The Canadian Connection: WW1 Medals and International Biographies

As a Canadian who moved to York a year and a half ago, it is always heart warming to find little links to home whilst abroad. These associations might come in the form of sourcing real Canadian maple syrup, or seeing the first snow fall. But perhaps the strongest connection I have found came unexpectedly whilst researching the individuals connected to the First World War medals in the York Museums Trust collection.

Amongst the various military medals, I surprisingly found myself in the company of two Canadians: Bertram Elgin Wildsmith (Private 54336 of the Canadian Infantry 18th Battalion, West Ontario Regiment, killed in action 1916) and James Maurice Keith (Private 17239 of the Canadian Infantry 7th Battalion, 1st BC Regiment, killed in action 1915).

Allied Victory Medal awarded to James Maurice Keith.

Allied Victory Medal awarded to James Maurice Keith (Source: York Museums Trust).

I thought it only fitting then to share the story of James Maurice Keith, born in 1894 in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

A.Birth place of father, James Herrett in New Brunswick. B.Birth place of mother, Laura Alma in Ontario. C.Birth place of James Maurice in Chilliwack BC 1894. D.Place of departure for the Canadian Infantry 7th Battalion. E.Training of the Canadian Infantry 7th Battalion in England. F.First major battle of 7th Battalion, and the place of death of James Maurice in 1915.

A. Birth place of father, James Herrett, in New Brunswick.
B. Birth place of mother, Laura Alma, in Ontario.
C. Birth place of James Maurice in Chilliwack, B.C., 1894.
D. Place of departure for the Canadian Infantry 7th Battalion.
E. Training of the Canadian Infantry 7th Battalion in England.
F. First major battle of 7th Battalion, and the place of death of James Maurice in 1915.

As the eldest of six children of James Herrett (of New Brunswick, Canada) and Laura Alma Keith (of Ontario, Canada, nee Bonter), James Maurice attended school at Sumas, before enlisting in the local militia and working as a farmer.

Left: Photograph of Laura Alma at 2 years old, with her parents, in Ontario, Canada (ca. 1867). Right: Photograph of James Herrett Keith’s house in Chilliwack, BC.

Left: Photograph of Laura Alma at 2 years old, with her parents, in Ontario, Canada (ca. 1867) (Source: Chilliwack Museum & Archives).
Right: Photograph of James Herrett Keith’s house in Chilliwack, BC. (Source: Chilliwack Museum & Archives).

As a member of the local militia, James Maurice was amongst the first to enlist for overseas service in September 1914, as part of the newly created 7th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He then travelled to Quebec, where he and 49 officers and 1082 other privates boarded the Virginian and arrived in England on October 14, 1914.

Attestation Papers signed by J.M. Keith, enlisting for over-seas service in September 1914.

Attestation Papers signed by J.M. Keith, enlisting for over-seas service in September 1914 (Source:


The SS Virginian, which transported James Maurice, and the rest of the 7th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, to England in 1914.

The SS Virginian, which transported James Maurice, and the rest of the 7th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, to England in 1914.


After further training in England, the battalion moved to France in February 1915. However, two months after arriving at the Western Front, and facing their first German attack at St. Julien, near Ypres, the Canadian infantry was pushed back, largely as a result poison gas and heavy shelling. In the midst of this, the Second Battle of Ypres, James Keith was killed in action on the 24th of April, 1915.

Casualty form for James Maurice Keith, who was killed in action in 1915.

Casualty form for James Maurice Keith, who was killed in action in 1915 (Source:

A memorial service was held for James Maurice at Atchelitz Hall, BC, on May 16, 1915. He was also commemorated on the Ypres Memorial in Belgium, on the Chilliwack War Memorial (unveiled in 1923), and a small panel that now resides in the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

Even in the relatively small community of Chilliwack, B.C., war casualties were frequent and had a substantial impact. James Maurice was amongst three men of his class of only ten at school that were killed by 1916 (with Malcolm MacLeod and Louis James Barrett). On a larger scale, during the course of the First World War, 620,000 Canadians were mobilized, 67,000 were killed and 173, 000 were wounded.

There are more than a million casualties registered with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. These represent the involvement and losses of communities across the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, to name but a few. The medals contained in the YMT collections provide the starting point to explore and honour the diverse experiences of the First World War.



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Hitting the World Stage Online

Over the last couple of months you may have read some of my previous blog articles about the ambition to digitise our collections at York Museums Trust.

I have, up until now, been fairly vague as to what some of the developments are that we have been working.

Well I’m delighted to say that we can reveal another of them to the public.

Working alongside Google, we have partnered with Google’s Cultural Institute to publish works on their Art Project website.

Google Cultural Institute

Alongside some of the world’s most renowned museums and institutions including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Museums of Modern Art in New York, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the BritishMuseum and Tate Britain we are showing some of our incredible collections in a dedicated online exhibition for the first time.

The first question we came up against when first agreeing to exhibit on the Google Art Project site was “what are we going to choose as our first exhibition?”

The answer wasn’t hard to come by. With YorkArtGallery currently closed for an £8million refurbishment it seemed a great chance to show off some of the artwork that we aren’t currently exhibiting so the decision was made to focus on some of the incredible ceramic artwork that the Trust possesses.

Looking at the vast array of ceramics in the collection one story stood out as the ideal topic for the first exhibition; The W.A. Ismay collection.

A librarian from Wakefield, W.A. Ismay (or Bill as he was known to his friends) was the UK’s most prolific collector of post-war British studio ceramics and filled every spare space of his small terraced home with his collection.

Following his death in 2001 he left his incredible collection of over 3,500 pots to the YorkshireMuseum and the collection has now helped to form perhaps the best representation of UK studio ceramics anywhere in the world.

Ismay Collection Elephant

Ismay Collection Plate

Ismay Collection Tea Set

What stood out about the collection -aside from some of the amazing works- was the incredible story behind Bill Ismay’s life and the impact and legacy he left on the ceramic art world in the UK.

At present there is a fantastic exhibition of the Ismay collection on display at The Hepworth in Wakefield, curated by Matthew Darbyshire.

Whilst it is a remarkable exhibition and something I would encourage you to see, it is only a fraction of the collection that Bill Ismay acquired over his lifetime.

We have been able to take some of the pieces not currently on display and make them accessible to the online public through the Art Project.

The exhibition is now on display alongside some other fantastic collections and we are very proud to be able to open tell this amazing story through the art project.

It’s an incredibly exciting step forward for us at the Trust and a line in the sand as we continue to work hard to place our collections on the world stage online.

Click here to view our first Google Art Project Exhibition, entitled W.A. Ismay – Collector and Connoisseur of Studio Ceramics.

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Art Gallery Weekly Update

The North Gallery arch way which will mirror the South Gallery.

The North Gallery arch way which will mirror the South Gallery.

The Doorway through to the Picture Store.

The Doorway through to the Picture Store.

The Art Gallery redevelopment is moving on. Simpsons are setting up the site compound, scaffolding the front of the gallery and generally getting stuck in! They are concentrating on piling at the moment which is creating some pretty immpressive very deep holes for the steel beams to be dropped into for the mezzanine floor. They are also knocking through walls and creating doorways which is really changing the space and giving a clearer indication of how rooms will work.

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Deck the Halls with…?

Despite the lyrics of the famous Christmas song, I know very few people who will be decorating their interiors with boughs of holly this festive season.

While you may find prickly leaves adorning the Victorian street of Kirkgate at York Castle Museum, home lovers are looking for something a little more modern this festive season, so here’s some suggestions inspired by York Museums Trust!

1. Bright lights – who doesn’t love lights at Christmas? Go for clashing neon colours to echo Bruce Nauman’s work from his exhibition at York St. Mary’s earlier this year.

2. Festive yarn-bombing – knitters flocked to decorate York Art Gallery this February. Recreate the effect by making colourful wool pompoms to hang from your tree.

3. Merry mosaics – visit the Yorkshire Museum for some inspiration on making mosaics like the Romans did, and create Christmas cards from scraps of wrapping paper.

Whatever your style, be creative and have fun this Christmas!

Christmas tree mosaic

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Remember Remember the Moustache of Movember

Movember. An annual opportunity to insulate against the growing coldness of Autumn and Winter whilst raising funds for men’s health charities across the world. 2013 was the biggest year yet – Movember has seen annual year-on-year growth since its conception in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 to the point that over 4million people have contributed.

The challenge set is for gentlemen to shave on the first of the 1st November and cultivate a resplendent moustache for the remaining 30 days. Given the decrease in popularity of the stand-alone moustache in recent decades it is seen as something of a challenge to wear a ‘tache for a month. Frankly, I thought I looked like a berk. The families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances of each moustachioed gentleman donates a sum of money to support the continuation of the facial fuzz and to maintain the new upper-lipped locks of the men involved. By changing our faces physically, and noticeably, the charity gains momentum through changing the face of men’s health at a conceptual level.


Facial Fuzz Fanatics

York Museums Trust press-ganged ten of its members into growing the tache. One dropped out at the mid-way point when he accidentally shaved his moustache when, in the morning mirror, he became distracted by thoughts of flat-packs and Swedish meatballs in his forthcoming shopping trip to a popular blue warehouse. Representatives from the Curatorial, IT, Digital, and Marketing teams continued in the venture until the end of the month, raising over £800 for the Movember charity. Our efforts were published in a York Press article on Saturday 30th November. Funds are sub-divided between a range of charities relating to Prostate and Testicular cancer research and support. The stereotype is true – blokes are rubbish at discussing health issues and Movember aims to promote change to this thinking. Many gentlemen have first-hand experience of health issues like these and feel unable or unwilling to discuss or deal with them. Movember is gradually changing this.

This blog post is an opportunity to say a public, formal and permanent Thank You to everyone who has contributed to this charitable venture – the sculpted hairy faces, the cake-bakers, fake moustache-buyers, photo posers, donators, tweeters, and everyone who found the whole venture a bit of fun.

Cheers all.
Yours in Moustache,

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Christmas at the Castle

Here at History Team HQ we’ve been working really hard to make Christmas at the Castle Museum even better than ever.

sign on kirkgate

Earlier on this year we tasked student Andrew Hartley to research Victorian Christmas and in particular what Christmas would have been like for some of the shops we have on Kirkgate and he found out some really interesting and surprising stuff. Yule log

For example, did you know that Leak & Thorp Drapers would have sold an array of items in their Christmas bazaar including Chinese lanterns, palms and even pampas grass that would be used for decoration?

leak and thorp fake fruit

We’ve attempted our own take on what their shop window would have looked like and we think it looks pretty good!

Why don’t you come down to Kirkgate and have a look at the rest of the things we’ve been up to and let us know what you think!

Merry Christmas!!

The History Team


To see what the History Team gets up to all year round follow us on Twitter @YMT_HistoryTeam


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Museum Computer Group Conference

Arriving at the Tate Modern on London’s southbank was, I must admit, a unique way to begin a Friday morning for me.

Before you ask, no I wasn’t going to elaborate lengths to skive off work by hiding in our fair capital; I was attending the Museum Computer Group Annual Conference earlier this month with Digital Team Leader Martin Fell (he can corroborate my story anyway).

As it was my first year at the conference I was keen to not only hear the thoughts of those speaking at the event but equally to take the opportunity to talk with my colleagues from various museums and institutions across the country to grasp what the current state of play is across the museum community.

Walking into possibly the reddest room I’ve ever seen in my life (the colour scheme was a shock to the senses at that time on a Friday) it was great to feel the buzz of conversation that you wouldn’t normally associate with a full day’s conferencing.

Tablets and smart phones were being feverishly tapped as twitter feeds were updated in anticipation of the day ahead.

I got the impression that the day was going to remove itself from the stereotypical image of a conference and I was looking forward to the old grey matter being well and truly put through its paces as thought provoking topics were floated around the room.

And so it proved as the day went on, from the opening speech by the Guardian’s Hannah Freeman on increasing community engagement online to crowd sourcing and an insight into the efforts by the BBC’s Research and Development team to archive its infinite archive of radio broadcasts with the help of the online public, the day whizzed by and created some great talking points with other delegates in between the sessions.

Having the opportunity to speak with counterparts from organisations such as English Heritage, Tate Modern and even the Eden Project I was eager to find out what their future plans were from an online and digital perspective.

It was particularly encouraging to realise that the plans we are putting in place at York Museums Trust are actually on a par with them.

In the next nine to twelve months we are hoping to take a big leap forward in terms of our digital output so to hear that we are on track with what’s happening across the industry is greatly reassuring.

Back to the conference and the day concluded with a fascinating and highly entertaining closing keynote speech by Michael John Gorman of the Science Gallery in Dublin.

Michael alluded to some of the fantastic ways in which they are not only attracting visitors to the Science Gallery but also how they contribute to the exhibitions and also return to see their contributions time and again.

As Michael so humorously put it:

“We manage to extract something from all of our visitors,” by which he was referring not only to money, saliva, DNA…the slightly disturbing list went on!


With the day more or less wrapped up it was time to head across the Millennium bridge to catch the tube, taking in the dazzling London skyline. Heading back across the city it was great to think that our plans are really starting to take shape and it won’t be long before we can start to show off some exciting new initiatives to the online public.







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Starting my placement at Yorkshire Museum

Anna Walter
MA History of Art student at York University

“Five weeks into the project and I still cannot believe I have this amazing opportunity at Yorkshire Museum. I have had little experience with archaeology in the past but I love working from the object in art history, it is a privilege to be so close to the artefacts. I have held my first ever human skull of a Roman and nervously cradled prehistoric pottery.

I have been trying my hand at archiving and learning the process of identification. Archiving involves describing the object in front of you, using the correct terminology, determining its material and origin if possible. Then using a calliper to measure its length, width, height, weight, diameter or thickness and finally taking detailed photos and adding all this information together onto the database.

My project is on the stonework from St Mary’s Abbey and I am closely working with the beautiful catalogue by Walter Harvey Brook, 1933. The catalogue was his life‘s work and is all hand written and illustrated with stunningly detailed watercolour drawings.


Through his writing and clear passion for the artefacts I feel I am getting to know Harvey Brook’s personality a little. He expresses his frustration with having to compile such a disorganised system of stonework in the undercroft of the Anderson Hall (now the medieval exhibition in the Yorkshire Museum). However there is a delicate care and attention gone into his reproductions on the page.

I shall be connecting his catalogue with the Yorkshire Museum’s database and a paper archive started by Christopher Wilson in 1980. It is difficult to separate the architectural pieces from St Mary’s abbey and York Minster but I am finding some beautiful treasures of stonemasonry in the Yorkshire Museum stores. The aim is to produce a piece of work to go online by September 2014.I am looking forward to the process of completing this project and excited to discover more about the people involved and the stunning piece of architecture that was St Mary’s Abbey.”

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Starting out as the Wikipedian in Residence

So, three weeks into my role as York Museums Trust’s (YMT) I already feel like things are more complicated – but more exciting – than I’d imagined they could be.

I’ve been learning a great deal about the character at the centre of our test collection: Tempest Anderson. Doctor, gentleman, explorer, volcanologist and the owner of York’s first telephone. Dial 1 for Anderson.

Pat Hadley and Stuart Ogilvy looking over the Tempest Anderson slides in the YMT stores

Pat Hadley and Stuart Ogilvy looking over the Tempest Anderson slides in the YMT stores

We will be uploading a few low-resolution scans of Anderson’s fantastic photographs in the near future as a teaser before the main release of ~300. These are being specially cleaned and scanned in the next few weeks.

All the while, I’ve been at least as excited about the scope for other elements of the project. I attended a meeting with the curators and am beginning to get a feel for the vast and fascinating collections the Trust cares for. Learning this from the expert curators is a real bonus!

I’ve been excited to learn that there will be a forthcoming partnership with the Google Cultural Institute on the trust’s fantastic studio pottery collections. The images will be uploaded with rich accounts written by curator Helen Walsh that will be great for the public and excellent source material for Wikipedia articles.

The Trust is going to be hugely involved in York and Yorkshire’s reflections on 1914 as the centenary comes around. The buzz generated in the run up to the 1914: When the World Changed Forever exhibition will be a great help in getting local volunteers and Wikimedians to help connect the trusts excellent military history and social history material to the wider world through Wikimedia projects.

More generally, there is a huge number of images already digitised – officially or otherwise – that will be useful for the partnership. For starters, thousands of collections images – objects in the archaeology, fine art, social history, studio pottery, numismatics and more – will be going into an all new online collections system by Christmas. Many of these images will have licenses that also make them suitable for transfer to Wikimedia Commons.

Further, there are hundreds of images already on Commons, Flickr or elsewhere that are (or should) be linked to YMT and can be used to enrich Wikipedia articles on many topics.

We’re also exploring a few ideas which we think might be new to GLAMwiki partnerships: Uploading video and how-to content on handling and other curatorial best-practice to Wikiversity and searching images of decommissioned exhibitions for explanatory diagrams – one of the most useful but least well-covered areas on Wikimedia Commons.

It’s great to be in a position where the ideas seem limitless and we’re almost overwhelmed by the possibilities. Keep an eye on the project page – – for news and updates as the project progresses.


Ask the Expert: Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics (Coins, Medals, Tokens and Banknotes) for York Museums Trust (YMT)

Money, Medals and Museums in the Twenty-first Century

Most museums will have some form of numismatic collection. This might be Roman coins in an archaeology collection, tokens in social history or medals in military museums. However, numismatic collections are relatively seldom utilised. Cabinets of coins, medals and tokens sit unused in a variety of stores. There are reasons behind this. The antiquarian nature of collections, with large numbers of coins from areas remote in space and time from the modern museums, present problems. Similarly, the challenges of classification (is it sub-class 10a or 10b?) have put many off numismatics. Finally, the inherent challenge of displaying objects that are small and round must be acknowledged, in addition to the fact that money is something so everyday that we seldom stop to think about it.

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

It is a pity that numismatic collections are not utilised more widely. In the brief time that I have been based in York I have seen some fantastic things in collections within the region. Craven have an excellent Roman hoard, Sheffield an incredible array of industrial tokens/medals while York can boast the rather fabulous Vale of York Viking hoard. When I have been out and about visiting museums I like to say that every numismatic collection has something of interest, it is just a matter of finding out what it is and how to make the most of it.

An awareness of the potential of numismatics can be seen with some major museums devoting whole galleries to its display. Refurbishments of the BM, Ashmoleon and Manchester Museums have all devoted large spaces to Money. Closer to home, we have found in York that numismatics can work well in a number of contexts. We have material integrated into a range of exhibitions (The head of Constantine alongside his coins) but numismatics also stands on its own as can be seen in a ‘travel money’ display. It pops up in our Richard III handling sessions and even in our volcanoes display. Our work with WW1 medals has proved to be one of the most rewarding volunteer projects.

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

A realisation that there is enormous potential in numismatic collections is one of the reasons for YMT’s appointment of a Curator of Numismatics. My role is to provide advice, support and help to Museums within the region. If you fall under the remit of MDY then I am here to help. I am planning to host regular training on a range of topics, can provide specific advice – on identification, documentation, display, handling, interpretation or whatever you can think of! – if desired and am currently working on trying to ‘map’ the numismatic collections of the region. This mapping will feed into a national scheme which aims to quantify the scale and type of numismatic collections across the whole country. This will allow for more effective planning of training and the connection of collections with local specialists/volunteers.

In sum, money and medals have huge potential within a Museum environment. Handled appropriately and with a little imagination there are few things that they can’t be utilised for. In my blog, I’m happy to field queries about all things numismatic so please use it as an opportunity to take a look in that dusty cabinet and see what you have!

Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 29 November, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyaskexpert.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to  

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contactwith us and let us know.