WW II sergeant to be added to Guelph, Ont., cenotaph after teen noticed name was missing

November 9, 2021
WW II sergeant to be added to Guelph, Ont., cenotaph after teen noticed name was missing

A Guelph teen has discovered through research at a library that the name of a local sergeant who served in the Second World War is missing from the Ontario city’s cenotaph. 

Thomas Szabo, 16, spent hours this summer at the local public library. He’d recently taken an interest in history, and was eager to learn more about the Second World War. 

As a student research volunteer for the charity Canadian Remembrance Torch, Thomas spent anywhere from five to 25 hours each week combing through archives. He and other students at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) are part of the Canadian Remembrance Torch’s TorchBearers program, which aims to promote remembrance year round for Canadian veterans. 

“Going through all these archives and reading about all these amazing stories about Guelph, it really just stood out to me and it connected me on a much more personal level than anything else I could have found.”

Sgt. Joseph Harold Yemen, second from left, was one of seven brothers who served in the Second World War. Szabo’s research means Yemen will now be recognized on the City of Guelph’s cenotaph. (Veterans Affairs Canada, newspaper clipping from the Toronto Star May 1941)

Rediscovery of military personnel from both world wars has been happening since about 2014, said Tammy Adkin, manager of museums and culture at the City of Guelph. It prompted a call to the community to identify missing names.

In 2018, 33 new names were added to the city cenotaph and 19 were corrected after initially being presented incorrectly. 

Adkin said organizations like Canadian Remembrance Torch are helping efforts to appropriately recognize veterans.

“As a result of Thomas’s research, Sgt. Yemen’s name will now be honoured at the Guelph Cenotaph.”

Missing records, historical documents

Szabo discovered Yemen’s name was missing by cross-referencing soldiers’ named in historical newspaper articles in the Guelph Public Library’s archives with those on the cenotaph.

Often, veterans get left out due to missing or overlooked documentation, said Szabo. Many times, researchers only have a last name to go by, something that can make the process of verification tricky and time consuming.

In this case, Szabo was able to determine Sgt. Joseph Harold Yemen served in the Canadian Army in The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, according to Veteran Affairs Canada. He was 32 when he died on Feb. 16, 1947, and is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

According to a Toronto Star newspaper clipping in May 1941, Yemen was one of seven brothers from Guelph who served in the Second World War. According to historical records, the sergeant was also the only one of the siblings who died as a result of the war, said Adkin.

Szabo hopes to get in touch with Yemen’s surviving family and learn more about why he wasn’t recognized. 

“This is where the water gets a little bit murky and we’re still trying, trying to really pinpoint the story about what happened.”

Adkin said the scroll bearing Yemen’s name has arrived and is set to be installed at the site before this Remembrance Day.

Guelph’s cenotaph is on Woolwich Street at Eramosa Road. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Contributing to remembrance through art, media

Maggie Huang, another student at GCVI, spends time each week preparing and designing social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the Canadian Remembrance Torch.

According to founder Karen Hunter, Huang’s creative flair has multiplied the Torch’s social media following and sparked public interest in veterans’ stories — past and present.

By helping to spread awareness of what the organization does, Huang said, she’s able to learn more about people who served.

“I think prior to being with the Canadian Torch, the only time I was really immersed in remembrance was on Remembrance Day,” said Huang. “I think it’s really interesting to be able to learn more about stuff like this throughout the year, and not just on one day.”

GCVI students Rania Hashmi, left, and Maggie Huang students are part of the Canadian Remembrance Torch’s TorchBearers program, which aims to promote remembrance year round for First and Second World War soldiers. (Submitted by Rania Hashmi and Maggie Huang)

For Rania Hashmi, art was the main medium the GCVI student used to promote remembrance year round.

Hashmi designed gratitude cards that will be available sometime next year for the public to buy and give to veterans at any point in the year.

“It’s rewarding for me and I think to others as well, just being able to understand and appreciate gratitude that comes along with remembrance and learning to acknowledge the importance of those who served and continue to serve to uphold peace, even if it’s through a small, but meaningful action,” said Hashmi.

One of the remembrance cards designed and made by Rania. It features popup butterflies that represent hope and endurance through red, orange and yellow colors. (Submitted by: Canadian Remembrance Torch)

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