The cenotaph for Russell and district. Courtesy Photo
RUSSELL – History is the story of where we have been and the people we travelled with.
Understanding the reasons why people believed in what they did, and what motivated them to great moments of courage and sacrifice, helps all of us in the present understand why history happened the way it did and hopefully allow us in the present to respect what our ancestors did in the past.
Russell resident Phil Gurski is the president and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd.
He has written six books and is working on a seventh one about local Russell residents who went off to serve in the First World War. Naturally, getting information about local men and women who took part in the war is a challenge and Gurski is appealing to anyone who may have information about another family member who went off to the great war 108 years ago to get in touch with him.
In his biography he explained why he wants to write about those who served in the First World War.
He said, “Why am I writing a book on Canadians who left their homes in a small Ontario village to fight – and at times die – in World War One (WWI)? The reasons are varied.
First of all, in 2015 my eldest daughter and I travelled to Northern France to tour that nation’s splendour and, more importantly, to see where Canadians had fought in both world wars; we are both very patriotic Canadians. We were both struck by several findings during that trip. Aside from the emotional times we spent at Juno Beach; Canada’s landing spot on D-Day 1944, Vimy Ridge; Canada played a major role in that battle in April 1917 and at the memorial to Newfoundlanders slaughtered at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916; the first day of the Battle of the Somme, we were amazed at how many cemeteries there were across the region. Some were in small towns; others were along the roadside. The rows of headstones went on and on and on. The sheer number of graves we visited was overwhelming.”
Unlike his other books that were all about terrorism, Gurski worked for Canada’s spy agency for years before retiring to Russell.
It turns out that the house he bought in Russell is directly across the street from the Russell Legion branch 372.
He saw that there was a cenotaph in front of the Legion that had the names of many of the local soldiers who served and died in the First and Second World Wars.
Gurski began to wonder what the community remembered or knew about these young men who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.
“When I looked into it, I found that a bit of work has been done on who signed up and there is a lot of information available thanks to Library Archives Canada who digitalized a lot of the old records about the First World War. But no one had really told the story of what drove a young person, the youngest person was 14 from a small village in 1914 to want to go fight in France,” he said.
That became the genesis of his project.
He was able to collect some information about soldiers from the area who served in the war from the Russell Historical Society as well as from the museum and through the Library Archives Canada.
He wanted more personal information about these soldiers.
“Are there any families still in the area who may in fact have old boxes up in the attic or in the basement, of letters these men would have sent home to their families? It would be a bit of a personal insight of what these men were going through between 1914 and 1918.
He hopes there are Russell residents who have this kind of information safely put away.
“This book is an effort to tell their stories and those of some of the men who enlisted, fought, and returned. I have researched who they were and where they fought. Russell is a small village in Eastern Ontario much like neighbouring places such as Metcalfe, Vernon, Avonmore and Morewood, all of which have their own cenotaphs. Tiny dots on a map that were even tinier in 1914. Villages that have made the move to remember their dead sons, much like the hundreds of French hamlets I drove through in November 1915.
You can contact: Phil Gurski at 613-552-2114 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Morin is the Editor of the Eastern Ontario AgriNews, and the Record. He is, despite years of practice, determined to eventually play the guitar properly. He has served the Eastern Ontario community as a news editor, and journalist for the past 25 years with the Iroquois Chieftain, Kemptville Advance, West Carleton Review, and Ottawa Carleton Review in Manotick. He has never met a book he did not like.