Friday, October 9, 2015

A Second Location

It's very gratifying to see my "Forces With History" blog continues to attract attention, even though I'm now blogging on a regular basis on a new site, where my blog is integrated with my website.

A direct link to my new blog will take you straight there.

I'm continuing to publish a newsletter, also called "Forces With History", that comes out every three weeks or so. It deals with defence topics, the navy, submarines, and anything in the general area that catches my eye. To receive it, just send me an email at, or telephone 778-388-1009.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Historian Roger Litwiller--"White Ensign Flying"

My friend Roger Litwiller has two books out, "White Ensign Flying: Corvette HMCS Trentonian", and "Warships of the Bay of Quinte".

Roger is a historian, and strictly speaking an amateur one, but he does great work and gets things right. "White Ensign Flying" is a terrific read, telling the story of the men who served in HMCS Trentonian, the last corvette sunk in the Second World War.

Here is Roger with his two books; I'm looking forward to the next one. More of his work can be found at his website. He's currently working on a history of WW II shipbuilding in Trenton, Ontario. He says the town turned out 170 vessels of various sizes that saw service all over the Commonwealth, and some of them are still in service today.

Friday, June 5, 2015

71 Years ago, D-Day Forces are Away

June 5th, 1944. The Allied armada is at sea, the gliders and troopcarrying aircraft are standing by. The weather on June 4th was bad enough that Nazi-occupied Europe's German forces are relaxed.
But June 6th is a full moon, and the weather may abate. Dwight Eisenhower makes his fateful decision--the invasion of France is on.
Aboard HMCS Kitchener, Canadian corvette, is Able Seaman Bill Cameron, aged 18.

Bill Cameron is one of hundreds of thousands of men and women involved in the largest amphibious attack in history. They are already at sea or are streaming toward the English ports to embark in the subsequent waves of attackers.

And each of them carries a message from Eisenhower (Bill's copy is reproduced at right).

In part it read:

"I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!"

Here is one of several earlier posts about Bill and Kitchener .

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Soldier of the Horse" and Bloody Jack

Bloody Jack Krafchenko was executed for murder in 1914, after a bizarre series of events that included an escape from the Winnipeg jail using a pistol smuggled in to him by--perhaps--his lawyer.

One version of the story was included in "Soldier of the Horse", when Tom is accused of having a part in the plot. The real-life Tom isn't around to answer any more questions, but the gun is. It's pictured here in the Winnipeg Police Museum, along with museum personnel Jack Templeman and Bruce Honey.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Terror on the Alert" going to Kamloops

When my first novel, Soldier of the Horse, came out in 2011 I was surprised how much work has to go in to make a book successful after the writing is finished and the book is in the stores. That's the new reality, however, and among other efforts I did a tour in BC and Alberta to get the word out.

One of the places where I spoke to a very friendly audience was at the Kamloops Library. I snapped the photo at left early the next day, as I was leaving town to head for Alberta. It was a chilly start, but the photo reminds me of the majestic sweep of the hills surrounding the city.

Terror on the Alert will also be featured at the Kamloops Library on September 19th this year. I'm looking forward to renewing acquaintances with friends in the area, as well as the very helpful staff at the library.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Battle of the Atlantic Dinner

The 70th anniversary of the end of the longest battle of the Second World War, the Battle of the Atlantic, was celebrated at HMCS Discovery, Vancouver's reserve naval base, on May 2nd.

Present and pictured at left as Guest of Honour was The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Brian Cook, president of the Naval Officers Association on BC was mess president for the occasion. At left, the Lieutenant Governor was presented with a history of Discovery.

To the right are John Horton (left), prominent marine artist, and Dr James Boutilier, Special Advisor to Commander MARPAC (Maritime Command Pacific, RCN). Dr. Boutilier spoke about the Battle of the Atlantic, and drew attention to the appalling losses suffered by the German U-boat fleet during the battle.

Friday, May 8, 2015

IPPY Strikes Again

Here's what Soldier of the Horse's Independent Publishers (IPPY) gold medal looked like three years ago. Soldier won top prize in the category Military/Wartime Fiction.

Now my second novel, Terror on the Alert, has almost duplicated the feat, receiving a silver medal in the same category.

Very exciting and rewarding.

There is a lot of encouragement out there for writers. Not to mention a heap of support from publishers, writing organizations such as Canadian Authors Association, BC Federation of Writers, and many others.

And like others writers, a big thanks for all the support from family and friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Authors For Indies--Lots of Fun

"Authors For Indies" was celebrated across Canada on May 2nd. More than 700 authors swooped down on 120 independent bookstores across Canada.

Preliminary returns show an 18% increase in sales over previous Saturdays, which is very rewarding. It certainly reinforces my own feeling, which was that it was a fun and successful occasion.

I attended at two Black Bond stores in Surrey. The photo above shows a couple of happy Californians who were good enough to chat about books in the 24th Avenue store.

Depicted at right are store manager Susan and me, outside the lively Samiahmoo Mall outlet.

A total of seven authors participated in those two stores alone. The whole country was abuzz with books.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Busy Days for Writers

Tomorrow, May 2nd, is Authors for Indies Day across Canada. The idea is that writers can show their support for independent bookstores, those stubborn and determined booksellers who havecarried on in spite of the onslaught of the large chains. To show appreciation, writers are appearing in local stores to talk to customers and show their appreciation for booksellers, without whom most authors would be unknown.

E-books and the internet have gained a large part of the market, but the battle is by no means lost. Interestingly, Black Bond Books have expanded in the lower mainland of British Columbia. I'll be appearing in two local Black Bond outlets. For a list of authors and booksellers taking part, visit Authors for Indies.

A week later, May 9th, will be a busy Saturday for local authors. I'll be part of a panel titled "History Writes: Inspired and Remembered". There are a whole day's worth of events Write Here Read Now at the City Centre branch of the Surrey Public Library. I'm thrilled to see "Terror on the Alert" listed as a new book in the Library.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Authors For Indies" Day, May 2nd

"Indies", as in Independent Bookstores.
Across Canada, authors will be spending time in their favourite bookstores to help promote books.
I'll be at two Black Bond locations, as follows:
11:30 am to 1:30 pm        15562 24th Avenue, Surrey.
1:30 pm to 3:30 pm          Semiahmoo Mall, South Surrey.

"Terror on the Alert"  will be featured, as well as "Soldier of the Horse" and many of my own personal favourites by well-known authors.

The 24th Avenue store will also feature Daniel Kalla, emergency doctor and thriller author, Danielle Marcotte who has written children's books in both official languages, and Sylvia Taylor, writer and editor. For their times, contact the stores.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

D-Day Corvette, HMCS Kitchener (4)

On one occasion Able Seaman Bill Cameron returned to his ship, HMCS Kitchener, after a run ashore in the UK to find a delivery from home--a 10" square heavy fruit cake from his girlfriend and future bride Joyce. He could hardly wait to get off watch and avoid having to eat hard tack for some time to come. Unfortunately, he says, his messmates helped him out with the cake, and it was gone in five minutes.
Kitchener and Bill had an eventful war, including for the ship a Hollywood turn. 
At left, Bill was back on civvie street in 1946, pictured with Joyce in Vancouver.

When he saw the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944, Bill was hunkered down on his Oerlikon gun mount while shells from major warships whizzed overhead.
Seventy years later he saw the beaches he helped liberate closehand. He and Joyce were guests at the official day marking the anniversary. At one point they were invited to have their photo taken with another Canadian who was also present.
(Photos courtesy Bill Cameron)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From Snorting Steeds to Roaring Mechanical Monsters

Canada's cavalry regiments, which had distinguished themselves in World War I, had a major transition with the advent of the Second World War. At left is Lieutenant Austin Stanton of the 19th Alberta Dragoons, ca. 1937. (photo courtesy Jim Stanton.)

Only five years later,Lieutenant Stanton had made the big jump to the armoured corps, serving as Battle Adjutant of the Calgary Tanks when they landed at Dieppe in 1942.

The photo at right is of one of Lord Strathcona's Horse (RC)'s  Leopard II's, the German-built behemoths that saw service in Afghanistan. The Strathconas remained mounted until 1940, when they too made what had to be a wrenching conversion to turn in their horses and eventually become tankers.

Monday, April 13, 2015

D-Day Corvette, HMCS Kitchener (3)

In 1944 HMCS Kitchener, Corvette K225, found herself in Plymouth Harbour during the buildup to D-Day. Able Seaman Bill Cameron and his shipmates were disappointed to hear they'd be escorting two former French battleships, now loaded with concrete, to the French coast, where they'd be scuttled to form artificial harbours. Well away from the action. But captain and crew wanted to support the landings, which they figured were coming soon, even though they had been told casualties could be as high as 25%. Kitchener's captain, Jack Mole, wasn't putting up with that.

 He went aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, close to them in Plymouth. Augusta carried none other than General Omar Bradley, commander of the 1st US Army. Orders were changed, and Kitchener was reassigned. She escorted Augusta in the second flotilla to Omaha Beach, as part of the anti-aicraft and antisubmarine escort, in the thick of the action. En route, Bill and every other man on board received a note from the supreme Allied commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pictured here, it exhorts the troops: "The tide has turned! ...We will accept nothing less than full Victory!"
Earlier posts of February 23 and March 11 also dealt with Bill Cameron and Kitchener.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Battle of Moreuil Wood, 97 Years Ago

March 30th, 1918, was a dreary day in Picardy, France. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was mounted and on the move, having bivouacked at Guyencourt. They crossed the Noye River, and at a high point of land were directed to Moreuil Wood, across the River Avre, via Castel. Brigadier J E B Seely had led the way, setting up a command post at the northwestern corner of the Wood while under fire.

Men and horses were hungry and tired after nine days of running battles. The Royal Canadian Dragoons led the way from here down to Castel and up the opposite ridge to Moreuil Wood, visible on the horizon in the photo at right. 

This is Castel in 2008, 90 years after the Brigade--Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (RC), and Fort Garry Horse--made their way down this road and over the bridge in the background. 

On the right is the the famous painting by Alfred Munnings who was in France, having been commissioned to paint the Canadian cavalry in action. He didn't witness the battle, but Lord Strathcona's Horse obligingly restaged it for him later. Sergeant Tom Mackay, my father, related his version of the battle, which is covered in my novel "Soldier of the Horse".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

D-Day Corvette, HMCS Kitchener (2)

A couple of weeks ago I posted about HMCS Kitchener, K225. Here she is on the left, looking somewhat battered as I'm sure all the RN and RCN corvettes did after a couple of Atlantic crossings.

Kitchener starred  in the 1943 movie "Corvette K-225", with Randolph Scott playing her captain. That time, at least, Hollywood resisted the impulse to Americanize the movie, with Scott portraying a Canadian Lieutenant-commander.

That wasn't her main claim to fame, however. Her performance on D-Day rates more space than is available here, and details will follow. Many thanks to Bill Cameron for the photo above. On the right is Able Seaman Bill Cameron, as he then was. For more about Kitchener and AB Cameron, see my post of February 23rd.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (6th of 6)

 Here is a shot taken in 2012. The former HMCS Ojibwa is about to give birth to the Elgin Military Museum's submarine exhibit at Port Burwell on the north shore of Lake Erie--by making her way to her final (I can't help myself) berth.
(photo credit Phyllis Hinz) 

And here's how Ojibwa looked in 2013, when the able and welcoming staff in Port Burwell were working their magic, preparing the cold warrior for her public debut.

Port Burwell and Ojibwa are well worth a visit, for submariners and civilians alike.

And for a "gripping adventure in the grand trradition of sea sagas" (Ian Weir), beg, borrow or steal a copy of "Terror on the Alert".

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (5)

 Continuing our tour aft on board HMCS Ojibwa, we have passed through the accommodation space with its assorted messes and berths. The photo to the left is part of the starboard side of the control room, featuring the chart table, a prominent red light bulb, various communication outlets, a clock, etc.
And to the right is an image of part of the port side of the control room under red lighting conditions.
The red lighting is switched on at dusk and off at dawn, even when running at great depth, in case it is necessary to surface in a hurry. Also, if at periscope depth, it allows the periscope watchkeeper's eyes to be adjusted for night vision.

Not shown in either photo are the periscopes, which are on the centre-line of the boat, with the attack (monocular) periscope forward of the search periscope, which is binocular.

Monday, February 23, 2015

D-Day Corvette, HMCS Kitchener

The picture at left is of Bill Cameron, posing with "Terror on the Alert" at the White Rock Library on February 15th this year. The occasion was a Sunday afternoon presentation by 6 local writers.

The Friends of the Library showed up with refreshments, and had done a wonderful job of organizing the writer/presenters, never an easy thing to manage.

I was excited to meet Bill, who served in HMCS Kitchener, which as far as Bill knows was the only corvette actually in the immediate area of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Bill was an Able Seaman manning an anti-aircraft Oerlikon for what seemed like days straight.

More about Bill, and HMCS Kitchener, in the near future.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Great War Trooper's Last Ride

A short time ago I posted a photo of my father, Tom Mackay, when he was training in Winnipeg before joining his regiment, Lord Strathcona's Horse (RC), in France. (See 22 January 2015 )

Tom's legs were badly shot up when he rode with Gordon Flowerdew at Moreuil Wood in 1918. He was then a sergeant, Acting Troop Leader of 1st Troop, and was right behind Flowerdew as they made their desperate charge.

I don't remember ever seeing Dad ride, because he constantly suffered leg pain; but I recently came across this photo, taken in c 1963. Dad was motoring across the Chilcotin from Williams Lake westward, when he came across a herd of cattle being driven by three first nations cowboys. He persuaded one of them to drive his car on to their next stop, and he mounted the man's horse and took part in the drive. The dismounted man, now a motorist, took this photo of the three men. Dad is in the middle. He died in 1969, a trooper--and a cowboy--at heart.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Submarine Lecture in Ladner

This was the scene at the Ladner Yacht Club the evening of Friday January 30th. The Fraser Power and Sail Squadron held a graduation ceremony for recent boating course students. I was honoured to be asked to speak about "Submarines, Canada, and Terror on the Alert". Above, I'm being introduced by instructor Bob Juulsen.

It was a real pleasure to talk submarines to an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.

Many thanks to the Squadron for having me as a guest.

Photos courtesy Kathleen and Paul Vanderwood.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Philip Sherwood, Lifewriter, at Canadian Authors-Vancouver

Philip Sherwood presented to the Canadian Authors-Vancouver on January 14th. His presentation was dynamic and well-received, appealing to potential memoirists, biographers, autobiographers, and family historians.

Through his firm, Philip assists families, companies, and individuals to tell their own stories. His books have won many awards.

Among other subjects have been members of Philip's own family, including his father. Freddie Sherwood was a renowned RCNVR submariner, notably commanding the RN's HMS Spiteful during World War II.

Here is the cover of "It's Not the Ships...", Freddie Sherwood's own story of his war years. It's a good example of Philip's work.
(I posted about the book last year.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (4)

 We are continuing aft on board HMCS Ojibwa, as she rests in her permanent berth ashore in Port Burwell, Ontario. We have passed through the watertight door into the accommodation spaces. On the left is a shot of a couple of bunks and some lockers. My memory fails me as to whether this is in the crew's quarters, or the chiefs and petty officers mess. Can someone help with a comment?

And here, on the right, we have the rather palatial commanding officer's cabin as seen from the passageway that threads its way the length of the boat. The lucky captain has hardwood to sleep on as opposed to a canvas sling. Not sure that would make it more comfortable.

Other features include a miniscule desk, a couple of drawers, and gauges and instruments so the captain can monitor the boat's progress. The cabin is very handy to the control room, so he can be there within seconds in case of an emergency or other development.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Trooper of Canadian Cavalry 100 Years Ago

One hundred years ago in January 1915, the Canadian Mounted Brigade was training in the mud and slime of Salisbury Plain, preparing for a chance to charge German infantry.

They didn't get that chance for some time, as years of duty in trenches awaited them first.

This photo is of my dad, Tom Mackay, MM. It was probably taken on the training ground of Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg, before embarking for the UK.

Note the sword, primary weapon of the cavalry of the day. The horse stands proudly, mane and tail clipped, ears up, alert. No doubt the result of many hours of grooming, stable duty, and army discipline for trooper and charger.

More about the Canadian cavalry, and Tom, in my novel Soldier of the Horse.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (3)

 Following up on our tour parts (1) and (2), we've now climbed the stairs and entered the forward torpedo room in HMCS Ojibwa. We're looking forward in the cavernous space. The spot of bright light near the centre of the photo is the top of the new access door through which we've entered. The size of the space can be gauged by the figure of retired Admiral Dan McNeil, who can just be made out in the lower right corner. The rear doors of the three port torpedo tubes are between him and the access door.
Also visible on the left are parts of the torpedo racks which would hold spare torpedoes to be loaded using hydraulic rams as required. Before loading, the tube rear doors would have to be opened--once it was confirmed that the bow caps were shut and no water was in the tubes. A very important step.

To the right is a closer look at the top four of the six forward torpedo tubes. The rear doors are all shut, as they would be at sea, whether there was a torpedo in the tube or not. Sometimes the tubes were empty, depending on what task the boat was on.
The myriad of pipes, valves, and controls allow firing of a torpedo and the subsequent draining down of the now flooded tube so it can be reloaded.
It was not unknown for a boat to carry beer in an empty tube.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (2)

Number 1 in this series of posts showed an unusual view of HMCS Ojibwa, the gorgeous museum piece in Port Burwell, Ontario.
(If pressed, I'll admit that "gorgeous" when referring to a submarine is all in the eyes of the beholder.)

At left is the Ojibwa as she appeared when the Cooking Ladies and I approached from the west and crossed the bridge into Port Burwell in 2013.

The boat was not then open to the public, but nearly so.

This shot of the port side of the boat shows the steps installed to allow tourists to access the newly-cut doorway into the forward torpedo room.

Looking like an earflap at the top of the stairs is the door, and above that is the port forward hydroplane. The hydroplanes, working in concert while controlled by the helmsman, determined the boat's depth and angle of dive.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Tour of a Cold War O-Boat (1)

Here is an unusual view of an Oberon-class submarine. To be more precise, the image is of the former HMCS Ojibwa, taken at her new home in Port Burwell, on the shore of Lake Erie, a couple of hours' drive east of Windsor.

Ojibwa is a major attraction in a rural area of Ontario. If it seems like an odd place for a submarine, you might want to talk to retired admiral Dan McNeil, who spearheaded the effort to land the Cold War boat above the Lake Erie shoreline.

This is Dan, pictured on board Ojibwa just before she opened to the public in 2013. Not exactly Dan's working uniform when he was in the Royal Canadian Navy, but more more typical of the hands-on work asked of his crew--and himself--as they laboured to restore the boat.

Watch for an ongoing series of posts about the Ojibwa and the Port Burwell project. And go see Dan--and Ojibwa--if you're in the area!