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?

Monday, July 21, 2014

War Horse meets Soldier of the Horse

The photo at left was taken by a helpful bystander earlier this year in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. Nattily attired with my submarine tie no less, I had just attended a performance of the stage play "War Horse". It was an emotional experience for me, given my father's time in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
My novel "Soldier of the Horse" based on the experiences of Sergeant Thomas Mackay of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) was published a couple of years ago. On July 30th, just nine days from now, I will be attending a showing of the movie "War Horse" at the Vancouver Public Library at 1:30 pm.
Later that evening at 7:00 pm I'll be presenting in the Library, thanks to the good offices of the VPL and the Royal United Services Institute.
Here is the information from the VPL website:

"Robert W. Mackay, author of Soldier of the Horse, shares personal photos, memories and insights into the Canadian Cavalry Brigade of which his father was a member.
"War Horse", a movie about the British cavalry in the Great War, has many powerful images of horses and men in battle. A small but significant part of the British cavalry was the Canadian Calvary Brigade. Did the movie reflect reality?
Presented in partnership with The Royal United Services Institute - Vancouver in commemoration of Canada's First World War Centenary.
For more information please contact: Programming and Learning Services at info@vpl.ca at 604 331-3603"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Diesel-electrics Doing the Job

Diesel-electric submarines have a long pedigree. In fact, Canada's first diesel-electrics were CC1 and CC2 (shown at left), purchased almost exactly 100 years ago to defend the west coast. And our current boats, HMCS Victoria, Chicoutimi, Corner Brook and Windsor are diesel-electrics. Needless to say, much has changed.

The world's major navies, and some of the less major ones, now have moved on to nuclear boats. The USN and Royal Navies no longer operate any diesels. But that doesn't mean diesel-electrics are outmoded or useless. At times, and in particular during the Cold War, they performed yeoman service. And no navy wants to ever send unprotected surface ships into waters where a hostile diesel-electric could be lurking. As Canada's ongoing use of them indicates, they are effective as deterrents, extensions of sovereignty, and intelligence-gatherers.

For an appreciation of the role of diesel-electrics in the Cold War and elsewhere, Iain Ballantyne, author of Hunter Killers, has written a very informative online article.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"The Great Escape: A Canadian Story"

While in St. John's a little over a month ago at a writers' conference, I had the good fortune to meet Ted Barris, author of this excellent and highly recommended book. It is the story of the actual events behind the movie "The Great Escape" with Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and other stars of the day.

Why a Canadian story? Because many of the key players in the escape from North Compound Stalag Luft III were men from all across Canada who had been drawn to the RCAF or RAF during the Second World War. Shot down over Germany, they were determined to cause as much distraction as possible to their captors, thus helping the war effort. They were heroic and determined, the result of their efforts laudable but bloody and brutal. Barris did an excellent job of telling the story, including much meticulous research and followup with the survivors. Excellent photos are a highlight.

I highly recommend the book, having found it an educational--not to mention emotional--read. It is available through Amazon, and you can read more about Ted Barris on his website.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Halifax and Stadacona Part 2 of 2--Admiralty House

This handsome stone building is in Stadacona. It was built in 1815, and for years was the residence of Royal Navy admirals in Halifax. Now it houses the Naval Museum of Halifax.

It was for the latter reason that I visited it a month ago, looking for submarine exhibits and also, if I was lucky, hoping to find evidence of my brother Tom's time in the RCN.

In the course of exploring the museum, I glanced into a glass display case--and saw the photo at left. I was thrilled.
The picture was taken on board HMCS St. Laurent, of which Tom was then first lieutenant. He is front row, second from left, on the captain's right.