Sid Unwin diary, May 2 - May 3, 1917
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Archives

This year, after over eighty years, a First World War diary of Sidney Joseph Unwin was donated to the Archives, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta as part of the Sid Unwin fonds. The diary and a trove of personal effects had been carefully preserved in England by family members following Unwin's death. Josephine Parkinson graciously donated these materials to the mountain community, Unwin's adopted home.

Sid Unwin (1882-1917) was one of the Canadian Rockies legendary guides and outfitters. Upon his arrival from his native London, Unwin put his experience as a horseman and adventurer to good use as a trapper and trail guide. He was assigned to the famed expeditions of Mary Schaffer and Molly Adams, who quested for Maligne Lake in 1907 and 1908. Their expedition was recounted in Schaffer's book: Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies, still available as A Hunter of Peace. Unwin is identified as "K" in the account and is credited with uncanny abilities in locating the mystery lake and creating cuisine from trail-weary food supplies.

Already a veteran of the South African War, Unwin enlisted in the Canadian Army joining the 22nd Battery (Howitzer), 6th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, 2nd Division, where he saw action starting in early 1916. By the time he started the surviving diary on January 1, 1917 he recorded having fired 13028 rounds. The diary records short observations about duties on the front, gun positions, prisoners and gas warfare.

On March 1, 1917 Unwin writes:

March comes in like a lion, stood to at 2 am to repel a German 5 am we discharged two waves of gas & at 5:40 am infantry attacked & remained in German trenches 1 1/2 hours but our men had terrible fighting as Fritz was waiting for them, our casualties very heavy, a terrible stream of wounded passed our battery all day and night, we fired nearly 1000 rounds.

On the following day, he reported:

...from all accounts our own gas killed a lot of our men, the wind changing.

Unwin's diary recounts the capture of Vimy Ridge, his subsequent injury (see sample entries), the amputation of his arm, evacuation to England and his convalescence. No days were without entry, as he continued writing with his remaining hand, even scribbling poems and comic songs while in hospital. The entries cease after June 27: "Went up town to tea with Miss Pushby." Sid died two days later of complications. He was mourned by his family in England, his many clients and friends and his trail colleagues in Banff.

A detailed article on the Unwin acquisition will appear in the up-coming issue of The Cairn, newsletter of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

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