Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections on "War Horse"

It has now been over a month since I watched "War Horse" at an advance screening, and many scenes come quickly to mind when I reflect on the movie: first and foremost, the amazing sequence when the British cavalry attacks a German camp, swords levelled--followed immediately by the appalling slaughter of men and horses when the machine guns open up. The brutal realism of horses drawing heavy guns up mud-choked hillsides. The humanity of the rescue of the wire-festooned horse in no man's land.
This is family fare, so Steven Spielberg has spared us the blood and gore that he could have included, and he has presented British and German alike as human, with good and bad traits on both sides.
As in "Soldier of the Horse", men at war were not protrayed as saints, but neither were they bereft of human emotions.

Friday, December 23, 2011

War Horse, and another Soldier of the Horse

To millions of children the world over, it's two more sleeps until Christmas. Not by coincidence, it is two more sleeps until Steven Spielberg's blockbuster, "War Horse", erupts onto the big screen.
But it was sheer coincidence that I received a telephone call today from Stan Tetley of Jasper, Alberta. Stan's father was a trooper in Lord Strathcona's Horse under Brigadier-general J E B Seely's command at Moreuil and Rifle Woods, in March and April, 1918. Stan recounted to me a memorable visit by himself, his son Ed and Ed's family to Moreuil, France, in August this year. They, too, were royally entertained by Jean-Paul Brunel, the human dynamo who toured them tirelessly to battle sites and family graves, culminating in a stirring ceremony at the Bois du Moreuil.
See earlier blogs entries for more detail on the redoubtable Jean-Paul.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"War Horse" Gallops On

There is a very interesting article in the National Post today, December 16th. The Theatre page discusses Michael Morpurgo, author of "War Horse", the Young Adult novel that has become a smash hit in London and Broadway. The play is also scheduled to open in Toronto next year, and even sooner will come the movie of the same name that debuts Christmas Day, 2011. (Which I predict will also be a huge success.)
Morpurgo, in the article, discusses his inspiration for the story: a boy who could communicate with a horse, but not people; and a veteran who was able to discuss his Great War experiences only with a horse.
"War Horse" had twenty-five years of relative obscurity before it became of interest to the National Theatre. As Michael Morpurgo might say, the rest is history.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More recognition for Canadian Cavalry Brigade

The perfect storm of items re the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, a legendary Great War formation, continues. The latest is on Page D7 of the December 6th, 2011, Vancouver Sun. Writer Randy Boswell traces the connection between "War Horse", the Spielberg blockbuster set for release this month, and the battle fought on March 30th, 1918, at Moreuil, France. There, as Boswell says, "The Canadian charge...helped thwart the Germans'spring offensive, the collapse of which is widely viewed as the beginning of the end of the war."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Surrender Day Luncheon (Part 2)

The Naval Officers Association of BC's November 22nd Surrender Day luncheon followed a strong tradition with an excellent speaker, Dr James Boutilier. Dr Boutilier is a historian who is very current on naval matters, serving as he does as Special Advisor (Policy) to Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters in Esquimalt.
On the topic of NATO, Dr Boutilier reminded the audience that the US pays 75% of the bills. The UK, for all its problems, still meets the target of 2%, while Canada does not. Meanwhile, the Chinese navy is expanding at a furious pace, moving into the areas of modern submarines and aircraft carriers. He says both civilian shipping and naval forces are more and more being concentrated in the Pacific, as opposed to the Atlantic theatres.
And speaking of submarines, I was gratified to hear that Canada's much-maligned Victoria class will see bright days ahead as they become operational in the relatively near future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Surrender Day Luncheon at Royal Van Yacht Club

The Naval Officers Association of British Columbia held its annual Surrender Day luncheon at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club Jericho clubhouse on November 22nd. This historic event was first celebrated in 1919 by a group of RVYC members who had served with the Royal Navy in the Great War, and has continued without major gaps but for later war years.
The "Surrender" refers to the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in November, 1918. Enterprising Orkneyans organized tours of the seventy-three ships, then peacefuly at anchor--until, it being apparent the war was over for the German fleet, their crews scuttled them or ran them aground  ten months later. By the outbreak of World War Two most of the ships had been salvaged by the British. Only eight of the scuttled vessels remain on the bottom of Scapa Flow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

War Horse coming soon

I was fortunate to be able to attend an advance screening of "War Horse", Steven Spielberg's big screen version of Michael Morpurgo's young adult novel which was also translated to the London stage. Now also on stage in New York, the movie version is due to open to general audiences around Christmas Day. Given my special interest in the Canadian cavalry, I was very excited about attending the screening. I am restrained from doing a review, but I will say I was most impressed. The scenes involving cavalry action and fighting in the trenches struck me as very authentic.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Advance Screening of "War Horse".

I have been looking forward to seeing "War Horse", the big screen production by Steven Spielberg of the book and play of the same name. It is due out in late December. But only today I found out about an advance screening. I have spoken to Emily Copeland, an intern at DreamWorks Pictures in Toronto, and the screening is set for Wednesday, November 16th, at the Scotiabank Theatre on Burrard Street in Vancouver. If you would like to attend, Emily can be reached at:1-416-596-3398 or email . Feel free to mention my name!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" at Giller Light Bash (Busy Week Part 3)

The amazing Sean Cranbury and his team have put together the Giller Light Bash Vancouver, to be staged tonight at W2 in the old Woodwards building, 111 West Hastings in Vanvouver from 5 to who-knows-when tonight. The event will feature live screening of the Giller awards from Toronto, and will be hosted by Hal Wake of Vancouver International Writers Festival and Dina del Bucchia, writer and performer. See for details.
Four local writers will be reading from their work; including myself with a short presentation from "Soldier of the Horse". The local portion of the show, including the readings, will be live streamed between 7 and 9 at and also on the Province website.

"Soldier of the Horse" is off to North Vancouver (busy week Part 2)

North Vancouver's Silver Harbour Seniors' Centre will be the scene of a remembrance event at 1 pm today. Located at 144 East 22nd Street, Lonsdale, the Centre will feature a musical presentation of wartime songs, and a reading from "Soldier".

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Honoured to attend "Mary's Wedding"

Very high on my list of activities this Veteran's Week will be attending as a guest at "Mary's Wedding", the opera commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria, on November 10th. The evening will pull together several narratives for me:
One of the three characters in the opera is Sergeant Flowerdew. The real Gordon Flowerdew was indeed a sergeant early in the Great War, but as a lieutenant led the charge of C Squadron, Lord Strathcona's Horse, at Moreuil Wood, France. The battle took place on March 30th, 1918.
My father, Tom Mackay of Winnipeg, was acting troop leader, 1st Troop, at the time of the charge.
I have told a fictionalized version of my father's war in my novel, "Soldier of the Horse".
Three of my father's four children served in the navy; none opted for the army.
While at sea with the RCN, I served with then Sublieutenant Michael Morres.
Michael Morris is Production Patron of "Mary's Wedding".

Friday, November 4, 2011

Strathconas to attend Mary's Wedding

An excellent newsletter has been put out by Pacific Opera Victioria in support of their brand new opera, "Mary's Wedding". The opening night (purposely timed for the evening of Remembrance Day) will be attended by serving members of Lord Strathcona's Horse, normally garrisoned at Fort Steele, north of Edmonton. Some of the soldiers will be in regimental dress uniform, and some in historic World War I uniforms. (For some samples, see previous blogs).

The POV newsletter can be seen at

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Signings, from the Cariboo to the Okanagan

A quick road trip last week saw "Soldier of the Horse" signed and delivered to readers in 100 Mile House and Kelowna.

What makes talking about "Soldier" very interesting is the fact that it prompts strangers to tell me about their grandfathers, great uncles, even great-great grandfathers, and their service in World War One. Some, like me, had fathers there. Recounting and hearing those stories often brings a lump to the throat.

Our visit to Nuthatch Books in 100 Mile House was a lot of fun. I chatted to many customers on Friday, the 28th of October, and exchanged stories with a few.

Mosaic Books in Kelowna saw a steady stream of interested customers reviewing my laptop images of the Canadian Cavalry. I try to provide a business card to every purchser, in the hope that further conversations take place. To all those who purchased or stopped to chat--thanks, and I hope to see you again soon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scenes from Book Fair at Surrey Int'l Writers Conference

 The Surrey International Writers Conference, started twenty years ago with Ed Griffin as a key player, featured its popular Book Fair  last Saturday.

Before the event I spoke to Ursula Maxwell, who has been on the board frome day one, top photo.

The middle photo is of Evaleen Jaager Roy, winner of the Ed Griffin award. With her is Ben Nuttall-Smith, who received the Surrey Board of Trade Special Achievement Award for his contributions to the community of writers.

Bottom photo: Ian Weir chatting with fans after signing books.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Busy week coming up

I am looking forward to attending the Surrey International Writers Conference book fair tonight. It is from 5 pm to 7:30, at the Sheraton Guildford. "Soldier of the Horse" will be there, and I am especially keen to browse other writers' selections: Anne Perry, Sean Cranbury, kc dyer, Michael Slade, and Ian Weir, to name just a few.
Then, on Friday the 28th at 1 pm I am signing books at Nuthatch Books, great little store in 100 Mile House. On the 29th I look forward to visitng Mosaic Books in Kelowna at 1 pm.

Humour in Uniform

This definition of a staff officer is courtesy of a serving Royal Canadian Navy officer. I suppose it could fit the civilian equivalent--certain bureaucrats or middle management in private corporatations might come to mind:

"The typical staff officer is the man past middle life, spare, unwrinkled, intelligent, cold, passive, non-committal; with eyes like a cod-fish, polite in contact but at the same time unresponsive, cool, calm and as damnably composed as a concrete post or a plaster-of-Paris cast; a human petrifaction with a heart of feldspar and without charm or the friendly germ; minus bowels, passion or a sense of humour. Happily they never reproduce and all of them finally go to hell." - Anonymous

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canadian Cavalry in the Daily Mail

A recent story in London's Daily Mail brings together disparate threads of a shared history. The newspaper story can be found here:
Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War HorseThe article covers a lot of ground, dealing as it does with Steven Spielberg's upcoming movie, "War Horse"; Michael Morpurgo's book of the same name; and the smash London hit now playing in New York and soon in Toronto that grew out of it. The main focus of the story, though, is on the role played by Warrior, Brigadier Jack Seely's charger during his days in command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
Seely told Warrior's story many years ago, but the book has been reprinted, edited by Seely's grandson, Brough Scott.
"Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse".

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Surrey Library Opens in Surrey Centre

The beautiful new library in Surrey opened with a splash on Saturday, September 24th. There was a tremendous crowd on hand to hear speeches from politicians, watch lion dancers, hear a native song, and take part in many other community-related presentations.
The attentive and friendly staff had organized a great day for the public, and a special one for local writers. We were invited to attend, with copies of our most recent books. A table to display and sell the books had been set up on the second floor. Special thanks to Jamie Brown of the Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library for her attention to the authors and the public.
In the photo are three of the authors who took part--Darlene Foster, Duane Duff on the right, and myself. Darlene is a YA writer with a website and blog; she can be found at Duane has recently published a book of personal stories by veterans, The Forces and the Faces; he has a website at
Thanks to Pamela Duff for the photo.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Moonshine Leads to Another "Soldier of the Horse" (Part 2)

 Tom West, the soldier on the right in this photo, seems to be a trooper determined to relax when not being shot at in the trenches.
 Trooper West is again on the right in this photo, although without the mustache. Below, attending to a laundry detail?

Many thanks to Ralph and Irma West for forwarding the copies of these historic images, and for permission to use them here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Canadian Cavalry Brigade Rides Again--Online

Here is a URL for a page of the World War One Historical Association's latest online newsletter. It has an excellent summary of the actions of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, as well as a short video showing Canadian and British cavalry training:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Readings by the Salish Sea

I am looking forward to tonight's "Readings by the Salish Sea". As one of the winners of the 2011 Semiahmoo Arts Literary Contest, I will get to read, along with well-known authors Lois Peterson, Margo Bates, and Ted Blodgett--a real honour.
As urged by organizer Heidi Greco, I have been rehearsing. Amazing how long it takes to read a page aloud, when actually standing and presenting it. I have been caught running overtime before--never again! Can't stand that buzzer, or worse, hook!
7:30 pm, Pelican Rouge Coffee House, Central Plaza, 16th at 152nd St.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Surrey Library and other events

This is a very busy month, and October looks the same. Tomorrow, Saturday the 24th of September at noon, the new and beautiful Surrey Public Library opens in what we oldtimers called Whalley. Among official events will be a brief introduction of Surrey authors, myself among them.
Sunday is the big day for Word On the Streets, WOTS, at the downtown Vancouver Public Library.
Lots more to come!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moonshine Leads to Another "Soldier of the Horse" (Part 1)

Not long ago I received the following email:

 I just finished your book, I felt I was reading my own family history. My grandfather Thomas West, was born in England and immigrated to Canada with his parents to homestead in Dauphin Manitoba. He became a member of the Northwest Mounted Police, apparently he was supposed to bring in a fellow who had been making moonshine, instead he helped him drink it and was consequently AWOL. He was given the choice of jail or the cavalry, he chose the latter and joined the Strathcona's Horse in Winnipeg right around 1914. He was wounded in the Battle of Moreuil Wood. My grandfather died before I was born, so I never had the opportunity of knowing him. Your story allowed me a glimpse into a critical part of his life that had lasting effects. Thank You.

This email touched several chords with me. It is great to receive feedback, of course. Thomas West's story has obvious parallels to those of my father, Tom Mackay, as readers of "Soldier of the Horse" will know. And, coincidentally, my mother was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, where her father was one of the few physicians in the area. Perhaps he treated Tom West!

Pictured at left is Tom West's son Ralph and his wife Irma, who live in Yaletown, Vancouver.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" and the Nissen Hut

When I was writing "Soldier of the Horse" and doing research to help with the details, it was fascinating how incidents that my dad had mentioned would come to mind. (The book is based loosely on his story.) Every once in awhile I came across historical records that would tie in with his anecdotes.
One example is to be found among images in the Canadian War Museum's publication, "Military Munnings: The Canadian War Art of an Equestrian Painter". On page 36 of that glossy volume is a painting entitled "Brigade Headquarters at Smallfoot Wood". In the foreground are what look like covered dugouts or huts; and, in the background, a number of what I think of as Quonset huts. These are the familiar steel-skinned buildings, semicircular in cross section, perhaps forty feet long and twenty feet across, looking rather like a large half-buried sewer pipe. The Quonset appears to be a World War II American adaptation of the Nissen hut, developed by the British during World War I.
The connection is this: Dad told me that on one occasion he and a couple of pals had imbibed more than their share of the day's rum, or perhaps local French wine. It occurred to them to clamber up the circular sides of the hut where the brigade commander, General Seely, was holding court with his regimental commanders. They did so, and stomped around on the sloping roof, just so the general and his staff could appreciate the joke.
It turned out the general didn't think the skylark was all that funny, and Dad lost whatever stripes he had accummulated at that point. Given some of his other stories, it is amazing he finished the war as a sergeant.
The cover of "Soldier of the Horse" is part of another Munning painting, "A Canadian Trooper and his Horse (Unfinished)".

For more Munnings paintings and the Canadian cavalry, see my website

Monday, August 29, 2011

CAA Workshop--develop your author's Voice

I am looking forward to the Canadian Authors Association workshop on October 1st at the Polish Community Hall on Fraser Street in Vancouver. The presenter will be none other than Lois Peterson, the very talented author of many books, as well as being a practised teacher and presenter. Details are available at the CAA Vancouver website,

Voice Lessons: strategies for making your words sing with Lois Peterson

Photo of Lois PetersonEditors and publishers will tell you that what most effectively gets their attention is writing with the most distinctive voice. In this half-day workshop, you'll learn to recognize strong voice, identify craft elements that contribute to it, and analyse your own work in order to strengthen your writing and get the attention of editors, publishers and readers.
This workshop includes discussion, examples and writing exercises.

Details are posted on the CAA Vancouver website, above.

Monday, August 22, 2011

War Horse

A year or two ago I became aware of a play on the London stage, "War Horse". There were several fascinating facets to the play. The first to catch my eye was that the horses were integral characters, and the second was that they were played on the stage by people in large, ten-foot-high wooden puppets. Secondly, they play was deadly serious--that is, it was a serious story, and the audiences by all accounts were swept immediately into the lives of the horses, and their human companions, as they slogged their way though the horrors of the First World War.
The play has now made its way to a triumphal run on Broadway.
Interestingly, as far as I can tell, the play was adapted from a YA novel of the same name, written by Mark Morpurgo. It is about to take on yet another life form, as it is receiving the big screen treatment by none other than Stephen Spielberg. A preview is available online: . One can only hope that the real-life, bittersweet story and atmosphere of the novel come through on the screen. Having read the novel, I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Booksigning Loads of Fun

The big day, July 23rd, dawned bright and clear. Kerrisdale Village hummed with activity, but even so I was able to grab a parking spot only two blocks from Hager Books. Proprietor Andrea Davies and her dellightful staff arranged a heap of "Soldiers" near the front door, and I propped up my laptop to show a few images of  WW I's Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
The very first customer to buy a copy of "Soldier of the Horse" was Ian Slater. By an amazing coincidence, I had met Ian years ago when I took a one-day Saturday writing course from him at Langara College. Ian is a writer of thrillers, at least two of which I have read.
Hager Books has an obvious following of book-lovers; it was a real pleasure to meet and chat with some of their regulars. One was a high school student who had just last year studied the First World War in grade 11; and another was a teacher who has led classes on battlefield tours in Europe.
In short--great fun, at a great book store.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Signing 23 July at Hager Books--nothing but pressure!

Many thanks to my long-time family friend Susila Bryant, who called CBC's Almanac today and suggested "Soldier of the Horse" for summer reading. Susila has gone out of her way to talk up the signing event which takes place tomorrow, the 23rd, at 2167 W 41st in Vancouver. Proprietor Andrea Davies has been a pleasure to deal with.
Seriously--looking forward to the event, and if I get to chat to a few people about my book it will be a great experience.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" Signing

In my efforts to get with the times, my book marketing for "Soldier of the Horse" has been limited to mainly online promotion but for a handful of reading events. That is about to change, however, as I will be signing books at Hager Books, 2176 W 41st Ave, Vancouver, on Saturday July 23rd from 1 to 2pm. The great folks at TouchWood Editions (my publisher) have produced a poster, a couple of copies of which are now displayed at the bookstore; extra copies of "Soldier" have been ordered; and I have been practising my signature.
I am very much looking forward to the occasion. Will the lineups extend around the block? Will late arrivals, missing the deadline to get to the signing table, riot in the streets? How many policemen will the mayor mobilize to protect the good burghers of Kerrisdale? They can't say they weren't warned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dennis Bolen's "Anticipated Results"--the man can write

I recently read Dennis E. Bolen's "Anticipated Results". Dennis's boomer-age characters seem to live in a miasma of booze and cigarette smoke, much as their parents did a generation before them; the difference being that their parents have been labelled the "Greatest Generation". The people in Anticipated Results are boomers who will not be labelled "great". They are the dropouts who never amount to anything, living in the underlayer of society where they try to find traction in careers, in relationships.
 Anticipated Results marks a change in that Bolen's previous books have generally featured serious criminality, one way or the other. As Bolen put it himself in an interview with Sean Cranbury of Books On the Radio, "My characters here are suffering the prosaic, they are enduring the mundane, and are exhibiting the exhaustion of boredom and spiritual stasis. Alcohol, sex, and car-love are the salves they generally resort to, but nary a dishonest thought typically enters their minds."

Dennis Bolen can write. His dialogue is crisp, abrupt, and efficient. Recent reviews in Qull & Quire and the National Post confirm a book worth reading.

Monday, July 4, 2011

World War I Horses of Interest

My friend Spider loaned his copy of "Soldier of the Horse" to his step-father. Spider commented as follows:

"This one's from my step-father who will be 101 years old in
September. I just talked to him on the phone this morning and almost
the first words out of his mouth were "I finished the book you lent
me." He tells me that he really enjoyed it and when I commented that
it's an entertaining read he replied "yes, it is entertaining but it's
more than that - it's very informative." He was quite interested in
the role of horses in WWI. This, of course, led to a long discussion
on horses in the war."

As far as I know, that makes him my oldest reader. Let's hope we can all read, and learn, at 101!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Korean Writers Association Honours Veterans

The Canadian Writers Association Canada held their Multi-Poem Festival on June 25th, 2011, at the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby. Their theme, "Freedom, War, Peace", featured poems in English and Korean, with onscreen and oral translations provided each way. Pictured at left is president David Lee, with Canadian veteran Mel Anderson who served in Korea with 3 PPCLI.    

Veteran Glenn Palmer was with 1 PPCLI in the Korean War. He is pictured on the right with his grandson Vaughn, aged 9, who read a poem, "Another War For Peace".           
I was honoured to be asked to read "In Flanders Fields", so familiar to all of us raised in Canada and who have attended Remembrance Day ceremonies. Touchingly, translation was provided by Ms Chong In Im, on my right. She described her gratitude to the UN and Canadian forces who assisted South Korea in their time of need. She was born in Seoul December, 1949, just months before the Korean War broke out. "But for them, I would not be here today", she said. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guest Blog--Ride to Conquer Cancer

This is a letter written by my wife, Pat, to thank those generous folks who contributed to the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Pat and our eldest, Scott, undertook the ride this past weekend. The top photo shows the intrepid pair before setting off from Cloverdale, in the driving rain; the one at the bottom of Pat's article shows them after arrival, rightfully proud and more or less in one piece. Congratulations, and thanks, to all those who took part. 

Wow what a ride!
Thanks to all of you once again for having supported me on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. You helped me raise $10,411 and our team (my son Scott and I) raised $13,281 due to the generosity of so many people. And you helped the Ride raise a grand total of $11.1 million for the BC Cancer Foundation in support of research and patient care.
2879 riders set off on Saturday, June 18th, in the pouring rain, wet before we even headed through the gates. Lots of people lined the way, braving the rain to cheer us on. That was such a boost to our energy. Wind, rain and cold accompanied us until lunchtime when finally the rain stopped. If any of you ever wondered as a kid – do you get wetter if you walk or run - I can tell you that riding between 20 and 30 km into the rain guarantees that you get wet very quickly! Note to self – next time get better raingear.
We made great time the first day, slowed for a time by having to change a flat tire, arriving at Mount Vernon at 2:30 pm. We didn’t stop much because of the cold. It was a great route, as we rode along Birch Bay, passed through Bellingham and rode up a gentle incline on a paved path through forest to Lake Samish for lunch. Then down country roads that are a blur to me to Mount Vernon. On a different day we might have been able to appreciate the scenery.
We had made the decision to stay in a hotel because this old body likes her creature comforts. It had the added advantage of being able to dry out our gear; I suspect that many of the people staying in tents started the next day with their gear still wet. After a good night’s sleep, we went back to the campsite only to find that many of the riders had already headed out. Quickly grabbing our bikes, we settled our tender rear ends on the seats and coaxed our muscles into action. Did I mention that it was raining again? And cold?
Sunday’s ride started with a long straight stretch through valley farms, however, the second day of riding in the rain soon started to take a toll on riders. Shortly after heading out, we passed a number of bikes lying on the road and a rider down, covered by blankets, and surrounded by emergency personnel. We hope the best for him. Later as we approached a steep downward slope we were warned to slow right down as about 6 people had already wiped out. When we reached the last pit stop before lunch, a number of people opted to take the bus. To reach Lake Stevens, our lunch spot, we rode up another long path through forest. It was a very long 15 kilometres.
At lunch, a number of people were taken to hospital because of hypothermia and the volunteers were handing out metallic thermal covers. Scott and I were shaking with cold and I think Scott was close to being hypothermic as his clothing really hadn’t protected him at all from the rain and cold. The volunteers taped these metallic blankets around our cores to try and keep our body heat in; we were modern day tinmen. In addition, Scott had taken a puck on the ankle a couple weeks before and having to disengage his cleat from the pedal multiple times over the course of two days lead to an extremely painful ankle. Again, the wonderful volunteers at the medical tent came to his aid and taped up his foot. My husband Bob had come along as road crew and was waiting at the lunch spot for us so we were able to sit in the vehicle to warm up a bit. This time I didn’t mind the engine running.
The instant we stepped out of the truck, the shaking started again and we pushed ourselves just to try and get the blood moving. The last half of the day was spent on a mixture of paved forest trails and roadway. Washington has an incredible network of trails through forest, well-used by runners, bikers and families with strollers. Something that we should be doing in BC.
They saved the hard hills for the last half of Sunday’s Ride. Yours truly was tested by a number of them but they did manage to warm us up somewhat! Scott says he had to slow down for his mother on the hills which I would like to deny but can’t. However, overall I feel pretty good about what this old, previously sedentary body managed to achieve. Finally we reached the last pit stop. The rain stopped and we had only 12 kilometres to go. It seemed like a very long 12 kilometres but finally we could see the end and hear the cheering and, roughly five hours after we started, we passed through the crowd. We felt on top of the world.
A huge thank you goes out to the many, many fabulous volunteers who directed us along the back roads through BC and Washington, fed us, provided medical care and good cheer, and who worked for months to make this Ride happen. The many bystanders cheering on riders along the route gave us strength. Riders cheered on riders, especially those riding with the yellow flags signifying a cancer survivor. Each rider worked hard to raise a minimum of $2500. Each rider rode in memory for people they loved and lost, or in support for people fighting the big fight. Each rider trained for months to meet a strenuous physical test. Each rider battled through adversity on the days of the Ride to reach the ultimate goal. And each rider had a battalion of supporters behind them that made it all possible.
It was an experience of a lifetime and I thank each and every one of you for your support for the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Salute to Tim and the Canadian Breed (2 of 2)

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my friend Tim, who is an avid student of the Canadian cavalry and collects related memorabilia. That is not all, though. He also owns a number of "Canadian" horses, a recognized breed that dates back to the early days of New France. These four-legged Canadians are credited with being a likely founding source of the well-known Morgan breed, generally black, and very successful as driving horses.
As you will note from the picture on the left, these horses are somewhat stocky, and peak at around 15 hands in height. They are very docile and well-behaved, although I couldn't get this fellow to put his ears forward, so as to make a better picture. That was the first time I met him, though, so he was being a little cautious. The Cherry Creek Farm, on Highway 1 between Cache Creek and Kamloops, has an interesting website and promotes the breed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Storming Juno

June 6th, 2011. Sixty-seven years after Canadian, British and American forces landed on Normandy. I did not see a single reference to this astounding and historic event in the two newspapers I reviewed today, one being a major daily and the other a "national" paper.
Last night, through sheer serendipity, I found myself watching a DVD I had picked up at the local store a few days ago. "Storming Juno" concentrates on the stories of members of the Regina Rifles, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and troopers of the 1st Hussars in their theoretically floating tanks. If you think of a Canadian "Band of Brothers", you'd not be far off the mark.
Included with the dramatized footage, much of which was filmed on the duned shores of Lake Huron, is vintage film showing ships, aircraft, and the actual landing. There is an interactive website,, that enables the veiwer to listen to the personal stories of a few of the men who were there.
I highly commend this video and website to all who are interested in Canada's story.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Salute to Tim

A couple of weeks ago I was pleased to get a call from a gentleman named Tim. He had seen "Soldier of the Horse" in the bookrack on a BC Ferry, and wanted to obtain a signed copy. Only too happy to oblige, I arranged to meet him. I was particularly intrigued because Tim told me he had been studying Canadian war horses for some years, and in fact was showing a horse at the Cloverdale Rodeo.
Tim has not only been researching Canadian war horses, and owns a number of cavalry manuals; he has a genuine Canadian cavalry saddle and 1908 Pattern cavalry sword, both with the "C" surrounding a broad arrowhead stamped on them. The broad arrowhead was still a brand used by British forces during my days on loan to the Royal Navy in the 60's, and the surrounding "C" was used in WW I to proudly denote "Canadian" back when our country was more closely tied to Britain.
For lots more about saddles and swords, see "Soldier of the Horse"; and for more about Tim, watch this space!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" at Vancouver Public Library

As noted previously, my fellow writer Ben and I presented ourselves to the Vancouver Public Library on May 16th. I was only recently back from the Canadian Authors Association AGM and conference/workshop in Ontario, so was still slightly jetlagged. Not wanting to be caught short, I took along a small wheelbarrow-load of copies of "Soldier of the Horse". Ben was grumbling because he only had ten books on hand.
We needn't have worried. As the appointed hour approached, our angel at the library--Sheila--draped tables and filled up water glasses. Someone stuck their head in and asked if this was the place for the mental health journalist's discussion. No, we said, he is next door. And, indeed, the topic of mental health and prescriptions was very popular--the speaker had to be assigned a larger room.
On the stroke of seven people started to arrive; not a full house, but quite enough to allow Ben and me to get fired up, read alternately, and answer questions about historical fiction afterward. Thanks to Margaret and Dennis for being there, and to Rosemary and Joe for making my evening. And special thanks to Sheila from the VPL for her help and support.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" at Vancouver Public Library

On Monday, May 16th at 7 pm, I will be reading from "Soldier of the Horse" at the Alma VanDusen room, on the lower level. My friend and fellow CAA Vancouver executive member, Ben Nuttall-Smith, will also be reading from his recently published historical novel, "Blood, Feathers & Holy Men".

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CAA's CanWrite! 2011 Off to a Flying Start

Sandra Stewart, who, you will be able to tell from her expression was very happy to have this photo taken, is co-chair of this year's CAA conference and seminar. Matt Bin, who is to the right in the photo, worked with Sandra to pull together excellent workshop leaders and a Lightning Strikes! session this coming Saturday. The first morning's workshop, by Sandi Plewis, was on the topic of dealing with writer's block and perfectionism. Shoot, I thought perfectionism was good and I needed more of it--but I guess not in the first draft!
We have congregated in Grand Bend, Ontario, but the weather outside has a suspiciously Wet Coast feel to it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Canadian Authors Association Retreat May 2-8

This year, the CAA has set up a writing retreat, AGM, and conference in Grand Bend, Ontario. I have never been to Grand Bend, but once was close: when going through the selection process for the Regular Officer Training Plan (navy) many years ago, I and other candidates were housed at Centralia RCAF base. Grand Bend was touted by those in the know as a party town, and various members of the group made their way there "after hours"--I seem to recall it was basically an AWOL situation. I was not among them. But May 2-8, I'll be in Grand Bend. I wonder if it has changed much since 1959.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vancouver Military Studies Conference

Some 150 people stayed indoors on a glorious Vancouver weekend to attend the first annual Vancouver Military Studies Conference. The guiding force behind the conference was retired air force colonel Keith Maxwell, who is also archivist for the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own). Keith and his committee lined up a great slate of presenters: Professor Mike Bechthold of Wilfred Laurier University; Dr James Wood of University of Victoria; retired Colonel Patrick Dennis, also of WLU; Christine Leppard, University of Calgary; and Dr Geoffrey Hayes, University of Waterloo.
The final event was a panel discussion on the topic of "Reserve Soldiers in Afghanistan", with a question-and-answer session that was factual but at times emotional. The soldiers in attendance ranged in rank from private to major, and presented a very relevant picture of soldiering in Afghanistan that highlighted the day. The photos show Keith introducing the panel.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Moreuil Day

March 30th, 1918, was the occasion of the bloody Battle of Moreuil Wood. The day is commemorated annually by Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians). This year, through sheer good luck, I was able to make a presentation on the Canadian Cavalry Brigade (of which the LSH(RC) was a part) to a combined group of Naval Officers Association of BC and the Royal United Services Institute on March 30. It was an opportunity to talk about a part of Canadian history that is generally beneath the radar of modern courses. A very rewarding experience, for which I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moreuil Wood Saga (Part 4 of 4)

March 30th, 2008, was the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Moreuil Wood. On that date the author and his wife stood beside the spot where Willoughby’s body was found. With us were thirty French villagers, a small band, and French veterans. A minute’s silence was punctuated by a distant gunshot. Then, as we stood with heads bared in the cold, damp wind, the skirl of a pipe was heard. Two figures, a piper and a bugler in First War Highland uniform appeared over the ridge and marched toward us. The piper’s lament gave way to the bugler, and the Canadian flag was raised over Willoughby’s memorial beside the Bois du Moreuil. The French veterans bearing regimental flags stood at attention as wreaths were laid.
Jean-Paul, wearing his Strathconas jacket and cap, spoke to the gathering about the Canadian sacrifices made on that spot ninety years before. Even twenty-two years after the discovery of Willoughby’s unmarked grave, tears rolled down his cheeks. The determination of Jean-Paul and those citizens of Moreuil to commemorate Canadian sacrifices forged a bond for all present. Jean-Paul moved us all that day, Canadians and French alike.
In 2010 Jean-Paul visited Fort Steele, the home of the present-day Strathconas. There, in an emotional ceremony before the commanding officer, he presented relics found with the body of the trooper killed in 1918 to his namesake, John Willoughby, and other members of his family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moreuil Wood Saga (Part 3)

Willoughby’s solitary remains were undisturbed for sixty-eight years, until they were revealed by Jean-Paul’s plow in 1986. Having discovered the body, and knowing little about the Canadian connection, Jean-Paul duly contacted the local authorities. The body was collected and removed for reburial. The plowing and other farm chores carried on, but Jean-Paul couldn’t put J. J. Willoughby out of his mind. Who was this Canadian, so long resting in an unmarked grave on the rolling hills of Picardy?
Jean-Paul Brunel had some sense of history. His grandmother had told him stories about when she was a young woman during World War One, driving a vehicle to carry soldiers to the front. He knew the village of Moreuil had been flattened, battered to heaps of rubble by German artillery, leaving but one building barely standing. Jean-Paul had a soft spot for Canadians fostered by early travels when he met several in youth hostels. He respected the sacrifices of Canadians who had fought and died in France in two world wars to protect the French and French soil.
Jean-Paul tried to trace Willoughby’s descendants in Canada, but was unsuccessful. As the years went by, Jean-Paul got on with his life. But he kept the Willoughby artifacts close, safe in storage in his office. The regimental badge, the spur, the live ammunition tugged at him, reminding him of unanswered questions. Slowly, his interest in the battles of the First War grew.

In order to mark the spot where he had discovered the remains of trooper Willoughby, Jean-Paul set up a moving memorial. Located at the side of his field, it backs onto a corner of Moreuil Wood within feet of ancient shellholes and trenches. Facing the field are reproductions of paintings of the Canadian cavalry, mounted to form a cross. Rusted British and German helmets are hung either side, with the bulk of the installation made up of native rock and wicked-looking unexploded munitions.

In 2004 his interest accelerated. Friends and fellow amateur historians had organized a memorial to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. They erected and dedicated a cairn a mile from Moreuil Wood. In attendance were representatives of the present-day Fort Garry Horse, one of the regiments that had been part of the Brigade. Jean-Paul was invited, as the man who had discovered Willoughby’s remains, to take part in the ceremony. In a solemn and emotional moment for Jean-Paul the Garrys, walking the route of the long-ago Brigade, came upon Willoughby’s memorial at the edge of Jean-Paul’s field—and saluted.

In 2007 a Yap Films crew interviewed Jean-Paul for an hour-long documentary, “Man & Horse”, which dealt with the Canadian cavalry in general and Willoughby in particular. In the course of researching for the production, the crew discovered living members of  Willoughby’s family, including his great nephew, John James Willoughby of Drayton Valley, Alberta. Yap Films took the younger Willoughby to France to show him where his great-uncle fought and died. In an emotional scene Jean-Paul Brunel came face-to-face with the namesake of the cavalryman whose memory he had worked so hard to preserve. The film crew presented Jean-Paul with a Lord Strathcona’s Horse jacket and cap, which he wears proudly to historical functions.

The French farmer has become a crusader for recognition of Canadian sacrifices on behalf of the people of Moreuil. In 2008 he established “Historial de Moreuil”, a society to study and memorialize the efforts of the Canadians and the battles that surrounded the town in the Great War.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Moreuil Wood Saga (Part 2)

 John James Willoughby was one of thirteen children, raised in Ontario. He was at times a barber and possibly a miner, and in 1914 was sworn in as a member of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. He left the force in 1916, and shortly thereafter joined Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). After training in Winnipeg and England he was taken on strength by the regiment, which was then in the field in France. The Strathconas, along with the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Fort Garry Horse, were the backbone of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, acting under British command. When Willoughby arrived in 1917, the Brigade was spending much of their time in the trenches, augmenting the infantry.

In the spring of 1918, everything changed. The German army made one last, great, convulsive effort, overrunning Allied lines over a forty-mile front. British and French forces were overrun or in retreat. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade, now remounted, was ordered to turn back the German juggernaut, or at least delay it. After nine days of running battles the Brigade reached the ridge overlooking the Avre River and the village of Moreuil. If the Germans were not stopped here, it was feared they would cut the rail line from Amiens to Paris, and irrevocably turn the tide of the war in their favour. Brigadier John Seely flung his troops into a desperate battle for Moreuil Wood, already in the hands of the enemy. The Canadians fought the Germans to a standstill, and eventually drove them back, but at huge cost. The Brigade suffered terrible losses in hand-to-hand battles in the Wood and in a mounted charge by C Squadron of the Strathconas against machineguns and artillery.
In the course of the battle many young Canadians died. Willoughby was among them. Precisely how he came to be buried in an unmarked spot is unknown. He may have succumbed to wounds, then been entombed by earth thrown up by exploding artillery shells. Officially, he was among the missing. His name is still chiselled on the face of the Vimy Memorial, among the 11,284 other Canadian soldiers “the site of whose graves is unknown”.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moreuil Wood Saga (Part 1)

The day dawned clear and bright as French farmer Jean-Paul Brunel prepared for a day’s plowing. He drove his tractor to a field atop a ridge near Moreuil Wood. To the south was the forest, still pockmarked amongst the beech trees by remnants of shell holes from seventy years before. Just visible to the northwest, the city of Amiens caught the early morning light. Rolling hills of the Picardy countryside stretched away east; to the west, the land sloped downhill to the broad, shallow valley of the Avre River and the village of Moreuil. The pastoral scene belied the blood-soaked history of the area for it was here that the Canadian Cavalry Brigade fought a desperate battle in World War One. History was about to intrude on M. Brunel.

Something caught his eye. He stopped his machine and climbed down. A boot, partially rotted and battered, but clearly a boot, was exposed. With a bone still in it. Jean-Paul marked the spot and returned later with a shovel and mattock. It was not unknown for the detritus of war to be heaved to the surface of French fields after spring thaws. Unexploded shells, fragments of weapons, shrapnel—all are regularly recovered and tossed aside by the farmers. Sometimes even bodies.

But this time would be different.

On October 2nd, 1986, Jean-Paul’s mattock clanked against metal, and his searching fingers brushed mud off the remains of a change purse and small collection of coins. American, French, and Canadian coins. Further excavation turned up .303 ammunition, a spur, and buckles. Next came the skeletal remains of a body, along with a metal shoulder badge and identity disks. The remains now had a name—John James Willoughby. The shoulder badge identified Willoughby as a trooper of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), one of three regiments that made up the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Jean-Paul stood and gazed west, the direction from which Willoughby and the rest of the Brigade would have approached the ridge. He was taken off guard by a tear that trickled down his cheek.
*     *     *

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" launched

A rambunctious crowd was on hand for the launch of "Soldier of the Horse", my first published novel, which had its genesis in the brutal battlefields of northern France in the Great War. Many thanks to all those friends and family who turned out for the occasion, and to the good people at TouchWood Editions who made it all come together.

At left above is the proud author and wife Pat, together with Barney Flowerdew, nephew of Gordon Flowerdew, VC, who had such a pivotal role in the Battle of Moreuil Wood and therefore in the book itself.

The launch took place in the hall of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 6, Cloverdale; an appropriate place for all kinds of reasons.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I just had an email from Sidney Allinson, who blogs under "warwriting", re Steven Spielberg's latest epic, due out late this year. Very interesting article in British newspaper at
Readers of Soldier of the Horse will be interested, for sure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time--it's all relative

My current project is to put together a presentation for the Western Front Association, Pacific Coast Branch conference and AGM in Victoria, March 4th to 6th. My topic is "The Canadian Cavalry Brigade in World War I". To do so I have done a historical summary and collected images to tie in with the editorial copy. One photo takes me back: my father and me, standing on the front steps of our house, in approximately 1962. I am in the uniform of an RCN midshipman. A much earlier photo shows Dad, c 1914-15, in cavalry uniform, with his father and grandfather.
When the photo of Dad and me was taken, he would have been 68 or 69 years old, my current age. When I was a young man the days of my father's youth, and the Great War, seemed an impossibly long time before. But in the Second World War, when I was born, WW I must have seemed like the day before to Dad.

Now that I have entered the world of 1914 via writing "Soldier of the Horse", it is starting to feel like yesterday, even to me, ninety-seven years later.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Launch is coming for "Soldier of the Horse"

Working hard toward the upcoming launch in the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 6, 17567-57th Ave, Cloverdale on March 2nd at 7 pm. I have sent out 300 emails today, according to hotmail, as they have now shut me down for 24 hours! "Only" about 250 of those were invitations to the launch, so lots more to do tomorrow if the system lets me continue.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" Arrives

Here I am with "Soldier of the Horse"--the first copy out of the box. It has been an exciting trip, especially as the publication date approached. What with the launch set for March 2nd, in the Cloverdale Legion, and the book in distribution at this time, I am anxiously awaiting reaction from readers. It is 93 years since the cataclysmic events that inspired this story; I hope I have done it justice.

Here are the memers of the first readers' editorial board, without whom the project would not have happened. Thanks, Ross, Pat and Scott.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Countdown to "Soldier of the Horse"

There is barely a month left before the book launch for "Soldier of the Horse." The event is set for March 2nd, in the Cloverdale Branch No. 6 of the Royal Canadian Legion, 17567 57th Avenue, Cloverdale. I am looking forward to seeing lots of family, friends, and fellow writers; and to telling them a little about the book, why I wrote it, and what's on tap for the future. Not that I have actually seen the book yet, but I am assured it is in the pipeline!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Western Front Association

A good friend, hearing about the book I was then writing, suggested I join the Western Front Association, and I am very glad I did so. The WFA is based in the UK, and was "formed with the aim of furthering interest in the period 1914-1918, to perpetuate the memory, courage aond comradeship of those of all sides who served their countries..." The Association publishes an excellent journal, "Stand To!" as well as regular bulletins, both of which are very authoritative and informative.

(Photo: Messrs Allinson, Patten, and Broznitsky; past president, founder, and president respectively of the Pacific Coast Branch)

Even better, from my point of view, is that there is a Pacific Coast Branch of the WFA headquartered in Victoria with informal get-togethers in the Lower Mainland. The main event, however, is the annual Seminar and AGM, to be held this year on the first weekend in March, the 2nd through 4th. Speakers will include Colonel (Retired) Keith Maxwell on "Canada and the Last 100 Days of WW I;" Charlotte Cardoen, who is a certified battlefield guide; and a number of other distinguished presenters.

I will be the last presenter, on the Sunday, on the topic of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in WW I. I am looking forward to sharing the research I have done.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Canadian Authors Association going strong

CAA Vancouver's monthly meeting, held January 12th at the offices of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, 100-938 Howe Street, had an enthusiastic crowd of members and prospective members turn out to hear an animated reading by novelist Ian Weir. Ian is also an accomplished TV and screen writer, and he spent a busy evening fielding questions and reading from his debut novel, "Daniel O'Thunder". Ian is currently working on his second novel and is a long-time member of the Canadian Authors Association.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Launch date approaches

My historical novel, "Soldier of the Horse," is galloping toward us. The cover has been finalized, back and front, due to the tireless work of the people at Touchwood Editions. (It is amazing how much effort is required to actually get a book off the ground, quite apart from writing it.) I have placed an order for a few copies above and beyond the free author's copies; the distribution network is standing by....  and I'd better stop holding my breath, as my complexion is starting to resemble those sunny summer skies that we remember so fondly as the snow falls outside.