Students in Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes may know local dance instructor Jimmy Chapman for his energetic breakdancing lessons in area schools.
But, for a few weeks out of the year, leading up to Remembrance Day, Chapman hosts presentations showcasing his other passion — teaching people about Word War I and World War II through his extensive collection of military memorabilia.
“My grandfather was in the Airforce, the Canadian Airforce, but he went over and flew with the British Airforce and was 16 when he went over and joined from there,” said Chapman.
“He survived the war, but when my grandfather passed away, I inherited a bunch of items, and it sparked my interest from there and I started kind of a museum that I now take to schools.”
His collection has grown to more than one thousand items, amassed over 15 years of collecting.
“I collect from all over the world. Canada, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Japan. I got those items from the families, and they all come with a story,” said Chapman.
He is hoping by sharing those stories people will connect with the past and realize the impacts of war.
“Students might watch a movie or play a video game but they really don’t have that connection to history and this way they hear the stories, they can really feel it.”
His collection includes everything from uniforms and gear to weapons (he noted they are all decommissioned and legal) to letters sent from the front.
“This is one of my favourite items,” he said, holding a framed letter in front of a group of students. “These are actually Christmas cards from 1916 and 1917, this is a soldier who is writing his family.”
“This is what he is writing to his wife,” said Chapman. “Then I know with arms outstretched, you’ll come to meet me Eva dear, though your sorrows have been many, I know that God will bring you cheer. Tell the children that Daddy is thinking of them far away, but do not tell them that his heart is breaking.”
Chapman said it would sometimes take months for letters to reach their destinations and that soldier would die before the card made it to his family.
“This is actually very interesting,” he said referencing another framed piece. “This solider was from Omemee and was in the Airforce, he was shot down and they never found his body. The medals would go home to his family and the family gave them to me.”
He went on to describe and show the size of a German Tiger tank shell, noting it was one of the only ones he knows of in Canada. And he demonstrated the tool soldiers used in WWI to alert the troops of chemical gas.
“It uses an echo,” he said. “It is wood, and metal and you would spin it in one hand.”
Grade 12 student Emily Hatton said hearing the stories behind the collection is more impactful than reading about history in a textbook.
“I know many students learn about this, in grade 10 history we learn about the wars, we watch movies but still we can’t really connect with them. This is a way to really understand how real it was to so many people and how many people lost their lives,” said Hatton.
Katelyn Byrne, also in Grade 12 agreed and said it is important, especially for younger generations to remember Canada’s military history.
“People went out to fight for us and they didn’t even know us and now we can be in a free country today because of those sacrifices and I feel like it is so important to know that and remember that especially, so we don’t repeat history,” she said.
Chapman is planning to display his items in a museum, so the public can also experience the past through his collection.
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