Saturday, December 27, 2014

USS Ranger--Proud Ship Scrapped For a Penny

 The year I believe was 1964, and Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Ottawa (2300 tons) was fuelling off USS Ranger (66,000 tons). Ranger's career was from 1957 to 1993, and Ottawa's an almost identical 1956-1992.
The Ranger is now on her way to the scrap-heap, after attempts to turn her into a museum piece failed. She was one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers, and saw service in Vietnam, the Middle East, and elsewhere. As you can see from the "60" yard marker, Ottawa is getting squeaky close to the larger ship (the other end of the line is attached to Ranger).
We never knew how much we were tossed about in even these moderate seas until we were close to a rock-solid behemoth such as Ranger.

In this snapshot, also taken on Ottawa's bridge, as very junior sublieutenant I have as a backdrop Ranger pulling away, flanked by two  destroyers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

US-Cuba Easing the Strain

It's taken over 50 years, but President Obama's move toward normalizing affairs with Cuba has interesting sidebars. Even though Canadian naval and air forces were shoulder to shoulder with the Americans during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, it was Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada who later remained in close touch with Fidel Castro.
And now Conservative PM Harper has facilitated meetings between the American and Cuban diplomats.
Meanwhile, ex-pat Cubans in Florida are at loggerheads over the issue.

Most Canadians, Americans, and Cubans were not alive in 1962. But for a look at those terrifying days in a Canadian submarine, check out "Terror on the Alert".

Monday, December 15, 2014

Days of Infamy for Canada's Government

Retired Corporal Dennis Manuge has written a guest post for David Pugliese's Defence Watch blog. He says Stephen Harper must get rid of Julian Fantino as Veterans Affairs Minister. He starts his post with these words:

 "Dear Prime Minister Harper
Subject: Call for VAC Minister Fantino’s Resignation
The time is long overdue for you to ask for, and accept, VAC minister Fantino’s resignation and for you to accept responsibility for the systemic failures with in the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada; specifically, the treatment of injured and ill service men and women and veterans who have become disabled during their service.
This last slap in the face to our veterans community, and the over one billion dollars that has been rolled over from the VAC budget, truly illustrates your government’s commitment to seeing off disabled service men and women."

He goes on to recount how Veterans Affairs have wrongly deducted ("clawed back") benefits wounded veterans should have received; paid back a trifling amount when ordered by a court; and, adding insult to injury, transferred a billion dollars back from the veterans affairs account to treasury.

In the United States, the nation has marked the Day of Infamy. These, in my opinion, are Harper's, and the Conservatives', days of infamy.

See Dennis Manuge's letter on the Defence Watch blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

NOABC--Christimas Lunch with The Dukes

The photo at left was taken at the Beatty Street Armoury in Vancouver on December 4, 2014. The occasion was the annual Christmas fundraising luncheon put on by the BCR(DCO), the British Columbia Regiment, (Duke of Connaught's Own). "The Dukes", as their members are known, is the oldest militia regiment in British Columbia, dating back to 1883.

Recently there has been a strong supportive showing at the luncheon by the Vancouver naval community. Two tables were occupied by present or former members of the senior service.

Among them were Lloyd Williams, on the left, and King Wan. King was commanding officer of HMCS Discovery from 2001 to 2005, and Lloyd commanded a Landing Ship Infantry (Large) during World War II. He disembarked troops on beaches at Sicily and then Normandy, D-Day, 1944.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

War Horse: The Real Story

 A friend kindly invited me to look at a television production he had recorded, called "War Horse: the Real Story".

Product DetailsThe show was interesting, but quite superficial in spite of having had contributions by experts such as Brough Scott and Dr. David Kenyon.
Brough Scott is the grandson of Brigadier Jack Seely, who commanded the Canadian Cavalry Brigade through most of World War I. Scott wrote "Galloper Jack", about his grandfather.
Dr Kenyon is a historian and notable author of "Horsemen in No Man's Land", a rexamination of the effectiveness of cavalry in the Great War.
I commend both books to anyone interested in the Canadian cavalry and the British cavalry in general.

"War Horse: the Real Story" was a sanitized version of the story of Warrior, Seely's charger during the conflict and after. Obviously meant for an English audience, it only mentioned in passing that Seely's main (but not only) claim  to fame was his leadership of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Here are some earlier thoughts about the movie "War Horse", Spielberg's 2011 production.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Venerable Sea Kings a Testament--and a bigger embarrassment

My friend Dave Critoph sent me the image at left. It speaks for itself--it's the cover of a booklet celebrating 50 years of service by the Sea Kings on behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Dave flew Sea Kings in 1966 from our last aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, during Maple Spring 66, a major exercise that covered the seas from Halfiax to Monetevideo. I was there too, watching the state-of-the-art Sea Kings do their stuff.

Fifty years of service. That they are still able to fly at all is a testament to the skill of their maintainers and aircrew. Back in 1966, I recall being shocked at the number of hours maintenance it took for every hour of flight--10 or 20 perhaps. What would it take now to keep these magnificent birds in the air for an hour--a hundred?

You might think the Sea Kings should have been replaced by now. You would be right. The defence department in the Mulroney era would--and did--agree with you. Jean Chretien, of course, couldn't countenance a Mulroney plan so he cancelled the order, resulting in a $500 million penalty.

Since then the Canadian government, and Canadian Forces, have not been able to get their act together. I couldn't put it better than did military historian Aaron Plamondon as quoted in an article in the National Post by Andrew Coyne: that the Sea King replacement saga is quite possibly "the most poorly executed military procurement ever undertaken--anywhere." Forty years after the need for a replacement helicopter was called for, the Sea Kings remain, albeit most of the time on the ground.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mary's Wedding, and the Battle of Moreuil Wood

A lone "Terror" amongst "Soldiers"
"Mary's Wedding",  the play written by Stephen Massicotte, has finished its run in White Rock, BC. Staged by Peninsula Productions, it ran from November 11th through the 15th to packed houses.

There were many moist eyes, attested to by the number of tissues handed out by staff as the audience left the theatre. A well done to the backstage crew and the actors, Harrison MacDonald and Julia Siedlanowska, who shone.

I was honoured to have a very small part in prepping the actors as a result of my novel Soldier of the Horse, which had at its climax the battle referenced in "Mary's Wedding"--the Battle of Moreuil Wood, March 30th, 1918. Not to mention a character in common, Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who led the charge, with real-life "Soldier" Tom Mackay at his elbow.

At a table in the foyer, I answered questions about the battle. More than one person asked if "Flowers" was a real person. He was, of course, and I take my hat off to Massicotte, Pensinsula Productions, and the rest of the gang who helped keep our history alive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Mary's Wedding" Opens Tomorrow


 Here are the actors in a scene from "Mary's Wedding", the heart-rending play by Stephen Massicotte.
The production runs from November 11th through the 15th. The presentation on Remembrance Day is sold out. Any veterans lucky enough to have tickets to the Remembrance Day performance get free admission, with the public asked for a donation which will go to Honour House.

Tickets for subsequent performances can be obtained online at

I'm honoured to have been asked to advise on the historical aspects of the production. Attendees can if they wish pick up a copy of Soldier of the Horse, my novel set in WW I's Canadian Cavalry Brigade, after the show. Soldier shares a very important character with "Mary's Wedding".

In other literary news, I understand an upcoming edition of the Surrey Leader will feature a review of Terror on the Alert, my submarine thriller. Very exciting.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Submarines in East Vancouver, and recruits for a Great War era wedding

I recently had the pleasure of presenting about submarines, and my novel "Terror on the Alert", at the Britannia branch of the Vancouver Public Library. The staff, as always, was gracious; and I was lucky to arrive early, because the host seniors' centre invited me to share their potluck lunch. I may drop in again!

The highlight of the afternoon, though, was the presence of an elementary class of mixed grade 3s and 4s. They had lots of interesting questions about submarines: in my day, were there women on board? (no); what about now? (yes); are the ballast tanks what makes the boat go under water? (yes).

It was particularly interesting to me that they had done research on the internet before attending at my presentation. A delightful audience of young and old.

 Here are the young ones:
And speaking of young and old, I dropped in on a rehearsal for "Mary's Wedding" a couple of days ago.
(For more about "Mary's Wedding", see Newsletter #25 in the Newsletter Archives to the right.)

The entire cast is pictured below. These raw recruits are learning to be Great War cavalry troopers. Don't let the small cast fool you--it is a magical and inspirational play. It will be staged in White Rock, BC, November 11th to 15th.

If you don't already receive my newsletter as an email, you can subscribe on the right side of this page. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tax Treatment of RRSP's--a new note

In my blog post of two days ago--October 24th--I published a photo of submariner and musician Keith Nesbit, as well as my old friend Brooke Campbell, former UNTD.

In case readers want more information about Brooke's initiative regarding tax treatment of RRSP's, they can contact him via email at Brooke is working to try to get the government to lower the amount of RRSP's that must be declared after a certain age, particularly in light of poorer income returns in recent years.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Naval Association of Canada Conference 2014

Here is a snapshot taken at the Meet 'n' Greet at the Lord Elgin Hotel, Ottawa, the first week of October. The occasion was the start of the Naval Association of Canada's AGM and conference, the theme of which was Canada's Submarines: Past, Present and Future.

The two gentlemen pictured are fellows I've known for a long time.

Brooke Campbell, on the left, was a student at UBC and officer-cadet in the University Naval Training Division (UNTD) at HMCS Discovery. I got to know him well, as I was also at Disovery as a regular force RCN cadet.
Brooke went on to a very successful career in banking and investing, and is currently submitting material to the Canadian government about tax treatment of RRSP's.

On the right is Keith Nesbit, Captain RCN (Ret'd). I met Keith when we were both very junior submariners. That's where I stayed, as far as the submarine world is concerned (not counting recent literary efforts). Keith, however, went on to an illustrious career as a submarine CO and, since retirement from the RCN, as a professional keyboardist.
Keith's music can be accessed by contacting him directly:

And my recent submarine thriller, "Terror on the Alert", is in better bookstores everywhere, Amazon, and from my publisher.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Russian Submarine Activity?

So far there have been five reported sightings of a foreign submarine in Swedish waters in the last five days. Sweden has more-or-less said it is likely a Russian intruder. Needless to say the Russian defense ministry has denied that is the case, suggesting it might be a Dutch boat.

The Swedes are right to be concerned. With Mr. Putin's recent activity in the Crimea and Black Sea area, all his neighbours are nervous, and none more so than the Baltic states. Finland has been scrambling jets on a regular basis to respond to Russian incursions into their airspace.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are potential targets for Russian "protection" of Russian minorities, in the same way that similar minorities are currently being "protected" in Ukraine.

Sweden, like many western nations, is still enjoying the so-called peace dividend--the reduction in defense budgets following the supposed end of the Cold War. As a result, Sweden's ability to detect, track, and force to the surface an undersea intruder is severely compromised. The Swedes and their neighbours may have reason to rethink their priorities.

For a look at submarine operations in earlier Cold War years, have a look at "Terror on the Alert", my thriller set in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's available at bookstores everywhere, or from Amazon or publisher TouchWood Editions.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mary's Wedding coming via Peninsula Productions

Some time before my novel "Soldier of the Horse" was published, an old navy friend who knew about my interest in the Canadian cavalry asked if I had seen Mary's Wedding. I hadn't. But shortly after that I attended Pacific Opera Victoria's operatic adaptation of the play; also in attendance were scarlet-jacketed members of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), adding pomp and ceremony to the occasion.

Now I've been asked to assist Peninsula Productions with their mounting of Stephen Massicotte's two-person play, to be staged November 11th to 15th. It promises to be a memorable show, with an amazingly-powerful script and two young actors playing Mary, her love Charlie, and Sergeant Flowerdew.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Terror on the Alert" in Ottawa

My recent visit to Ottawa included a stop at Perfect Books, 258A Elgin Street, to do an author appearance and book signing event. The folks at Perfect were terrific hosts, and as you can see from the photo at left there was at least one very pleased customer. In fact, there were quite a few, including old friends and shipmates.

A lot of the credit for the very successful event must go to various news outlets such as CBC Ottawa, and in particular to Alan Neal (at right) of "All in a Day" and his producer Caitlin Crockard. They started off my interview with a clip from John F. Kennedy's speech to the American people at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis--the time frame of "Terror on the Alert". Made me think back to where I was when I heard it live. (UBC, wondering if I'd be off to join the fleet.)

Other media interviews were ably conducted by Ed Hand ("Talk to the Hand") of 1130 News, and Nick Vandergagt ("Nick at Night") on CFRA.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Submarines on Many Minds

Here is the scene in the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, on October 2nd.

More than 200 attendees at the Naval Association of Canada's conference themed "Canada's submarines: past, present and future" heard authoritative speakers and took part in discussions.

Topics ranged from history (1914's CC1 and 2) through to the state of today's Victoria-class boats.
The afternoon session focussed on the topic of eventual replacements given today's tight federal budgets, as well as the experience of the Australian submarine program.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Submarines in the Mainstream

Submarines, or at least talk of submarines, dominates my time these days.

Sunday, September 28th          interview on CFRA, Ottawa radio. (via telephone 5 pm Pacific)

Tuesday, September 30th        "Terror on the Alert" is officially on the market.

Thursday, October 2nd            Naval Association of Canada conference in Ottawa re submarines.

Saturday, October 4th             Book signing for "Terror" at Perfect Books, Ottawa.

Tuesday, October 7th            Presentation at Vancouver Public Library Kerrisdale Branch.

Thursday, October 30th           Presentation at Vancouver Public Library Britannia Branch.

The VPL presentations will deal briefly with the history of submarines in Canada as well as "Terror on the Alert". Hope to see lots of familiar faces!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cavalry vs Cavalry

Cavalry Technology!


Thanks to Bob Mugford, editor of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI-Vancouver) Newsletter for the following item. My Random House Dictionary notes a cuirassier is "a cavalry soldier wearing a cuirasse"; a cuirasse being armour consisting of a breastplate and backplate. So far as I know the German cavalry encountered by the British in the early days of WW I weren't encumbered by the cuirasse.

When the British cavalry had to face cuirassiers for the first time, wearing their body armour, much discussion was had as to how to defeat them.  The answers for the heavy cavalry with a straight sword and light cavalry with a curved one was necessarily different.

The light cavalry answer was to slice at the arms, preferably the bridle holding arm, causing the cuirassier to lose control of his horse.

The heavy cavalry opted for a straight jab at the throat (this might miss and strike the face - Kennedy records stabbing one through the mouth). This would certainly do the trick. But if in too close to stab at him it was recommended that you punched the cuirassier in the face with the hand guard, this would cause the cuirassier to lose balance and topple from the horse. A cuirassier on the ground was useless, finding it impossible to remount in their breastplates.

Finally both recommended that if the cuirassier had passed then a back swipe at the back of the neck would decapitate the cuirassier. Many claim that numbers of cuirassiers fell to this stroke.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

From the West Coast to the Western Front

My apologies for the quality of the photo--the subject deserves much better. Pictured are Mark Forsythe of CBC Vancouver's Almanac, and Greg Dickson, authors of From the West Coast to the Western Front, who presented some fascinating items from the book at the Vancouver Public Library on September 17th.
Mark and Greg started this project only 18 months ago. The book has not yet cleared the printers', but it promises to be an excellent read, based on the samples presented

Due out on October 11th, the book will feature hundreds of stories of British Columbians who fought on the Western Front in the Great War. Those included Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who led the cavalry charge at the climax of my novel Soldier of the Horse. I'm very much looking forward to reading the book.

For more about the Canadian cavalry and submarines, subscribe to my weekly newsletter via the button on the upper right.

Upcoming: "Terror on the Alert" hits the streets, and better bookstores everywhere, on September 30th!

Thanks to RUSI Vancouver for organizing this and other Library presentations to mark the 100th year since the start of World War I.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cold War Submarine Gunnery

 Ed Falstrem, retired submarine commander, has kindly sent along a photo of one of his RN boats, HMS Aeneas. The photo was taken off Portsmouth.

 Aeneas was immortalized for playing the part of a submarine in the 1967 007 movie, "You Only Live Twice".

Ed commented:
"Note the gun.I remember the drill for preparing to surface and fire the gun. We did fire it on a couple of occasions onto an army range in Dorset. I was the XO at the time."

The last 4" round was fired from a Royal Navy submarine in December, 1974, by HMS Andrew.

In my novel "Terror on the Alert" the crew gets a couple of rounds away to good effect in 1962. The book launches September 30th.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fifteen Diesel-electrics All in a Row (or eight)

In my soon-to-be-available submarine thriller, "Terror on the Alert", my main character notes a buildup of Royal Navy submarines in their home ports during the leadup to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This photo was kindly provided by Ed Falstrem, who like me trained with the RN and served in A-boats. He says:

"Here is a photo of 15 RN submarines alongside the depot ship taken in Oct 1962, just as the Cuban crisis was developing."

Ed, who went on to command four Royal Canadian Navy boats, had this to say about "Terror on the Alert":

I have read the book and enjoyed it very much. I could argue with you over a couple of technical details but it sure took me back to my time on Acheron and Aeneas.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"It's Not the Ships...My War Years"--A Review

"It's not the ships, it's the men in them" was Fredrick H. Sherwood's favourite maritime adage, and the first words of that saying make for the perfect title to this memoir.
Freddie Sherwood, as he was known to his comrades and successors in submarines, was a much-decorated Canadian submariner who achieved a number of World War II firsts: first nonBritish officer in an RN boat, first volunteer reservist to command an RN boat, first Canadian to command an RN boat.
In reading this memoir I had the feeling of being in the company of a fine man, a born leader, and a meticulous but funloving submarine captain. The key to Sherwood's success was his ability to meld his crew into a unified team, and he took great pride in his ship's company, ensuring they got the recognition they deserved. From training days through service under a renowned RN captain, and on to his command of two submarines in the North Sea and the Far East, Freddie Sherwood's wartime story is a great read. Highly recommended.

"It's Not the Ships...My War Years" was edited and published by Freddie's son Philip. More information is on the web.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Upcoming Events--Cavalry and Submarines

I'm looking forward to speaking to the Langley Heritage Society on September 23rd, 7 pm, at the Milner Chapel. I'll be talking about the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in the Great War, and explain the process that went into my novel "Soldier of the Horse". And that will be just a week before my submarine thriller, "Terror on the Alert", appears in book stores.

I'll be in Ottawa the first week of October, attending the Naval Association of Canada's AGM and Conference, the topic of which is "Submarines: Past, Present, and Future".

Next up in October are two appearances in branches of the Vancouver Public Library to talk about submarines and "Terror on the Alert". On the 7th I'll be at the Kerrisdale branch, and on the 30th, at the Britannia branch.

I'm very excited about the chance to speak to people interested in our Canadian heritage.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Making documentaries is a major undertaking

I've now watched two of Ian Herring's documentaries. Both were high quality, excellent viewing, and displayed painstaking research.

For further information, visit Parallax Film Production; their website is here.

What follows is the second half of my interview of Ian. It seems that making a documentary is not a task that yields instant gratification.

5. What is the hardest part of making documentaries?
Raising the financing. It never gets easier. No matter how many award winning films and high rated shows you deliver you have to prove that your idea is worthy of financing each time.

Broadcasters will not commission a film unless they think it will deliver a large audience to viewers.    My partner, Maija Leivo keeps saying to me that we are only as good as our last film. The series we are currently in production on has taken nearly 20 years to find a broadcaster home.

6. Given an idea, how long does it take to bring a documentary to fruition?
On average a year to 4 years. Extraordinary circumstances – under a year.

7. What are you currently working on?
We are currently doing “Bahama Blue” a 6 part TV series for Oasis/Love Nature and Discovery Channel International.   It’s a wildlife series about the creatures that live within the Bahama’s that are completely hidden from the general public and few will ever see.    And in pre-production on a series set in World War 2.   More on that later.

8. Do you have a dream project in the back of your mind?
I would like to do a series on Canada’s role in the Vietnam war.   The Vets are still around and the ranks are thinning.   We are missing an opportunity to tell their stories while they are alive.  These are the ones who crossed the border and signed up and those who were in the USA and got drafted.   Fascinating and another overlooked story.   

As well I am a big fan of the story that became the film, Bridge on the River Kwai.   I would like to remake it bringing that remarkable story of the allied POW’s to a new generation.   It’s just a staggering story of man’s inhumanity and the humanity within all that.

9. What training did you have before getting into the business of making documentaries? Did you work for others before going out on your own?   
At the time film schools were few and far between so pursued an English degree from UBC. It taught me about story telling – and was able to transfer that to working in film and television.   Many people I work with today came through Journalism and Film School – but the strongest story tellers come from other programs, such as History.   Pursuing the study of story-telling through literature is a great training ground for dramatic story-telling and lay’s the ground work for the brand of entertainment that resonates with the entire world.

10. Are earlier projects available online, or for rent or purchase?   
Current projects are airing on various channels around the world but we don’t keep track.   Older titles are out of circulation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Documentary for a Canadian Hero

Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray received the Victoria Cross for his heroics near the end of World War II. Lt. Gray was a British Columbian, a Canadian serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Killed in action on August 7th, 1945, he is memorialized by a monument in Japan—the only monument on Japanese soil dedicated to a wartime enemy. Gray displayed amazing heroism and skill throughout the war, and was decorated for action against the Tirpitz and the Japanese, even before his last battle.

By sheer happenstance I met Ian Herring, a documentary-maker who happens to be Hampton Gray’s cousin. He produced a documentary/drama entitled “The Last Battle of Hampton Gray” which I found fascinating. I interviewed Ian, and broke his responses into two sections, the first of which follows:

1. How long have you been making documentaries?
Since 1990.

2. Was “The Last Battle of Hampton Gray” your first, or was that a subject you decided on after you had others under your belt?

I turned my attention to a documentary on Hampton around 2004.  I pitched it to History Television and was surprised at the positive reception.  Canadians tend not to celebrate stories of individual Canadians who stand out – especially during war.   

Our initial approach was to do a factual biography charting Hampton’s rise within the service - the stand out work he did during missions and the all or nothing ending to the his life and WW2.   I thought we had a good hook in that he was Hampton was the last Canadian to die in active service during WW 2 and the last VC recipient in Canada.   Turns out it wasn’t quite enough. 

Our commissioning editor at History Television felt the topic was perfect as an anniversary special for the end of WW2.   But she did not think a traditional biography telling Hampton’s story would be enough.  She suggested we do it as a POV film through my eyes – a personal recounting of Hampton as a cousin.  

I initially resisted that approach because I did not personally know Hampton.   The only connection I had was through his mother who would share press clippings and try to get me interested in his story – which as a young child, I found fascinating.   So how could I tell the story without really knowing him or personally meeting him?   We were able to agree that this could be a personal journey of me getting to know my cousin by retracing his steps through the war.  In this case I could focus on the impact he had on family, friends and the survivors who witnessed the final mission.

3. I seem to recall that Hampton Gray’s story, in a very abbreviated fashion, was taught in school at some point in BC. Can you tell me anything about that?   
That was before my time.  My experience of the Hampton story is through family.  I knew his mother and she would share stories, press clippings and try to convey his story.

4. The Japanese memorial to your cousin is very unique, being the only memorial to an enemy fighter in Japan. What is the most significant point regarding that, in your mind?
Clearly it’s the bringing together of former enemies – and their families.   His sister Phyillis Gautschi, neice Anne George and other family members were able to connect with the residents in the town of Onagawa – and those responsible for the memorial and its purpose.    (Onagawa is the closest residential area to the scene of the battle and it’s here where the memorial has been erected.)   I have very nice memories from my brief visit to Onagawa.   Canadian and Japanese governments and naval military services support the memorial.  It’s a fine example of  reconciliation.     

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ross Rifle, and a historical debate

The Ross rifle was a dud in the eyes of Canada's Great War soldiers. Here's what I wrote about it back in February 2012:

Minister of Militia and Colonel, Sam Hughes was the driving force behind Canada's mobilization in August 1914. He was what we would call a Type-A personality, but he made a lot of mistakes.
One of Hughes' more glaring ones was his insistence that the Canadian army carry the Ross rifle. The Ross was made in Canada, and Hughes was its natural champion. Superbly accurate, the Ross was used to win international shooting competitions, but it proved to be unreliable under battle conditions. That didn't deter Hughes, however, who had so much of his own personality invested in the Ross that it was impossible for him to back down, and he continued to champion it at all costs. Early photos of Canadian troopers show them sporting the Ross during training.
In spite of that, the Canadian Mounted Brigade, made up of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), and the 2nd King Edward Horse, crossed the Channel in early 1915 and went into battle--carrying the British-made Lee Enfield Short Rifle. It was not the only time the cavalrymen broke away from Hughes' guidance.

In an emailed post of Ausgust 17th, David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen had this to say, in summary:

"The salvaged Ross rifles were shipped home. Some were sold to hunters. Others were sent to Britain at the start of the Second World War, when any rifle was prized.
Some are still around, hanging on mantles, sitting in collections, or taken out every now and then when hunting season opens.
As for the Lee-Enfield, Canadian soldiers carried it through two more wars."

And, as a post-script, there are no doubt many Lee Enfields still hanging on hunting cabin walls.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Submarine Week in Victoria (3)

Here are a couple more photos taken last week.

This one shows, on the left, George Cruickshank, owner of The Museum of the Battle of the Atlantic in Duncan, BC. I seem to have bestowed a halo on George, well-deserved I am sure.
With him is Captain Wilf Lund, RCN (Ret'd), who presented along with Philip Sherwood about Philip's new book.

On the right is Phillip Sherwood. Philip is a publisher of memoirs and family histories, and this time he turned his talents to "It's Not the Ships...My War Years." The book tells the story of his father, Frederick H. Sherwood, a Canadian submarine captain in World War II. I will comment more about the book in a future blog or newsletter.

Speaking of newsletters, if you would like to receive a more or less weekly update on submarines, Canadian cavalry, and related topics, just click on the "Subscribe" button above and to the right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Submarine Week in Victoria (2)

From Tuesday to Friday last week, August 5th to 8th, submariners from across Canada met in Victoria and environs to celebrate 100 years of Canadian submarines. One of the highlights was the banquet in the wardroom, just outside the gates of the Dockyard. It was a glorious summer evening, with inspiring views from the deck outside.

Here are a few of the attendees, from left to right: author and photographer Julie H. Ferguson, myself, Diane Davie, Nancy Houle, and Ted Davie, submariner. Ted had much to do with the acquisition of the Victoria class (formerly Upholders) from the RN. Thanks to Chief Petty Officer Jens Simonsen of HMCS Chicoutimi for taking the photo.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Submarine Week in Victoria

Submarine Week, celebrating the 100 years of Canadian submarines, continues with a banquet tonight, with the guest of honour the Lieutenant-governor of British Columbia. Tomorrow will see the opening of a redesigned submarine display and a wrap-up barbeque.

The Submarine Association of Canada (West) and their partners have done a bang-up job, even extending to the production of commemorative polo shirts. BZ to all involved.

Monday, August 4, 2014

"Soldier of the Horse" at the VPL

As predicted, last Wednesday the 30th of July was a busy one. I was interviewed briefly on The Early Edition on CBC Radio, then attended an afternoon showing of "War Horse", Spielberg's movie adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel.

That evening, I spoke in the Alice MacKay room of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. My topic was Soldier of the Horse, the first public presentation regarding my first novel in some time.

The event was a joint effort by the VPL and the Vancouver branch of RUSI, the Royal United Services Institute. At the left in the photo is RUSI president Cameron Cathcart, a former CBC reporter and great advocate of the need to celebrate our military history and remember the sacrifices of so many.

More RUSI events to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War will be featured at the Vancouver Public Library.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Navy Woes and Cavalry Stories

Tomorrow, July 30th, will be a busy day for Soldier of the Horse.
The good people at The Early Edition on CBC Vancouver have invited me to attend for an interview at 7:50 am tomorrow (0750 for present and former RCN readers, 0750 hours for all you army types out there). The occasion is a Vancouver Public Library/Royal United Services Institute initiative: the showing of the movie "War Horse" at 1:30 pm, same day, at the VPL. Later, at 7:00 pm I'll be speaking in the library about my father's time in the Canadian cavalry in the Great War and Soldier of the Horse.
My talk is the first of four scheduled in the VPL to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.

In the meantime, across the Pacific, the huge naval, land, and air exercise RIMPAC 2014 continues. But the Royal Canadian Navy finds itself short of seagoing ships. Our submarine Victoria is there, along with frigate HMCS Calgary and minesweeper HMCS Nanaimo (she is in California waters, as opposed to the central Pacific/Hawaii).
Missing in action are HMCShips Algonquin (destroyer, rusting out),  Protecteur (fire damaged supply ship), and minesweeper Whitehorse (bad behavior by members of the crew). You have to sympathize with navy personnel who in typical Canadian fashion carry on with less. Less money, less fuel, lesser numbers of ships. One has to wonder who will protect Canadian interests at sea in case of need.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Correction to my post yesterday, July 23rd

My blog entry of yesterday has now been corrected--I had inadvertently put an incorrect date in the paragraph about "War Horse" and the evening event at the Vancouver Public Library.
The correct date is July 30th, 2014.

Thanks to Jean Kay, poet and fellow Canadian Authors Association member,  for noticing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Forces With History"--Glory Days

Amazing--the next few days are in the 'never a dull moment' category. Consider that this blog and my newsletter concern themselves with pretty disparate subjects: cavalry, submarines, and other things that catch my eye


On July 30th the Vancouver Public Library will screen the movie "War Horse" at 1:30 pm, downstairs in the Alice MacKay room. I'll be there, taking another look at Steven Spielberg's version of Michael Morpurgo's children's story. My recollection is that the scenes of a cavalry charge are shockingly well done. The photo at left is "A Canadian Trooper and His Horse" by Sir Alfred Munnings.

That same evening, I'll be speaking to people interested in hearing about a real-life cavalry trooper and his experiences. My father was the inspiration for Soldier of the Horse, and I look forward to presenting some images that help understand what cavalrymen and their mounts were up to in 1914-18.


The first week of August is Submarine Week in Victoria: the 100th anniversary, to the day, of the birth of the Canadian submarine service. I'll be there, taking in the sights and sounds at the commemorative luncheon at the Union Club (where the deal for our first two boats was cobbled together), a banquet, and a historical presentation at the Royal BC Museum by fellow author Julie H. Ferguson. Photo at right is HMCS Okanagan off Gosport in the UK in 1968

As a personal highlight, my submarine thriller "Terror on the Alert" will be available at the submarine events, although official launch is September 30th.

Details of Submarine week can be accessed at the Submarine Association of Canada (West) website.

What more could a blogger about cavalry and submarines ask for?