For this entry, I would like to make brief change of subject before delving back into commemorating the Flame of Hope’s 30th anniversary. Last year, as I was examining Dr. Banting’s military career for the centennial of the First World War, I came across numerous references to the machine gun that he managed to bring to his hometown. Local legends abound about how Dr. Banting took the weapon unarmed and alone, bringing it back home as a hunter would a fresh kill. While this is almost certainly an exaggeration, there is some truth in it: Dr. Banting did indeed participate in the ancient and semi-proscribed tradition of trophy taking.
While the 19th century had seen individual officers and enlisted men transport home everything from enemy bullet casings to artillery pieces, as had happened in the Second Boer War in 1899-1901, the weapons taking of the First World War was far more officially controlled. The Canadian government took possession of most of these captured heavy arms, dolling them out to communities across Canada for public displays of militaristic patriotism, a spirit that still carried on despite the grievous human losses of that war.
A captured German artillery piece. (Photograph courtesy of the Canadian War Muesum of Ottawa, Ontario)
However, the distribution of these hard won trophies was not only the business of logistic bureaucrats and politicians. The goal of Sir Arthur Doughty’s Commission on War Records and Trophies was to allocate these captured weapons to the regions that had contributed the most financially to the war effort, yet the men who originally took the weapons also had a say in where this captured material would be best distributed. Dr. Banting, likely using his influence as a Captain and a Military Cross recipient, was able to secure the rights of a captured German heavy machine gun for his choice of commemoration site. The deactivated gun, a Spandau MG 08, was given over to the Town of Alliston Ontario. The town council placed the weapon in front of the local high school, the very one that had seen a young doctor Banting struggle with his English lessons and excel baseball.
The preserved Spandau Maschinengewehr. (Photograph courtesy of the New Tecumseh Public Library)
The Spandau would remain there for several decades before being given to the Simcoe Pioneer Museum for conservation. Later it would enter into the hands of the Museum on the Boyne, who have lent it to the Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation.
This weapon came to represent not only the triumphant militarism of Canadian society throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, but the connection of the town to one of its most famous sons. While insulin benefited the entire world, saving the lives of millions throughout the decades, this trophy represented something that Dr. Banting had achieved for his country and his town specifically. It is a private link that attaches Banting’s legacy to the town, proving that it was more than simply where he grew up; it was, most definitely, his home.
This post was written by Samuel Pitre, summer student at
Banting House NHS. Samuel is currently completing his M.A. in History at
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