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Exhibit reveals selfless Canadian doctor's stories

By Xinhua in Toronto | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-04 07:34


Part of the life of a great internationalist fighter - Doctor Norman Bethune - is on display for the first time at an exhibition on Friday in his hometown of Gravenhurst in southeastern Canada, in commemoration of the World War I centenary.

The Bethune Memorial House is now telling a story of the selfless doctor's life during World War I during a monthlong exhibition that comprises photos, artifacts and stories.

The center's site manager, Scott Davidson, said they were delving into parts of Bethune's life that were unknown, rather than just focusing on the innovative surgical tools he developed, or his selfless actions as a battle front surgeon in China from 1938 to 1939.

He died of septicemia in a Chinese mountain village in 1939.

Bethune was a member of the Canadian Communist Party. To help the Chinese people in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), he went to China as the head of a medical team and arrived in Yan'an in Shaanxi province a center of the Chinese revolution from 1936 to 1948 - in the spring of 1938.

In China, Bethune set up a mobile hospital and operated on soldiers close to the battle-field. His work helped save the lives of thousands and aided China's struggle against the Japanese aggressor troops.

In December 1939, Chairman Mao Zedong wrote an article, In memory of Norman Bethune, as a tribute to the doctor, and called on the Chinese people to learn from his example.

In 1914, when World War I erupted in Europe, Bethune, then 24, suspended his medical studies and joined the Canadian Army's No. 2 Field Ambulance to serve as a stretcher-bearer in France.

"That's a time a lot of people don't know about," Davidson explained. "He did three tours of duty in the war, which in itself was unusual. He was in the army, then the navy, then the air force. So we thought with Aug 4, this Monday, being the 100th anniversary of Canada joining the war, it would be a good time to show people this aspect of his life."

Davidson said they pulled together stories from family members and people Bethune worked with, and also tapped into additional resources through other museums so that people can learn more about the war and the impact it had on Canada.

"In some ways it tells a broader story of Canada, which is interesting," Davidson said. "Bethune early on was someone who really wanted to help through medicine, help those who couldn't help themselves."

There is a simple picture of a feather, which holds a rather interesting story, according to Davidson. He said that when Bethune was shot in his first tour of duty and returned to Toronto to finish his medical degree, he met a little girl on the street who pinned the yellow feather on him. The feather was a symbol of cowardice at the time.

"What she was saying in effect was, 'My daddy's gone to war, how come you're not at war?' Davidson said. "Now she didn't know he'd already been at war, and he looked at this and he thought, 'You know, I should go back.' That possibly was a turning point when he thought he should do another tour of duty, so he went and enlisted in the navy and became a ship stoker."

Other items on display include Bethune's trunk, an attestation paper he signed when he enlisted in the Canadian overseas Expeditionary Force, and photos of him dressed in his Canadian Army uniform. Most are straight forward and self-explanatory.

The Bethune Memorial House, which is his birth home, draws about 11,000 visitors every year.

Davidson said half of the visitors are Chinese. A most gratifying moment in his career was when a Chinese man in his 80s, who was in tears, came up to him and hugged him, thanking him over and over again.

"His son explained to me it's because he wanted to thank Canadians for what Bethune did in China," he said. "He wanted to make sure that Canadians knew that they haven't forgotten and they appreciate what he did."


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