The first question submitted to our Ask an Historian page is from a Grade 10 class at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute in Ontario.
My question is based on an artefact that was brought into the school. On the side of the small wooden box there is a name stencilled. Underneath the name are the numbers and letters:
2nd W.Y. Lgt. Inty.
The student that is working on this is assuming that the Lgt stands for Light and Inty is Infantry. The student has been looking in the British Light Infantry battalions but unsure. Thoughts?
The historian who responded to this question is Dr. Lee Windsor, the Deputy Director at The Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick.
It suggests to me that it’s Yorkshire Light Infantry, because there isn’t a West Yorkshire Light Infanty, it’s known as the King’s Own Western Light Infantry. It’s Southern Yorkshire connected to West Riding, part of the West Riding Division, so it looks like one of the country territorial army units very similar to the Canadian militia system. We don’t use those in the First World War but the British do.
This curious combination of 2nd WY Light Infantry seems a bit bizarre. I’d want to see a photograph of how that information appeared on the box, if there was a break between the second W and the Y light infantry. The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry is a famous regiment in the British army, its inclusion in 2nd West Riding Division is well know. The 2nd Y Light Infantry doesn’t compute to me.
It raises the question to me of how a soldier would come to have a box like this. There’s all kinds of reasons, Canadian soldiers spend a heck of a lot of time in the First World War bored behind the lines, almost always interacting with soldiers from different parts of Canada and from different parts of the Commonwealth. Whether they’re at the canteen getting a cup of tea or a beer, or in a rest billet where a French family is serving up plates of eggs and chips, there’s all kinds of places for soldiers to interact, and when they do, they become like scouts at a scout jamboree. They would often swap articles of clothing, uniform accoutrements, because they want to collect stuff from around the world to kind of capture the spirit of this global experience they’re having.
Mnay veterans who survived both the First and Second World War came home with all kinds of trinkets from other units, units across Canada and units from other nations. Some might be gifts from fellas from other units they befriended, and there’s always the chance he might have stolen it, or found it on the remains of a dead soldier out in the field or someone he came across in his trench. There’s any one of a thousand reasons this could have come into his possession, but I’m sure there’s a good story behind it.