Monday, March 18, 2013

Canadian Submarines—Ninety-nine Years and Counting (Part 1)

HMCS Ojibwa in a calm sea

There is a Canadian underground which only volunteers are eligible to join, and in which not all volunteers are successful. Little known outside the navy, submariners—a small band of men who have served beneath the waves, inherit memories and language from their forerunners.
Officers and men of the Royal Canadian Navy have served in British and American, but primarily Canadian, boats.
Fifteen undersea boats have flown Canada’s flag, first the white ensign up to the 1960’s and most recently the maple leaf. Our earliest boats, C1 and C2, were commissioned in the Royal Canadian Navy in August 1914 as CC1 and CC2. Next up were CH14 and CH15, interestingly enough built for the Royal Navy in the US during the First World War, but transferred to Canada on the Armistice being signed.
Two German U-boats surrendered to the RCN when hostilities ceased in 1945; they didn’t last long, and were never operational in any real sense.
Our close cousins in the United States Navy supplied two diesel-electric boats which became HMCS Grilse and HMCS Rainbow during the cold war. The British influence was re-exerted when Canada purchased three Oberon-class boats, HMC Submarines Ojibwa, Onondaga, and Okanagan. A new generation of formerly British boats has been transformed into the four Victoria-class: Victoria, Chicoutimi, Corner Brook, and Windsor.
Now stationed two on each coast, the Victorias are writing the latest chapters in Canada’s u-boat history. More details forthcoming in subsequent posts.
(Author's note: don't let the fact that Part 1 of this series is coming out after Part 2 throw you off. My mistake!)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Korean Vet and Lord Strathcona's Horse (Part 3 of 3

Twenty-seven thousand Canadians served in the Korean War. The first fighting units in the theatre were Royal Canadian Navy destroyers HMC Ships Cayuga, Athabaskan, and Sioux. The Army was next, with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Royal Canadian Regiment, and the Royal 22e Regiment, the 2nd Battalion in each case. Also in close support to the infantry were troopers of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and gunners of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Transport of men and supplies was carried out by the RCAF, and many other support units were involved.
Nearly sixty-three years have come and gone since the Korean War broke out in 1950. Not surprisingly, even the teenaged soldiers and sailors who were there are old men. The Korean Veterans Association has fewer and fewer members, having resolved early on that only personnel who served in Korea could become members. Soon the Association will be gone, and with it, another of Canada’s living memorials to the generations of warriors who have served their country so well.
In the photo above, Harold Finnegan, who served with Lord Strathcona's Horse, is toasting the memory of a departed comrade. Most of the other men in the photo have since passed away.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Korean Vet and Lord Strathcona's Horse (Part 2)

Harold Finnegan was a member of the Special Force that fought in Korea under the Canadian and UN flags. The Special Force was a mixed bag of men and boys who signed up in droves, flooding recruiting offices. Many, like Harold, were youngsters who had “missed the fun” when WW II ended in 1945. Others were veterans whose lives as civilians didn’t work out for one reason or another. And they certainly didn’t know what they were getting into. 

Why a “Special Force”? The Canadian army was exhausted and run down after herculerian efforts in World War II. And when the call went out to members of the United Nations to do a “police action” Canada, as a charter member of the UN, wanted to be there. So, the thinking went, rather than send battle-scarred regiments which had settled into peacetime duties, recruit a new bunch: hence a Special Force, whose members signed up for eighteen months—plenty of time to do Canada’s duty in the Hermit Kingdom, right?
Fortunately for the Canadians who volunteered, they had excellent leadership. And, at the end of the day, the men who volunteered did their country proud. More than five hundred of them did not come back from Korea. Harold Finnegan is one who did.

 Harold's medals, above, include the Canadian Forces Decoration with bar, UN, NATO, Korea, and Vietnam service decorations. (The latter was earned prior to the Vietnam War, following the illfated Paris Peace Accord.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Korean Vet and Lord Strathcona's Horse

On Tuesday of this week, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Harold Finnegan in the Lynn Valley Legion, North Vancouver, BC. Harold is a Korean War veteran. He was with Lord Strathcona’s Horse in the “Land of the Morning Calm” from August 1950 until May 1952. I am always interested in meeting veterans, whichever service they did their time in. But not only was Harold with the Straths, he was in C Squadron—the same squadron in which my father served in World War I.
It was with some trepidation that I presented Harold with a copy of Soldier of the Horse, my novel about the Canadian cavalry in the Great War and asked him to comment on it. I was very gratified when I received an email two days later:

“All I can say about your novel is "WOW"
I lived Tom's experience and couldn't put it down, finished it Thursday evening.”

Many thanks to Harold. More about him soon in "Forces With History".