Monday, April 30, 2012

Galloper Jack and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade (Part 4)

Brigadier general Jack Seely first met his Canadian contingent on February 1st, 1915, at Pond Farm Camp, Salisbury Plain. Conditions under incessant rain were so bad that in order to reach the regiments, he had to abandon first his automobile, then his horse, and plod through the mud on foot. Within weeks he had moved the brigade to drier quarters; swapped the Ross rifle for the Lee-Enfield; witnessed his men volunteering to go into the trenches along with the Canadians already there, leaving their horses behind; and endeared himself to the troopers by stopping a particularly harsh form of discipline.
Galloper Jack led his brigade ashore at Boulogne on May 5th, 1915. They were almost immediately into the trenches, which they were to occupy more or less continuously until late 1917, although they again became “mounted” in 1916. Seely’s greatest test was still ahead of him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Galloper Jack and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade (Part 3)

In late 1914, Jack Seely found himself at loose ends. His political career had come off the rails, and in the meantime, wartime Britain was responding militarily without him. He had been involved in moving the British Expeditionary Force to the continent in 1914, but by January 1915 he was champing at the bit for some meaningful role.
His old friend Winston Churchill came to the rescue. He spoke to Lord Kitchener, who noted there were “two regular Canadian cavalry regiments which, with a yeomanry regiment added, would make a good cavalry brigade...”.
In his book “Galloper Jack”, Seely’s grandson notes “to the outsider they looked a displaced, half-trained, makeshift bunch of ranchers, clerks, cowboys, ex-pats, mounties and Red Indians, whose connection with Seely was about as distant as you could get. But they were made for each other.”
And so it was that the British army got rid of a thorn in their side, a former Secretary of War, no less. And the Canadian Cavalry Brigade got an English, aristocratic brigadier, whether that was what Sam Hughes and the Canadian government wanted or not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Galloper Jack and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade ( Part 2)

During the prewar years of the 20th century, Jack Seely's career soared to amazing heights. Although a Conservative, he crossed the floor of the house and sat as a Liberal. He ultimately achieved cabinet status as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Under-Secretary of State for War, Privy Councillor, and in 1912 became Secretary of State for War.
Seely was most proud of his time in the latter position, encouraging the development of the Royal Flying Corps; inviting General Foch of the French army to attend British army manoeuvres; and observing German manoeuvres with the Kaiser. There is no doubt he anticipated World War I and did his best to prepare Britain's forces for it.
As a result of the Curragh Mutiny, for which he was unfairly blamed, Seely was forced to resign from the cabinet on March 30th, 1914. He little dreamt that precisely four years later he would face his hardest, and finest, hour.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Galloper Jack and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade (Part 1)

John Edward Bernard "Jack" Seely, later known as 1st Baron Mottistone, was a British soldier, politician and statesman whose destiny was tied to that of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. His early years were like fiction straight out of the "Boy's Own" model: taking part in lifeboat rescues off the Isle of Wight; travelling the world; and being commissioned in the Hampshire Yeomanry.
As a cavalry officer, Seely saw service in South Africa, where he first encountered Canadian mounted troops. The next time was to be much more significant for both parties. While taking part in the Boer War, Seely was elected in absentia as MP for the Isle of Wight. In the meantime, a former schoolmate was also a rising star in the British firmament--a writer, soldier and statesman named Winston Churchill.
The groundwork was laid. Storm clouds on the international horizon were slowly gathering, and Seely would respond.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"War Horse" Images

The novel War Horse, followed by the play and movie of the same name, has sparked much interest in the activities of British and Commonwealth cavalries in World War I. Michael Morpurgo's novel had plenty of inspiration to draw on for its battle scenes, from early cavalry charges in 1914, through the desperate fighting at Moreuil Wood by the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, and the last 100 days of the war.
Popular images of cavalry charges, with well-organized lines of mounted men sweeping into battle, were reinforced by such paintings as "The Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron" by Sir Alfred Munnings. (For a look at that painting, see my website.) The reality was much different. Indeed, the cavalry continued to be decimated up to the final days, whenever machine guns and artillery were ready and waiting for them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bloody Jack and the Soldier of the Horse (part 2 of 2)

At some point during the hunt for the escaped Bloody Jack and its aftermath, the police saw fit to question my father, even putting it to him that he had attempted to file the serial number off the Colt pistol used by Jack in his escape. Reflecting on this many years after Dad told me the story, it occurred to me that he never actually said whether he had or had not done so. But, knowing him, I am sure he assumed nobody would seriously think he would do any such thing.
The newspapers of the day had a field day, what with the trial of Krafchenko and his eventual execution, as well as the just as sensational trials of the conspirators to the jailbreak, including lawyer Percy Hagel. I did some research in the archives of the Free Press, in order to check out my father’s story. It was with considerable satisfaction that I came across an item saying something like “...and the conspirators returned to Hagel’s office, where the clerk Mackie was...”. I have no doubt it was with great relief that Dad and his family saw the error—his name of course was Tom Mackay, but we in the family have always pronounced it like “Mackie”. So the family was spared some embarrassment, and I was able to corroborate my dad’s story.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bloody Jack and the Soldier of the Horse

When loosely telling my dad's story of his time in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, I could hardly leave out a version of how he ended up in a recruiting office and "volunteering". He was then an articled clerk, ie law student, in the offices of John Hagel, KC. Unfortunately for him, John's son Percy, a real rascal, was also working there as a lawyer. Percy was defending Bloody Jack Krafchenko, an accused bank robber and murderer, who convinced Percy to help him break out of jail. Jack did break out, and the subsequent hue and cry made a laughing-stock of the Winnipeg Police. For a contemporary account, and an amusing cartoon, click here.
More about this in a post later this week.