Thursday, July 26, 2012

Painting of a Canadian Trooper

Here is a copy of an iconic painting entitled "Soldier, Lord Strathcona's Horse, 1918". It is by Ron Volstad, courtesy, Department of National Defense.
The painting illustrates the equipment carried by a WW I Canadian trooper and his horse. Note the leather "wallets" on the front of the saddle, the .303 Lee Enfield in its bucket, and the 1908 Pattern sword. (Readers of "Soldier of the Horse" will know why the wallets are important.)
Both horse and rider carry ammunition.
An unencumbered cavalry saddle of the day (see below) would have been hard to hang onto, in the case of a rambunctious charger; but, once loaded down with standard gear, probably as hard to fall off of as any western saddle.

This photo was taken by the author at the The Military Museums in Calgary

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Canadian Submarine Sinks a Ship

HMCS Victoria, one of Canada’s four deisel-electric submarines, is currently taking part in RIMPAC 2012, a major multinational military exercise out of Hawaii. As part of her contribution and training, Victoria got to perform a “Sinkex”, which is just what it sounds like—she sank a surface ship.

The victim was the former USNS Concord, 18,000 tons, stripped and prepped for disposal.

For a look at the shocking power of a single torpedo fired by Victoria, see this site and follow the links:

The video is a brutal reminder that a single submarine has the potential to cause untold havoc on shipping. It is hard to imagine the enormity of the job faced by Allied forces during the Battle of the Atlantic, when the RCN, among others, faced the German U-boat blockade. It is equally hard to imagine the bravery of the men manning unarmed merchant ships in those cruel waters.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Iron Rations for Long-nosed Friends

A couple of weeks ago, I featured an item about “Iron Rations” for World War I cavalrymen. But what of the trooper’s mount? 
Depending on season and weather, horses could graze and access water. Extra energy was supplied by a small supply of grain or corn. A canvas bucket was slung on the saddle for watering.
Aside from those small items, what was a cavalry horse burdened with, besides the soldier himself? Picture this:
- rifle and bucket for same
- bandoleers of ammunition
- bayonet
- sword and scabbard
- saddle
- iron rations for trooper
- mess tin
- spare horseshoes
- hay net
- two blankets
- greatcoat
- picketing peg
- wallets (front-of-saddle leather bags)
Add to that any extra items carried by a trooper—ciagrettes, matches, would take a healthy animal to function under the load, but the result was a highly mobile, versatile fighting unit. (source: ““It’s a charge, boys, it’s a charge!” Cavalry Action at Moreuil Wood 30 March1918” by John R. Grodzinski and Michael R. McNorgan, in Fighting For Canada Seven Battles, 1758-1945”.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One Hundred Years of Canadian Submarines

2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Canadian submarines, as well as the first year of the Great War. The history of submarines in Canada continues to be written, and seldom in as readable a form as the books by Julie H. Ferguson. Through A Canadian Periscope: The Story of the Canadian Submarine Service came out in 1995, and is now out of print. Ms. Ferguson reports, however, that it will be reprinted in 2014 and once again available.
In the words of one reviewer: “The Canadian Submarine Service owes Ferguson a debt of gratitude for the effort she has put into a fine book. Students will enjoy experiencing this little known part of Canada's naval history.”—Ian Stewart, Winnipeg Public Library.
Not content with her first installment of the Canadian submarine story, Ms. Ferguson followed up with New Submarines For A New Millenium, picking up where her earlier book left off, detailing the abortive nuclear submarine program and subsequent developments in the world of Canadian submarines.
Julie Ferguson’s other books, and related services to writers, can be explored at

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First World War submarine found intact

E14, one of the most storied submarines of the Royal Navy in the Great War has been found intact in the Dardanelles. Her captain, LCdr Edward Courtney Boyle, was awarded the Victoria Cross for the valour displayed around the end of April, 1915, when he terrorized the enemy in the Sea of Marmara. His entire crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
HMS E14 was later lost in the same area; her then captain was also awarded the VC, but in his case, posthumously.
See the newspaper account here:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Could you function and fight on a diet of iron rations?

“Iron Rations” for the British Tommies in World War I would be carried by soldiers when they were away from regimental cooking arrangements. A good example was when the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was in almost continuous action in late March 1918. Here’s what the troopers carried with them:

-          One tin of beef (“bully beef”; Frey Bentos; with an attached key for opening).

-          6 ounces or so of biscuits.

-          One ounce of beef extract (eg OXO).

-          One small package of tea.

-          Package of salt, and perhaps sugar.

Here is a photo taken in the Fort Garry Horse Museum in Winnipeg that gives another version of iron rations:

Pretty slim pickings for active men who could be fighting, riding, or marching--or doing all three--in a day. There probably weren’t many overweight soldiers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

From Saddles and Spurs to Periscopes and North-Seekers**

Since I started writing this blog in 2010, I have written 109 posts. The vast majority of those have been related one way or another to writing and the publication of my first historical novel, "Soldier of the Horse". In the course of researching for and promoting "Soldier", I have enjoyed meeting and receiving contributions from many fascinating people.
While I will continue to write about the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, its regiments, and its present-day descendants, I am also going to explore what is new territory for my blog. Some readers will know I spent time in the mysterious, occasionally dangerous, and always exciting world of submarines.
My next novel will be set in a Cold War-era submarine. Research and racking of memory banks will be ongoing as I work on this project, and my blog will reflect some of that. So, down periscope, full ahead!
** North-Seekers: The Royal Navy issued boots to their submariners. The boots sported a broad arrowhead on the toe; hence north-seekers in submarine slang.