KAGAWONG— Today (Wednesday, November 11) is your last chance to take in the impressive military display at the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong which will be open following the Billings Remembrance Day ceremony.

Old Mill Heritage Centre Curator Rick Nelson told The Expositor that the exhibit has been bringing in lots of visitors and that it is the largest display of items from the WWII period that the museum has had to date.

This display includes a large number of Nazi and German army artifacts.
This display includes a large number of Nazi and German army artifacts.

“We started doing the military exhibit in the two weeks leading up to Remembrance Day in 2008 with what we had in our collection plus a number of items on loan from the Irish Regiment of Sudbury,” explained Mr. Nelson. “Christian Shoebridge, who lives just outside of Kagawong, a private military collector, came on last year and loaned us a large number of items that make up our display.”

Among the many items Mr. Shoebridge loaned the museum for the display this year is a WWII Harley Davidson motorcycle that was used by the Canadian Forces overseas during the war, an autographed copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ that belonged to Hitler’s lawyer Hans Frank and was gifted to him by the fuhrer, a visor cap belonging to Karl Otto Koch, the commandant at the Buchenwald and Sashsenhausen concentration camps and a radio from a Canadian Sherman Tank from WWII.

The Expositor spoke with Mr. Shoebridge about his collection and how he acquired some of his pieces featured in the Billings exhibit.

“I got pretty serious about collecting about 10 years ago,” said Mr. Shoebridge. “We are a small group of collectors in Ontario, so I have people keeping their eyes open for me here and friends in Europe.”

The ‘Local Heroes’ map of Manitoulin highlights those serving in the with an Island connection military.
The ‘Local Heroes’ map of
Manitoulin highlights those serving in the with an Island connection military.

“I moved up here from Kitchener, which used to be called Berlin a long time ago due to the big German population,” continued Mr. Shoebridge, explaining that this is where he started collecting. “With collecting WWI and WWII items some of the things you find you don’t even know that much about until you do more research, and then as you discover more about it, it’s like finding it all over again.”

“Kagawong has a lot going on for such a small community and I wanted to share my collection to help the military display try and be the biggest in the North,” said Mr. Shoebridge. “When I was in school, history was always my favourite and I hope the exhibit is something interesting for youth on the Island too.”

Mr. Shoebridge told The Expositor the story behind acquiring the signed copy of the ‘Mein Kampf.’

“Seventy-five years later, things turn up in the strangest places,”  began Mr. Shoebridge. “A friend of mine in Austria said that his great uncle’s collection was being sold and he found a signed copy of the ‘Mein Kampf.’ We did some research and it turned out to actually belong to Hitler’s lawyer Hans Frank. The uncle had acquired it in the 70s along with a number of other books from Hans Frank’s personal library and it had been a gift from Hitler to Hans Frank in 1942, right before Germany invaded Russia.”

“Karl Otto Koch was the commandant at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in eastern Europe during WII,” continued Mr. Shoebridge. “He was actually so shady for stealing, taking bribes and killing for no reason that he was executed by the German army in 1945. The hat turned up in a basement in Guelph. It was brought back as a souvenir from the war, as many war artifacts were.”

Also on display are pictures from the Buchenwald concentration camp. “At the time (during the war) there was a lot of propaganda on both sides,” said Mr. Shoebridge. “People didn’t believe what was going on at the concentration camps. A solider took photos at Buchenwald to prove to his family back home what was happening. I ended up acquiring the photos and a gas valve from Buchenwald.”

An especially popular draw to the display this year has been Mr. Shoebridge’s 1943 Harley Davidson.

“I like to restore old cars as a hobby and when I moved to the Island I thought I would try a motorcycle,” explained Mr. Shoebridge. “Two came up, one that used to run to Cockburn in the 1950s across the ice in the winter and the other a 1943 Harley Davison that was used overseas and then sent back in pieces and put together after the war. This winter I’m going to take it apart and paint it back to its original appearance.”

Mr. Shoebridge said his collection is always growing and that next year he hopes to have more and new items to loan the museum including a Sherman tank (the radio was removed and is on display this year).

This display honours women who served in the forces. photos by Robin Burridge
This display honours women who served in the forces.
photos by Robin Burridge

The Military Display also includes a complete collection of every gun the Canadian Forces used during WWII, a large bayonet and edged weapon display, a set of surveying equipment for making trench maps during WWI, an exhibit on the Boer War, a large display of medals, original documents, photos and paintings, numerous Nazi flags and artifacts, a display honouing women in the service and a display recognizing Island veterans and current service men and women.

For more information, contact the Old Mill Heritage Centre at 705-282-1442 or stop by the Old Mill Heritage Centre November 11 after the Remembrance Day Service at the Park Centre in Kagawong at 11 pm (the museum will be open from noon until 4 pm).