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10 children to war

Post by Guest on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 17:49

10 children to war: McCreary, Man., family believed to have sent more kids to war than any other

All 10 children in the Cantin family enlisted in the Armed Forces during the Second World War

By Riley Laychuk, CBC News Posted: Nov 09, 2016 5:00 AM CT Last Updated: Nov 09, 2016 3:16 PM CT

Albert Cantin's son, Richard, says his father 'would argue for anything to avoid putting more Canadian boys and girls into that situation for just about any reason.

The walls of the legion in McCreary, Man., like others across Canada, bear photos of the men and women who served our country and secured our freedom.

But take a closer look and you'll find one wood-framed Second World War memorial with 10 photos that isn't like the rest.

The nine men and one woman pictured all share the same last name.

It's believed the Cantins sent more family members than any other family in Canada to fight in the Second World War. The 10 were eight brothers and a sister. The ninth was a cousin the family adopted and considered a son. There are no records to verify that the family did, in fact, send the largest contingent, however those who have searched the records haven't identified any other family that sent that many people overseas during the war.

"It's pretty remarkable," said Richard Cantin, son of Albert, who at 92 is the only Cantin in the photo still alive. "It leaves you feeling pretty proud of everything all the kids did, and you know, in a lot of respects, everything the parents did to pull that kind of a family together."

This house in McCreary, Man., was in the Cantin family from 1918-2000.

"It's just a huge source of pride for me," he said from his home in Langley, B.C.

All 10 children head to war

Julienne and Amedee Cantin's sons Lionel, Clement, Maurice, Joseph and Albert all joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Sons Wilfred, Amidee and Noel enlisted with the Fort Garry Horse regiment of the Canadian Armoured Corps. Clement Nivon was adopted by Julienne and Amedee after his mother — Julienne's sister — and father died. He also enlisted with the same Corps as Wilfred, Amidee and Noel. Their daughter Marie served overseas as a nurse.

Wilfred's wife Evelyne also joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps and served overseas following his death in 1940.

Julienne was named a Silver Cross mother in 1960. Julienne and Amedee didn't encourage their kids to join the Armed Forces, but didn't discourage them, either, according to a short Veterans Affairs Canada history of the family.

A photo of the ten Cantin family members that served in the second world war hangs in McCreary's Legion.

Three of the Cantin brothers didn't make it home.

Larry McLaughlan, president of Legion Branch No. 173 in McCreary, a village almost 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, said it was not uncommon for families in the area to send large contingents to war. Other families sent six or seven children to war, mainly because of a training base located close to the village, he said.

Plaque installed, road named in honour

McLaughlan, who is also the reeve of the municipality of McCreary, has known the Cantin family his entire life and was part of a community group that pushed to have a plaque placed outside the house owned by the Cantin family from 1918 until 2000.

Julienne Cantin was named a Silver Cross Mother in 1960.

The plaque was installed earlier this year and Railway Avenue, which runs along the west side of the legion, was renamed Cantin Way this past summer.

This plaque was installed outside the home in McCreary that was in the Cantin family between 1918 and 2000.

Ernest Jackson has been researching the family's history for several years. He was a young boy when the Cantins and others left the community to join the Armed Forces during the Second World War.

Most of the Cantins stayed in the area after returning from the war, Jackson said. They farmed and owned a number of businesses in and around town.

Noel Cantin's wife, Bernice, still lives in McCreary.

"Most of them were centred in the McCreary area [post-war]," Jackson said. "Two of them started businesses."

'It shook him a lot'

Richard Cantin said his father, Albert, was last in McCreary for Remembrance Day in 2014 and now attends services on the West Coast.

"He's always been really big on Remembrance Day," he said. "It means a lot to him."

"The war was pretty ... it's war," Cantin added. "It shook him a lot. He doesn't talk about it a lot. He's not one of those guys that rattles stories off."

Cantin said his father still proudly displays the family's medals and other wartime items in his den. The son plans to visit the McCreary area next summer, however his father is too old to travel and likely won't get out to his hometown again.

Jackson hopes the Cantins' story sparks other families to look into their own history.

The Municipality of McCreary installed signs for Cantin Way in the summer of 2016.

"We're running out of time for that particular phase of our history," he said. "First-hand commentary won't be available fairly soon."

However Albert Cantin hopes no family ever has to send loved ones to war again. He knows that's something his father wants.

"I think in a lot of respects he understands the need to go to war but only as a last resort," Richard Cantin said. "He just hates war and wishes there was no need for it and no killing."

"He would argue for anything to avoid putting more Canadian boys and girls into that situation for just about any reason."



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Port Hope and Cobourg veterans share military stories on eve of Remembrance Day

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 06:20

Port Hope and Cobourg veterans share military stories on eve of Remembrance Day

Wilmer Gagnon and Osborne King both took part in annual poppy campaign

Northumberland News
By Dominik Wisniewski

Now 10, 2016

PORT HOPE -- Wilmer (Will) Gagnon held his jacket with all his military medals as he shared some of his Second World War service stories from the time he served with the Canadian Forestry

NORTHUMBERLAND -- Holding photos of himself and fellow Canadian Forestry Corps members taken during the Second World War, Wilmer (Will) Gagnon looked back on his time with the military.

The Port Hope veteran sat down with Northumberland News as he prepared to take part in this year’s Legion poppy campaign, outlining his Scottish, French and Metis background and experiences during the war.

“I was born about 30 miles north of Maniwaki, Quebec in 1924,” he said, pointing out that he was born on lands the government flooded, on which only four families later decided to stay. “My grandmother was Aboriginal and married my grandfather, so that’s why I am Scottish and French.”

With his jacket and medals in hand, including the Canadian Aboriginal War Veterans Medal he was presented, Gagnon said he always wanted to go into the artillery and decided to volunteer for service when he was 16.

“I only trained for two days in Ottawa when I joined up ... and was sent home for a couple of days to take my civilian clothes back,” he added. “When I came back I started training quite a bit more, and my first assignment was to do a court martial translation from French into English.”

Although he had wanted to serve with an artillery unit -- but was told all of them had filled up -- Gagnon said he was told he could transfer if he joined the Canadian Forestry Corps and went overseas.

“Well once I got over there I couldn’t transfer,” he said, adding that the First World War had created a wood supply crisis for the United Kingdom and the allied troops, resulting in a dire need for the services of his new Corps.

Besides the civilian requirements, Gagnon said the military needed the equivalent of five trees for every soldier to build living quarters and shipping crates, to name a few needs.

“In May 1940 the government reformed the Canadian Forestry Corps, which had 20 companies initially, but 10 more were added as the war progressed,” he said.

But unlike during the First World War, Gagnon said members of the new Corps were considered combat troops and received combat training.

On June 15, 1941, Gagnon sailed with a convoy from Halifax to Scotland, arriving 16 days later at 4 a.m.

“We had a total of 49 ships with all the escorts,” he said, adding that just about every unit was represented on board. “Our convoy sunk two German submarines on the way over, and when we got into the harbour that same night, we had an air raid, but the Germans didn’t strike any ships.”

Stationed primarily in the Scottish highlands, Gagnon said that it took on average just 97 days from the date of their arrival for a company to start logging operations.

“I didn’t have to wait that long since the minute I got there the first ones over had already built the area,” Gagnon said.

Asked about his living quarters, he pointed to a photo of a small windowless building which he called home.

“It didn’t matter where you went in England or Scotland, everything was blacked out so the enemy couldn’t see anything,” he said.

After being put on the draft for the landing at Juno Beach, Gagnon said he had his battle dress ready to go when his name was called and he was given different orders.

After changing into his work clothes he was asked to report to the transport unit, where he was assigned duties as driver mechanic.

“They re-qualified me so I got a stripe and trades pay,” he said, noting this meant an extra 20 cents pay for the new title and another 25 cents in trades pay. “I was only making $30 a month and I was sending half home until I got married.”

After the war, he visited Juno Beach.

“I visited that cemetery and got all the facts,” he said, adding “I couldn’t go when I wanted to go.”

Having completed his poppy campaign duties last week, Cobourg veteran Ossie (Osborne) King said he will be at the cenotaph in Cobourg on Remembrance Day -- but this year will be a little different for him.

On Nov. 11 he will lay a wreath in memory of Cor­po­ral James (Fergie) Ferguson of the 1st Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment.

“For two years I have laid a wreath at the cenotaph for Legion Village and take part in the parade for veterans, so it’s an honour to do it for him,” King said.

Cpl. Ferguson of Garrison Petawawa died suddenly Aug. 3, 2014 at the age of 28 and had been a mem­ber of The Royal Cana­dian Reg­i­ment since 2008. According to the RCR, his reg­i­men­tal employ­ment has been with 1 RCR, where he served with Charles Com­pany, 9A Tac, and most recently with the Bat­tal­ion Oper­a­tions Sec­tion.

Cpl. Fer­gu­son deployed oper­a­tionally to Kan­da­har Province, Afghanistan with the 1 RCR Bat­tle Group, Task Force 1 – 10, from May to Novem­ber 2010 and was pro­moted to the rank of cor­po­ral in 2011.

Of the tragic loss of Cpl. Fer­gu­son, the com­mand­ing offi­cer of 1 RCR, Lieutenant-Colonel Jason C. Guiney, had these words for mem­bers of the Reg­i­ment.

“The Battalion’s thoughts and prayers are with Cpl. Ferguson’s fam­ily and friends,” he said at the time, calling him a well-respected mem­ber of First Bat­tal­ion. “We will hon­our his mem­ory by sol­dier­ing on. We will grieve his loss, remem­ber him, sup­port his friends and fam­ily and carry on with our mission.”

Cpl. Ferguson’s parents both call Cobourg home.

Asked about his 27 years in the army, King told Northumberland News that he too was 16 when he heard about the war and decided to become a cadet.

“I was an ordinance man,” he said, adding he and a group of friends heard about Hitler as students. “We said, ‘We have to fight those guys,‘ and ‘We have to learn to fight,’ so we all went down and joined the cadets.”

When war was declared King said he was with the cadets in Nova Scotia working to restoring forts.

“The cadets got the forts ready and when 1939 came along we went into the regular army,” he said. “I was 19 at the time.”

Born and raised in Miramichi (then Chatham), New Brunswick, King, 95, now lives at Legion Village in Cobourg and followed in the footsteps of his father, Walter King, who served in the First World War.

His brother Joe King served in the air force.

“We are a military family,” he said, looking back on his arrival in England after D-Day, June 6, 1944, the day of the Normandy landings when the Western allied countries worked to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation.

After that he spent six more months training in Scotland before joining the effort in Europe -- going to France, Belgium and finally to Nijmegen, Holland, which Nazi forces occupied in 1940.

When the Germans finally surrendered on May 4, 1945, the war was over but King’s commitment to the army was not.

He volunteered to continue fighting when he heard about the fight in the Pacific with the Japanese, but while still in training, the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, resulting in him being sent back home, where he started working in a grocery store in New Brunswick.

When the Korean war broke out, he decided to sign up again, joining the army again in 1950 in Montreal where he worked as a clerk looking after army equipment at a warehouse, before being deployed to the Middle East in 1959, serving in Egypt on a peacekeeping mission.


• Cobourg -- The Remembrance Day parade will start formation outside Branch 133 (136 Orr St.) at 10 a.m. and march at 10:15 a.m. to the cenotaph for the Remembrance Day service. In the evening there will be the Remembrance dinner in the upstairs hall of the Legion.

• Port Hope -- Parade departs at 10:15 a.m. from Lent Lane to Walton and Queen streets, arriving 10:30 a.m. for the service at the Memorial Park cenotaph.

• Canton -- A 2 p.m. service will be held at the Canton cenotaph, located at 5325 County Road 10.

• Grafton -- Join members of the Grafton Legion at the Grafton cenotaph, located in front of the Grafton Arena, for ceremony starting at 10:45 a.m. Everyone is invited to the Grafton Legion afterwards for Timbits and sandwiches provided by the L.A.

• Bewdley -- Legion members to parade at 10:45 a.m. with service at 11 a.m. at the cenotaph, located near the Legion hall at 5063 Lake St.

• Hamilton Township -- Parade lines up at 10:45 a.m. from Cold Springs Hall, with service at 11 a.m. at the Cold Springs cenotaph.

With files from Karen Longwell



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100-year-old veteran recalls life overseas

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 06:43

'I had a duty for Canada'; 100-year-old veteran recalls life overseas


Published on: November 10, 2016 | Last Updated: November 10, 2016 5:00 AM CST

Peter Kostiuk is the oldest surviving Ukrainian WWII veteran in Saskatchewan. Here he is in his Saskatoon home on November 6, 2016.

Peter Kostiuk was on a barge in the waters off Alaska when the ramp went down and he stormed the beach of one of the Aleutian Islands.

“They gave us something for nerves. We could go through fire, it didn’t matter,” he remembers.

But the Japanese soldiers they were looking for had cleared out the day before.

Kostiuk, the oldest surviving Ukrainian WWII veteran in Saskatchewan, doesn’t like to talk about the war much, but recounted a few highlights at the prompting of his proud son, Bob, in his room at St. Volodymyr Villa in Saskatoon.

Kostiuk grew up on a farm in Albertown, near Borden, with 10 siblings.

He was the only one drafted into the Saskatoon Light Infantry, in 1942, at the age of 25.

He left behind his fiancée, Doris, whom he would not see again for more than four years. He didn’t want to tie the knot in case he left her a widow.

Peter Kostiuk is the oldest surviving Ukrainian Second World War veteran in Saskatchewan.

Canada,” he said.

He trained in Regina and British Columbia as a rifleman, signalman and sniper before his deployment to the Aleutians. After that, he was shipped to England for deployment to Belgium.

He remembers the “sad people,” and the smell of bodies after a battle, he said.

He didn’t see combat, instead spending his time training, and waiting for news about the war. By the time he was sent to Holland the war was over, but he spent a year there helping to keep the peace.

It was hard being away from Doris, but her letters kept his spirits up, he said.

“I felt more or less at home. I still feel it.”

He also had a surprise reunion in Utrecht with a Saskatchewan cousin who had survived a blast from a mine.

“We both smiled with tears and we were so happy we were still alive,” he said. “That’s the happiest thing that I remember in Holland.”

Coming home was a happy trip, landing in Halifax before arriving in Saskatoon, where people lined the streets to greet their returning soldiers.

His face lights up at that memory: “I’m home.”



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No one wanted to be the last soldier killed

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 06:49

No one wanted to be the last soldier killed. So why did Pte. George Price take a risk 10 minutes before armistice?


OTTAWA — George Lawrence Price was just one of the estimated 66,000 Canadians who died during or as a result of the First World War.

By many accounts, his service during what was hoped to be “the war to end war” was unremarkable, except that he is widely believed to have been the last Canadian — indeed the last Commonwealth soldier — killed before armistice took effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.

But it’s where Price was laid to rest that links the beginning of the deadly campaign to its bitter end and is perhaps the most poignant reminder of the futility of war, says Tim Cook, the Canadian War Museum’s First World War historian.

Official records indicate that Pte. Price took a sniper’s bullet in the chest at approximately 10:50 a.m. on the last day of battle while on house-to-house patrol in Ville-sur-Haine, Belgium, just outside Mons. The 25-year-old runner for A Company, 28th Canadian Infantry Battalion, died of his wounds a few minutes later, just two minutes before the fighting was to end. He was later buried at what is now Belgium’s St. Symphorien Military Cemetery.

Only 30 metres away, in the same cemetery, are the remains of Pte. John Parr, the first British Empire soldier to die in the war, who was killed on Aug. 21, 1914.

There’s something symbolic there … something about the futility of war

“There’s something symbolic there … there is also perhaps something about the futility of war,” said Cook.

“The first soldier killed and the retreat of the British armies and the mobilization of tens of millions of soldiers, titanic battles around the world, on the oceans, various continents, empires have fallen and all of the fighting gets us back to the start line.”

The museum recently acquired Price’s war medals, along with a memorial plaque, from the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Kentville, N.S., where they had been on display largely unnoticed by the rest of the country — and even by his family — for decades.

“I didn’t even know they existed until I’d seen (the medals at the legion),” said George Barkhouse, Price’s nephew, now 87 years old, of Kingsport, N.S.

Not much was said about his uncle when he was growing up, said Barkhouse, and there was little family involvement in commemorations of his death until a footbridge was built in Price’s honour in 1991 over the Canal du Centre in Ville-sur-Haine.

Price’s surviving wartime comrades marked the 50th anniversary of his death in 1968 by placing a plaque on a home near where he died, which was later enshrined in a brick and stone monument after the house was demolished.

There are also no official records indicating why Price had exposed himself to a sniper’s scope. On the last day of battle, commanders had been told to instruct their men to “go to ground” until the armistice was in place. Nobody wanted to be the last soldier to be killed, said Cook.

But for reasons that are still a mystery, Price — who was born in Falmouth, N.S., and was conscripted in October 1917 while working as a farm labourer in Saskatchewan — became that last casualty.

“Some say that, in fact, there was a young woman who waved at him, and he waved back,” said Cook.

“And then he rose from his position, perhaps to kiss her, perhaps to be the first liberator. We’re not sure.”

Of the hundreds of medal collections held by the museum, the Price medals hold a symbolic significance in that they mark the end of the First World War, said Eric Fernberg, a collections specialist at the museum.

But each set is important in helping Canadians to remember the sacrifices that were made that helped to shape Canada’s history, he said.

Things get lost in time,” said Fernberg.

“But the important thing in the end, (is that) things find a home.”

The Price medal set is to go on display in 2018 as part of an exhibition marking the Last Hundred Days campaign of the First World War.



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Canadians’ memory of First World War spotty as Vimy Ridge centenary approaches

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 12:25

Canadians’ memory of First World War spotty as Vimy Ridge centenary approaches

Zane Schwartz | November 10, 2016

A muddy and exhausted Canadian soldier walks back from the front line after the battle of Vimy Ridge.

When the First World War started in 1914, Canada’s population was only about eight million and Newfoundland was not a part of the country. More than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the war and more than 172,000 were wounded, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.

Yet, Canadians wildly overestimate the number of soldiers who died in the conflict, according to a new poll.

The Ipsos survey for the Vimy Foundation, questioned 5,521 people in Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and the United States on their First World War knowledge.

Jeremy Diamond, the Vimy Foundation’s executive director, said the poll shows Canadians see the Battle of Vimy Ridge as an important part of Canada’s history.

“Canadians are often said to not know about their own history but we’ve found that over 60 per cent of Canadians had heard of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and some areas were over 70 per cent,” he said.

Canadians scored highest in awareness of the Battle of Vimy Ridge at 61 per cent — not surprising considering the battle is often touted as a seminal moment in Canadian history.

The battle, which began on April 9, 1917, helped pave the way to an Allied victory. Only 17 per cent of French people knew of the battle, despite the fact it was fought in France.

Canadians also scored highest in attending war remembrance ceremonies. Twenty-five per cent said they attended a ceremony in the past 12 months. Britons came in second, with 18 per cent, while Germans were last at four per cent.

Perceptions of the number of soldiers killed varied dramatically from reality. Canada lost 61,000 soldiers and Newfoundland 1,305, but Canadians guessed there were 174,772 deaths, nearly triple the actual number.

The poll also asked other nations to estimate the number of Canadians killed. Interestingly, all other countries came closer to guessing the correct number: At 66,675, the United States was by far the closest.

While Canada, the United States, Belgium and Britain overestimated their number of soldiers who died, France and Germany significantly underestimated their numbers. Germans were off by about 700,000 — they guessed there were 1,149,436 German soldiers killed, when 1,900,876 soldiers died. The French thought 915,047 soldiers died. In fact 1,397,800 died.

Twenty-nine per cent of Canadians say they are descended from someone who served in the First World War, about the same as Belgium’s 30 per cent and the United States’ 31 per cent. The U.K. scored significantly higher than other countries, with fully 46 per cent of people saying they have an ancestor who was a veteran.



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Remembrance Day remembered in veterans’ own words

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 15:39

Remembrance Day remembered in veterans’ own words

A collection of quotes from veterans who fought on battlefields around the world

Mike Howell / Vancouver Courier
NOVEMBER 10, 2016 10:24 AM

Veterans Roy Mah and Daniel Lee photographed at Chinatown Memorial Square in November 2003. Both Canadian-born men, who served in the Canadian Forces before being granted citizenship, have since died.

 The skirling of bagpipes always gets me on Remembrance Day.

That sound, that drone, that moment when the pipers come together in a chorus of musical precision — it really does, as the cliche goes, send a shiver up my spine.

It momentarily interrupts my breathing, too.

Mostly, it focuses the mind: So much loss, so much sacrifice and right there in front of us are the men and women who deserve our respect and attention on a day for remembering.

You've seen them, standing and sitting in the rain, dressed in blazers, others in uniforms, all heaving with medals. In another time, they were on battlefields in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and, most recently, in Afghanistan.

I realized this year, after more than two decades in journalism, that I've written many stories about Canadian veterans. It’s been a privilege, almost a selfish history lesson, to listen to what life was like for a soldier during wartime and what it was like for that same soldier to return home.

So, in this space today, I want to remind you of what they said. I've gone through a box of yellowed newspapers I keep in my garage and found some of their words.

• Walter Beck. He was 95 when I interviewed him in 1998. He served in the First World War and Second World War. He was a member of the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia), which fought in the Battle of Amiens in France. He buried many of the wounded from that battle.

"Gruesome, just gruesome. The funerals were the sentimental part of war. The music, the shooting of rifles, it had an impact. But we had to give the fellas a proper military sendoff."

• Orme Payne. He was 80 when I interviewed him in 2002. He served in the Second World War as a member of the Canadian Army's 17th Field Regiment. He and good friend Gordy Bannerman fought in Italy and later joined the Canadian force that liberated Holland.

"I never thought about it at the time, but after the war I did: How the hell do you take a bunch of guys off of farms or out of offices or wherever, and get them in to such a shape that they go and kill somebody else, and then when that's done, you put them back where they came from and everything is supposed to be all right? Good God, that wasn't right."

• Daniel Lee. He was 82 when I interviewed him in 2003. He and his buddy, Roy Mah, were among those Chinese young men who served for Canada during the Second World War, even though they were not considered Canadian citizens. Lee spoke to me about sending a letter to friend Norman Gillis during wartime.

“They sent it back to me, and right on the front of it some Air Force person wrote ‘killed.’ That was it, no explanation, just ‘killed.’ I felt rotten about that for a long time.”

• Ted Gregoire. He was 85 when I interviewed him in 2004. He was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. He recalled the moment he jumped from a landing craft into icy waters during the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.

Ted Gregoire was among the Canadian soldiers involved in the D-Day Invasion.

Tom Stewart, pictured here in his Canadian Forces uniform. He participated in the D-Day Invasion June 6, 1944.

“It was like dumping a sheep in the water. Don’t ask me how I didn’t get hit, or how many got hit, but I remember jumping over bodies between the landing craft and the beach. I often think how they missed me on the beach that day. It’s something I’ll never know.”

• Tom Stewart. He was 79 when I interviewed him in 2004. He was 19 when he hit the beach during the D-Day invasion. He told a story about reaching an orchard in France where the North Nova Scotia Highlanders regiment had taken heavy casualties.

“You have to appreciate that these fellas had come over from Canada and lived together for two years before D-Day, and in three or four hours, the unit was literally destroyed. The C.O. [commanding officer] never got over it and had to be replaced. I don’t know how many men they lost, but I can tell you we weren’t very crowded in that orchard.”

• Jeff Tait. I never got to interview him because he died at 27 on Jan. 10, 1992 in a training mission in Cold Lake, Alta. He was a passenger in a CF-5 jet. One year earlier, Tait was flying bombing and escort missions in the Persian Gulf War, one of the first Canadian pilots to enter into battle since the Korean War. His brother Brian spoke to me in 1998.

“It was tough. I had all the confidence in the world in him when he went to the Gulf. To have him die after the war, during peace time, was a shock. At this time of the year, one thing a lot of people forget about is the people who died during peace time, and to me that’s no less significant than those who died in battle.”

• John Croucher. He was 33 when I interviewed him in 2006. He was a member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and was seriously injured when the LAV 3 military vehicle he was in hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

Capt. John Croucher was travelling in an armoured vehicle in Afghanistan when it ran over an improvised explosive device. Photo Dan Toulgoet
“The most difficult thing is the friends I’ve lost. And secondly, I’ve always had a fear of burning, and being on fire hasn’t removed that fear. Being on fire was very traumatic.”

Capt. Jeff Tait, a Persian Gulf War veteran, died in a training mission in Cold Lake, Alta.

Capt. John Croucher was travelling in an armoured vehicle in Afghanistan when it ran over an improvised explosive device.

“The most difficult thing is the friends I’ve lost. And secondly, I’ve always had a fear of burning, and being on fire hasn’t removed that fear. Being on fire was very traumatic.”

• Kai Hesser. He was 30 when I interviewed him in 2006. He was a communications specialist from 741 Communications Squadron out of Victoria. He survived a bomb blast while riding in a LAV 3 vehicle. Two soldiers were seriously wounded. Hesser broke his left ankle, right knee, hip, suffered ligament damage and developed a blood clot.

“It was pretty horrific. But at the same time, when you walk through the mental process in your head of what just happened, you’re actually pretty calm about it and everybody was.”

• Mike Pehlivanian. I interviewed him via email in November 2013 from a centre for people suffering from mental illness and addictions. He was a member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry when a roadside bomb exploded under his armoured vehicle in Afghanistan in 2008. The blast left Pehlivanian with a serious brain injury.

“I want to feel healthy and I am working on it each day. I have the scars that forever remind me of my suicidal path. I have memories of pride, memories of death and memories of how it was before my injuries. It’s hard on me. Almost every day, I break down in tears.”

See you at the cenotaph.

Mike Pehlivanian suffered a serious brain injury after surviving a bomb blast in Afghanistan.



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Take time to remember

Post by Guest on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 18:19

Take time to remember

By Geoffrey Johnston
Thursday, November 10, 2016 4:34:45 EST PM

In our fast-paced, technologically driven age, we have a world of knowledge available to us in our smartphones, tablets and computers. And yet many of us know little of Canada's proud military history and the sacrifices made by those Canadians in uniform who defended freedom and democracy.

Remembrance Day is a time to remember and honour those sacrifices and to learn about the military campaigns that helped to shape Canada and sometimes even the world. Of course, it is impossible to do justice to the accomplishments of the Canadian military in a few paragraphs, but we can at least acknowledge some of the pivotal moments in our history.

First World War and the Battle at Vimy Ridge

"There is no question that Vimy Ridge was an unmitigated Canadian military success," University of Calgary military historian Prof. David J. Bercuson said in a telephone interview. "It was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together to achieve an objective.

"It wasn't a war-winning battle," continued Bercuson, who leads the university's Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies. "We didn't change the course of the First World War by winning the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I think we more proved that we were becoming a capable fighting force as a result of the Battle of Vimy Ridge."

According to the Veterans Affairs Canada's website, 100,000 Canadians fought in the battle. There were approximately 11,000 Canadian casualties, of which nearly 3,600 were fatal.

"By the end of the First World War, Canada, a country of less than eight million citizens, would have more than 650,000 servicemen," notes the website. "The conflict took a huge toll with more than 66,000 Canadians losing their lives and 170,000 being wounded."

Canada was recognized by the United Kingdom "as being a major contributor" to the U.K.'s forces in Europe and was permitted to sign the Treaty of Versailles at the conclusion of the First World War, stated Bercuson. In addition, Canada's contribution to the war effort spurred London to enter into talks with Ottawa, which "eventually led to complete independent Dominion status for Canada in 1931."

Second World War and the Italian campaign

"Our importance to the British and the Americans in helping to win that war, led to their considering us a considerably important nation in the post-war period," Bercuson said of Canada's role in the Second World War. For example, Canada was included in the "very earliest discussions" that gave rise to the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

Canadians distinguished themselves during the Italian operations, their first sustained ground campaign of the Second World War. In the summer of 1943, Canadian forces took part in the Allied capture of Sicily, before moving on to the Italian mainland.

"The Italian campaign was a very difficult campaign," said Bercuson, noting that the terrain was hilly and mountainous with many river valleys. Given the easily defendable terrain, the Germans "fought a defensive battle from the very beginning." In December 1943, after intense house-to-house combat, the Canadians captured Ortona, a key Adriatic port.

The Germans blew up bridges and tunnels and culverts, and dug in around those positions. And that made taking those positions "very difficult," Bercuson said. "So every time the Canadians come to another river, they've got to fan out; they've got to bridge the river; they've got to cross under enemy fire." As a result, Canadian forces "took a lot of casualties in the Italian campaign." More than 26,000 Canadians were wounded and nearly 6,000 died.

Historians argue about the importance of the Italian campaign. One thing is for certain, said Bercuson, the Canadian offensive "drew off a number of German divisions that would've fought on the eastern front or faced us in France when we invaded in June of 1944."

Liberation of the Netherlands

Canada played a big role in the liberation of the Netherlands, sacrificing more than 7,600 Canadian soldiers in combat, including the Battle of the Scheldt and house-to-house fighting. "I think the Scheldt estuary battle was probably the most important Canadian victory of the war," Bercuson declared.

"The Battle of the Scheldt was a military operation in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands that took place during the Second World War," states a Veterans Affairs Canada report, which is part of its online Remembrance Series. "On September 12, 1944, the First Canadian Army was given the task of clearing the Scheldt of German occupiers."

To put the importance of the Battle of the Scheldt in proper context, Bercuson compared it to the Vimy Ridge victory of the First World War. "It was far more important in comparison to Vimy Ridge, had a much greater impact on the outcome of the war in the west [of Europe] than did Vimy Ridge," he asserted.

The Scheldt estuary (tidal river) was the route to the strategic sea port of Antwerp, which was the second-largest port in northwest Europe at that time, explained Bercuson. After the D-Day Invasion in June 1944, the Allies advanced through Nazi-occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands. "Access to this port was essential to supply the Allied armies as they continued their push towards Germany to defeat Adolf Hitler's forces and free Western Europe from four years of Nazi occupation which had begun in April 1940," notes the Veterans Affairs Canada document.

The British captured the port of Antwerp in September 1944. However, said Bercuson, the Germans controlled areas along the Scheldt, giving them plenty of room to wage a defensive campaign.

"The Germans had mined the river, and they had fortified both sides of the river," Bercuson continued. "So it was impossible for the Allies to get supplies up the river into the port of Antwerp. The job was given to the Canadian Army to liberate the approaches to the port of Antwerp. And it was a long and very costly battle."

The fighting along the Scheldt finally concluded near the end of November 1944, just two weeks before the Germans launched their largest counteroffensive of the Second World War in Belgium, called the Battle of the Bulge. Because the port of Antwerp had been liberated and the Scheldt had been secured, "the Allies are able to pour reinforcements of troops and materiel into Antwerp to help beat the Germans back," Bercuson said.

Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was "one of the most important battles in the war," stated Bercuson of the Allies' struggle to keep shipping lanes open between Great Britain and North America. Were it not for the supplies and fuel shipped from Canada and the United States, the United Kingdom would likely not have survived.

In addition, Bercuson said, the Allies needed to ship millions of soldiers and thousands of tanks and trucks and aircraft across the Atlantic in preparation for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. "If the Germans were able to choke off the sea routes to the United Kingdom, it would have been very, very difficult for the Allies to win the war in the west," Bercuson said.

German U-boats or submarines mercilessly attacked merchant marine ships carrying supplies bound for the U.K., threatening to cut off the Brits lifeline to North America. "The Royal Canadian Navy played a significant role in keeping the sea lanes open by helping to escort convoys and by also helping to destroy U-boats," Bercuson said.

According to Veteran Affairs Canada, more than 1,600 Merchant Navy personnel from Canada and Newfoundland lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic. It is also important to remember the sacrifices of the brave men of both the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. "Most of the 2,000 RCN officers and men who died during the war were killed during the Battle of the Atlantic, as were 752 members of the RCAF," according to Veterans Affairs Canada.

Korea and Afghanistan

The Korean Conflict is often ignored by ordinary Canadians. "If the United Nations had not intervened with armed forces, including Canadians, to help South Korea fight off the invasion of North Korea, which occurred in June of 1950, if the North Koreans had conquered the Korean Peninsula, South Korea as we know it today wouldn't exist," Bercuson said.

After decades of development, South Korea has "become pretty well as free a society as anywhere on earth," he continued. "That never would have happened under Communist leadership."

Similarly, Canada tried to bring stability to Afghanistan. "I think people have to remember what our mission was in Kandahar Province," Bercuson said of Canada's role in the Afghan war launched after the jihadist strikes on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001. "Our primary mission was to take over from the United States under the auspices of NATO, to basically allow the Americans to shift more forces to Iraq."

Canada was largely successful in that mission. Bercuson pointed out that Canadian forces kept "most important parts of Kandahar Province free from the Taliban."

However, he acknowledged that we won't know for "a long time" how successful the Canadian and NATO mission has been in Afghanistan. After all, South Korea was a military dictatorship in the decades after the Korean Conflict, but it eventually evolved into a liberal democracy. "We can't really tell what the end result is going to be in Afghanistan at this stage of the game, because the war is still ongoing," Bercuson said.

Canadian contributions to the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean Conflict, and the Afghan campaign "weren't the largest by any means," Bercuson stated. "But I don't think that's important. The important thing is that those wars demanded that allied countries that share a common view of the world stepped up to the aggressor and said: 'You're not going to get away with this.'"

By fighting in those conflicts, said the history professor, Canada demonstrated that it was becoming a "mature and independent" nation. "As a mature and independent nation, as we are today, we have responsibilities that go beyond our own borders."

Does Bercuson have a message for Canadians about Remembrance Day?

"Yeah. Go to a ceremony."



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93-year-old WWII veteran still taps out Morse code

Post by Guest on Fri 11 Nov 2016, 06:42

93-year-old WWII veteran still taps out Morse code

Merle Taylor, 93, still practices Morse code in her basement outside Antigonish, N.S.

By Colleen Jones, CBC News Posted: Nov 11, 2016 6:36 AM AT Last Updated: Nov 11, 2016 6:38 AM AT

93-year-old Morse code expert taught wartime airmen

We might live in a world where knowing how to write code is gold, but for 93-year-old Merle Taylor there is only one code: Morse code.

Taylor learned Morse code at 20 when she signed up to help Canada and the war effort. Her war-time job was to teach it to the pilots through the British Commonwealth Air Training plan.

"There were 59 airbases built across Canada to accommodate the boys from England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. It was that group of boys that I taught Morse code to," Taylor said while sitting in her basement outside Antigonish — where she still taps out Morse code.

"It's a signal that will get through because of the sharpness where a voice couldn't. And the other thing is you could send a secret message."

Wanted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force

Taylor originally tried to sign up for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the spring of 1942. But the only job openings available were for cooks, office workers or drivers.

Merle Taylor, 93-year-old Morse code expert

She wasn't interested in any of that.

But in the fall of 1942, casualties were mounting.

"The wireless air gunners, well, ranks were getting thinned out, so they said well, 'We'll take the men who have the radio wireless training and we'll train them to be air gunners and we'll take women into Morse code and they can do the ground work.'"

She was also motivated by her Uncle Sandy Horne, a wireless air gunner killed in action Christmas Eve 1942.

Nov. 11 is the day we all pause to remember — but for Merle Taylor she remembers every day she heads to her basement, sits at her transmitter and starts tapping out Morse code, waiting for someone on the other side of the ocean to tap back.



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Restoring a memory of a soldier's short life

Post by Guest on Fri 11 Nov 2016, 18:45

Bob Hamilton's canoe: Restoring a memory of a soldier's short life

'The connections are eerie': WW I gunner's fate never confirmed, but his boat is back on his lake

By Havard Gould, CBC News Posted: Nov 11, 2016 5:00 AM ET

Bob Hamilton's canoe: Restoring a memory of a soldier's short life

Dana Fountain carefully slips an antique canoe into the water in Ontario's cottage country, the golden wood matching the colour of the last few maple leaves falling into the lake.
 Gunner Robert Hamilton went missing in August 1918 after being wounded and was later presumed dead, despite his family's desperate efforts to locate him. He was 19.

The canoe is more than a century old, but now it has a new life as a tribute to the soldier who used to enjoy it.

"This is where Bob paddled the canoe," Fountain said quietly. "Fishing from it. Swimming from it. Paddling out with his friends."

Bob Hamilton was just 17 when he enlisted in Canada's army and went to off to fight in the First World War.  

He didn't come back. Now his newly restored canoe has returned to the lake where the Hamilton family, before the war, had a cottage.

"The connections are eerie," Fountain said.

Bob Hamilton was a member of a prominent Canadian family. His mysterious disappearance in 1918 made headlines for years as his family searched for information about his fate.

Hamilton's mysterious disappearance in 1918 made headlines for years as his family searched for information about his fate.

Hamilton was wounded in August 1918 in France. A shell landed near his position and he sustained what was likely a severe head injury.

But he was alive — well behind the lines, being transferred between medical facilities — when he disappeared.

'Exhaustive inquiries have failed to discover any grounds which would justify the assumption that this soldier is alive.'

"Gunner Hamilton disappeared as though wafted on the wings of the wind," one newspaper reported.

After the war, the family wrote letters to officials, begging for information. They appealed to the public, hoping a soldier who returned would remember seeing or hearing something about one who did not.  
A newspaper clipping reports the conclusion of the official search for Hamilton.

Members of the Hamilton family even travelled to France in the 1920s to search for clues.

No trace of Bob Hamilton was found. He is one of about 11,000 Canadian soldiers declared missing in the First World War and presumed dead.

The canoe went on its own journey.

One of Bob's brothers took it to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where eventually it was passed to the Fountain family, close friends of the Hamiltons.

It was used for decades, surviving a fire and even being stolen. It was painted red in a hasty attempt to stop leaks before a long canoe trip.

Throughout, the Fountain family called it the "Bob Hamilton canoe."

"We knew the sorrow," said Bruce Fountain, Dana's father, who decided the deteriorating canoe had to be restored before it, too, was lost forever.

"I didn't know I was doing it for Bob," he said reflectively. "But I think we did."

The canoe moved again, this time to Toronto, where the painstaking job of stripping paint and replacing rotted ribs began. The job lasted 15 years and was completed by Dana Fountain.

Along the way, he became fascinated by Bob Hamilton and searched through military records, now available online. But he couldn't solve the mystery of the disappearance, his search leading to a sombre note written almost a century ago.

Copper nails show through the restored varnish of the Peterborough canoe.

"Exhaustive enquiries have failed to discover any evidence which would justify the assumption that this soldier is alive," read a note, written in what appears to be red ink.

Dana Fountain stands on a dock in Lake of Bays in Ontario's cottage country beside the canoe he and his family restored.

Dana Fountain stores the canoe at a cottage that is, by coincidence, on Lake of Bays, 230 kilometres north of Toronto, where the Hamilton family used to spend their summers.

"Here I find myself paddling his canoe, 100 years later on the lake he used to paddle before the war," Fountain said. He shakes his head.

The canoe attracts attention, and Fountain enjoys showing the classic craft. But he also makes sure people hear about the lost soldier who had it first.

"To have it be back on the water is really important," he said. "It's touching."

Fountain returns Hamilton's canoe to the lake he paddled on as a young man.



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Calgary veteran reflects on three tours in Afghanistan war

Post by Guest on Fri 11 Nov 2016, 18:53

Calgary veteran reflects on three tours in Afghanistan war

Calgary's Chris Hamilton said Canada’s mission, despite being viewed as a 'mismanaged debacle,' was worth it

Chris Hamilton, who served three tours in Afghanistan, is seen at his home in Calgary.

By: Elizabeth Cameron For Metro Published on Fri Nov 11 2016

Chris Hamilton’s first impression of Afghanistan was an early morning ramp ceremony, in which a soldier killed in combat is escorted to the plane which will take their body home.
Hamilton’s flight had arrived in the middle of the night. As he stood at attention on the tarmac, the sun began to rise, and he saw Afghanistan for the first time. Reality began to sink in.
“I had an idea of what was going to happen, but it was a steep learning curve,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton joined the Canadian Regular Forces in 2005, just as the Canadian military was starting its mission in Afghanistan.
His first deployment to Afghanistan, at age 23, was in March 2008. He was a trained combat engineer, one of the soldiers tasked with locating and clearing IED’s from the roads. That first tour lasted nearly seven months.
“When I joined I knew I would be deployed, but I didn’t exactly anticipate going to an active war zone right away,” he said.
“You can never be fully prepared for it.”
He returned to Afghanistan a year later for a second tour.
“That one was less eventful, but more stressful, because I was in a leadership role,” he said.
His third tour was in 2013, and lasted five months.
Now 29, with three tours under his belt, Hamilton felt it was time to retire from the military.
“I had decided while I was on tour that it was my last rotation in Afghanistan. I wanted to leave on a high note, before I started to hate it,” he said.
Hamilton defends Canada’s role in the Afghanistan conflict, and said he looks back on his experiences in a positive light.
“People talk to me like I was a victim of some sort of mismanaged debacle, but I understand why we were there and believe we were doing the right thing. I was just happy to be a part of it.”
He said there is quite a bit of distance between most Canadians and the military.
“The military is so far removed from most Canadians' realities. People are curious, they don’t know what really went on,” he said.
He described coming home from tours with a police escort through the streets of Edmonton, where people lined the streets to welcome the soldiers home.
What does he want Canadians to know?
“It was worth it.”



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‘You have to remember’; Veterans, ultimate war sacrifices honoured

Post by Guest on Sat 12 Nov 2016, 12:09

‘You have to remember’; Veterans, ultimate war sacrifices honoured

Silver Cross mother Carol Klukie lays a wreath during Friday morning’s Remembrance Day ceremony at Waverley Park. Her son, 23-year-old Josh Klukie, was killed in 2006 while serving in Afghanistan.
Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2016 6:00 am
By Matt Vis, CJ staff

It has been 10 years since Pte. Josh Klukie was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country.
But even though a decade of Remembrance Day ceremonies have taken place since, they haven’t gotten easier for Carol Klukie, his mother.
“It’s a tough one. Every year it’s the same,” she said.
“It’s like ripping a scab off a wound. I know it’s hard for a lot of veterans. I know some that were even in Afghanistan and they can’t attend the service. It’s a hard day but you have to remember.”
Klukie was joined by thousands of people at Waverley Park on a brisk Friday morning to remember and honour veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada.
The 23-year-old Hillcrest High School graduate was on foot patrol in the Panjwaaii area of Afghanistan, west of Kandahar, on Sept. 29, 2006 when he stepped on an explosive device.
He was one of three Thunder Bay soldiers killed during the Afghanistan conflict, along with 21-year-old reservist Anthony Boneca and 22-year-old Pte. Robert Costall, who all died in 2006.
Klukie laid the first wreath during the ceremony on behalf of Silver Cross mothers.
But she said the loss of any one soldier affects so many people.
“I know just personally it’s not just my own loss,” Klukie said.
“It’s a ripple effect into my friends, family and people I know. It’s not just contained within one family.”
That was something echoed by Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu.
“It’s a huge sacrifice on behalf of the person who goes to fight and defend our country and to promote our values around the world but it’s also a huge sacrifice of their families as well,” Hajdu said.
“It’s important for us to gather and know and recognize that contribution and teach our children about that contribution.”
Hajdu, the federal Status of Women minister, attended a Silver Cross dinner honouring mothers of fallen soldiers Thursday night and said it was an emotional event.
“As a mother myself, I have a huge degree of empathy knowing her loss was not a one-time event, but it’s something she lives with every single day,” Hajdu said.
“Not only is it the individual who has lost their life but it’s the family, where the person leaves a gaping hole. It can never be filled.”
Doneta Rasmussen, petty officer, second class, has 32 years of part-time service that started as a sea cadet followed by time with both the army and naval reserves.
While many associate Remembrance Day with the First and Second world wars, Rasmussen said it’s important to remember there are more recent, and present, conflicts in which Canadians are risking their lives.
“We still have to remember we have United Nations peacekeepers, people who are currently in the Middle East and of course the Afghan vets that were lost or come home with physical and mental injury,” Rasmussen said.
Klukie said she feels like soldiers of the current generation, like her son, are being remembered.
She added she is always of appreciative of the people who gather to honour and remember Canadian service men and women every Remembrance Day.
But Klukie said she hoped there will come a time when there are no new veterans.
“I’d like to see a lot less in the future,” Klukie said.
“As in none.”



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Saving Canada by a whisker

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

Saving Canada by a whisker

By Tom Villemaire

Sunday, November 27, 2016 7:49:07 EST PM

Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois

Canada survived the U.S. Civil War thanks in no small part to a man with possibly some of the most spectacular facial hair ever.

Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois was a Royal Engineer, sporting an extravagant display of sideburns and moustache. In September 1863, with the Civil War in full fury, he was tasked by the British army’s man in charge of fortifications and defence with assessing Canada and Bermuda.

The Civil War had turned the American Union army into a colossus of modern warfare.
The war had seen tested the use of telegraph, aerial observation, rifled cannon and handguns, submarines, iron-sided warships and more. America emerged from the war with a massive trained army — and a grudge against Great Britain over friction caused by trade disagreements.

Canada was right next door. The American government had seen Canada as an easy grab in 1812. What would stop it from thinking the same later in the 1860s?

Jervois had already spied on American readiness at Portland and Boston, and had determined that war between Great Britain’s commonwealth and the U.S. was likely. In fact, his report said that while it would make sense to reinforce and strengthen Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal, anything west of that was indefensible.

That meant Ontario.

At this point, Canadian politicians were busy working toward creating a Confederation and Great Britain was looking forward to the new country’s formation, because it would take a financial load off the mother country. Politicians in Britain knew that cutting apron strings would be a hard sell to Canadians if the threat of invasion from the U.S. was imminent. Jervois was sent back to study the situation a little more.

By February 1864, he produced a second study suggesting Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal all be fortified further, and British troops be stationed in the Quebec cities, and the territory west to Hamilton be protected with temporary fortifications and a small naval presence on Lake Ontario based out of Kingston. This would allow an ordered, strategic withdrawal, said Jervois.

Canada could then depend on “General Winter” to offer protection, slowing any American advance, allowing the Royal Navy to work its magic on the high seas.

This report was leaked in London, England early. Canadian co-premier John A. Macdonald was angry it would cause panic in Upper Canada over a lack of specifics on Great Britain’s commitment to Canada.

The Brits voted to send 50,000 pounds sterling to the colony to help pay for the defences of Quebec. The Canadian and British governments also agreed to implement much of the second report’s recommendations.

After the Civil War ended, it looked like Jervois’ suspicions were coming true. The next year Canada’s border was vexed by a series of attacks from Irish veterans of the war in what were called the Fenian raids.

The level of readiness of Canadian and British forces to handle these incursions was mostly on account of Jervois. He had meanwhile moved on to other work, on the other side of the world, becoming governor in Australia and New Zealand. His work in the area of Malaysia is considered key in the acquisition of the colony by Great Britain.

His work saved Canada, by a whisker you might say.



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Canadian memories of First World War’s forgotten Christmas truces

Post by Guest on Thu 22 Dec 2016, 19:49

Canadian memories of First World War’s forgotten Christmas truces

“We have fallen victim to war censorship,” says historian collecting soldiers’ letters from the trenches.

By PETER GOFFIN Staff Reporter
Thu., Dec. 22, 2016

It was Christmas morning near Ypres, and the men of the Toronto Regiment were waking up in their chilled, fetid trenches.

Swells of chlorine gas had floated across no man’s land a few days earlier. Shells and sharpshooters’ bullets before that.

But on this mild Christmas Day, there was only the sound of young voices singing “The Maple Leaf Forever” — in German accents.

The Christmas truce occupies a special place in First World War history.

Tales have been told for more than 100 years of battle-weary men clambering out of the trenches on Dec. 25, 1914, to exchange gifts, sing carols, even play soccer with their erstwhile enemies.

Popular history holds that, after that first chummy Christmas in the trenches, the two sides hunkered down for war, never again trading their rifles for peace on earth.

But letters from the Western Front, sent home by Canadian soldiers, are helping one historian tell the highly censored, largely forgotten story of Christmas truces throughout the war.

“To my great surprise, there was almost an avalanche of (letters) coming down on me,” said Thomas Weber, chair of history and international affairs at the University of Aberdeen.

“It seemed that everyone thought … it was an interesting curiosity but nothing more than that.”

One of those letters was written by the Toronto Regiment’s Capt. Stephen Hobdey, about the Ypres truce in 1915.

“The men of one of our battalions walked halfway across no man’s land and were met by two Germans with whom they shook hands, and exchanged buttons and addresses,” he wrote. “There was a great deal of cheering from both sides.”

Since 2010, Weber has been collecting old correspondence and family stories from around the globe, in an effort to publish a history of First World War truces — a topic that, until now, many experts had got wrong, he said.

“We have fallen victim to war censorship of the time,” said Weber, a German who works in Scotland but spends part of each year in his wife’s hometown of Toronto.

“If you want to make sure that the men of your country are willing to fight and risk their lives … you would want to make sure that you present the other side as a worthwhile and serious enemy to fight.”

Military authorities, trying to preserve the “us versus them” narrative, condemned and covered up Christmas truces, Weber said, but they weren’t able to censor every letter home.

Shortly after Christmas 1916, Toronto-born Pte. Ronald MacKinnon wrote to his sister from Vimy Ridge.

“We had a truce on Xmas Day, and our German friends were quite friendly,” wrote MacKinnon, who was killed in action at Vimy around April 9, 1917.

“They came over to see us and we traded bully (corned) beef for cigars. Xmas was ‘tray bon,’ which means very good.”

For Sgt. A.C. Livingston, who survived the war and settled in rural British Columbia, the Vimy truce mingled with more solemn memories.

“When Dad spoke of the war it always made his eyes fill, remembering all the young men who did not make it home,” said his daughter, Pat Widdifield.

There were some stories of tenderness and humour from that Christmas at Vimy Ridge, though.

“Silent Night” being sung over no man’s land by Canadians and Germans. The trading of unwanted Canadian rations for German tobacco.

“The Canadian troops figured they were coming out ahead on the (gift) exchange because the prime thing they used their cans and crates of bully beef for was to line the bottom of the trenches to keep them out of the ever-present mud,” said Widdifield.

Not all veterans were as forthcoming about the truces, said Weber.

“It was not a very good story, when you realize that maybe half your village didn’t come home, to say, ‘Well, I had a jolly old time with the Germans over Christmas,’” Weber said.

While doing research in Britain, Weber found one regiment’s official diaries from the front, describing friendly interactions with the Germans. But when those diaries were published as a book after the war, all mention of fraternization had been cut out.

During the war, officers were known to have sharpshooters or artillery open fire the moment soldiers began to get too friendly with the other side.

Still, the men in the trenches went out of their way to share goodwill at Christmas.

For Weber, these interactions are a source of insight not just into the history of war but the complexity of human conflict.

A willingness to fight for your country does not preclude the ability to see your enemy as a human being, or to share moments of warmth at Christmas, Weber said.

“Maybe it’s human nature, not just in the First World War but also today.”



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A Christmas card with special meaning

Post by Guest on Sat 24 Dec 2016, 06:29

A Christmas card with special meaning

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

Friday, December 23, 2016 5:51:29 EST PM

Ken Pifher marks Remembrance Day in 2012 at Sai Wan Cemetery in Hong Kong, the final resting place of nearly 300 Canadians killed defending the former British colony from Japanese invaders in 1941.

The Christmas card the late Ken Pifher received in 1943 is memorable for a lot of reasons.

Born in South Dumfries, Pifher was working in Paris when he joined the Dufferin-Haldimand Rifles. After a series of twists and turns, he later joined the Royal Rifles of Canada and was sent to defend Hong Kong, arriving in the British colony on Nov. 16, 1941.

Just a few weeks later, the Japanese army invaded and the battle of Hong Kong was underway, Pifher survived the fighting but on Christmas Day 1941, he and about 1,500 other Canadians became Japanese prisoners of war.

What followed was more than three years of cruelty, slave labour and malnutrition - a daily diet of worm-infested rice.

"Couldn't stand the sight of them but I did eat them," Pifher said of the worms in an August 2005 interview with The Expositor. "I'd get the rice and mix it all up so I couldn't see what I was eating."

When Pifher, who was five-foot-seven, entered the POW camp he weighed 145 pounds. His weight dropped to about 95 pounds.

"It was horrific," Pifher said in that 2005 interview. "You didn't know what to expect. You never knew what was going to happen next.

"We talked to our buddies. We could sound off at each other and that was a relief. "

Pifher recalled seeing Chinese PoWs, hands tied behind their backs, kneeling near the camp's entrance. They were stabbed and killed with a bayonet and their bodies thrown into the water.

There was no medicine in the camp. And Pifher recalled how prisoners dug their own latrines by hand.

He survived the brutality and, after a stint in Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, he returned to work in Paris. He later left to work at the hydro generating station near Queenston, Ont. He and his wife, Eleanor, lived in Grimsby, Ont., and became parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Pifher was one of three Canadian PoW camp survivors to attend a ceremony in Toyko to receive a formal apology from the Japanese government, acknowledging the brutal treatment of prisoners during the Second World War.

The Canadian delegation was led by Quebec Conservative MP Steven Blaney, then Minister of Veteran Affairs and now a candidate for the party's leadership.

"Mr. Pifher was a true Canadian hero, an inspiration," Blaney said in an interview with The Expositor. "He survived the terrible and inhumane conditions as a Japanese prisoner of war and upon his return dedicated himself to better the lives of veterans.

"I was proud to accompany Mr. Pifher in Japan to receive the apology of the government and to honour him with the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation."

On Nov. 11, 2012, Pifher accompanied then Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Hong Kong for a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Sai Wan Cemetery where Canadians who fought and died during the battle of Hong Kong are buried. Close to 2,000 Canadians arrived in Hong Kong in 1941 and 290 died defending the colony. A further 264 died in Japanese POW camps.

In Hong Kong, Pifher presented Harper with a memento. It was a Christmas card that Pifher received when he was a PoW in 1943 from William Lyon Mackenzie King, then Canada's PM.

The card, signed by King, reads: "All Canada joins in Warmest Christmas Greetings and good wishes to you."

It's remarkable that Pifher received the card and that it survived.

Harper subsequently donated the card to the Canadian War Museum and it is now part of the museum's collection.

Pifher, predeceased by his wife, died on April 25, 2015. He was 94.

For many people Dec. 25 is a day of family and friends.

This Christmas Day marks the 75th anniversary of the day Pifher and many other Canadians were taken prisoner and endured hellish conditions in service to their country.

So, spare a thought for Pifher and all of those whose sacrifices mean we can share good cheer at this time of year.



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