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.