Over the course of 2019, we have remembered and celebrated the 1919 Victory Stampede and what it meant for our community, a community that was struggling in the aftermath of the First World War through economic uncertainty, unemployment and a lack of government support structures. Yet, at the Stampede, the community had a place where they could come together to celebrate their collective patriotism and the one thing that linked them all: sacrifice. Every Calgarian and southern Albertan knew someone who had fought and likely someone who never came home.
After a moment of silence together at 11 a.m. on November 11, it is our duty – from failing hands thrown – to remember the humanity underpinning sacrifice in conflicts fought in the name of Canada.
You might want to remember a man like Sergeant Tom Bell, who made it home from the First World War and competed at the 1919 Victory Stampede.
Bell, a cowboy, had immigrated to Western Canada from Scotland and signed up with the Royal North West Mounted Police. Then, in 1916, the 23-year-old enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Winnipeg. He signed his name and made out a will, giving everything over to his mother – Isabella – in Scotland, should the worst happen to him in the war.
Bell joined the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), a cavalry unit that, thanks to wartime technological innovations, was riding tanks instead of horses. The Strathcona’s were sent to the Battle of Cambrai at the end of 1917 and participated in one of the first massed armoured offensives of the war. The Germans managed to halt the attack, immediately launching a vicious counterattack. Bell’s regiment loaded into trenches like infantry to help hold the line. It was during this counterattack that Bell was very badly injured.
The Battle of Cambrai, 1917 Imperial War Museum Q 57499.
He was struck by a bullet in the upper left chest. He spent a year recovering in England before the wound was deemed healed and that, in an era before penicillin, he had avoided infection. Even so, Bell still suffered from sharp and terribly painful chest pains and also experienced a “drowning sensation” every time he took a deep breath, coughed or lifted his arm above his head. He was transported to Calgary and, after more time healing, officially discharged from the CEF in January 1919, two months after the war had ended.
By that time, Calgary was already preparing for the Victory Stampede, slated to begin on August 25, 1919. We don’t know anything about how or why Bell heard about the Stampede or signed up, but we do know that, at the end of August, Bell competed in the Bareback and Wild Horse Race competitions at the Victory Stampede. He participated in the community-wide celebration of victory, sacrifice and community.
Unknown cowboy competing at the Victory Stampede. A photo of Tom Bell competing has not yet been found. Stampede Archives.
Bell was one of the fortunate ones who survived the First World War; 60,000 others like him did not. Take a moment to remember Tom Bell and all those who have fought for our country, and especially those who never came home.
Together, we will remember.
Field of Crosses
To do our part and honour those who have fallen, the Calgary Stampede Community Projects & Development (CPD) committee, supported by Event Volunteers, have volunteered their time with the Field of Crosses, helping to maintain the 3,400 crosses that line Memorial Drive from November 1 – 12. The Field of Crosses is a unique, community initiative that celebrates and honours the thousands of southern Albertans who gave their lives to make our freedom possible.
Field of Crosses, Calgary.