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Wartime letters in new book called Letters from Beauly tell diverse tales from Canadian Forestry Corps

Post by Guest on Mon 26 Dec 2016, 11:21

Wartime letters in new book called Letters from Beauly tell diverse tales from Canadian Forestry Corps

Published December 25, 2016 - 1:38pm
Last Updated December 26, 2016 - 6:07am

Melynda Jarratt’s new book Letters from Beauly: Pat Hennessey and the Canadian Forestry Corps in Scotland, 1940-1945

Coming across unexpected personal connections in a book is like bumping into an old friend one has not seen for a long time. In reading Melynda Jarratt’s Letters from Beauly: Pat Hennessey and the Canadian Forestry Corps in Scotland, 1940-1945, this happened to me twice.

The first instance related to my time as military attaché at the Canadian High Commission in London, England, from 1994-99. Annually during those years I was invited to several events in honour of Canadians who fought and died as part of our contribution to the war effort.

In 1995 I was invited to Beauly, a beautiful Scottish town north of Inverness, to participate in the unveiling of a new war memorial. Beauly had been headquarters for the Canadian Forestry Corps during the Second World War.

When the war ended, the Canadian foresters erected — appropriately enough — a huge wooden flagpole in the town square (quoted by Jarratt as the “most spacious in northern Scotland”) to commemorate their time there. Over the years, the wood deteriorated, becoming a safety concern, and the town wanted to replace it with a more permanent reminder.

The result was a striking stone fountain, dedicated to the memory of Canadian and other Allied soldiers who had served in Beauly during the war. With virtually the whole town watching, I made a small speech about the work of the Forestry Corps and laid a wreath on the new fountain before accepting the salute of the town’s aged veterans as they marched by.

Afterwards in the local branch of the Royal British Legion, in true Scottish fashion, we had a “wee dram” — from the largest bottle of whisky I’ve ever seen.

Jarratt’s new book — volume 23 in the popular New Brunswick Military Heritage Series — tells the story of many of the CFC’s activities in Scotland through the medium of the letters and experiences of Pat Hennessy, a 56-year-old logger from Bathurst, N.B. Despite his Grade 3 education, Hennessy was a prodigious writer and more than 300 of his letters sent home to his wife, other family members and friends remarkably survive.

Although he was 11 years over the upper age limit to enrol, Hennessey got in due to his experience as a logging camp cook, a qualification eagerly sought by the CFC. He must have been a good one, because he became cook for the officers’ mess.

Even in an age of steel tanks, aircraft and warships, wood remained an important military commodity during the war. Traditionally, British timber products had come from countries bordering the Baltic Sea, but the war and the German occupation of much of the region had stopped supplies from these sources.

Although Canada was an alternate, unlimited source for timber, because of the premium placed on wartime shipping this was not an option. The solution was in the vast forest plantations of the Scottish Highlands — private estates in the hands of Scottish nobility. Without exception, these landowners offered their forests to the war effort. Lord Lovat, owner of the Beauly estate, was among them.

Nearly 7,000 Canadian lumbermen joined the CFC, with 14 per cent from New Brunswick — a contribution disproportionate to the province’s population. Organized into 20 companies and located throughout northeastern Scotland, its headquarters and several of its companies were located near Beauly. Hennessey served in 15 Company, stationed just outside of the picturesque town.

Jarratt progresses through Hennessey’s experiences in Scotland, as well as visits to England and his ancestral roots in Ireland, in both chronological and thematic order. Along the way, we learn much about his extended family and friends and their various inter-relationships, either in Hennessy’s original words or Jarratt’s paraphrasing — plus the all-important work of the CFC. She also describes the effects of the war on those left behind.

My second connection to this book concerns Sgt. Fred Cogswell, 15 Company’s clerk and Hennessey’s friend, known as the “Poet of the Camp.” After the war, Cogswell earned several degrees in English literature and was a professor at the University of New Brunswick for 30 years, as well as one of Canada’s best-known and best-loved poets.

During my first year at UNB, he was my English Lit professor.

It is indeed a small world, and Jarratt’s intermingling of family, social and military history shows just how true that aphorism is.



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Second World War veteran fights for recognition for wartime trainers

Post by Guest on Mon 26 Dec 2016, 11:33

Second World War veteran fights for recognition for wartime trainers


Published on: December 26, 2016 | Last Updated: December 26, 2016 10:56 AM EST

Ray Newell, 94, was an RCAF pilot who served as a training instructor during the Second World War.

John Newell never got to fly a Spitfire in a dogfight with the Luftwaffe, but he put his life on the line nearly every day of his wartime service.

Newell, 94, was a flying instructor with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a massive training program that turned out more than 130,000 air crew for Allied forces during the Second World War.

It could be deadly work. Plane wrecks from the time are still found today, sometimes with the bodies of their crew inside. Newell remembers one trainee, a New Zealander, who lost control of his plane during a mock bombing attack near Shirley’s Bay. The young flier smashed into the frozen Ottawa River.

“The found his teeth in the instrument panel,” Newell says, still cringing more than 70 years later. “It was terrible.”

He’s campaigning to have the sacrifice of BCATP trainers recognized with a bar or a clasp, just as veterans of the Allied bombing effort were recognized in 2013.

“I’m not asking for a medal, just recognition. They could make a clasp for the war medal like they did for the guys in Bomber Command. They could put BCATP on it. At least people would know I didn’t spend all my time sitting in an office.

“We lost all kinds of students. All kind of instructors,” he said. “An air force person killed in Canada is just as dead as an air force person killed overseas.”

Some 50,000 Canadians flew in Bomber Command with the Royal Canadian Air Force and Britain’s Royal Air Force. About 10,000 of them would lose their lives.

But to get there, they had to be trained. Between 1940 and 1945, at more than 150 airfields across Canada, young men from around the world learned flying, navigation, gunnery, aircraft maintenance and other air force trades. U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt referred to Canada as the “aerodrome of democracy.”

Officially, 856 BCATP students died in training accidents, more than the number of Canadians killed in the defence of Hong Kong and nearly as many as died in the raid on Dieppe. National Defence historian Jean Martin argues the number of RCAF members who died in Canada is actually much higher — perhaps as many as 3,000 — since many died in non-flying accidents or in crashes after they had completed their flight training.

“It was an enormous effort,” said historian Jack Granatstein, former director of the Canadian War Museum. “Especially considering that the Canadian air force at the beginning of the war was 2,000 or 3,000 people and the airports didn’t exist. They went from a standing start to where there were airfields all across the country and there were people here from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa … all over the world.”

Flying Officer John Newell on the wing of his Fairchild Cornell trainer.

Newell grew up in Ottawa, a “plane crazy” kid who built rubber band-powered balsa wood models of his own design. On the rare occasions when an airplane was sighted over Ottawa, he would chase it as far as he could until it disappeared from view, dreaming of the day he’d be at the controls himself.

Newell was working at the British American Bank Note Company on Gladstone when he tried to enlist in the spring of 1942, but his boss convinced him to stay around long enough to train a replacement. He finally signed up that October and trained in Victoriaville and St. Jean in Quebec, before returning to Ottawa for bombing and dog-fighting training.

The trainees would fly their bright yellow single-engine de Havilland Harvards and Cornells over Shirley’s Bay to practise bombing, strafe fields of hay bales near Greely for ground attacks and fly mock dogfights over Val-des-Bois to learn air-to-air combat. Newell finished near the top of his class, but his dream to be a fighter pilot was dashed when he was told he’d be staying in Canada instead.

“I was more valuable to the air force as a trainer than I would be as a fighter pilot,” he said.

He spent the rest of the war teaching at Rockcliffe Air Station.

Winning formal recognition for BACTP trainers will be a tough sell.

“The bars that have been issued have been for action fatalities — Bomber Command, Dieppe, Hong Kong,” said Granatstein. “It would be tough to make the case for training, however important it was.”

Military awards and honours are issued by Veterans Affairs Canada. In an email, the department acknowledged the “very important contribution” the BCATP made to the war effort, but said the decision about what types of service is recognized with a decoration rests with the Chancellery of Honours, part of the Governor General’s office.

A spokeswoman from the Chancellery of Honours said there was no specific recognition for BCATP trainers, whose service is already marked by existing general service issued at the time. “It is fairly rare to have a specific recognition for one group in particular,” wrote Marie-Pierre Bélanger, a spokeswoman for Rideau Hall.

The Second World War ended before Newell got overseas. He was mulling an offer to become a civilian bush pilot in the North when his old employer at the bank note company convinced him to return. He stayed there until he retired and never piloted a plane again.



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Jean Portugal chronicled stories of Canadian veterans

Post by Guest on Mon 02 Jan 2017, 06:14

Jean Portugal chronicled stories of Canadian veterans

Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 6:40PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 6:40PM EST

Jean Portugal, who has died at the age of 95, spent years chronicling the accounts of Canadian veterans of the Second World War, and published their stories as We Were There, in seven volumes. Ms. Portugal, who worked for The Globe and Mail for many years, was named to the Order of Canada in recognition of her work.

“Jean Portugal has played a major role in enhancing our collective memory about the Second World War,” said part of the citation for her Order of Canada appointment in 2007. The books were published by the Royal Canadian Military Institute in 1998.

Her husband, Felix Portugal, said his wife travelled across Canada as well as making trips to Europe to talk to Canadian veterans.

“She travelled on her own as I was working. I remember her going to Normandy, the Netherlands and Belgium in June of 1994, for the 50th anniversary of D-Day,” Mr. Portugal said.

Jean Portugal said the inspiration for the seven-volume history came 10 years earlier, at the celebration of the 40th anniversary of D-Day, which she also attended in Normandy. She was outraged that Canada, one of the three countries that landed troops on the beaches on D-Day, was being ignored.

“They had all kinds of American units leading the parade, there were French, all kinds of British, Czechs, Poles, you name it,” she told the Toronto Star in 1998. “But there was no place for Canadians. The band of the Queen’s Own Rifles was so mad they forced their way in.”

She then set about interviewing about 750 Canadian war veterans. The seven volumes of her history series contain 350 illustrations and 1.2 million words on 3,500 pages.

“She said the generals, politicians and other big shots had had their say. It was time to hear from the ordinary soldier, sailor and airman,” said Ted Barris, a historian specializing in the Second World War and a professor of journalism at Centennial College.

The books followed six decades of work as a journalist and government communicator. Jean Stenton, as she was known before her marriage, worked in hard news during an era when most women in journalism were banished to the social and cooking pages.

“She wanted to be successful in a man’s world, and she did it,” Mr. Barris said.

Jean Elinor Stenton was born in Kingston on April 19, 1921. Her family moved to Peterborough, Ont., where her father, Gerald, worked with the freight division of the Canadian Pacific Railway. She and her sister went to Peterborough Collegiate Institute. Her mother, the former Edna Elizabeth Singleton, was a teacher.

Her first major job in journalism was with The Peterborough Examiner in 1942. The editor was the rather fearsome Robertson Davies, who went on to become one of the great Canadian novelists of the 20th century. Ms. Stenton was in charge of foreign news and military news, which was rather important in the middle of a war.

“Jean claimed that she got the job at the Examiner because editor Robertson Davies … was tired of training male reporters and having them leave to fight a war. Robertson Davies was her mentor,” wrote her friend Richard MacFarlane.

Mr. MacFarlane recalled that she told him: “The men reporters were too close to it; too many of the casualties were their close friends and former school chums.”

She was on the desk early in the morning of June 6, 1944, when Canadian, British and American troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in the D-Day invasion.

She wanted to put the headline the largest type she could, she told Mr. Barris. “As if it was the second coming of Christ,” were her words. But she was nervous about waking up the sometimes-cranky Mr. Davies. She did, without much hesitation, and the headline was approved.

Ms. Stenton stayed with the Examiner as foreign editor and reporter until 1956. She was looking for adventure and worked as a freelance correspondent in Mexico for a year. In 1958, she joined The Globe and Mail as a copy editor. She was soon given foreign-reporting assignments. In 1960, she worked in Asia, filing from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia. It was in Cambodia that she met her husband.

“She was working for The Globe and Mail in Cambodia, and I was her interpreter,” said Mr. Portugal, who was also a land surveyor working in Cambodia at the time. The couple married in 1962.

The newly wed Ms. Portugal left The Globe to stay with her husband in Phnom Penh. She took a contract job with the United States Information Agency. In 1964, there was a riot in the Cambodian capital and the American Embassy came under siege. She received a commendation for her cool leadership during the crisis.

The next year she returned to Canada and worked as a government information officer for Ontario’s Department of Municipal Affairs. In 1967, she returned to journalism and worked as copy desk editor-in-chief for the division of Maclean-Hunter that published business magazines. She stayed in the job until 1987, by which time she had begun her ambitious We Were There project.

Her interest in the Second World War, which started with her work at the Peterborough Examiner in 1942, continued throughout her career. Ms. Portugal became an honorary member of two Canadian regiments: the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. She was also heavily involved in the Royal Canadian Military Institute, where she was vice-chairman of the library committee.

On the 50th anniversary of D-Day she was presented with a commemorative medal by the deputy mayor of Bayeux, in nor-thern France, “On behalf of the people of Normandy for the love and affection you have shown.”

Ms. Portugal had written about the devastation of the city of Caen, where German troops held out after the D-Day invasion, and she was presented with the city of Caen’s Medal of Honour in 1984.

“This was presented as a recognition of her series of articles about the devastation and struggle to rebuild devastated Caen after the Second World War. Her articles formed the basis of rebuilding the city’s destroyed archives and the history of the Ancient University of Caen,” Mr. MacFarlane wrote.

In 1991, she was granted an honorary degree from King’s College, “In appreciation of her life service as a journalist and military author and her service to the Dominion of Canada.”

She also worked as a travel writer and won several awards for her work, including one from the French government tourist office.

Ms. Portugal died on Nov. 26 at home in Scarborough, Ont., following a stroke earlier in the month. She leaves her husband, Felix. The Royal Canadian Military Institute is planning a memorial service.



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How Untrained Canadian Conscripts Fought and Died in the Defense of Hong Kong

Post by Guest on Tue 17 Jan 2017, 06:17

How Untrained Canadian Conscripts Fought and Died in the Defense of Hong Kong

Kevin Lui / Hong Kong Jan 17, 2017

The 1941 Battle of Hong Kong saw Canadian troops enter World War II for the first time. Despite their lack of training, they put up a valiant defense

Hong Kong migrants may have become numerous in the suburbs of Vancouver, but there is a part of Hong Kong that is forever Canada.

To find it, you need to climb the lush uplands of Hong Kong Island’s eastern tip to Sai Wan War Cemetery. The remains of 283 Canadian servicemen are buried here, their role in the World War II defense of Hong Kong little understood, or even known, by the multitudes inhabiting the residential blocks and industrial buildings of the waterfront below.

At about this time 75 years ago — in January 1942 — 1,689 of their comrades who had survived the Battle of Hong Kong were being marched by victorious Japanese forces to the North Point prisoner of war camp, some 8 km from where the cemetery is located today. Another 264 Canadian soldiers were to die in Japanese captivity.
Nothing remains of the camp, and no memorial or plaque has been erected on the site, which is presently occupied by part of the King’s Road playground. That means that those commemorating the fallen Canadians in the 18-day Battle for Hong Kong focus their devotions almost exclusively at Sai Wan — the site of pilgrimage by surviving veterans and their families, as well as by Prime Ministers coming to pay respects, the most recent being Justin Trudeau, who visited last September as part of his trip to China.

The crowd was particularly numerous on Dec. 4, 2016 — virtually 75 years to the day that a ravaged Hong Kong capitulated to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941. “This is part of our Canadian heritage,” a woman told her young child as they entered the cemetery.

Hong Kong World War II veterans, front row, and attendees, including relatives of World War II veterans, attend the Canadian commemorative ceremony in Hong Kong’s Sai Wan War Cemetery on Dec. 4, 2016, honoring those who died during the Battle of Hong Kong and World War II

During the battle, a combination of troops from Britain, Canada, other parts of the British Empire, as well as local Hong Kong soldiers, fought tooth and nail to defend the colony from Japanese troops moving southward from the Chinese mainland, parts of which had already fallen in the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War.

“It was here, on Dec. 8, 1941, that Canadian troops experienced our country’s first battle in World War II,” Jeff Nankivell, the Canadian consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, said at the Dec. 4 gathering. “The ultimate sacrifices” made by Canadian troops, he added, “helped to build the unique and strong bond between Canada and Hong Kong.”

Among the over 14,000 Allied soldiers trying to fend off the invaders were two battalions from Canada, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, totaling 1,975 men. Many of them were, at that time, deemed unfit for combat because of their lack of training. Despite that and many other disadvantages, they still managed to put up a stiff resistance during the battle, and caused considerable Japanese casualties.

At least four surviving war veterans were present at the ceremony. One of them was Peter Choi, a Hongkonger who saw active combat during the battle. He said he’s attended every year’s commemoration ceremony since the war ended.

“There wasn’t much fear to speak of,” he recounted his wartime memories to reporters at the ceremony. “One either lives or dies in battle.”

Another Chinese-Canadian veteran at the ceremony, Tommy Wong, saw action not in Hong Kong, but in nearby Burma and India as the war raged on. Recruited as Japanese forces advanced through Southeast Asia, he became part of a clandestine British unit dropped into Burma to assist local resistance efforts in fallen areas.

“The chances of coming back [were] very slim,” he recalls.

Scouts from the First Hong Kong Canadian Scout Group place poppies on the graves of Canadian soldiers buried in Hong Kong’s Sai Wan War Cemetery on Dec. 4, 2016

‘It’s like their ANZAC Day’

Though few in Hong Kong speak today of the city’s Canadian defenders, the Battle of Hong Kong is far from forgotten in Canada. For one thing, Canada suffered hefty losses in Hong Kong. Almost 30% of the contingent did not live to return to Canada when peace came in 1945.

As Canadian historian Galen Perras explains to TIME via email, Hong Kong “was the sole Canadian army effort in the Pacific” for a considerable time during the war.

Canada’s emphasis also has to do with its own national identity, according to Kwong Chi-man, a Hong Kong historian focusing on East Asia and military history.

“It’s like their ANZAC Day in a sense,” he tells TIME, referring to Australia and New Zealand’s commemoration of their defeat in the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I. He adds that Canada’s misadventure was part of “the making of a Canadian identity separate from the British.”

In total, over 2,000 people from Allied nations died trying to protect an outpost that, according to Winston Churchill in January that year, had “not the slightest chance” of being retained if war with Japan broke out. Seen in this light, the Canadians, and other defenders, were doomed from the start and Churchill’s motives have been scrutinized ever since.

Some suggest that the deployment of the Canadians was meant as a gesture to inspire confidence in the Churchill’s allies that the U.K. was capable of meeting its imperial obligations and wouldn’t cede territory without a fight. Others believe the Canadians were there as a deterrent, to prevent the Japanese from striking. They add that a Japanese attack, were it to materialize, wasn’t expected till much later, allowing time for the untrained Canadians to be brought up to speed.

The view that Canadian soldiers were essentially tricked into their graves in Hong Kong was given prominence in the Canadian documentary Savage Christmas, part of the controversial 1992 series The Valour and the Horror, which examined the country’s World War II involvement.

“Obviously, in hindsight we know [the move] was wrong,” Tony Banham, a Hong Kong historian who has written extensively about the battle and its aftermath, tells TIME by email. But had forecasts of Japanese hesitation to invade Southeast Asia been right, “then the battle readiness of these battalions would not have been a major factor — they would have been there for show.”

Ottawa, it must be said, was a very willing partner in committing nearly 2,000 men to East Asia. In his November 1941 diary entries, the then Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote about the deployment thusly: “Defense against aggression anywhere [is] defense of any country enjoying freedom today,” and “for Canada to have troops in the Orient, fighting the battle of freedom, marks a new stage in our history.”

A pipes-and-drum band, comprising members of the Hong Kong Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, leads a procession past tombstones in Hong Kong’s Sai Wan War Cemetery on Dec. 4, 2016, during the Canadian commemorative ceremony honoring those who died during the Battle of Hong Kong and World War II

“Inactivity [of Canadian troops deployed overseas] had become a political problem in Canada” by 1941, remarks historian Perras, noting that, prior to Hong Kong, most Canadian servicemen had simply been on garrison duty.

Whatever reason for the Canadian deployment, one thing is certain: the ranks of veterans and survivors from the Battle and the war are growing thin. As the veteran Wong tells TIME after the ceremony at Sai Wan, it is important for him to be there on key anniversaries, to honor his compatriots and their sacrifice.

“We’re not getting any younger,” he says.

— With reporting by Helen Regan / Hong Kong



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Tale of a teenage soldier

Post by Guest on Sat 21 Jan 2017, 15:57

Tale of a teenage soldier

By Darcy Cheek,

Saturday, January 21, 2017 11:12:34 EST AM

Second World War veteran Donald Fowler, 91, wearing hs medal-adorned Metis buckskin jacket, holds a copy of Dan Black and John Boileau's second book Too Young Too Die: Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Second World War on Friday. Fowler was 14 when he signed up in 1940.

Donald Fowler is living proof times didn’t change much from the First to the Second World War, and Dan Black and John Boileau make sure readers know why.

Fowler is one of close to 100 teenagers featured in Boileau and Black’s second book on underage Canadian servicemen – Too Young To Die: Canada’s Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Second World War. The first book was Old Enough To Fight: Canada’s Boy Soldiers of the First World War.

Fowler, now 91, holds the distinction of being among the youngest of Canadians to join the armed forces, and merchant marine, not long after the start of the Second World War.

“There were two 14-year-olds, and I was one of them,” said Fowler from his Brockville home this week.

As many as 20,000 underage youth signed up for service in the First World War, and Black and Boileau estimate as many as 30,000 did the same for the Second World War.

In Fowler’s case, family history dating back generations had much to with his entry into the war, and the book attributes a visit by a soldier uncle for peaking his interest at a very young age.

He also has a history or forefathers who served while young.

“My family is a military family going back to my great-grandfather, Samuel Fowler,” said Fowler, “By the time he was 18 he got a medal from the government for chasing off the Fenians.”

Fowler was a young bugler with the Princess of Wales Own Regiment in Kingston before he signed up for the Second World War in 1940.

After several years in England and Scotland he arrived at one of the Canadian landing zones at Juno Beach with a group of reinforcements with the First Battalion of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders on June 12.

Black, a former Recorder and Times reporter from the 1980s and longtime editor of Legion magazine, knew Fowler from his time in Brockville. As soon as he and Boileau sat down to review possible candidates to feature in the book, Fowler’s service was soon evident.

“When we first began doing research for the book up in Ottawa Donn’s name was one of the first names I came across when I was going over the files at Library and Archives Canada,” said Black, noting he had a lengthy interview with Fowler in 2009.

The book weaves narrative from young servicemen like Fowler, follows their journeys from home to war, and explores the myriad of reasons they signed up so young.

“Most of them probably thought of it as their time, their opportunity to get over there and do what they could do to contribute to the war effort,” said Black.

Black said, without generalizing, many of the teenagers who signed up and survived did so without fear of the future.

“They had this attitude that they weren’t going to be the next guy. There were certainly a lot that feared death, feared that the next bullet could in fact be theirs, but I think a lot them went in with the attitude that, yeah, it’s not going to happen to me.”

Black says the content of the second book is more engaging, and somewhat three dimensional, because there was an opportunity get get first hand information from survivors or family members.

Fowler was posted in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany and served coincidentally in the war with his father, Herbert Fowler. He was not yet 20 when he came home in 1945.

“This was a nice opportunity with the second book to actually talk to veterans and sit down with them,” said Black from his Merrickville home.

“We’re sort of on the edge here with Second World War veterans and we’re losing them at an alarming rate.”

Fowler says both books are unique in the sense that they describe people and events that under ordinary circumstances should not have happened.

“The uniqueness of both books is that they are about people who were not qualified to be in a war,” said Fowler, adding he received more training than most because of affiliation with the Princess of Wales Own Regiment and he was able to attend the Connaught Range for weapons training.

“It’s classical book as far as I’m concerned.”

Among his many honours, Fowler was presented with the French Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France, has been to several D-Day ceremonies in Normandy and was one of 10 Metis veterans to attend the 2009 Remembrance Day memorial at the Vimy monument.

Black is a guest speaker at the Brockville Museum’s lecture series on February 28, where he will discuss primarily the first book as it has content pertaining to the battle of Vimy Ridge, which has a 100th anniversary this year.



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The Fenians and Canada

Post by Guest on Fri 24 Feb 2017, 16:01

150 Years:
The Fenians and Canada

The Battle of Ridgeway. An 1869 lithograph produced in Buffalo, NY depicting the charge of the Fenians, led by Col. O’Neill, against No. 5 Company, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, a Toronto military unit, near Niagra, Ontario, on June 2, 1866. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

By John Kernaghan, Contributor
February / March 2017

One hundred and fifty years ago, members of the Fenian Brotherhood sought to force Britain’s hand by creating disturbances along the Canadian border. The raids failed, but they led to an unexpected outcome in 1867.

OTTAWA, Ontario – It was civil warfare, with some almost comic sidelights, and it might have been lost in the mists of time but for a discovery in the attic of a Virginia home 13 years ago.

The 23 paintings discovered there depict one of the Fenian raids in which Irish American Civil War veterans crossed into Canada near Buffalo, New York and won two battles against British Canadian forces.

It was one of several raids between 1866 and 1871 aiming to hold portions of Canada as a bargaining chip to make the British leave Ireland.

Unwittingly, though, the modest invasions served to draw the diverse regions of British North America together and cement Canada’s confederation in 1867.

The watercolors depicting battles at Fort Erie and Ridgeway in Ontario are part of an exhibit at the Canadian War Museum in Canada’s capital. It is called The Fenians – Unintended Fathers of Confederation and is on display until September 4.

The Fenian name was coined by founder John O’Mahony, after the Fianna Eirionn, the ancient Irish warriors. As war goes, this was about as nice as it gets despite a handful of dead on both sides. The Irish Americans – led by Lieutenant-Colonel John O’Neill and mostly Union soldiers with a smattering of Confederate veterans – left the Canadian turf they occupied as they found it.

“They were disciplined soldiers who operated by the strict rules of war at the time,” says museum historian Dr. Peter MacLeod. “They behaved very well towards the civil population. They didn’t loot and they treated Canadian prisoners very well. They were there in an attempt to free Ireland from the British” and had no grudge with citizens.

History is fuzzy on who came up with the plan to capture Canada and exchange it for Ireland, “but the irony is that while they fail to free Ireland, what they do is help the confederation movement in Canada because it gets Canadians thinking about uniting for protection against attacks,” MacLeod says.

In a sense, then, the Fenians created Canada.

The Fenians also raided what is now New Brunswick and Quebec. Elections held following those threats strongly favored Confederation. A final raid in Manitoba in 1871 to occupy a customs house was in fact snuffed out with help from America authorities.

Says Stephen Quick, director general of the Canadian War Museum: “While the Fenian threat is now a distant memory, its unintentional contribution to our nation’s birth is worth remembering as we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year.”

The watercolors are by Alexander von Erichsen, a German-born artist who lived north of Toronto at the time of the Fenian Raids and later moved to Virginia. The Fort Erie Historical Museum, just across the border from Buffalo, acquired the paintings after they were discovered in Virginia in 1994.

The detailed illustrations and captions tell the story of the largest Fenian Raid on British North America, when 800 Irish Americans occupied Fort Erie on June 1, 1866, moving on to defeat about 900 Canadian militiamen in the rural community of Ridgeway later that day. The following day, they marched back to Fort Erie, where they defeated another Canadian force. But although the Fenians won these battles, they ultimately lost the war. Ireland remained a British possession, and British North Americans united to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Macleod said the Fenians mobilized in part because of their Irish blood, but also because following the Civil War jobs were scarce. And the mix of Union and Confederate veterans was a result of “their shared Irishness overcoming any lingering bitterness from the war.”

But the movement faded as the soldiers began to find jobs.

MacLeod noted a song the Fenians sung as they mobilized on Buffalo.

We’ve won many victories,

along with the boys in blue

We’re off to conquer Canada because there’s

nothing left to do.

Even if the Fenians had continued their raids, McLeod suggests there was little chance of success.

“They had defeated amateurs at Ridgeway and Fort Erie but now the British Army was on the march,” ready to send them back to the United States.

The Fenians had moral support in the U.S. but after the raids in Ontario many were rounded up, charged, though later released.

Some of von Erichsen’s watercolors show a bias against the Irish American cause. One painting of Fenians carousing in a New York tavern shows one man trying a drunken handstand on a barrel and in one scene, a Fenian officer seizes a rifle from a Canadian soldier, swearing the weapon will never shoot another Fenian. He smashes the rifle butt on a stone,  killing himself as it fired.

The 23 paintings, one showing Fenians caring for a wounded Canadian, found their way back to Canada from Newport News, Virginia after an aunt of Vivian Jewel, the last surviving relative of von Erichsen’s granddaughter, passed them on.

Vivian and husband Charles traveled to Canada and the Fort Erie area in 1990 and by chance met historian David Owen, author of The Year of the Fenians, who put them in touch with the Fort Erie Historical Museum.

The paintings return there in September for permanent display.

Back in Ottawa, there is more Irish history at the Bytown Museum, which sits at the foot of Parliament Hill, Canada’s seat of government, and just beside the Rideau Canal, dug mostly by the Irish and French Canadians in the 1820s and 1830s.

Between 2,000 and 6,000 men worked on the canal, which connected the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario, and it was dangerous work as men died due to malaria or poorly executed black-powder charges. Reports suggest about 1,000 died in the canal’s construction, but Grant Vogl of the Bytown Museum believes that figure is low.

He points out that history, until recently, has treated the Irish and French Canadians as simple laborers. But the discovery of documents shows many Irish did the skilled stonemasonry.

When the canal was completed, those Irish were out of work and there was an organized attempt to break the French Canadian lock on the logging industry.

It was a lawless time, and accounts, notes Vogl, indicate that brawling Bytown was one of the rowdiest outposts in Britain’s colonies. Fuelled by alcohol, fighting broke out up and down the Ottawa Valley, including the Ballygiblin Riots of 1824.

Despite all that, Ottawa was selected as Canada’s capital, and today, people who identify with their Irish roots compose about 20 per cent of the region’s 1.1 million population.



John O’Mahony, the man who ordered the Fenian raids, was born into a wealthy family in1815 near Mitchelstown, County Cork. After his part in the failed Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 he fled to the United States where he founded the American branch of the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish nationalist secret society active in Britain and the United States during the mid-19th century.

O’Mahony attended Trinity College and became a respected Irish scholar and linguist, though he did not graduate. By 1853 when he arrived in New York he’d become a prominent leader of Irish resistance to British rule. He settled in New York, where he helped organize the Emmet Monument Association, a predecessor to the Fenian movement.

In 1857, O’Mahony formed an American support organization for the parent organization under his own leadership. He named it the Fenian Brotherhood, inspired by the Fianna, legendary warriors in ancient Ireland. O’Mahony had recounted their battles in his own translation of a 17th-century Gaelic history of Ireland. By 1865 the Fenian Brotherhood had grown large and prosperous, and it was able to send both arms and money to Ireland.

O’Mahony reluctantly backed the Fenian decision of 1865 to make a series of military raids on Canada, part of a scheme to take Canada hostage for the cause of Irish freedom. His popularity plummeted after a failed attack against Campobello Island in New Brunswick. There is no evidence he participated in that raid or the successful mission in Ontario. He resigned but returned in 1872 to resume leadership.

O’Mahony died destitute in New York and his body was returned to Dublin. It lay in state in the Mechanics’ Institute after the archbishop of Dublin, an anti-Fenian, refused it permit it in the procathedral. O’Mahony’s funeral procession to Glasnevin Cemetery on March 4, 1877, was reported to have been attended by more than 70,000 nationalists.



Colonel John O’Neill, who took last-minute command and won battles over a Canadian militia in Ontario, was born in Drumgallon, Clontibrit County Monaghan and emigrated to New Jersey in 1848  where he worked in a variety of publishing jobs.

As an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry in the Civil War, he was remembered as a daring fighting officer, but bristled he had not received promotion, which led to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as Captain. He left the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict.

O’Neill successfully routed the opposition at Ridgeway, Ontario in 1866 with a ruse that fooled the defenders. He had no cavalry but using a handful of officers and riderless horses to alter the defense strategy, exposing the Canadian militia under British leadership to infantry attack.

But his next ventures into Canada in 1870 and 1871 were dismal failures. The Battle of Trout River in Quebec ended in a rout, O’Neill was arrested by a United States marshal and charged with violating neutrality laws. O’Neill was imprisoned, sentenced to two years, but he and other Fenians were pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Recanting on a vow to never attack Canada again, he was persuaded to lead an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at Pembina, Manitoba in October 1871, an area was then disputed between the U.S. and Canada. He was arrested by American troops.

O’Neill later devoted himself to relocating Irish immigrants from eastern slums to the west. He died in 1878 of a paralytic stroke.

After his death, the area he moved many Irish to and resided in, then called Holt City, was renamed O’Neill and is now called the “Irish Capital of Nebraska.”



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Canadian soldier's watch found on WWII battlefield

Post by Guest on Wed 10 May 2017, 14:51

Canadian soldier's watch found on WWII battlefield, finally coming home to family

Rifleman Ray Donald Jackson's watch discovered where he died at Battle of Hong Kong

By Adam Carter CBC May 10, 2017

After decades lying in the area where he died in China, rifleman Ray Donald Jackson’s watch is returning to his family.

For years, the last surviving memento of rifleman Ray Donald Jackson's life lay in the dirt in Stanley, Hong Kong, where he died.

His family didn't even have a photo to remember him by. He was just a memory — a man who died serving with the Royal Rifles of Canada in the bloody Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941.

But now, thanks to the kindness of strangers with a keen interest in military history, that's about to change.

A military history group in Hong Kong discovered Jackson's wristwatch in the hillside of Stone Hill in March, and now, it's heading to his surviving next of kin as a testament to Jackson's life and service to his country.

"I'm absolutely floored. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to get this piece of history," said Jackson's great nephew, Stephen Burgess.

"After 76 years of lying in the ground … it defies all odds, really."

'It astounds me that they were able to find it and we can present it to his next of kin.'
- Lori Atkinson Smith, Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada

It all began on March 27, when the military history group was roaming the area, searching for lost things. They're a crew of amateur historians that look for moments in history like bullet shells and watering canteens — reminders of a bygone time when war raged across Stanley.

They collect artifacts of the Battle of Hong Kong, one of the first battles in the Pacific in the Second World War. It happened on the same morning as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked Hong Kong, which was still a British Crown colony at the time.

Search is on

Over 1,000 allied soldiers died in battle there — Jackson among them. His body lies at Sai Wan Military Cemetery in China. Many others were wounded or captured before an eventual surrender to the Japanese.

Dave Willott was the member of the military metal group who found the watch. When he cleaned it, he found the Jackson's name and rank etched on the back: Pte. Ray D. Jackson B68205.

Jackson is buried at the Sai Wan Military Cemetery in China.

Online searches brought the group to the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada. Within 24 hours, they had tracked down Burgess — who of course, is a military history buff. He's one of Jackson's closest living relatives. The soldier at 21, didn't have children.

On Saturday, Burgess will be presented with the watch at a ceremony at the Royal Canadian Legion on Spring Street in St. Catharines, Ont., and he's overjoyed that it's coming back to him.

"Anything to do with war and the service Canada had… it's very important that this stuff be preserved and cherished," he said.

'It astounds me'

A member of the group that found the watch even made a wooden box to house it, with the emblem of the Royal Rifles of Canada engraved on the lid.

Right now, the watch resides with Lori Atkinson Smith, who is a member of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada.

A member of the military history group made this box for Jackson's watch.

Though she says she can't wait to meet Burgess and give him his great uncle's watch, she's treasuring her time with it now, all the same.

"It's a peaceful feeling, when I hold it, strange as that might sound. It just calms me," she said. "And it astounds me that they were able to find it and we can present it to his next of kin."



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Bid a Thankful Farewell to a Canadian Hero

Post by Guest on Fri 12 May 2017, 14:46

Bid a Thankful Farewell to a Canadian Hero

By Lloyd Billingsley May 12, 2017

On May 9, Canada lost a hero when James Richard Billingsley passed away at his home in Vancouver at the age of 94. This is a man all Canadians should get to know, because he played a role in securing the peace, freedom and prosperity Canada has enjoyed for decades.

His father Lorne Henry Billingsley was a veteran of World War I and one of the first victims of German gas attacks. James Richard Billingsley was the second of his eight children, raised in Saskatchewan in difficult conditions. Through the Depression of the 1930s, the family pulled together and prevailed.

James Billingsley enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan but in the spring of 1942 he left his studies to enlist in the Canadian Army. He served with the Eighth Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment, which saw plenty of action.

On April 12, 1945, troops of the Eighth Canadian Reconnaissance “B” squadron liberated Camp Westerbork in Holland, a Nazi transit station for Jews en route to extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Sobibor. The Canadians liberated 876 inmates and their actions surely saved many other lives.

James Billingsley’s major engagements included the Battles of Groningen and Oldenburg, on the enemy’s home turf. He was wounded in action twice, once by a German sniper. Army brass wanted to steer him into intelligence work but he returned to his unit and fought on.

When the government pushed him, he pushed back, and he had earned the right to do so

When discharged in the spring of 1946, he held the rank of Captain. That fall he enrolled in the University of British Columbia, where he earned a degree in geology, moving on to a long and productive career in the mining industry. He contributed to the prosperity of the province and the nation, but he never forgot the lessons he learned fighting Hitler’s National Socialist forces.

Years later, a letter from a socialist provincial government said “You shall appear” at a certain building on some trivial matter related to automobile insurance.

“I shall not be appearing,” was his immediate response and he made good on it. When the government pushed him, he pushed back, and he had earned the right to do so.

“Even if you don’t have any bread,” he once told me, “you should know what side you like it buttered on.”

James Billingsley knew what side he liked it buttered on. He knew that freedom is the basis of our civilization and the flywheel of our prosperity. He risked life and limb to fight for freedom on battlefields far away.

As it happens, the last Canadian Prime Minister to do anything comparable was Lester Pearson, who took office in 1963. Pierre Trudeau, elected in 1968, was an officer cadet during World War II, but he never served.

Prime Ministers Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper rendered no military service of any kind. Neither did current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Trudeau fils is not exactly a fan of Canada’s military.

One also thinks of former Defense Minister John McCallum, who did not know the difference between Vimy Ridge, a WWI battle, and Vichy, seat of the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during WWII.

As it happens, Lorne Henry Billingsley was with the Canadian forces at Vimy Ridge. His son James Richard Billingsley fought the Nazis all over Europe and played a role in securing the peace, freedom and prosperity Canadians have enjoyed for decades.

So join his grieving nephew and bid a thankful farewell to the brave Canadian soldier who passed away on May 9 at the age of 94.



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Kahnawake veteran found white privilege still ruled back home

Post by Guest on Sun 14 May 2017, 15:56

Wounded after Vimy, Kahnawake veteran found white privilege still ruled back home

Angus Goodleaf was shot 3 times, but not before recovering flag from behind German lines

Private Angus Goodleaf, photographed in the uniform of the 107th "Timber Wolf" Battalion. (Courtesy of Mouchie Goodleaf)

In 1918, Private Angus Paul Goodleaf returned home to the Mohawk reserve at Kahnawake, Que., to recover from gunshot wounds to his chest, abdomen and knee suffered in France.

Wounded as the Canadians Corps secured its hold on Vimy in June 1917, Goodleaf spent seven months in an English hospital before returning to Montreal, where a declaration of "medically unfit" brought his war service to an end.

Like all Canadian soldiers, Goodleaf was entitled to benefits for his wartime service. But like many First Nations people who served in the First World War, he was denied the same support that white veterans received.

A letter to Goodleaf's old commanding officer from the Department of Indian Affairs explained why this was the case in no uncertain terms.

"I regret that the funds at our disposal are so limited that we are not in a position to treat returned soldiers as generously as the whites are treated by the Allowance Committee of the Pension Board," reads the letter, which his grandson shared with CBC News.

While proud of his grandfather's wartime service, the letter leaves Mouchie Goodleaf wondering why he put his life on the line for a country that considered him a second-class citizen.

"I wouldn't have done it — fight for a country that doesn't want me," the grandson said.

Equality in battle disappears at home

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada estimates that one-third of First Nations men between the ages of 18 and 45 enlisted during the First World War.

Hundreds were wounded and more than 300 died in battle or from wounds, the department estimates.

Subalterns from the 107th Battalion's 'A' Company, photographed in 1916. More than half of the 107th's first 900 recruits were Indigenous.

Despite this record, any form of equality that they enjoyed with white soldiers at the battlefront "disappeared once they returned to Canada," according to the INAC website.

This was especially true for veterans living on reserves.

"Veterans' benefits and support from the Canadian government were put in place but the implementation of the programs on reserves was vastly different than elsewhere in Canada," it says.

Pensions board cuts on-reserve veterans out

This difference was detailed in the letter Col. Andrew Thompson received from the Department of Indian Affairs on Feb. 6, 1933.

As the Great Depression took hold, Goodleaf wrote Thompson to see if his old C.O. could help Kahnawake veterans make their case for additional support.

Angus Goodleaf was 19 when he enlisted with the 114th Battalion in Cayuga, Ont. Known as "Brock's Rangers", the unit included many recruits from the Six Nations Reserve.

Thompson passed Goodleaf's letter along to the Department of Indian Affairs and received a personal reply from Harold McGill, the department's deputy superintendent general and a fellow veteran of the First World War.

While applauding the wartime service of the "Indian returned soldier," McGill explained that pensions for Indigenous veterans were no longer being provided through the government body responsible for veterans benefits, the Allowance Committee of the Pension Board.

"In 1931, objection was taken by the board to their being obliged to look after the interests of Indian pensioners, the claim being that, as the Indians are wards of the Department of Indian Affairs, this department should be responsible for any assistance that they might be in need of."

As a result, a deal was worked out between the pension board and Indian Affairs in which the board would look after veterans living off-reserve and Indian Affairs would be responsible for veterans residing on reserves.

Indian Affairs, however, determined that benefits paid to veterans on reserve should be limited to the same level of "assistance given other members of the same band who may be in needy circumstances," McGill writes.

"According to the letter of Private Goodleaf it would appear that the returned men of [Kahnawake] Reserve look for preferential treatment and it is impossible to give this for the reasons outlined herein."

'Proud' First Nations recruits

Goodleaf enlisted on March 1, 1916, with the 114th Battalion in Cayuga, Ont., a unit known as "Brock's Rangers," that was recruited partly from the nearby Six Nations Reserve.

Private Angus Goodleaf in a photograph taken in England. The signature links him to the 107th Canadians, a pioneer battalion raised in Winnipeg.

A photo of Goodleaf taken in England shows he later transferred to the 107th "Timber Wolf" Battalion, a Winnipeg unit with a large number of First Nations recruits.

The distinctive Timber Wolf cap badge of the 107th Battalion.
In his account of the battalion for the journal Canadian Military History, Steven Bell said more than 500 of the first 900 men to enlist with the unit were Indigenous recruits.

"Represented in the ranks were the Cree, Sioux, Mohawks, Onandagas, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Delawares and Ojibwas," Bell writes.

The unit's cap badge featured a timber wolf in tribute to these First Nations links.

The 107th "were proud men who thought well of themselves and their unit," Bell writes, a sentiment that Goodleaf's wartime photos suggest he shared.

Into the frontline

The 107th converted to a pioneer battalion and moved into the frontline near Vimy Ridge on Feb. 28, 1917. There, they undertook the strenuous work of digging trenches and laying communications cable and rail tracks in preparation for the Canadian attack on Easter Monday.

They remained at Vimy after the battle to consolidate the new Canadian positions. Goodleaf was shot and seriously wounded June 12.

The flag that Angus Goodleaf and others are said to have recovered from behind German lines. It is now at an 'undisclosed location' in Kahnwake, according to his grandson.

According to his grandson, Angus Goodleaf was at the front long enough to take part in a risky night-time raid on a German trench to recover a Union Jack flag that the Germans had earlier taken as a trophy.

The old flag was later passed down among the privates who recovered it as they died. Their names, written on the flag in ink, are still visible today — Taylor, Goodleaf, Jacobs, Morris, Day, Denny, Canoe, Simpson, Phillips.

The Union Jack bears the names of the privates who helped recover the flag from behind German lines.

Goodleaf was the last survivor of the group, and the flag is now kept at an "undisclosed location" in Kahnawake.

"The War Museum in Ottawa wanted it, but I don't think they deserve it," Mouchie Goodleaf said. "I think it belongs where it is right now."

Enlisting was 'all we had'

Goodleaf says his grandfather chose to enlist on March 1, 1916, for the adventure and because jobs were scarce.

"We had a high percentage of veterans per capita in Kahnawake because there weren't any jobs," he said. "It was a way out, a way to see the world."

Mouchie Goodleaf, pictured at the Canadian Centre for the Great War. He's planning to include information on his father in the centre's online public database.

Prior to his death in 1969, Mouchie Goodleaf asked his grandfather why he enlisted to fight for Canada, given the racism Indigenous Canadians faced then, and that Angus Goodleaf continued to face afterwards through the pension board.

"It was all we had," his grandfather replied.



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Area soldiers served in Canada's military during WWI

Post by Guest on Sat 27 May 2017, 17:51

Area soldiers served in Canada's military during WWI

Glimpse of the Past

By Marlin Peterson May 27, 2017

Kasota native enlisted in 1915

Each year on Memorial Day, American Legion Post 389 places two countries' flags — the United States and Canada — on the grave of World War I veteran Abraham P. Harder.

Harder was one of several dozen soldiers from the area who wore the uniform of the Canadian army during The Great War.

The United States entered war in support of the Allied Powers April 6, 1917; however, thousands of Americans in uniform already were serving in Europe.

During World War I, the majority of the soldiers of the British Empire came from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and Canada. Of the 619,636 soldiers of the Canadian army, an estimated 40,000 had been enlisted by recruiting stations set up around the United States. U.S. residents also had traveled to Canada to enlist.

Some of these men were Canadian or British subjects but at least 35,612 were American citizens by birth.

Because swearing allegiance to a foreign government — and in particular bearing arms — could result in a loss of citizenship, many hid their American citizenship from the Canadian recruiters, who in turn did not press the issue.

These Americans served for a variety of reasons. Some had been born in Canada and had family connections there or had relatives serving in the war.

Many Americans were angered by the 1914 invasion of neutral Belgium by the German armies attacking France. They felt the United States should help defend France, which had been its staunch ally during the American Revolution.

When 124 American lives were lost when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British passenger ship Lusitania May 7, 1915, many were outraged by the lack of action by President Woodrow Wilson and his seemingly pacifist views in general.

Then, as in every war, there were those who joined up for glory and adventure.

In the 1920 book "Blue Earth County in the World War" 16 men from the county are listed as serving in the Canadian Army. Further research reveals more than a dozen others from the surrounding counties. Most counties across southern Minnesota likewise had soldiers in the Canadian army.

Canadian military archives include recruiting forms called Attestation Papers, which reveal details about many of these men. The earliest area enlistee appeared to be Leslie W. Parsons from St. Peter.

Parsons was born in Kasota in 1893 and enlisted Feb. 5, 1915, six months after the war began. He spent 26 months at the front, at Cambrai, Ypres and Verdun, and was gassed once and wounded several times.

The earliest Blue Earth County man to die in the war was Alfred Johnson of Madison Lake. He was killed in action May 17, 1917, while fighting in the Canadian 4th Division. He is buried in France. Another man Thomas O'Connor died of disease.

Nicollet County records indicate two deaths. Arthur Clouston fought in the Canadian 7th Division and was killed in action at Messines Ridge Nov. 10, 1917, and Maurice Wheeler of North Mankato, a Canadian native, died of pneumonia Nov. 30, 1918. Wheeler died several weeks after the armistice and is buried in Janval Cemetery, Dieppe, France.

Wheeler's family home is at 348 Wheeler Ave. He moved there after spending four years in the U.S. Army.

A Scottish ancestry appears to have been a compelling reason Wheeler enlisted north of the border to fight in Europe. Initially, his enlistment was in the Canadian 48th Highland Infantry, which was attached to the famed Gordon Highlanders from Scotland.

Wheeler wore the jaunty "tam o' shanter" cap of a Scottish soldier and collar insignia instead of the regulation British Army uniform trousers. The highland regiments often wore their kilts in battle and were dubbed by the Germans as Die Damen aus der Holleb (The Ladies from Hell).

At some point, Wheeler was transferred to a cavalry unit from Winnipeg, Ontario. A newspaper obituary and military grave information list him as serving in the Fort Garry Horse unit.

Several of these soldiers who survived the war are buried locally. Thomas Oglesby's grave is in Calvary Cemetery, Mankato, and Alfred Bate's is in Lake Crystal Cemetery.

Bate was born in London. He was engaged in an auto business in Lake Crystal. He enlisted quite late in the war — Sept. 12,1918.

During the war, the Allies had sent thousands of tons of supplies to Vladivostok on the Russian coast of the Pacific Ocean. The supplies were to be shipped via the Trans-Siberian Railroad to support the Russian army fighting the Germans and Austrians on the Eastern Front. Pvt. Bate was among 1,500 Canadian soldiers guarding those supplies, along with thousands of soldiers from Britain, France, Italy, Japan and United States.

Luther V. Stone, of St. Peter, was too old to join the U.S. Army but he wanted to serve in The Great War. He was the brother of a prominent attorney Marshall Stone — they had relatives living in Canada.

He traveled to Winnipeg, where he joined the Canadian Army just three days before his 45th birthday.

The pride Stone felt in his service is reflected on the family monument at Woodlawn Cemetery just across the river from St. Peter in Le Sueur County. The inscription reads, "L.V. STONE CANADA E.F. WORLD WAR I." The initials E.F. stand for Expeditionary Force.

The Canadian Army fought with distinction in the war. Four American members were awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's equivalent to the U.S. military's Medal of Honor.

Although many of the men would have had service obligations in the U.S. Army when war was declared in April 1917, the majority of them stayed with their fellow Canadians. Their decisions were in agreement of the U.S. government. Due to their numbers, no loss of citizenship or legal action was ever contemplated against them. By 1920, they were welcomed back as citizens in good standing.

About 2,700 Americans died in the Canadian service — about 500 in Canada and the rest overseas. Although the dead were allowed to be interred in American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries, Canadian policy dictated they remain in Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries.

Of the 477 Canadian graves in one cemetery in Belgium, 45 were American citizens or their records show a next of kin, parents or a wife with an address in the United States.

Marlin Peterson of Kasota is a military history buff with a special interest in World War I veterans.



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Former resident of Sundridge was a secret Second World War hero

Post by Guest on Tue 06 Jun 2017, 05:10

Former resident of Sundridge was a secret Second World War hero

By Brendan Kyle Jure Jun 05, 2017

Rebecca White - Peter Brimacombe and Steven White/Courtesy

Imagine sitting in a shack in the middle of a cow pasture trying to decode Nazi transmissions. That’s exactly what Becky White did.

Located just outside of Ottawa, the Number 1 Station HMCS Bytown, known as HMCS Gloucester after the war years, was home to the Sundridge native during 1943-45.

The British High Commission gave White, now 93, the Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge in honour of her service with the Signals Intelligence on Sept. 1, 2016 at the Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in Ottawa, where she currently resides.

Born Mary Rebecca Brimacombe in 1923, she was raised on a farm outside of Sundridge with her two brothers and sister.

“The farm was a pretty big farm and they hired a few people and owned a lot of the lakeshore property,” said one of White’s three sons, Peter.

White attended high school in Burk’s Falls before enlisting in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service in 1943.

The station and the people stationed there were vital during the late stages of the war. White and her peers used radio equipment to determine the locations of German U-boats in the North Atlantic by intercepting Morse code transmissions.

The U-boats focused on blockading ports and commerce raiding, trying to disrupt the Allied war economy, targeting merchant navy convoys. They were heavily involved in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War, due to the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles on the German military,

Members of the Women Royal Canadian Naval Service stationed there would go through basic training in Galt, Ont. Soon afterwards, they found themselves shipped to HMCS Bytown, a four-building compound. The largest was the barracks, shaped as a large ‘U’. It held the accommodation cabins, sick bay, the lounges, the mess hall and the office quarters.

The second was the Operations Building, where all the magic would happen. This is where the service would spend all their time intercepting radio traffic. The third building was the garage.



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Long, hard battle became ‘bedrock of Allied victory’

Post by Guest on Thu 08 Jun 2017, 11:38

Long, hard battle became ‘bedrock of Allied victory’

Keeping supply lines open to U.K. laid groundwork for pivotal operations

Sue Bailey / The Canadian Press  June 8, 2017

Archival photo of HMCS Saguenay showing damage from being rammed by a merchant ship, pictured in Halifax.   Photograph By Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — At about 4 a.m. on Dec. 1, 1940, three torpedoes streamed through the frigid North Atlantic.

Two missed their target, the destroyer HMCS Saguenay.

The third, fired from the Italian submarine Argo, hit with such force it lifted the ship’s bow and threw able seaman George Borgal of Halifax — just 19 and keeping night watch on the open bridge — up into the air.

“I went flying,” he told author Blake Heathcote years later for the book Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans.

“My left leg was numb when I got up and I felt the ship start to roll, back and forth, and I thought she was going to go,” he said. “Our mast was broken and a fire broke out and our bow was gone.”

The Saguenay lost 21 men that night, but managed to steam about 450 kilometres — backward — into port for repairs at Barrow-in-Furness, England.

She was among the hundreds of vessels that braved every kind of weather, from hurricane-force storms to giant seas, as they faced the constant underwater threat of enemy submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Canada played a crucial, largely unsung role in the fight to maintain shipping supply lines to Great Britain, the vital Allied stronghold against German forces advancing across Europe.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest and arguably most important campaign of the Second World War. It stretched from the Sept. 3, 1939, sinking of the British passenger liner Athenia off the coast of Ireland until the last German U-boats surrendered after Victory in Europe Day in May 1945.

The United Kingdom relied on constant arrivals from North America of troops, food, fuel, steel, aluminum and everything else needed to power its war machine against the Nazis.

Air travel and transport were still limited, said Marc Milner, author of Battle of the Atlantic and director of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at University of New Brunswick.

“Britain is an arsenal of democracy, but the stuff’s got to get there by boat,” he said in an interview. “The war cannot be won without winning the Battle of the Atlantic.”

Keeping supply lines open to the United Kingdom laid the ground work for Normandy and other operations that ultimately sealed Allied victory, Milner said.

“The Battle of the Atlantic could not have been won without Canada’s contribution,” he added. “By the winter of 1942-43, fully half of all the escorts on the main routes between North America — New York and Halifax — and British ports are Canadian naval escorts.”

The convoy system in which warships guarded supply-loaded merchant ships from submarine attack was “the bedrock of Allied victory,” Milner said.

Canadians were the quiet administrators — the air traffic controllers of the sea — who kept a complex operation going for much of the conflict.

“Canada was a major player in naval control of shipping and naval intelligence in the Battle of the Atlantic,” Milner said. “We actually ran all of that stuff for all of North America until about the middle of 1942 when the Americans were finally up to speed and were able to take over their own section of the North Atlantic.”

“We’re the people who trained them,” as the U.S. entered the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Royal Canadian Air Force also made up about one-third of all aircraft and crew protecting the convoys from above, Milner said.

Former British prime minister Winston Churchill would later write that the Battle of the Atlantic was so pivotal that all other war efforts by land or air depended on its outcome.

“The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril,” he wrote in Their Finest Hour, part of his six-volume history of the Second World War.

Shipping losses reached a startling peak in 1942, raising alarms that Britain might not be able to import the yearly requirement of 25 to 30 million tonnes of food, raw materials, oil and other goods, Milner said.

Canadians stepped up as support staff to keep goods flowing at a time when the Royal Canadian Navy was still a comparatively fledgling force, he said.

“We did a lot with armed yachts and old trawlers and anything that would go,” he said. “It allowed the British in particular to get really good at what they were doing, which was killing submarines.”

The Royal Canadian Navy grew in that period from 10 modern warships and 3,276 personnel to 400 warships and almost 100,000 members. By 1945, it was the world’s fourth largest navy.

It was one motley crew in the war’s earliest stages, Milner said. Canadian corvette commanders were often former reservists or merchant seamen called to service — including a fair number of ex-liquor movers.

“And then there were people from the marine service of the RCMP who’d spent much of the ’30s chasing them while they were running rum around the East Coast.

“You had this curious navy made up of characters on both sides of the law who were then out fighting Germans.”

Milner hails those Merchant Navy sailors as true heroes who, despite high casualty rates, had to fight decades after the war for official recognition and veteran benefits.

He also specially mentions the corvette commanders and merchant vessel captains who worked relentless schedules under punishing stress. Many senior officers did not survive long after the war, he said.

They were men like Chummy Prentice, captain of the corvette HMCS Chambly who helped log the Royal Canadian Navy’s first sinking of a U-boat in September 1941.

Prentice sported a monocle and didn’t bat an eye when his whole crew turned up one day with their own eye pieces, Milner said.

“It’s said that Prentice threw his head back, flipped the monocle in the air, caught it between his eyelid and his cheek and said: ‘When you can do that, you can all wear monocles.”’

George Borgal, the son and namesake of that young watchman who survived the 1940 torpedo attack on the Saguenay, also marvels at the endurance of those crews.

“He would have nightmares,” he said of his father, who lived through other close calls at sea, including a ramming with another vessel and a hurricane.

“You have to admire the strength of character of people who go through that.”

Borgal is now head of a working group with the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust aimed at building Battle of the Atlantic Place. It would be a new museum in Halifax showcasing HMCS Sackville — a surviving corvette — and Canada’s role in the campaign.

“Without the battle having been won, Normandy wouldn’t have happened, the relief of Stalingrad wouldn’t have happened and the course of our future would have looked very different,” Borgal said

Every year on the first Sunday of May, Canada’s naval forces honour those lost at sea during the Second World War. They pause, pray and remember the legacy of the Battle of the Atlantic as they pledge themselves anew: “Ready, aye, ready.”



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Re: History / Topics & Posted Articles

Post by pinger on Fri 09 Jun 2017, 12:38

Truth is stranger than fiction. Used to volunteer in a vet ward years ago and came across a survivor of that D79. Fondest memories as we had something in common. I did a stint on the 2nd one, DDH206.
I forget all the other nicknames, but we were called... sag bags.
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'If we leave you here, you're going to freeze'

Post by Guest on Fri 09 Jun 2017, 14:10

'If we leave you here, you're going to freeze'

BRUCE DEACHMAN, OTTAWA CITIZEN Published on: June 9, 2017 | Last Updated: June 9, 2017 6:00 AM EDT


In anticipation of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations, the Citizen’s Bruce Deachman has been out in search of Ottawans — 150 of them — to learn their stories of life and death, hope and love, the uncommon and the everyday. We’ll share one person’s story every day until Canada Day.

“I was part of the team that built the first radar stations in Canada, on the East Coast during the Second World War. People have asked me why we bothered with radar on the east coast of Canada. Germany was so far away. But you never knew when they were going to take a boat, fix it up and bring it over and fire some shells right into Canada. They could have had a whole group of them come over and just take over Canada, the whole country. How did we know? We had no idea.

“I got the basics of radio at Ottawa Tech, and then went to Toronto to do square-bashing — learn how to march — and so on, and then went to Clinton, Ont., which was an RAF station, a very high-security place. We were divided into two groups: one did a six-week course on aircraft radar, and I got on a 12-week course on ground radar.

“When we graduated, in 1942, half of our group was sent to the East Coast and half to the West Coast — about 10 of us went to the East Coast. We installed the first radar station at Preston, N.S. — that was called No. 1., and No. 2 was at Bell Lake, outside of Dartmouth.

“When I say install, we would unload the boxcars and manually haul everything. And after about two weeks we’d have the station together and operating. We slept on the floor, but we didn’t worry about sleeping because we were so tired. We worked from dawn till dark to get the station built: diesel generators, lights, transmitter, receiver, antenna. The stations would detect anything that moved, on the water or in the sky. Once we got that done, a crew would come in to operate it and we would say goodbye.

“We were in Halifax once when our CO said, ‘OK, go and see the paymaster, boys, and get $100 to buy what you’ll need to last a year, because where you’re going there are no stores.’ So we packed all out gear and about 20 of us got on a small Air Force boat, maybe 100 feet long and loaded to the gills with everything, and went up through the Strait of Belle Isle, through the sub-infested Gulf of St. Lawrence, straight up through Newfoundland and Labrador, right up to the top, to a rock there that they call Quirpon Island.

“The other half of us, including myself, went on the Lady Nelson, out of Halifax, on the tail end of a convoy going to Britain, and got off the convoy in St. John’s. We went to the Air Force station where they fed us some cod sandwiches and took us down to the Newfie Bullet, a narrow-gauge railroad. We took that to Botwood, Newfoundland, where there was an airbase. From there we got a boat that took us up to the top of Newfoundland to join the rest of the group. That was in the early part of September, 1942.

“When we got there, there were a couple of tents. That was it. The wind blew all the time and it rained every second day, just to keep us busy. You never changed your clothes and you didn’t have a raincoat; you just did it. This went on till we got some Nissen huts built.

“We ate a lot of hardtack biscuits, and everything was canned: canned fruit, canned butter, canned potatoes. But we ran out of that as time went on.

“There was a Newfoundland Ranger, the equivalent to the RCMP — Nelson Golding was his name — and he would stop in every once in a while to make sure everything was all right. He was always surprised that the German subs hadn’t landed. ‘Are you sure you’re watching them?’ he’d ask.

“But once Christmas came, the ice moved in, so a sub couldn’t land. They were underneath at the time if they were there. So things relaxed — although we still had to know where our rifles were all the time. You always had your rifle with you.

“At Christmas, Nels Golding came to say that Dr. Curtis, who was in charge of the hospital, and the Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony had invited a number of us to go down for Christmas. There were seven of us who were granted that privilege.

“So we walked down. I’m not sure how far it was but they tell me it’s about 35 miles. No roads or anything like that. We started early in the morning, like four o’clock, and get there at maybe 10 o’clock at night, and we were beat.

“The next day most of us didn’t get up until late in the day — Christmas Eve. We went and met Dr. Curtis at the hospital, and then went to the orphanage there and the kids put on a pageant for us. They gave us Christmas dinner and a pageant. And I went to the United Church. No pastor ever came near the radar station, but St. Anthony had a church so I went there on Christmas Day. And then we walked back the 35 miles. I was so tired that I said to one of the guys, ‘I’m going to rest here for a while. I’ll follow you after a while.’ And he said, ‘You’re going to go with us, because if we leave you here, you’re going to freeze, that’s for sure.’

“Anyway, at around the end of June or early July, when the ice moved out, a group came to relieve us, and one of the radar guys said, ‘I hear you’re going to Tusket, N.S. It’s a good station there.’ I said, ‘What are the meals like?’ He said, ‘They’re terrific.’ I said, ‘I’ll buy it.’

“And then he said, ‘You know, there’s a 17-year-old school teacher you should meet in Tusket. She teaches in a one-room schoolhouse. She teaches 10 different grades.’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s a smart kid.’ And to make a story short, we’re going to celebrate our 72nd anniversary on Aug. 27 this year. Phyllis Raynard was her name then.

“I now sell poppies for the Legion at Billing’s Bridge, big time, and I talk to everybody. Everybody knows me at Billing’s Bridge. And I pin poppies on people. There was this one guy once who I was talking to, and I said ‘Where are you from?’ And it turned out he was one or the orphans in St. Anthony and he remembered us going there. And so I’ve kept in touch with him ever since. Owen Ball is his name.”



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Merchant Navy veteran shares stories of Battle of the Atlantic

Post by Guest on Fri 09 Jun 2017, 14:55

Merchant Navy veteran shares stories of Battle of the Atlantic

Sue Bailey / The Canadian Press

JUNE 8, 2017

Norman Crewe, 95, who served with the Merchant Navy throughout the Battle of the Atlantic, is helped by his wife of 70 years Millie, while putting on his uniform in their home in Halifax this week. Photograph By Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Norman Crewe still hears the sound of men crying out from the dark waves of the North Atlantic for help that wouldn’t come in time.

“It stays with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “You’d never forget it if you lived to be 100.”

Crewe, who is 95 now, was among 12,000 men and women who served in Canada’s Merchant Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic.

The pivotal fight between the Allies and Germans for control of crucial shipping supply routes was the longest campaign of the Second World War. It stretched from September 1939 to when the last of the German U-boats surrendered after Victory in Europe Day in May 1945.

Crewe made at least 14 round trips on vessels bound for Britain, carrying everything from eggs to ammunition. He travelled in columns of ships that stayed together for protection against attack from above and below. Enemy aircraft and submarines were constant threats.

If a ship two columns over got torpedoed, the others had to keep going, Crewe recalled.

“You were not allowed to stop.”

Once the rest of the convoy passed, an escort would go back to circle for survivors, he said from his home in Halifax, where he first joined the Merchant Navy in 1940.

To this day, his heart goes out to those doomed men in the water.

“Not only did they drown, but a ship coming up in the same column behind, in the dark … they’d just run over those guys. They wouldn’t know it.”

Crewe resisted telling such stories for decades. But in recent years he has spoken in schools about memories that still fill his eyes and halt his speech.

“I realize now, if we don’t tell the kids what really happened, how are they going to be able to tell somebody else about it?”

Crewe has two great-grandsons who aren’t yet in high school.

“I pray to God the day will never come that they will have to go through what we went through.”

Crewe served mainly on the Lady Rodney, one of five vessels named for the wives of British admirals with ties to the West Indies. It was known before the war in the 1920s and ’30s as a luxury cruise liner.

Crewe’s experience was different. He remembers the time he was most frightened: arriving to board the vessel for a July 1943 trip from Halifax to a British naval base. The ship’s exposed forward decks were chock full of depth charge anti-submarine explosives in full view of enemy planes.

He said by the time they reached their destination a week later, “I could recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards.”

“All we needed was just one to go, and of course it would be like a flash of lightning.”

And then there were storms.

“Anybody that travelled the North Atlantic in the winter time, they went through hell and high water,” Crewe said.

Many times the rails on his bunk kept him from pitching out of bed in vicious weather that turned waves into mountains. He and other young seamen, just kids in their early 20s, were often called out on decks to chip away thick ice that formed as spray froze.

Icebergs were a major hazard in spring.

“The worst was what we called growlers. Those are chunks of ice just above the water,” that can slice a metal hull like a can opener, Crewe said. “Those are very, very dangerous.”

He lost more friends than he can count or name. “Too many.”

Canada’s Merchant Navy had a staggering casualty rate, with more than 1,700 dead and more than 70 Canadian merchant ships sunk.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Crewe said. “I came back.”



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