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Title: Letter Opener
Identifier: 979.6.574
Donor: Geoffrey Sayers
Item Date: 1916
Image Creator: Museums of Mississuaga
Creation Date: 2005
Location: Benares Historic House

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Description: A letter opener that incorporates a bullet for a handle. Has the word 'YPRES' crudely engraved on the blade. Affixed to the shell casing is a crown within a circle.

History:The letter opener was probably a souvenir picked up by Egerton A. Sayers (1890-1918) while on active service with the Expeditionary Force during WWI. The Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium, occurred in April to May 1915 as Canadian troops took up positions along the Western Front in France and Belgium. With the British divisions to their right and a French (Algerian) division to their left, the First Canadian Division fought the grim battle of Ypres beginning in April 1915. Dismissing reports of a gas attack, the allied forces were totally unprepared for the 5,730 cylinders of chlorine gas used by the Germans. By the following year, the Canadian Corps had grown to a total of over 80,000 men with four infantry divisions supported by strong artillery, cavalry, engineer, and auxiliary forces by October 1918. It was at this battle that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, (1872-1918) wrote his famous poem ‘On Flanders Fields’.

At the outbreak of the War, Egerton Sayers was living in Clarkson working as a clerk in a bank. Unlike his brother Beverly, Egerton was free of family responsibilities and joined the army 10 November 1914. While undergoing training in Toronto, Private E. Sayers contracted the mumps and spent a month and a half in hospital. Sailing overseas in May 1915 Private Sayers was posted to the 19th Battalion and went into the trenches of the Western Front in September. During the Battle of the Somme September 1916 Private Sayers was wounded by shrapnel in the arm. Returned to England, Egerton stayed in various hospitals until November recovering from wounds received in battle.

Granted a furlough, Egerton returned to Canada in February 1917. For two months Egerton Sayers stayed in Clarkson resting before returning to the Front in April. By January 1918 he had been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. Lance Corporal Egerton Sayers was killed in action 21 June 1918 while the 19th Battalion was occupying a defensive line. Egerton Sayers is buried in Bellacourt Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Egerton confirmed his presence at the Battle of Ypres in a letter dated 30 June 1916: 'I have been through Ypres several times and since the last bombardment there is hardly a wall standing except part of the tower of Ypres Cathedral. The rest of the church is a heap of ruin. I think the only reason the tower is left standing is that makes a good land mark for directing artillery fire.' Artifacts such as these were not uncommon and were often produced by refugees displaced by the war and sold to soldiers. See: Veterans Affairs Canada, Canada and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Veterans Affairs: Ottawa, 1998); Peter Simkins, World War I: The Western Front (London: Bramley Books, 1991); G.W.L. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918 (Scarborough: Prentice Hall, 1978).
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