WILSON: Long-lost Roll of Honour poses mystery on Hamilton Beach


Staff member
Feb 15, 2004
The Beach Strip
Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton Spectator
By Paul Wilson

Tuesday August 16th

They will gather again by the lake on Friday, at the Dieppe Veterans' Memorial Park.

It is the 74th anniversary of the morning raid on the shores of France that killed 197 members of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

There are now just two RHLI survivors of that battle — Ken Curry, 94, and Fred Engelbrecht, 96. Organizers hope both will attend.

A couple of kilometres down Hamilton's strip of sand, there is another remembrance of the war. It has some mystery to it, and the story of how it came to be is not complete.

We arrive at the Beach Rescue Unit and Scott Howley is there to greet us. There's beach in his blood, and he's been making the canal lift bridge go up and down for more than 30 years.

He shows us around the clubhouse, home to a well-regarded unit of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. It's run by volunteers, with roots that go back to when the Beach was a separate community.

History matters here and the walls are covered with old photos. Howley leads us down a short hall. At the end, in a gold frame, is the poster-sized Hamilton Beach Roll of Honour.

It's water damaged, with a rip or two. But it is art.

There are 190 names, written in flowing hand. Beside 16 of them, a tiny torch, which stands for "Supreme Sacrifice." The Canadian coat of arms is at the top. Down the sides and along the bottom are nine wonderfully detailed provincial symbols.

In the bottom right corner, a small signature: "Paul Duff/ 42." So the artist did this piece seven years before Newfoundland signed on.

We turn to Warren Dean, 81, senior member of the Beach Rescue Unit. He believes that long ago the honour roll hung at Beach Bungalow School.

He knows Paul Duff went on to become a well-known artist. Sure enough, there's a website that shows his works are in collections all over the world. Sadly, it also shows Duff died two years ago at 86.

That means he would have been 14 in 1942. Could someone so young be responsible for that elaborate scroll?

We reach Duff's widow, Leila, at the gallery she still maintains in Mar, on the South Bruce Peninsula. She has not a single doubt that Duff could produce such work so young.

"I have a painting in my living room right now that he did while at the school on the Beach," she says.

He would finish his school work quickly, she explains, and then principal W.F. Johnson would give him permission to draw and paint.

But she had never heard of the honour roll, does not know its origins.

Young Paul Duff would have known the news of the Dieppe slaughter in the days after Aug. 19, 1942. Is it possible that come September, back at school, he talked to the principal about the war? Did it somehow get decided that the names of Beach residents who had enlisted would be collected on a scroll?

We don't know. But last, we talk to Jim Simmons, long-time treasurer of the Beach Rescue Unit.

His father Clarence was in the Forces, and when the war ended, other local vets used to gather in the basement of the Simmons home on Beach Boulevard for beer and cards and a few stories.

A dozen or so years ago, it was up to Jim Simmons to sell the home of his late parents. It was a big cleanup, and in behind a chest freezer in the basement, he found the Honour Roll. He did not recall ever seeing it before.

After some restoration, the piece went up on the club wall. Stained, a little tattered, but still a precious remnant from a time when this blessed beach outpost felt the chill of war.
Paul Wilson’s column appears Tuesdays in the GO section.


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