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Re: History / Topics & Posted Articles

Post by Guest on Tue 25 Oct 2016, 05:10

Too Young To Die: Authors separate the boys from men on the battlefields
A new book from authors John Boileau and Dan Black tells of Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War

Author John Boileau stands outside Government House earlier this month. The retired army colonel has written his 12th book, Too Young to Die: Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War. His co-author is Dan Black of Ontario. (RYAN TAPLIN / Local Xpress)

Their numbers are dwindling, but we still see Second World War veterans at Remembrance Day services.

They are old men now, in their 90s, standing in the cold holding canes or in wheelchairs.

In 1939, they were young men, willing to forsake their 20s and 30s defending their country and fighting alongside the Allies on land, sea or in the air.

For many of us, it was our father's or grandfather's war. Many of us might have black-and-white photos of our dads or grandfathers in uniform when they were young men.

If they appear to be too young, it is possible they were. What is not well-known is that three per cent — or 30,000 — of these soldiers, sailors and airmen gave up their adolescence to fight, for they were boys when they signed up.

Authors John Boileau and Dan Black fill that knowledge gap with their new book Too Young to Die: Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War, a companion book to their 2013 publication, Old Enough to Fight: Canada's Boy Soldiers in the First World War.

"There are books about boy soldiers and sailors from Britain, but it has never been done in a Canadian context," said Boileau during a recent interview.

Black, of Merrickville, Ont., and Boileau, of Glen Margaret, are a well-matched team. Black is a former newspaper reporter and the retired editor of Legion Magazine, while Boileau, a retired army colonel, has written 12 books, most of them on military history.

The stories of about 100 boys are told, with 21 of them appearing in more than one chapter. They came from all regions of Canada and served in the three services — army, navy and air force — as well as the fourth arm, the merchant navy.

Too Young to Die is not a series of biographies — Boileau and Black have written a more complex book. Using the boys' words from memoirs, letters and interviews, their stories are seamlessly woven into a broader history of the battles in Asia, Europe, and the Atlantic.

The book is structured chronologically from the surrender at Hong Kong to the victory in Europe with chapters on Dieppe, Italy, D-Day, northwest Europe, and the war at sea and in the skies. There were boys fighting in all of these battles.

Black's and Boileau's research is extensive and it took them three years to complete. The bibliography is five pages long with citations from dozens of books; government publications; magazine, journal and newspaper articles; unpublished memoirs; and websites.

Then there are the boys' service files, regimental histories and the 20 or so interviews with veterans or their family members, and the wartime letters that families lovingly saved for 70 years.

It is the letters that might send you to fetch a box of tissue.

Boileau wrote the chapter on Dieppe, the Aug. 19, 1942 raid on the French port, launched from England. It was the "amphibious equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade," he writes.

Boileau was particularly moved by the story of Pte. Robert Boulanger, who signed up when he was 15 and who, at 17, died on the beach at Dieppe. He was the youngest Canadian to fall during this battle.

Boulanger's last letter home to his mom and dad is dated Aug. 17, 18 and 19, 1942, with his final words written on the assault craft.

"Dawn is just starting on the horizon, but during the night I've recited all the prayers that you taught me, and with more fervour than usual. ... It's much brighter now, and I can see much better to write, I hope that you can read my writing. ... I've finally realized that we're no longer on an exercise. A landing craft right beside us just got hit, and it disintegrated along with all on board. ... I love you a lot, and tell my brothers and sisters I love them with all my heart."

There are also heartbreaking letters from grieving parents asking officials for confirmation of their son's death or burial information. And then there is the mom who died in the 1970s with her son's final letter in her purse.

From books written by two of the boy soldiers, Boileau and Black got some detail for their chapters on Hong Kong.

Ken Cambon, who later wrote Guest of Hirohito, was 16 when he signed up in 1940. George MacDonell, author of One Soldier's Story, was 17 in 1939. Both were sent to Asia and survived the fighting and surrender of Hong Kong and then spent their formative years in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Cambon wrote of the conditions at one of the camps: One end "was littered with the dead bodies of Chinese civilians and Japanese pack animals ..."

MacDonell wrote of the will to live and of the few who lacked that will: "Those who could not stand the psychological and emotional shock of these conditions and starvation tactics and studied brutality of our captors soon died to escape what, for them, was intolerable. ... The will to live is very strong. The desire not to disgrace your uniform or to let your officers and comrades down through personal weakness is just as strong."

Jim Parks, who was interviewed by Black in 2015, provided extraordinary detail of the Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He also gave insight into why so many boys would lie about their ages to recruiters and risk their lives. Parks signed up when he was 15, most likely in desperation, after he had "hopped freight trains in Saskatchewan and Alberta" searching for work.

Boileau said the boys' motivation was similar to those young teens who signed up in the First World War.

"You have to put their lives in the context of 1939, the Great Depression. Just as we found with the boys in the first war, they weren't in school, they had no job or a low-paying job, they may have had a terrible home life, living in an orphanage, and they were looking for action, adventure. ... Also, there was the publicity against Germany, although moreso in the first war, and the boys were swept up in the (attitude) of 'We are fighting the good fight for the British Empire,' " said Boileau.

For those who may ask, "Where are the girls?" the writers had hoped "that in the case of the second war, we might be able to find some underage women in the Canadian Women's Army Corps, or the RCAF women's division or the WRENS, but we couldn't find any," said Boileau.

Readers of popular history will appreciate the maps, and the charts that outline the organization of the Canadian Armed Forces overseas that the authors provide.

Too Young to Die is not a book that tries to resolve an argument or prove a point. Its premise is simple: the boys' stories should see the light of day. Lest we forget.


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Colours of Nova Scotia's First World War fighting units repatriated

Post by Guest on Mon 17 Oct 2016, 06:28

Colours of Nova Scotia's First World War fighting units repatriated.

Oct 17, 2016

The 25th and 85th battalions' King's and regimental colours have been conserved and are now on public display at Government House in Halifax.

The colours of two of Nova Scotia's First World War infantry battalions have been preserved and are now on public display at Government House.

A wish of veterans of the 25th and 85th battalions that the colours be prominently displayed has been fulfilled, said Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant, at a ceremony on Oct. 15 in Halifax.

"As a young soldier I had the opportunity to meet some of those who served in the 25th and 85th battalions. I have little doubt that they would approve of their colours being placed on permanent display here, where thousands of visitors now come every year," said Grant, who is a retired Canadian Army brigadier-general.

"The colours are located in the main foyer and every day when I walk past them I feel a sense of pride in what they symbolize for our country - a legacy of valour, courage and duty," Grant said.

Colours, similar to flags, are one of a unit's prized possessions and for centuries have been displayed in a prominent place such as churches, museums, and government buildings. Colours also show a unit's history; battle honours, in the form of small embroidered scrolls, are sewn onto the fabric. But colours are more than a flag because they are consecrated; they are blessed in a ceremony, said John Boileau, military historian and retired army colonel.

To soldiers, colours are a symbol of a unit's heritage and tradition, and give a written record of its main battles in wars. Also, soldiers have an emotional connection to their colours as they spend their entire careers as part of one unit, unlike the navy or air force, whose servicemen and women are often posted on more than one ship or squadron, said Boileau, who gave historical advice on the colours' project.

Christopher McCreery was one of the driving forces behind the repatriation of the colours. McCreery, who is the lieutenant-governor's private secretary and executive director of Government House, had asked staff at the provincial archives, the previous holders of the colours, for photographs. None were to be had and eventually the provincial archivist offered the colours to Government House.

"We were coming up on the centennial of the First World War and the lieutenant-governor had an interest and the public has a real interest in it. We didn't have a lot of military history here on display in the house, which is strange because Halifax has always been a military town," said McCreery, who holds a PhD in Canadian political history.

He secured a $35,000 grant from Canadian Heritage, hired textile conservator Ann Shaftel to stabilize the fabric, and set up the display in Government House.

The colours have had several "homes." In 1923, the battalions' colours were brought to Government House where they were paraded for the last time and then were displayed at Province House for 12 years. From there they went to the archives.

The volunteer curator of the Army Museum Halifax Citadel is pleased to see the colours prominently displayed.

"For decades, the provincial archives had been home to the King's and regimental colours of the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) and 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders). After significant conservation work, they will have a new home in the foyer of Government House, where more people will be able to see them and to have another opportunity to reflect on the service and sacrifice of Nova Scotia's soldiers during the First World War," said Ken Hynes, who is a retired army major.

The 85th and 25th battalions were Nova Scotia's only two fighting units that made it to the front, intact, in Europe during the First World War. Even though there were 11 infantry battalions raised in the province, the other nine were broken up for reinforcements once they arrived in England.

The 85th and 25th have storied histories. The Never Fails and the Master Raiders as the battalions were nicknamed, respectively, earned great respect during the war for their surprising victories and for their soldiers' tenacity.


The 25th Battalion was authorized by the Canadian government in October 1914 and left for Great Britain on May 20, 1915. Their most significant battle occurred in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, said Boileau. Led by the 25th and 22nd (Van Doos) battalions, the Canadians captured the village of Courcelette in northern France on Sept. 15.

"They fought through the village, they captured it, and defended it against 12 or 13 counter attacks over the next few days. ... That was the first of 250 villages, cities and towns liberated by the Canadians during the first war. After Courcelette, the 25th went into every major battle that the Canadian Corps fought," said Boileau.

This victory was only one of a few Allied victories on the Somme battlefields, according to the Canadian War Museum's website. During the four-month campaign, the Canadian Corps suffered 20,000 casualties.


It would be another seven months before the 85th Battalion would see action on the Western Front. And it was a last-minute command decision to send them into the fray at Vimy Ridge, on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1917.

The soldiers had only landed in France in February and since they weren't battle-tested, their duties at Vimy Ridge, as part of Canada's fourth division, were to carry ammunition and rations to the front lines, dig communication trenches and lay barbed wire.

The first three divisions of the Canadian Corps had taken their objectives on Vimy Ridge but the fourth division hadn't been able to capture Hill 145, the highest point on the ridge, from German forces.

"The commanders didn't want to put the 85th in because they had never gone into battle. But the situation was desperate, so two companies of the 85th, C and D, were ordered to attack Hill 145; one company under Capt. Harvey Crowell, from Barrington, ... and the other, Capt. Percival Anderson from Big Baddeck. ... At 6:15 that night, they launched their attack against Hill 145. They were supposed to get an artillery barrage to support them but that didn't happen," said Boileau.

"So their first battle was their most important battle, and the one that secured Vimy Ridge for Canada. This was quite amazing for raw, untested troops."

The 25th and 85th battalions were disbanded after the war and are perpetuated by the Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Cape Breton Highlanders. Lt.-Gov. Grant is the former commanding officer and honorary colonel of the Nova Scotia Highlanders.


25th Battalion: Mount Sorrel; Somme, 1916, '18;  Flers-Courcelette; Thiepval; Ancre Heights; Arras, 1917, '18; Vimy, 1917; Arleux; Scarpe, 1917, '18; Hill 70; Ypres, 1917; Passchendaele; Amiens; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord;  Cambrai; Pursuit to Mons; France and Flanders, 1915-18.

85th Battalion: Arras, 1917, '18; Vimy, 1917; Ypres, 1917; Passchendaele; Amiens; Scarpe, 1918; Drocourt-Queant; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord; Valenciennes; Sambre; France and Flanders, 1917.


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Mushroom cloud marked a very bad trip for Calgary Cold War soldiers

Post by Guest on Sun 16 Oct 2016, 12:22

Mushroom cloud marked a very bad trip for Calgary Cold War soldiers

OCTOBER 15, 2016

Their first clue was the daily newspaper, as the soldiers gathered at Calgary's McCall Field airport to board their flight to Las Vegas.

"We saw the headline as we walked through the airport, it was in the box on the front of the Herald — it said, 'Canadian Soldiers Take Part in A-Bomb Test'," recalls Alan Bunt.

"We saw that and it was where the hell are we going? That's can't be us."

But it certainly was.

The bus driver confirmed it for Bunt and the other 39 volunteers serving with the Calgary-based Queen's Own Rifles, as they trundled through the desert towards the test site for what was officially known as Operation Plumbbob, telling them, "you guys are going to see the A-bomb."

Once there, the Calgarians were crammed into five-foot deep trenches along with their American comrades, and told to pay attention to an object suspended from the ground, some 12 miles away.

"They said, 'see that thing there in the sky, that's an atomic bomb, so turn your back, close your eyes, cover your face and don't turn around'," says Bunt, who was just 19 years old at the time.

It was August 1957, and relations between the West and Soviet Union had deteriorated into the depths of Cold War paranoia, where each side assumed the worst of the other, and many people assumed nuclear war was inevitable.

Not unlike 2016, in other words, at least in terms of superpower governments growling at each other.

Back then, the atomic bomb race had reached a frightening new level, with both the Reds and the Yanks starting to produce thermonuclear bombs able to utterly dwarf the already terrible impact of early devices, like those dropped on Japan.

But the question of how troops on the battlefield might be impacted by such devastating air support had yet to be answered.

Testing the human impact of the worst human invention ever meant putting soldiers in the blast zone — and with the North American Air Defence Command treaty having been officially announced that very month, that meant Canadian soldiers had to take part, too.

So the countdown began, as Bunt and the others waited in their trench.

"You could hear the countdown, but being young kids, we of course were peeking instead of closing our eyes, and then when it went off, there was a flash of light and you could see the bones right through your hands and through the other guy's heads," says Bunt.

"And then we turned around and faced that big beautiful mushroom cloud, and it was, 'that's cool, but what's that thing coming towards us?' "

Roughly 37 seconds later, the shockwave slammed into them like a dusty, radioactive brick wall: "It was like a rug being pulled out from under you, with people falling on their butts, and helmets flying everywhere."

And that was just test Number One.

Over the next few weeks they'd face five more atomic blasts, including charging towards Ground Zero seconds before detonation.

The closest explosion was less than a mile away, which led to marines being sent in to dig the Canadians out after the trench collapsed.

After six bombs, the Canadians were sent home, forbidden to talk about the experience under the official secrets act, and almost totally naive about the long-term impact of what they'd be exposed to.

"We didn't know anything about radiation. They told us not to worry about it," says Bunt, who went on to work in the pulp and paper industry.

Only six of the 40 "atomic veterans," are alive today, with the majority having died from cancer, and others, including Bunt, having passed on radiation-linked genetic disorders to their kids, including pituitary issues.

Compensation was a hard-fought battle, with the federal government eventually granting $24,000 a man in 2009, but it remains a pittance next to the $75,000 settlement granted by the U.S. to its atomic veterans in the early 1980s.

"Imagine what I could have done with that kind of money back then," says Bunt.

Nearing 80 years old, Bunt is one of the lucky ones — and despite decades of Cold War threats and snarling, the bombs he helped test have never been used.

Bunt was happy to see the Cold War end, and the atomic veteran admits he's irked to see the same sort of aggression building up again between the U.S. and Russia, years after the old enemies made peace.

"It's pretty sad," he says.


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Honouring those who made the supreme sacrifice

Post by Guest on Sun 18 Sep 2016, 06:22

Honouring those who made the supreme sacrifice.

September 17, 2016

The Krupp field gun was captured from German troops by Canadian soldiers in August 1918.

The war trophy was later presented to the city of Niagara Falls by Dr. James Barry, a former resident who was the medical officer of the battalion that captured it.

Almost 100 years later, military representative from both Canada and Germany met at the Niagara Falls Military Museum on Saturday to mark the re-dedication of the field gun and also to pay tribute to what the gun represents.

“What was once our enemy is now one of our best friends in Europe and we need important allies,” said Lt. Col. Bernard Nehring, past commanding officer of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.

“Today, reconciliation is important because we work together, we have the same aims and objectives, so today we recognize and memorialize but we also emphasize reconciliation.”

Lt. Col. Nico Nuelshoff, defence attache with the Germany embassy's service for military affairs in Canada, agreed.

“This field gun reminds us that we cannot take peace and welfare for granted. We have to work for it and take care of it.”

The First World War gun, which had stood at the front of the museum, formerly the Niagara Falls Armoury, for decades, had become a casualty of old age and wood rot.

It was removed from outside of the museum in May and carefully transported to a Pelham shop where it was given some much needed attention.

It was returned to the Victoria Avenue property earlier this month and a re-dedication ceremony was held Saturday.

“One hundred years ago, this country was locked in a great conflict,” said Lt. Col. Robert Christopher, commander of the 56th Field Artillery Regiment of the Canadian Army Reserves.

“More than 670,000 soldiers never came home and 250,000 were wounded and bore the physical and mental scars of war for the rest of their lives. This Krupp gun is dedicated to their memory, their sacrifice, their devotion, and their unconquerable spirit.

“I think of the soldiers of the Canadian corps. They are here with us in spirit. I think they would be pleased to know that Canada and Germany are the closest of allies and friends.”

The cost for the restoration was $30,000. Veterans Affairs Canada approved a $15,400 grant for the project, while the museum was responsible for raising the rest of the money. The museum received financial contributions from various individuals, businesses and organizations.

There are two more phases planned for the gun. Phase two will involve expanding the concrete base, at an estimated cost of $5,000. Phase 3 will be to construct a protective shelter for the gun, at an estimated cost of $10,000.

The Niagara Military Museum was formed in 1999. It is a private, not-for-profit organization composed of veterans and volunteers. Many of the artifacts have been donated by family members of those who served in the army, navy or air force.

The city bought the armoury property from the federal government in 2004 for $2 after Canada’s defence department decommissioned it.

A number of local dignitaries and veterans attended the re-dedication ceremony, which was co-sponsored by the museum and the 2835 56th Field Artillery Regiment Cadet Corps., which is based out of the armoury, in co-operation with the Niagara German-Canadian Club.


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Canadian soldier killed during Second World War laid to rest in Belgium

Post by Guest on Wed 14 Sep 2016, 16:35

Canadian soldier killed during Second World War laid to rest in Belgium.

September 14, 2016

Private Kenneth Donald Duncanson, a Canadian soldier killed during the Second World War, was laid to rest today with military honours by his unit, The Algonquin Regiment, in Adegem Canadian War Cemetery outside Bruges, Belgium.

More from the Canadian Forces news release:

Private Duncanson’s family was present at the ceremony, with the support of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Today marks 72 years to the day that Private Duncanson lost his life on September 14, 1944, during an attempt by The Algonquin Regiment to establish a bridgehead crossing of the Dérivation de la Lys (canal) and the Leopold Canal. Private Duncanson, who was from Dutton, Ontario, was 29 at the time of his death.

His remains were found in a farmer’s field near Molentje, Damme, Belgium, by a metal detector hobbyist on November 11, 2014. Subsequently, his remains were fully recovered by the Raakvlak Intercommunal Archaeological Service of Bruges, with assistance from DND’s Casualty Identification Program, and with the support of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Embassy of Canada to Belgium, and the Canadian Defence Attaché.

Private Duncanson was born in Wallacetown, Ontario, on June 7, 1915. He married in 1939 and lived in Dutton, Ontario. He enlisted in the Canadian Army on August 24, 1942, and joined The Algonquin Regiment (of North Bay and Timmins, Ontario) in April 1944.

He was killed on September 14, 1944, during an attempt by The Algonquin Regiment to establish a bridgehead crossing of the Dérivation de la Lys (canal) and the Leopold Canal, at the hamlet of Molentje, now in the municipality of Damme, Belgium. This was part of the preliminary battles leading up to the Battle of the Scheldt.

Private Duncanson’s remains were discovered in a farmer’s field in November 2014 but not recovered by Belgian authorities until April 2016, with DND assisting.

His identification resulted from a combination of historical context, anthropological analysis, artefact evidence, and dental records. The identification was made by DND’s Casualty Identification Program, with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps and the Canadian Museum of History.

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery already contains the graves of 67 soldiers from The Algonquin Regiment. Most of the 848 Canadians buried at this cemetery died in the fall of 1944 during the Liberation of Belgium and the Battle of the Scheldt. A number of Canadian airmen who died in action elsewhere are also interred there, as are a number of British and Polish soldiers. There are also two French burials.


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Long-lost Roll of Honour poses mystery on Hamilton Beach

Post by Guest on Tue 16 Aug 2016, 06:02

Long-lost Roll of Honour poses mystery on Hamilton Beach.

Aug 16, 2016

They will gather again by the lake on Friday, at the Dieppe Veterans' Memorial Park.

It is the 74th anniversary of the morning raid on the shores of France that killed 197 members of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

There are now just two RHLI survivors of that battle — Ken Curry, 94, and Fred Engelbrecht, 96. Organizers hope both will attend.

A couple of kilometres down Hamilton's strip of sand, there is another remembrance of the war. It has some mystery to it, and the story of how it came to be is not complete.

We arrive at the Beach Rescue Unit and Scott Howley is there to greet us. There's beach in his blood, and he's been making the canal lift bridge go up and down for more than 30 years.

He shows us around the clubhouse, home to a well-regarded unit of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. It's run by volunteers, with roots that go back to when the Beach was a separate community.

History matters here and the walls are covered with old photos. Howley leads us down a short hall. At the end, in a gold frame, is the poster-sized Hamilton Beach Roll of Honour.

It's water damaged, with a rip or two. But it is art.

There are 190 names, written in flowing hand. Beside 16 of them, a tiny torch, which stands for "Supreme Sacrifice." The Canadian coat of arms is at the top. Down the sides and along the bottom are nine wonderfully detailed provincial symbols.

In the bottom right corner, a small signature: "Paul Duff/ 42." So the artist did this piece seven years before Newfoundland signed on.

We turn to Warren Dean, 81, senior member of the Beach Rescue Unit. He believes that long ago the honour roll hung at Beach Bungalow School.

He knows Paul Duff went on to become a well-known artist. Sure enough, there's a website that shows his works are in collections all over the world. Sadly, it also shows Duff died two years ago at 86.

That means he would have been 14 in 1942. Could someone so young be responsible for that elaborate scroll?

We reach Duff's widow, Leila, at the gallery she still maintains in Mar, on the South Bruce Peninsula. She has not a single doubt that Duff could produce such work so young.

"I have a painting in my living room right now that he did while at the school on the Beach," she says.

He would finish his school work quickly, she explains, and then principal W.F. Johnson would give him permission to draw and paint.

But she had never heard of the honour roll, does not know its origins.

Young Paul Duff would have known the news of the Dieppe slaughter in the days after Aug. 19, 1942. Is it possible that come September, back at school, he talked to the principal about the war? Did it somehow get decided that the names of Beach residents who had enlisted would be collected on a scroll?

We don't know. But last, we talk to Jim Simmons, longtime treasurer of the Beach Rescue Unit.

His father Clarence was in the Forces, and when the war ended, other local vets used to gather in the basement of the Simmons home on Beach Boulevard for beer and cards and a few stories.

A dozen or so years ago, it was up to Jim Simmons to sell the home of his late parents. It was a big cleanup, and in behind a chest freezer in the basement, he found the Honour Roll. He did not recall ever seeing it before.

After some restoration, the piece went up on the club wall. Stained, a little tattered, but still a precious remnant from a time when this blessed beach outpost felt the chill of war.


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Memories stirred for Sudbury vets

Post by Guest on Tue 16 Aug 2016, 05:46

Memories stirred for Sudbury vets.

August 16, 2016

Wilbert Spencer never thought he'd make it through Tuesday, June 6, 1944 - better known as D-Day, when Canadian, American and British forces hit the beaches of France to begin the liberation of Europe.

"I was in the water with body parts floating, shells exploding above me," Spencer said. "I don't know how I made it. All of my friends got killed. I'm still alive, and this plane ride is something I'll remember for the rest of my days."

The plane ride he speaks of is the one he took Monday at the Sudbury Airport in a fully restored Second World War B-17 bomber, as part of the Sentimental Journey. Spencer, 92, flew alongside fellow Second World War veterans Lorne Anderson, 94, and Laurent Constantineau, 92.

Spencer was a dispatch rider, while Anderson was a tail-gunner for Mickey the Moocher, the nickname for a British Avro Lancaster bomber. Constantineau worked in the infantry.

Anderson still has a logbook in his possession.

"Every trip I recorded what happened," Anderson said. "It wasn't too in detail because they didn't want (the logbook) to fall into the enemies' hands. I looked at the book this morning because I was going back up in the air."

Doing so brought back a specific memory for Anderson.

"We had a 10-hour trip (to Russia) and that's a long trip in the air," Anderson said. "We were shot up, so we had to cross land in England."

Constantineau started out assigned to the tank corps, but was transferred to infantry.

"Right now I'm the last one of the outfit I was in," Constantineau said. "They're all gone. I'm the last one of them."

"I really enjoyed this," Constantineau said of boarding the B-17 bomber, which was used mostly by American forces.

"It brought back memories of when we'd be stuck and they'd call in the planes to help us out. They had rockets, they had bombs. When we were stuck, tied down, they helped."

The B-17, which will be at the Sudbury Airport on display until Sunday, is one of 10 airworthy B-17s remaining out of more than 12,000 manufactured for combat during the Second World War. The B-17 was used in every theatre of war from 1941-45.

The flight, which lasted about 15-20 minutes for the Second World War veterans, brought Spencer back to a time when a nurse left a lasting impression on him in France.

"We didn't have lights to see our way around and on the motorcycle, I hit a building and I was carried out and was brought into a jeep and brought to a civilian hospital in France," Spencer said. "The doctor said they had no equipment to check me, so I went to the Canadian hospital.

"I was in there for a couple of days and then I passed out. I don't know if I was injured or what. I woke up and this nurse says to me, 'am I ever happy to see you'.

"I told her I was hungry. She said she'd make me some toast and hot chocolate, and she carried me to the kitchen. I weighed 95 pounds. I had my fill of toast and she carried me back."

Spencer returned to duty as a dispatch rider on motorcycles, trucks and jeeps.

"They needed men because soldiers were all being killed," Spencer said. "I'm happy to be alive."


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More than 10 per cent of Welland's population fought overseas in Second World War

Post by Guest on Sun 07 Aug 2016, 06:36

More than 10 per cent of Welland's population fought overseas in Second World War.

August 7, 2016

As a country, Canada was second to none during the Second World War in the allied effort to save the world from tyranny.

As a community, Welland also was front and centre, both on the battle lines as well as on the assembly line.

Those were among the highlights of an address Bob Cummings, a longtime educator with the Royal Canadian Legion in Welland, delivered Saturday as part of the Welland Historial Museum’s Niagara and the Great Wars lecture series.

“Canada, by World War II, was no longer a possession, but a country,” he said. “Canada was the biggest per-capita donor in the world.”

“That’s something to be proud of it.”

Welland was among the biggest contributor to the Canadian war effort, in material as well as manpower. Cummings pointed out local factories switched to war production not long after the war started, and that 1,134 men, out of a population of only 10,000 went overseas.

“When you consider that half of those were women and children, that’s a significant number,” said the Royal Canadian Navy veteran who served as a peacekeeper during the Suez Canal crisis in the late 1950s.

A total of 96 soldiers from Welland died in the Second World War compared to the 91 who never made it home from the first.

In his hour-long address Cummings said Canadians “were doing it for the right reason” when they fought to prevent Hitler from world domination.

The First World War, in comparison, was a waste of colossal proportions. More than nine million troops were killed.

“That’s a lot of people slogging in the mud. They really didn’t anywhere.”

The monetary cost likewise were staggering, the 78-year-old Welland native said.

“The cost of buildings lost in World War I was enough to build every family in the world at the time a house,” Cummings said. “There was also enough money lost to educate every child in the world.”

He lamented the so-called “war to end of all worlds” only managed to put still-simmering hostilities on the backburner for 22 years.

“The day after the Chippawa (Park) monument was dedicated, Germany declared war. Image that.”

Forcing the vanquished Germans to pay war reparations, including ceded to France territory rich in minerals and industrial production, proved to be too steep a price, setting the stage for Adolf Hitler.

“In Berlin 75,000 people die of hunger. Germany’s got no way to pay the bills, Germany’s got no money,” Cummings said. “This guy promised them an economy and a future and, in a way, he gave it to them.”

Thankfully, the victors didn’t repeat the same mistakes when Germany was defeated a second time.

“It’s pleasant to think we learned something by not starving our enemies,” he said. “Germany and Japan have two of the strongest economies in the world because we helped them.”

Cummings concluded by encouraging the audience to “remember what happened in the past and to be wary of what happens in the future.”

“We have to have control of our government,” he said. “It’s our choice to change it.”


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New plaque honours Japanese-Canadian WW I veterans

Post by Guest on Sat 06 Aug 2016, 05:57

New plaque honours Japanese-Canadian WW I veterans.

Despite facing discrimination, hundreds of Japanese-Canadians enlisted to fight for Canada during WW I.

Aug 05, 2016

A new plaque and dedicated historical walking tour will commemorate the contributions of Japanese-Canadians who fought during the First World War.

Linda Kawamoto Reid is a research archivist with the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of their enlistment and the plaque is being erected in Mountainview Cemetery because many Japanese-Canadians — including veterans — are buried there, she said.

It will complement a historical walking tour through the cemetery detailing the lives of the veterans.

"There are 20 men buried or cremated here in Mountainview who are First World War veterans, [including]...two military medal winners," she said.

Forced to enlist in Alberta

The veterans faced great challenges to be able to fight for their country.

For example, even though the men were trained in Vancouver — at the expense of the Canadian Japanese Association — the B.C. government refused to accept Japanese-Canadian recruits, Reid explained.

Instead, she said, the group of 227 Japanese-Canadian men travelled one-by-one to Alberta in 1916 to enlist.

"The politics in B.C. were very racist at the time, very discriminatory," she said.

"[For example] they needed to have a naturalization certificate in order to carry a fishing licence, and they couldn't vote."

Fierce fighters

The men who enlisted soon gained a reputation for commendable fighting.

"A lot of them ended up in the Fighting 10th Battalion. We know how fierce that battalion was. They were the ones who made a difference in winning Vimy Ridge," she said.

Fifty-four Japanese-Canadian men lost their lives during the war, Reid said. They are buried in France.

Upon the surviving veterans return, the Canadian Japanese Association raised enough money to built a cenotaph in their honour in Stanley Park in 1920.

The new cemetery plaque will be twinned with that monument.

A battle for the vote

But the fighting did not stop there for some veterans.

"Really, Japanese-Canadians were fighting two battles," Reid said.

"They were fighting for their rights as Canadian citizens and were willing to lay down their lives and fight for Canada in spite of all odds."

Sgt. Masumi Mitsui, a decorated First World war veteran, led the charge for the vote for Japanese-Canadian veterans.

In 1931, they succeeded, becoming the first group of Asian-Canadians to win the right to vote.


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Bringing the Hally home

Post by Guest on Tue 02 Aug 2016, 18:19

Bringing the Hally home.

August 2, 2016

If there ever were a combat pilot cat-like in survival, it would be John Alwyn (Pee Wee) Phillips. But what made his successful wartime record of walking away from crashes so amazing? In each case he ensured his crew walked away safely with him.

His first “prang,” as he called it, occurred at the RAF No. 22 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in England, in 1943, while training in Wellington bombers with a Canadian crew of five on board. On the approach to land, Phillips couldn’t get the undercarriage down, so he got permission from the control tower to land wheels up on the aerodrome grass.

“Luckily, we got away with it scot-free,” Phillips said during an Imperial War Museum interview. “We just bent the propellers doing a belly landing.”

Two engines were gone. Only one instrument still worked. There was no way the Halifax could return to Britain.
A few months later, Phillips was crewed up for combat duty with a principally Canadian crew. While they learned to respect his flying ability, the RCAF airmen noted their pilot’s diminutive stature and nicknamed him “Pee Wee.” It stuck. Now, the bomber crew was training at an OTU in Yorkshire, England, where Flight Sgt. Phillips attempted another landing, this time in a four-engine Handley Page Halifax bomber, just as the wind direction changed. Committed to a landing, Pee Wee desperately tried to bring the 30-tonne bomber down while descending crab-like over the runway. The violent crosswind caught his wing, forced the bomber to nose over and catapulted Phillips through the front windscreen.

“I ended up minus a few teeth and with a concussion,” Phillips said, “but my crew got away with nothing.”

Things got worse. Later in 1943, participating in Bomber Command’s Pathfinder Force, bomber crews that led the bomber streams and marked the German industrial targets along the Ruhr Valley with flares, Phillips’s aircraft was attacked by a German fighter aircraft that shot up the Halifax’s tail. Despite loss of critical flight controls, Phillips piloted the bomber to the target, dropped his flares, and headed for home. But he could barely keep the aircraft flying straight and level. Phillips and his crew then tied a rope to the pilot’s control column so that together they could pull on the stick and manhandle their bomber back across the English Channel to their home base at Gransden Lodge. After an emergency landing the crew inspected the damage. The Halifax’s tail was half gone. Phillips was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Medal, but “was upset, because I thought the crew deserved the credit.”

A month later, on Aug. 2, 1943, 73 years ago this week, Phillips and his crew flew to northern Germany to mark targets around Hamburg. But that night, Bomber Command’s meteorological experts had badly underestimated the poor flying conditions. Phillips and his crew — navigator Graham Mainprize; flight engineer Herbert McLean; rear gunner Lloyd Kohnke (all three from Saskatchewan); wireless operator Ron Andrews, from London, England; mid-upper gunner Joe King from Ontario; and bomb-aimer Vernon Knight, from Wales — flew into what was later called “The Night of the Great Storm.” Their flight path took them into thunderheads that towered 30,000 into the air, violent wind gusts and St. Elmo’s fire that shot forks of lightning at their aircraft.

“There was one hell of an explosion,” Phillips said. “We were blinded by it. Bits of aircraft were flying all over the place. There was (St. Elmo’s) fire on the propellers, the wingtips … right across my cockpit instruments.”

The Halifax plummeted from 19,000 feet to 8,000 feet in a couple of minutes, when Phillips managed to bring the descent under control. But with two engines gone and his airspeed indicator the only instrument left functioning on his panel, there was no way he could fly his bomber home this time. Phillips aimed the crippled aircraft northward across the Baltic toward Sweden. At as low an altitude as he dared, along the coast of the neutral country, Phillips instructed his crew to bail out (again they all parachuted to ground safely). Then, just as he was about to bail out, Phillips locked the control stick of Halifax HR871 in place and aimed it out over the ocean, never expecting to see it again.

From his home today, in Hull, England, Pee Wee Phillips has learned that a group of Canadian veterans, aviation technicians and warplane buffs — the Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC), in Nanton, Alta. — has found his lost Halifax in 15 metres of water in the Baltic Sea off Sweden, and with the help of donors, the RCAF and Swedish port officials at Trelleborg, intends to raise and transport the Halifax to Canada. Spearheading the retrieval is a retired Air Canada pilot, Karl Kjarsgaard, who has dedicated much of his non-working life to the preservation of the legacy of the Halifax bomber and its Canadian crews.

Kjarsgaard, 65, and his BCMC group proclaim, indeed proselytize, their belief that the Halifax bomber was Canada’s most important wartime bombing weapon. In the darkest days of the Second World War, Kjarsgaard claims, many of the 6,178 Handley Page Halifaxes and their crews “fought to hell and back” against Nazi occupation of Europe while Allied navies and armies barely held their own against Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

“More than 70 per cent of the Canadian bomber operations were done in Halifax bombers, while sustaining worse than six per cent losses. That’s three times the naval losses and twice the army losses,” he says. “Halifax crews knew the odds were against them. All they had to do was look in their mess (halls and see) the guys who were missing after every night’s operation. They knew that three or four missions from now, they weren’t going to be having breakfast there either. And they still went!”

In the past two decades, Kjarsgaard has inspired Canadian history buffs, investors and authorities with his motto, “We leave no Halifax behind,” to retrieve Halifax bombers in total or just in parts from all over the world for eventual display in Canada. In the fall of 1994, Karl Kjarsgaard was project manager in the retrieval of Halifax NA337 (shot down in April 1945) from the bottom of Lake Mjosa, in Norway. Ten years later, after transport to Canadian Forces Base Trenton and reassembly there, the Hally was unveiled as the focal point of the National Air Force Museum. In September 1997, Kjarsgaard led a salvage expedition at the crash site of a Halifax bomber LW682 (shot down in May 1944), near Geraardsbergen, Belgium. He secured a grant from the Canadian government and encouraged civilian and government groups to co-operate on the retrieval. Then, he watched as the Belgians drained the swamp down six metres to allow the dig.

“It was one of the most moving moments of my life,” Kjarsgaard said.

With Belgian coroners supervising, and streaming their work on the Internet, the excavation team unearthed bone fragments and personal belongings of the three Canadian crewmen entombed in the Halifax for 53 years. In the mangled aluminum that had been the mid-upper gunner’s turret, for example, they found Pilot Officer Jack Summerhayes’ remains and a wallet. Contrary to regulations, the young Canadian airman had chosen to carry a personal possession — his railway ticket from home in Brantford, Ont., to Halifax, N.S., where he had embarked for overseas service … never to return.

“I was standing there in gumboots in the swamp,” Kjarsgaard remembered. “I got on the phone to Canada … and I got to say to Summerhayes’ son, ‘Doug, we just found your dad.’ ”

In addition to having the human remains exhumed and given full military honours in burial, the Belgian-Canadian team salvaged as much of the crushed and unusable aluminum airframe as possible. Melted into ingots, which ultimately became the skylight of the Bomber Command Memorial unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in London, England, in June 2012.

According to Kjarsgaard, the Canadian experience in the Second World War is the Halifax bomber. It’s not a conviction he’s felt all his life. As a boy in Saskatchewan, he devoured books about the Battle of Britain and built model airplanes commemorating wartime aircraft. He even collected the Jell-O “Famous Aircraft of the World” plastic coins; he ate so much gelatin that he accumulated all 200 coins. But nowhere in the 200 was there mention of the bomber that had carried nearly three-quarters of Canadian bomber crews in the Second World War. Nor, they told him, was there an intact “Hally” to be found.

“This is a hidden gem, the most important airplane in the history of Canadian military aviation,” he said. “But there was not one Canadian Halifax to be seen.”

On Canada Day just past, Kjarsgaard watched a monitor aboard a salvage vessel on the Baltic Sea, as the dive team from Havsresan and Swedish Coast and Sea Center, cleared seabed silt from such aircraft parts as the fuselage, a rudder, a Browning machine-gun and an ammunition belt. Kjarsgaard said the find brought mixed emotions. Based on the debris field, it appeared that RCAF Halifax bomber HR871 had hit the surface of the ocean extremely hard, but “I’m amazed at the condition of the metal; there’s no corrosion anywhere.

“The Baltic is misleading,” he said. “This close to Sweden it’s mostly fresh water and considering the Halifax has been 72 years underwater, it’s in immaculate condition.”

Kjarsgaard wears his Canadian pride on his sleeve. He’s convinced that these relics of the Second World War need to be salvaged and their crews — all but gone now — need to be recognized. And in that crusade, he believes, the sky’s the limit.

“If you were an American and you knew there were no B-17s left, and you knew the Memphis Belle was sitting deep underwater, what would you do? You’d go get it. So, if you’re a Canadian and you knew where a Canadian RCAF Halifax — of all the 1,200 Halifaxes Canadians flew — was sitting underwater, what would you do? You’d have to say, ‘Let’s go get it!’ ”

Meanwhile, given his knack for survival, Pee Wee Phillips could well attend the historic unveiling of a fully restored Halifax — with engines running — one day at Alberta’s Bomber Command Museum.

National Post

Ted Barris is a professor of journalism at Toronto’s Centennial College. His latest book is Fire Canoe. More information on the recovery effort can be found at


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Local banker was Civil War veteran by way of Canada

Post by Guest on Sat 30 Jul 2016, 06:24

Local banker was Civil War veteran by way of Canada.

July 30, 2016

EDGEWOOD — Allen Hoffman became a well-known Harford Countian in the 1880s, as owner of a general store in Aberdeen, a hotelier and canning business operator in Edgewood, and finally as a canned goods broker and money lender in Bel Air, where he also sold fire and life insurance and served as a director in Harford National Bank.

He was a major player in Harford County business circles, but he wasn’t of the “Harford born and bred” category. Rather he was a transplant who hailed from Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Hoffman made his way to Maryland during the Civil War. Descended from Swiss immigrants who originally settled in Pennsylvania, Hoffman’s father moved the family to Canada where he served as mayor and magistrate of Waterloo. Eventually, Allen Hoffman would be sent to school in New York. It was there that the 16-year-old joined the 76th New York State Volunteers, an infantry regiment known as “The Cortland Regiment.”

The 76th was raised from the small towns and farms of central New York State and during three years of existence fought with the Army of the Potomac in most of the battles in the eastern theater of the war from Fredericksburg, Va., to Petersburg, Va. It was at Petersburg that Hoffman was seriously wounded in the explosion of the mine on July 30, 1864. He was sent to an Annapolis hospital to recover and after released to return home, he found he couldn’t travel well. He tarried in Aberdeen and chose to make Harford County his home.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, the 76th New York was first on the field at the right flank of the entire army and suffered horrific casualties as a result. The men of the 76th would be mustered out or transferred to other regiments between July 1864 and January 1865, at which time the regiment ceased to exist. The 76th faced their greatest losses at Gettysburg, Pa. In the first day’s battle on that field, it took 27 officers and 348 men into the fight. In just 30 minutes, 32 were killed, 132 wounded and 70 were reported missing, for a total of 234.

Wrote Lt. M.M. Whitney, of Company C, 76th New York in 1887, in a letter to the National Tribune of July 21, 1887, regarding Gettysburg, “Forward Double quick was the command given. For 30 minutes no body of men ever withstood a more terrible shower of lead.

“Our position was held with a spirit and bravery never excelled, until General Wadsworth ordered the command to fall back on the next ridge,” Whitney recalled. “At the moment of going into action we numbered 348 men all told and in in 30 minutes lost 169 officers and men, lacking but five of being half our number. No other regiment was engaged until we had received a severe baptism of blood.”

Just a few of the battles the 76th participated in include: General Pope’s Virginia Campaign; Gainesville; Groveton; Bull Run; South Mountain, Md.; Antietam; Upperville, Va.; Fredericksburg, Va.; Chancellorsville; Gettysburg, Pa.; Mine Run Campaign; Wilderness, Va.; Spotsylvania Courthouse; The Salient; North Anna, Va; Totopotomoy, Va.; Cold Harbor; White Oak Swamp; Before Petersburg, Va.; Assault on Petersburg; Weldon Railroad; Hatcher’s Run; and on detached duty on gunboats Queen of the West and Mound City, during which two men were killed. As evidenced by this list of bloody battles, the 76th saw severe action in most of the Virginian Campaigns fought by the Army of Virginia and Army of the Potomac from 1862 to the end when the unit dissolved in January 1865.

Gen. Rice, the brigade commander, would be mortally wounded later at Spotsylvania, Va., while leading the 76th. A surgeon asked the dying general if he could adjust him to a more comfortable position. Rice’s reply is indicative of the tenacity and bravery of the men he led, including Allen Hoffman: “Yes, turn me so I may die with my face to the enemy.”

Dyer’s Compendium of the Civil War reveals that the 76th New York lost during service 12 officers, 161 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and one officer and 156 enlisted men lost to disease for a total of 330 men lost.


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From the Journal's archives: A prisoner of war counts himself lucky after missing his great escape

Post by Guest on Fri 15 Jul 2016, 06:42

From the Journal's archives: A prisoner of war counts himself lucky after missing his great escape.

July 14, 2016 5:49 PM MDT

On July 13, 2016, the city informed Second World War veteran Gord King that they would be naming some streets, a pond, and a gate after him in the Keswick neighbourhood after Gordon King.

King had been part of The Great Escape, a celebrated break-out from a German prisoner of war camp. The following story about King, written by former reporter Jeff Holubitsky, was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on Nov. 11, 1999.

Stalag Luft 3 prisoner Number 209 had beaten the odds again.

In the spring of 1944, he was the 146th Allied airman to win a chance at freedom through the escape tunnel 10 metres below the prisoner of war camp in Germany.

By a quirk of fate, he never had his chance in the tunnel before it was discovered. And by good fortune, he was not one of those who paid for the escape with their lives.

”I was lucky I wasn’t anywhere near getting out,” Gord King says in the comfort of his west-end bungalow, 45 years later.

Lucky he not only survived, he thrived. King returned to Canada where he raised a family of championship curlers, including daughter Cathy Borst.

”I happened to look through an old high school year book that listed the fellows who were killed and it’s hard to believe,” he says. ”In the air force, the odds weren’t that great. …”

”I’m very fortunate to be here today and thank God for it, because when I think of the guys who didn’t make it, it’s tough because they were all young guys and had their lives ahead of them.

”As far as another war, forget it. We just can’t let it happen.”

Two years before the daring escape attempt, he had bailed out of a burning bomber over Nazi Germany.

He’d been a prisoner ever since, half a world away from his sweetheart, June, in Winnipeg.

Only 76 made it out through the narrow tunnel which stretched more than 100 metres — past barbed wire and guard towers — before it was discovered by a guard who had stopped to relieve himself when he noticed steam rising from a hole in the March snow.

”I was in a room with a bunch of other guys waiting my turn,” says King. ”I was excited, but when the thing got discovered there was real pandemonium.”

The men all carried rations of raisins and biscuits to provide sustenance for a few days. ”We ate those in a hurry and got as sick as a dog.”

Unfortunately after a year of immaculate and secret planning and construction, the escape route fell a few metres short of a forest. King had to remain in the camp where he’d been since he was shot down in 1942.

Of the 76 who made it out, three — two Norwegians and a Dutchman — made it home.

Seventy-three were recaptured. Twenty-three were sent back to the camp.

Fifty, including half a dozen Canadians, were gunned down.

Only 50 were ‘murdered’
The Great Escape, as it was called in a 1963 Hollywood movie, enraged Adolf Hitler. He ordered that 100 PoWs pay with their lives.

Joseph Goebbels, his propaganda minister, convinced the Fuhrer such a move might incite repercussions against German prisoners in Allied camps and Hitler cut the number to 50.

”They loaded them into trucks to supposedly bring them back to the camp,” King remember.

”When they were travelling they let them out on the side of the road to relieve themselves and just machine-gunned the men in the back.”

”They were murdered, they weren’t executed.”

Today, the ashes of those officers lie silently in a memorial on the site of the Second World War camp as the number of surviving veterans of Stalag Luft 3 grows smaller year by year.

Gord King hasn’t spoken about his experiences often.

Compared to the sacrifices of others, he doesn’t rate his contribution very highly.

But he also doesn’t want young Canadians to forget what his generation accomplished all those many years ago.

This year he attended a national prisoner of war reunion in Ottawa. He thinks it will be the last time they celebrate together, but even so, the former PoW appears almost embarrassed to draw attention to his experiences.

”The guys who weren’t prisoners of war, that did their job, that made their trips, they have reunions too and they don’t seem to get the recognition we get.”

Romantic idea of war
Stanley Gordon King was born in Winnipeg 79 years ago. His dad was already a Stanley, so the younger King with a keen interest in sports became Gord.

With the war already raging in Europe and the romantic idea of flying filling the head of a prairie boy, he signed up in September 1940.

”I wanted to be a pilot, but when I went they said they had too many pilots so I wanted to be an air gunner because I was small.”

Nearly 60 years later it’s tough to believe anybody would want to sit in a small glass dome under an aircraft, but the Royal Canadian Air Force also had too many gunners.

King was assigned to operate a radio. However, during training he was on a hockey team and did some boxing and became friends with a doctor who pulled some strings and got King into flight school in Regina and Saskatoon.

In October 1941, he was sent to England were he finished bomber training and took a leave he’d never finish. He was called back after a 1,000-plane attack on Cologne had baffled German defences and was considered a huge success.

”They decided to do it again and put every plane they had in the air including our training planes,” says King, who was by then a 22-year-old flight officer in charge of a well-used Wellington bomber.

”They really weren’t first-line planes, but we figured it would be a piece of cake, so off we go.”

With the burning city of Bremen within view, a German nightfighter caught the plane in its sights.

”Partly from the fact that we couldn’t get our plane over 10,000 feet and we were green and inexperienced, we probably didn’t keep as sharp a lookout as we should have and we got shot down.” King and his crew bailed out. Two of the five men would survive. During the long flight, King had undone the shoulder straps of his parachute to relieve muscle tension.

”In the panic to get out I forgot to do them up again and got hung by my legs, and so I came down upside down.”

He landed in a tree in complete darkness. Struggling out of his harness, King plunged to the ground, knocking himself out. In the morning he awakened with the prod of a farmer’s pitchfork.

King was sent to a camp and would remain a prisoner of war until just before V-E Day, nearly three years later.

”They were ready for us and knocked a lot of planes out that night,” he says. ”So my war effort was meagre and I’m not proud of that, but it happened.”

As the war continued, the numbers at Stalag Luft 3 swelled. When King arrived there were probably about 600 Allied airmen, and the prisoners were pressed into building a new camp for a population of 1,500 to 1,600.

They had come from around the world — Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Europe, Australia — and every walk of life.

(Americans were sent to a camp of their own and, despite the movie, never took part in the escape.)

”It was excellent,” King says of the Allied camp. ”New buildings and new everything.”

Food rations, though, were meagre and without Red Cross parcels from home, King believes prisoners would have starved to death on a constant diet of ”barley glop and turnip soup.”

His own weight dropped from about 61 kg to 50 kg at the end of the war.

”The people in this camp were like a little city,” says King. ”All the trades — electricians, carpenters, plumbers, lawyers, doctors, tailors, musicians and professional actors who put on marvelous plays.

”And from that nucleus of talent they decided that rather than have individuals try to get out, which we did for the first few months … and none of it worked, so they decided we’re going to organize this thing right.”

Everybody did something
Besides constant searches and two roll calls a day, the German guards left the prisoners alone to run the camp by themselves and also plan the escape. ”Everybody in the camp knew what was going on. Nearly everybody did something because there were hundreds of jobs you could do.”

Old uniforms were transformed into civilian suits. Graphic artists created fake identification, passports and railway tickets. A hard-rock miner from Canada taught the men how to build tunnels.

What the men didn’t have, they bribed guards with cigarettes and Red Cross rations to get — such as cameras and film to take fake ID photos.

King still has some mementoes of those days. He pulls a small black cylinder out of the soft protection of an old Crown Royal bag. It’s the compass he was issued days before the escape.

The casing is moulded from a melted phonograph record. The diamond shaped direction pointer shaped from a razor blade. Surprisingly, a swastika design is pressed into the back. Prison camp humour.

”It was made in Germany,” chuckles King.

To their captors, the prisoners spent their time putting on plays (King has pictures of himself playing a woman), giving classes in history or literature, reading hundreds of novels, playing in the band, or participating in sports.

King played baseball, soccer, cricket and, when the weather was favourable for ice, he was goalie on a hockey team.

In fact, his parents who led a home-front movement to supply prisoners of war with the things they needed, received a commendation on King’s behalf from the YMCA for their son’s efforts in organizing leagues and teams. The activities helped pass the years of confinement with really, little to do.

King remembers an Australian who couldn’t take camp life. Once, when he slashed his wrists, King and his buddies made sure he was patched up. About six months later the man made a break for the fence in broad daylight. His friends among the prisoners rushed tell the guards that the man had gone crazy. But it was too late. He was shot before their eyes.

While all of this was going on, the prisoners were also working on three tunnels. One was discovered by the Germans, one was used for storage and the third provided the brief chance at freedom.

King was put to work manning an air pump 10 metres below ground. It was made from old knapsacks and dried KLIM (milk) tins and provided fresh air for the diggers.

The tunnel, about a metre wide by a metre high, was constructed in sandy soil and bed boards were used to shore up the walls. Access was through a hollowed out chimney base beneath the stove in one of the cabins. The stove was moved with special handles, the workers went down the hole, and the stove was replaced, concealing what lay below.

Tons of sand to hide
The biggest problem was the disposing of the sand.

”So we had these fellows called penguins,” says King, who was often a penguin himself, walking stiff legged with sacks of sand hidden inside his pant legs.

Once he’d waddled to the sandy sports field, he’d pull a drawstring attached the bottom of the sacks, releasing the soil.

”We raised the level of the field by six inches,” he laughs.

The tunnel took about a year to complete. The first 30 or so men picked to escape were those thought to have the greatest chance of success, such as those who spoke fluent German.

He remembers the Dutch airman, the first out of the tunnel, coming to say goodbye, dressed in a black suit with a Homburg hat. The former medical student even had a doctor’s bag complete with stethoscope. He was one of the lucky ones who got home.

But within a year the war would be over in any case. King remembers hearing the Russians’ guns less than 40 km away as he played his final hockey game.

The Germans evacuated the prisoners, marching them north to different locations until the guards simply gave up.

”They knew it was over anyways,” says King, who ended the war by taking a couple of prisoners while walking down a country road. A couple of heavily armed German soldiers, fearing for their futures at the end of the war, handed their weapons over to an unarmed King and a friend.

King arrived in London on May 8, 1945, V-E Day.

After the war, King returned to Winnipeg to his fiancee, June. They’d been together since the age of 14 and are still married.

”She’s the only girl I’ve ever loved,” he says.

During his PoW years, she sent him hundreds of letters.

Now retired, he worked for a flooring wholesale company and moved to Edmonton in 1965.

Not surprisingly, his kids were keen in sports, two sons became junior Canadian curling champs and his daughter, Cathy, skipped the Canadian women’s curling championship team in 1998.


City names portion of Keswick neighbourhood after Second World War veteran Gordon King
At the recent convention of his PoW organization, the remaining former prisoners began a campaign to promote a composite picture of the Stalag Luft 3, the memorial to the slain air force officers, and the tunnel.

”What we’re hoping to do with this picture is keep the memory of, not only the 50 who were shot, but of all the airmen who were killed in the war, and get one of these pictures in every Legion and war museum across the country.”

Lest we forget.


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B.C. Dragoons play a vital role in Canadian military

Post by Guest on Sun 03 Jul 2016, 06:04

B.C. Dragoons play a vital role in Canadian military.

Jul 3, 2016 at 1:00 AM

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Canada was suddenly involved in a war? Who would defend us?

This was a concern for citizens of Vernon back in 1884 when they first petitioned the Canadian government for a militia unit. But the young Dominion of Canada was fighting the Northwest Rebellion and paying for the recently constructed Canadian Pacific Railway, so no resources were available, leaving the vast area between Calgary and Vancouver without military protection.

With the return of veterans from the Boer War, there was more interest in a local militia and in 1911 the 1st Regiment British Columbia Horse was authorized, becoming the roots of the present-day British Columbia (B.C.) Dragoons.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dragoon is “a soldier, especially in the past, who rode a horse and carried a gun.” The term originated in France in the early 17th century and described the muskets used by the soldiers as “breathing fire.”

B.C. Dragoons commanding officer Lt.-Col. Mike McGinty explains that within Canada there is a small number of army bases with operational units scattered across the country.

“There are no regular army units in B.C., only reservists,” he said. “The Canadian Armed Forces is responsible for the safety of Canadians at home and abroad and the reserve has a key role in providing an armed forces presence across the country.”

The army reserve of the Canadian Armed Forces consists of more than 18,000 troops.

Vernon has a military history that stretches back for more than a century.

Calvary and infantry militias began training in Vernon in 1912.

By 1916, during the First World War, there were more than 7,000 soldiers training at the Vernon Military Camp, dwarfing the City of Vernon, which then had a population of around 3,000 people.

Approximately 700 Vernon residents volunteered for active duty in the First World War. The unit fought in France and the Flanders region of Belgium. Of the 4,500 men who served in the unit, 732 were killed and 2,276 were wounded.

In 1940, the B.C. Dragoons began training as a mechanized unit in preparation for active combat during the Second World War. However, equipment shortages were a major obstacle. At the outbreak of the war, Canada had fewer than a dozen tanks. The unit was transferred to Victoria, then Camp Borden in Ontario, and finally to England for training before heading into combat in Italy in 1943, and finishing the war in the northeast corner of the Netherlands.

During the war, the B.C. Dragoons suffered 289 casualties.

In 1946, the B.C. Dragoons resumed its status as a reserve armoured regiment. Since then, they have provided individuals or sub-units to UN and NATO operations. More recently, numerous B.C. Dragoons members have served in Afghanistan.

“We are here. We have been here for over 100 years,” said McGinty. “We are training soldiers to be ready for active duty. Armed forces are important to Canada and there is always space for you to join.”

Today the B.C. Dragoons, a primary reserve armoured reconnaissance regiment based in Vernon and Kelowna, has a proud history and a continuing vital role. The horses and muskets have been replaced by highly capable reservists trained on military vehicles and always ready when called upon to help with domestic disasters or to fight along with the Canadian Armed Forces abroad.

Approximately 100 reservists train regularly on Wednesday evenings and one weekend a month at either the Vernon Army Cadet Training Centre or the Lawrence Avenue Armoury in Kelowna. In the summer, they attend brigade-wide training sessions in other locations.

“The vast majority of local reservists are fully employed in other jobs or in full-term studies,” said Col. Nigel Whittaker, B.C. regional liaison officer. “The military always has to be prepared to fight and there is a strong commitment to train these soldiers.”

A primary role for Whittaker is to promote the value of reservists and help enable them to function well in their civilian life while also being able to participate in their voluntary role as reservists.

Whittaker also wholly supports the Okanagan Military Tattoo (OMT).

“It’s a way to remind Canadians of our military heritage and celebrate it,” he said.

The Regimental Pipes and Drums of the B.C. Dragoons, a compilation of musicians from the five local pipe and drum bands, will proudly carry the pennants and coat of arms of the B.C. Dragoons during the Okanagan Military Tattoo July 23 at 7 p.m., and July 24 at 2 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.

This year’s theme is West Meets East, with a diverse lineup extending from the popular Calgary Stampede Band of Outriders to the Korean Traditional Military Band, along with pipe, drums, and traditional military bands, local Ukrainian dancers and more. The public is invited to visit the various displays including the information booth for the B.C. Dragoons before and after the shows. For more information or to purchase tickets visit


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Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s most decorated soldier lived out his life in Corner Brook

Post by Guest on Tue 28 Jun 2016, 13:56

Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s most decorated soldier lived out his life in Corner Brook.

June 28, 2016

One morning on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916, an Allied corporal standing guard as dawn broke spied a man crawling under the wire toward his post.

A private pointed his rifle at the man but the corporal told him not to shoot until he could confirm it was a German enemy.

“Who goes there?” called out the corporal.

“Butler,” came back the reply from the approaching man.

Capt. Bertram Butler had been out all night, as close to the enemy’s trenches as he could get, gleaning information about the German position.

He only made his way back when he thought the dawning day would reveal him to the enemy.

This was just one of the daring initiatives Butler was known to regularly undertake as one of the leaders of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War.

It’s an example of why the accountant from Topsail, who would move to Corner Brook after the war and live his life out there, became the regiment’s most decorated First World War soldier.

After the war, he would be promoted to the rank of major and continue to serve in many ways, though away from the fierce battlefields.

Gus Cossitt, a veteran of the Second World War from Corner Brook who served as a merchant marine, remembers the older war hero well. He also heard the many stories of Butler’s daring feats in battle.

“They’d get into a German trench and they did one of two things: either kill them or take them prisoner,” said Cossitt, who turns 89 in July. “He brought back a lot of information for the regiment.”

The Raids at Beaumont Hamel

In the days leading up to the infamous Battle of Beaumont Hamel, where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s numbers were dreadfully decimated July 1, 1916, Butler led a series of raids on the German trenches to assess the enemy’s preparedness in advance of the planned attack.

The first raid on the night of June 26, 1916, failed when the Germans were alerted to the approach of Butler and his men. They were forced to retreat, suffering just two minor casualties.

The following night, despite heavy rains, Butler ordered another raid. This time, they got within 20 yards before a fierce firefight ensued, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

All three officers in the raiding party, including Butler, were among the 21 soldiers wounded. Four of their men were killed and two more later died of their wounds.

Three others were taken prisoner by the Germans.

The raid was considered a success, though, because it was able to determine the German trenches were intact and the wire on the German front line was thick and unbroken.

The intelligence gathered reportedly went ignored by those higher in command, but Butler was later awarded the Military Cross for his role in the raids leading up to Beaumont Hamel.

Though wounded in the raids, Butler remained at his duties and also took part in the ill-fated attempt to take the German line at Beaumont Hamel.

In a letter he would write to the regiment’s pay and record office on July 3, 1916. Butler indicated his wounds were not serious.

“Injuries very slight,” he wrote. “Don’t worry.”

According to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Museum, awards for gallantry were deliberately not awarded for the events of July 1, except for some given to the medics who risked their lives to save others. This was a calculated decision to demonstrate that the action of the entire battalion that day was a display of gallantry not carried out by just a small group from their ranks.


The raids leading up to the Battle of Beaumont Hamel would not be Butler’s only distinguished accomplishment during the Battle of the Somme.

In October 1916, he would earn the Bar to the Military Cross for his role in the Battle of Gueudecourt. Butler and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were part of a creeping barrage that involved hand-to-hand fighting with the German forces before the Allies eventually won the objective.

Butler would go on to write an account of the gruesome battle for the June 1922 edition of The Veteran magazine.

“Many of our men used a bayonet to kill for the first time, and when once they got the ‘knack’ of it, it was hard to make them give it up,” he would write.

According to the regiment’s archived accounts of the Battle at Gueudecourt, the Allies killed around 250 German soldiers.

Butler himself is said to have dispatched 15 of them. According to the Daily Orders published by the London Gazette shortly after the battle, Butler “showed the greatest personal courage in the attack on German trenches and, by his able dispositions, consolidated the position and held it against counterattacks.”


Butler would serve on the battlegrounds with the regiment for nearly the entire First World War, with the exception of the few occasions where he had to recuperate from wounds received in battle.

Besides the wounds that never kept him from continuing to serve at Beaumont Hamel, he was hurt at least two other times during the war. In April 1917, he sustained multiple wounds to his face and right hand in an explosion at Lesfosses Farm during the Battle of Arras and spent about three weeks in hospital.

He was more seriously wounded in November 1917, on the opening day of the Battle of Cambrai. According to the medical reports, Butler suffered a gunshot wound that perforated his right forearm near the elbow. A second gunshot wound tunneled through his back and perforated his left buttock.

He suffered a contused ulna nerve and a loss of sensation in his wounded arm. The wound would nag him for some time after.

For his contributions in that battle, Butler was awarded a Distinguished Service Order in February 1918.

He required surgery on his right arm in the spring of 1918 and never returned to the battlefield before the Armistice in November 1918.

After the First World War

Butler arrived back in Newfoundland in early September 1918. A year later, on Sept. 15, 1919, he was promoted to the rank of major with the First Battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

In 1920, he was appointed vice-president of the Great War Veterans Association — the precursor to what is now the Royal Canadian Legion — in Newfoundland and Labrador. In that role of vice-president, which he held for about a decade, he was heavily involved in getting the War Memorial in St. John’s built.

He was seconded for duty with the Civil Re-estabishment Committee in 1920 to help soldiers returning from war adjust to civilian life.

Butler moved to Corner Brook following the First World War. He worked at the paper mill that opened in 1925. Among his duties were caring for Dormston Farm, the paper company’s farm that stood where what is now the Blomidon Golf and Country Club.

Maintaining a close allegiance to the regiment, Butler served in a home defence battery in Corner Brook during the Second World War. The Bay of Islands Home Guard was established in 1942 to protect Corner Brook, and its paper mill facility in particular, from potential hostilities during the Second World War.

From 1952 to 1957, Butler served as an honorary lieutenant colonel for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Butler died in 1970 at the age of 80 and is buried in the United Church Cemetery on Montgomerie Street in Corner Brook.

A living veteran’s memories

Cossitt described Butler as a modest man who was a pleasure to know.

“He was a real gentleman who was every inch a soldier,” Cossitt said. “He was a terrific soldier and his men had a terrific amount of respect for him because he was good to his troops.”

It wasn’t just the local veterans whose respect was commanded by Butler. Cossitt recalled an occasion late in the major’s life when he had to go to St. John’s to receive medical treatment.

“The fellas in there who were left from the First World War heard he was coming in and they all formed an honour guard for him,” said Cossitt. “They were all out in their pyjamas just to see the major.”


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Lang Re-enacts the 150th Anniversary of the “Invasion of Canada”

Post by Guest on Mon 27 Jun 2016, 18:11

Lang Re-enacts the 150th Anniversary of the “Invasion of Canada”.

June 27, 2016 5:29:03 EDT PM

Confederation was a near run thing. In 1866, the odds were stacked against the fragmented British North American colonies ever becoming a nation. After the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864, the idea of Confederation stalled. Opposition was strong and passionate. Quebec and Ontario were in favour. Nova Scotia voted for Confederation but the scheme was actively opposed by the prominent politician Joseph Howe. Newfoundland and PEI passed and an anti-confederation government took power in New Brunswick in 1865. A two year stalemate resulted until an unlikely force galvanized popular opinion in Confederation’s favour.

The American Civil War ended in April 1865. The northern United States resented Great Britain and Canada for having been sympathetic to the South. The annexation of Canada was openly discussed in the US. Enter the Fenians. As many as 60,000 Irish veterans gravitated to the Fenian Brotherhood, a political group determined to establish home rule for the Irish. They planned to invade British North America and trade it for Ireland’s freedom. The Fenians didn’t expect any interference from the US government or much of a fight from the Canadians either. Their marching song proclaimed “and we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do!” The Canadian government was well aware of the Fenians’ intentions. John A. Macdonald engaged agents to infiltrate the Fenian Brotherhood. The Canadian militia, however, was neither trained nor equipped to take on a determined army in the field.

On the morning of June1st, 1866, approximately 1,000 Fenians crossed the Niagara River and seized the Town of Fort Erie. Local residents awoke to gangs of armed men carrying a green and gold harp flag. The Fenians proclaimed they had “no issue with the people of these Provinces, and wish to have none but the most friendly relations.
Our weapons are for the oppressors of Ireland, our bows shall be directed only against the power of England; her privileges alone shall we invade, not yours.” On hearing the news, militia battalions from all over Canada West and East, including Peterborough’s 57th Battalion, were mobilized. The 2nd Battalion (Queen’s Own Rifles) from Toronto made their way across Lake Ontario to Welland by steamer and then by rail to the shore of Lake Erie near the Town of Ridgeway. There, they joined up with the 13th Battalion (Royal Hamilton Light Infantry) from Hamilton. They lacked food and campaign equipment and wore heavy wool uniforms in sweltering heat. Many had barely fired their weapons in training. The two militia units proceeded north from Ridgeway on the early morning of June 2nd, 1866. The Canadian troops planned to join up with a column of British troops and close on the Fenians at Fort Erie. Just outside Ridgeway, the Canadians encountered Fenian skirmishers. They succeeded in driving these back but, in fact, they were being lured into a trap. When the 850 Canadians encountered the Fenians main line their inexperience began to tell. Seeing a couple of Fenians on horseback, they mistakenly thought they were being attacked by cavalry. The Canadians formed a square, the traditional defensive tactic for infantry against cavalry charges. Unfortunately, the square formation only made the Canadians easier targets. They broke ranks and fled the field with the Fenians charging after them. The Fenians fell back on Fort Erie, skirmished with another small group of Canadian militia, withdrew to old Fort Erie and, from there, withdrew to the US on June 3rd.

Ridgeway was the last battle fought on Ontario soil and the first battle fought solely by Canadian troops in defense of our country. On Sunday, July 3, Lang Pioneer Village Museum will be staging a Fenian Raid Re-enactment as part of the Lang Celebrates Confederation festivities. It’s one of only two such re-enactments in the province. All are invited to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Fenian raids and the service of the Canadian Militia.


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