A photo of the newspaper clipping informing of White’s death in a Japanese POW camp from 1943. Photo courtesy of The Reach.

The Reach Museum digitizies “Teddy Bear Spotlights,” window into Abbotsford’s WW2 soldiers’ service

The Spotlights are a collection of bios, news clippings, updates on local enlisted men

Anyone who had a family member from Abbotsford serve in the Second World War now has a colourful online window into their past.

The Reach Gallery Museum digitized The Teddy Bear Spotlights over the summer. The Spotlights are a collection of bios, news clippings and general updates about Abbotsford’s enlisted men fighting that were published by The Abbotsford News during the war.

“It’s a nice snapshot of how young people – these people were really young, some of them 17, 18 or 19 years old – were responding to what was happening in the world, and how they tried to still connect to home and family,” said Kris Foulds, executive director of The Reach.

The Teddy Bear was a popular storefront and hangout place among young people in downtown Abbotsford in the 1940s. When the war began, the Teddy Bear paid for space in the local newspaper to publish updates on the city’s soldiers overseas.

“It was like the soda place. You go and have coffee, ice cream or a light lunch – that sort of thing,” Foulds said. “That’s the organization [that formed] the connection between all these people.”

Every week during the war, a photograph of a local serviceperson would be published along with an update on them. Sometimes it was just a note about what branch of the armed service they were in, sometimes it was in-depth stories about their experiences and sometimes it was a telegram informing of their death.

“The Teddy Bear felt this was worthwhile because this was its audience: the service people who were away, and the people at home that wanted to connect with them,” Foulds said.

The poem Agnes Grant published in the Spotlight in memory of her husband’s boyhood friend, Wesley White. Photo courtesy of The Reach.

Prior to Remembrance Day in 2018, The News published a few clippings from The Spotlights, which sparked a lot of interest from people wanting to know what else was in The Reach’s collection, according to Foulds.

Through the work of a student working at the museum over the summer, everything can now be found online. Foulds is currently working on an index to make the information even more accessible.

“It’s just another way that The Reach works to make our collections accessible to our community. They don’t do the history or community any good if we can’t get them out there so people can see them or learn from them,” Foulds said.

One example is the tragic story of Wesley White and Sigmund Grant, two boyhood friends taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial Army during the capture of Hong Kong in 1941.

In August 1942, the Japanese army released a list of prisoners with White’s and Grant’s names. Subsequently a letter was received from Grant.

“Wes and I came through unwounded, for lucky we were. I am in the best of health,” the message said.

One year later, news coming through the International Red Cross at Geneva informed of White’s death from illness in the POW camp.

Grant was able to continue to correspond with his wife, Agnes, who published a poem in The Spotlights in memory of White:

“We knew you and loved you / So straight, so true and fine / We waited months to hear, some word or written line.”

Anyone interested in finding information about a soldier from Abbotsford can email kfoulds@thereach.ca.

RELATED: Abbotsford’s Remembrance Days in 1939 and 1945 through historical archives

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