On Sunday, November 11, 2018 at 3:00 p.m., close to 100 members of the community attended the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 406 in Barry’s Bay and left 90 minutes later having experienced the very personal and private side of war. The Opeongo Reader’s Theatre, (pictured above) under the capable direction of Barry Conway, presented readings of actual letters from local Madawaska Valley soldiers serving on the front line during World War II. The letters, received and kept by World War I veteran Tom Skuce, had been discovered only recently by his grandchildren, Holly and Doug, and then shared with Branch 406.
Opeongo Reader’s Theatre members Karen Filipkowski, Lois Losole, Frances Mawson, Danielle Paul, Roger Paul and Mark Woermke brought the contents of the letters to life, inviting the audience into the many emotions of soldiers missing the simple comforts of home and family. From the light, local humorous accounts of young lads exploring a pub in a new country while on leave to the anxiety of illness as the war progressed, the plea for ongoing support (and cigarettes) from home, the profound effect of the presentation was very evident on the faces of the audience and the enthusiastic applause at its end.
Holly Skuce (left) leans on the wooden box full of letters and postcards as she, Heather Poliquin and Doug Skuce examine other wartime memorabilia. Holly and Doug’s grandfather, Tom Skuce, with Horace Landon and Bob Johnstone of the Upper Ottawa Valley Veterans had raised money to send cigarettes to Valley men serving overseas. Every parcel contained a return postcard addressed to Tom Skuce, caretaker at the Barry’s Bay Post Office.
Legion President, Heather Poliquin, explained the origin of the letters to the audience and described a little of what it was like to be a soldier 70 years ago. At the end of the performance, she encouraged community members to search family memorabilia for similar letters to and from soldiers of Canada’s five defining wars. These could become the subject of future Remembrance Day activities.
The podcast of the presentation, Remember Me, is now available online. Listeners can search for Opeongo Reader’s Theatre on iTunes or click HERE to listen now. A CD will also be available soon at a cost of $9.95 from the Madawaska Valley Public Library and the Barry’s Bay Legion who are working together to benefit anybody interested in local history, veterans and literacy in general.