Remembering Jeanne Hornby

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Jeanne Hornby on Sunday June 26. Every now and then, someone walks into your life and leaves an indelible mark on the path you take. Jeanne was one of those people. Ten years ago I began the long process of researching my family history in World War I. Their pictures and the part they played in the Great War came from war records held in the National Archives. They provided basic information on when and where they were born, their parents names, and where they enlisted. While it was all important information it wasn’t very effective in allowing one to draw a three dimensional picture of the men and women of Norfolk who had served their Country during that most terrible period of our history. All of that changed when I discovered Jeanne Hornby’s monumental work on the newspaper stories from the five Norfolk newspapers over 1914 to 1919.

Jeanne’s journey began at least fifteen years ago as a volunteer at the NHS.  Like all researchers, her interest in the papers began with simple curiosity that soon led to her discovery of a flood of highly personal letters home and their poignant news stories of the mounting toll of young Norfolk boys who had been killed in overseas action. She seemed to be energized by a determination to gather and share their stories so all those many young Norfolk soldiers’ stories and sacrifices would be known and remembered by whole new generations of Norfolk citizens a hundred years after those dramatic and traumatic times.

Despite some increasingly difficult health afflictions that began limiting her own strength and mobility, Jeanne wound up immersing herself in a grand effort to comb through five years of local newspapers, quite probably putting in long hours most (if not every) day of each week. She carefully poured over  hundreds of issues of both Simcoe newspapers (the Simcoe Reformer and the British Canadian), as well as any surviving issues of newspapers from Waterford, Port Dover, Delhi and Tillsonburg from the 1914-1919 years.  Not always an easy job, as most papers were only accessible by microfilm, which could often be characterized by all the flaws of tiny print or virtually unreadable print quality.

There then followed the remarkable effort of typing up transcripts of each newspaper account – literally hundreds of pages filling thick scrapbooks for easier readability for other readers. The mounting costs of printing off hundreds of microfilm copies for these scrapbooks must have been daunting for a retired senior on a limited income! She also gradually began gathering photographs of each Norfolk community’s World War I memorial monuments and other kinds of research to round out the stories of enlistments, casualties and homecomings of Norfolk’s soldiers of the Great War. It is probably the single, largest project ever undertaken to save the historical records of Norfolk.

Jeanne’s legacy lives on in our memorial book, “Norfolk Remembers the Great War” and the “Letters Home Series”. If Norfolk’s soldiers, sailors and airmen could vote, they would place the mantle of glory and honour of their memory onto Jeanne Hornby’s head.

“We will remember her.”

– Grant Smith, Bill Yeager, The Norfolk Remembers Committee