By Tina Comeau
When Don McCumber traces back the origins of his interest in the military, part of his recollections involve his own family tree.
“I had four uncles, three that were in the army and one in the air force, so my family was militarily involved and as a kid I saw them coming from their leaves and was always interested in military history,” he says.
As a kid growing up in Yarmouth, the cadet program – both air and army – also held special significance for McCumber. He spent seven years involved in the air cadets and then moved on to be an officer in the army cadets.
Through the years, his job took McCumber away from Yarmouth and transplanted him to Ontario. There, he remained involved in the cadets through the National Committee for Army Cadets, also serving as president of the Army Cadet League of Ontario.
When Canada’s last known First World War veteran John Babcock died on Ontario in 2010 – incidentally, he was 109 years old at the time of his death – it got McCumber to thinking, What do army cadets commemorate? The sea cadets, he says, commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic. He suggested to the national committee that one of the things the army cadets could commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The idea took root.
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Meanwhile, when the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge rolled around in 2012, McCumber and others discovered that in a town called Strathroy, Ontario, there was an effort ongoing to erect a bronze statue of General Sir Arthur Currie, who died in 1933.
“Sir Author Currie, who was from Strathroy, had led four Canadian divisions to Vimy Ridge to take the ridge, which was a significant battle in the history of Canada,” McCumber said. “It was called the birth of a nation, actually.”
A local committee was raising money for the statue and it was decided to get the cadets in Ontario involved as well. Their efforts raised around $25,000 to put towards the cause. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs also contributed financially to the effort.
And so in Strathroy on Aug. 4, the nearly seven-foot-tall bronze statue, created by sculptor Adrienne Alison, was unveiled. McCumber – who now lives in Yarmouth once again – was invited to participate in the unveiling as an honourary patron. Aside from honouring Sir Arthur Currie, the statue also honours the valour and sacrifice of all Canadians who served in the First World War from 1914-1918.
As if the unveiling wasn’t special enough, that it comes as the country marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war is also significant, McCumber says.
“I’ve just been involved with cadets and military all of my life and to have the privilege of doing this I thought was an honour,” he says.
It would appear that McCumber’s own efforts have not gone unappreciated. He says an anonymous donor – this was done through the Royal Canadian Army Cadets (RCAC) League – has put up the money for him to travel to Vimy Ridge. He hopes to make the trip when the 100th anniversary is commemorated in 2017. He says he has no idea who would have done this.
“If it was one-way I might know it was,” he says laughing.
Meanwhile, McCumber hopes there will be events held in Yarmouth to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War. He says he’d be willing to help coordinate events in this area, if needed.
McCumber still sits on the national cadet committee as a governor to the league and he’s hoping to get re-involved with the cadet program in Yarmouth.
After all, he says, “The cadets did so much for me when I was a kid in Yarmouth.”