And maybe, I hope, it will give you some concept of the experience that shaped not only Banting, but a whole generation of Canadians.

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