From The Editor
JAMES HERTEL, WLU; ROB BLANCHARD, UNB; ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
above: Terry Copp; Marc Milner; Hugh A. Halliday
Interest in military history is on the rise
across Canada. One clear indication is the growing popularity
of our Canadian Military History In Perspective series launched
in 1995. In it, historian Terry Copp has chronicled our involvement
in World War II, in particular the Canadian Army's operations
in Northwest Europe. Our 2003 Readership Survey ranked the
series the third most popular item in the magazine, with a
91 per cent approval rating.
The series owes its success to our readers
and its author, a professor of history and co-director of
the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament
Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. The
prolific professor has many books to his credit and has shared
the C.P. Stacey Book Award twice, for the five-volume Maple
Leaf Route series written in 1990 with the late Robert Vogel,
and for Battle Exhaustion: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the
Canadian Army, written in 1992 with Bill McAndrew. His latest
book, Fields of Fire: The Canadians In Normandy, is now in
bookstores. His latest article is on page 43.
Now, wanting to give our readers what they
desire, we are unveiling a more balanced historical lineup
by expanding the Canadian Military History In Perspective
series to include new regular features on the navy and the
Well-known naval historian Marc Milner will
write the navy series and his first story, It Began With Fish
And Ships, appears on page 46. Professor Milner is currently
chairman of the Department of History at the University of
New Brunswick, and director of the university's Military and
Strategic Studies Program. Among his books are Canada's Navy:
The First Century; The U-Boat Hunters: The Royal Canadian
Navy and the Offensive against Germany's Submarines; and North
Atlantic Run: The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle for the
Convoys. His latest book, Battle Of The Atlantic, is now in
For the air force we've selected Hugh A.
Halliday whose first story, The Aries Flights Of 1945, appears
on page 49. Halliday joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in
1961. He was a staff officer in the air historical section
and later in the integrated directorate of history at National
Defence Headquarters. In 1974 he joined the staff at the Canadian
War Museum and between 1976-85 was curator of war art. He
is the author of several studies on RCAF history and co-author
of The Royal Canadian Air Force at War, 1939-45 with Larry
Milberry, and Canada's Air Forces with Brereton Greenhaus.
We hope you enjoy our new approach.
The most esteemed of all military honours--the
Victoria Cross--was created in 1856 by Queen Victoria. Since
then, nearly 100 Canadians have earned the VC. To mark this
proud history, Legion Magazine is launching an 18-part series,
titled Canada And The Victoria Cross, that will group the
recipients according to battle, time period or branch of service.
The series begins on page 34 with a look at the award's origins
and the heroic actions of the first Canadian to receive the
VC, Lieutenant Alexander Dunn.
What constitutes a Canadian VC has long been
the subject of debate. For our series, each recipient had
to meet one or more of four criteria: (1) was a member of
the Canadian forces at the time of deed; (2) was born in Canada,
its territories or Newfoundland; (3) had established a permanent
residence in Canada, its territories or Newfoundland; or (4)
was resident in Canada, its territories or Newfoundland at
the outbreak of the war.
Our author is Arthur Bishop, son of VC recipient
Billy Bishop, the legendary World War I flying ace. Arthur
Bishop enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and
served in England and France flying Spitfires with 401 Squadron.
He is the author of 11 books on Canada's military history,
including Our Bravest And Our Best: The Stories of Canada's
Victoria Cross Winners.
Liberation Of Western Holland
DANIEL GURAVICH, NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA--PA167193
soldiers come to the aid of a comrade wounded by sniper
fire near Laren in the Netherlands.
The 5th Canadian Armoured Division--Major-General
Bert Hoffmeister's Mighty Maroon Machine--began operations
in the Netherlands on March 21, 1945 when the Westminster
Regiment (Motor) took over a sector of the Nijmegen front
from the 12th Manitoba Dragoons. Holland, with "electric light,
running water and radios in the forward area," was a new experience
for the veterans of the Italian Campaign but cold rain and
mud in a flat, flooded landscape was all too familiar to those
who had wintered in the Valli di Commachio.
On March 31 the division took over the western
part of the "island", south of Arnhem, allowing 49th British
Div. to concentrate for Operation Destroyer, the destruction
of the last enemy pocket south of the river. The Ontario Regt.,
which began its war in Sicily supporting British troops, and
the Royal Canadian Artillery's new 1st Rocket Battery were
attached to the Yorkshire division for the operation. Fifth
Div. employed three tank-infantry battlegroups to clear its
sector but met little opposition. The Perth Regt., which liberated
Driel, the headquarters of the Polish Parachute Brigade during
Operation Market Garden, reported enemy counterattacks but
dealt with them without difficulty.
After that the stage was set for operations
intended to liberate western Holland, including Amsterdam
and Rotterdam. Operation Anger, involving 49th British and
5th Cdn. divisions was to begin once 1st Div. was safely across
the Ijssel and on its way to Apeldoorn. Before Operation Anger
began the decision to negotiate a truce with the enemy and
allow relief supplies to reach the people of western Holland
was made so once Arnhem was secure, 5th Div. started west
towards the Grebbe line where military action was to cease.
Since its arrival in Holland, Hoffmeister's
5th Armd. Div. had been offered little opportunity to use
its armoured brigade group. The relatively easy conquest of
Arnhem had, however, presented the corps commander with an
irresistible opportunity to use the 5th Armd. Bde. to cut
off the retreat of the Germans still fighting on the Apeldoorn
canal line. The British Columbia Dragoons led the way through
Arnhem with the 8th New Brunswick Hussars, the Westminster
Regt. (Motor) and the Lord Strathcona's Horse close behind.
Enemy blocking positions were shot up or bypassed and Otterlo
was reached by late afternoon.
Brigadier I.H. Cumberland, who led the 5th
Armd. Bde., was not about to pause. The Strathconas were told
to take Otterlo then push northwest to capture Barneveld.
If Barneveld was defended they were to bypass it and strike
north to cut the Apeldoorn-Amesfort road, the main east-west
route of the retreating German forces. The other two armoured
regiments were to conform to this thrust, the British Columbia
Dragoons to the north and the 8th Hussars to the south. Otterlo
was cleared readily enough, but beyond the town's western
limits were numerous pockets of infantry, some with Panzerfaust
or bazooka men who had to be dealt with by Westminster motorized
The enemy held Barneveld in strength and
the Strathconas lost three tanks on the edge of town. Bypassing
was accomplished quickly, but 2,000 yards beyond the north
edge of town a well-organized anti-tank gun position, guarded
by machine-gun posts, barred the way. The decision was made
to stop and organize a proper attack at first light on April
The night of the 16-17 is remembered as the
battle of Otterlo. The ferocious attack on the town, which
included Hoffmeister's advanced headquarters, was part of
a determined attempt by elements of three German divisions
to reach the "safety" of western Holland.
The 11th Infantry Bde. had spent two days
following the rapidly moving armoured brigade and had seen
little action so when the Irish Regt., the Governor General's
Horse Guards and elements of the divisional and corps artillery
moved into Otterlo they knew they were well behind the leading
troops. The Irish Regt. took up positions on the western perimeter
of the village and the tanks of the GGHG found convenient
harbours in various corners of the village. Suddenly Otterlo
was transformed into a battlefield as hundreds of German soldiers
loosely organized into battlegroups stormed through the village
throwing grenades and firing at every shadow. One group bumped
into the 17th Field Regt. RCA and got a warm reception from
the enraged gunners. The regimental sergeant major shot two
men with his Sten gun and after it jammed, he used his bare
The officers of the Governor General's Horse
Guards were at an 'O' group in the church when the attack
began and were forced to stay there until the fighting had
died down. The regiment's troop sergeants and other NCOs had
no trouble organizing the defence of their positions or the
mopping up that followed, leading some to question whether
they needed officers at all. The next day the Grebbe line
was reached and it looked as if 5th Div.'s war was over.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had other
ideas. He told Canadian General H.D.G. Crerar that he needed
2nd Cdn. Div. to help protect the left flank of the British
corps preparing to attack Bremen. Second Div. was to move
east as soon as Groningen was liberated and it was up to Crerar
to find the resources to capture the fortified zone protecting
the Ems River estuary and the ports of Delfzijl and Emden.
The Canadian commanders must have been reminded of the situation
in the fall of 1944 when Montgomery had pressed for immediate
action in clearing the approaches to Antwerp, Belgium, while
"borrowing" divisions to support his operations in the Arnhem
Before examining the battles for Delfzijl
and Emden we need to understand the broad strategic picture
in mid-April 1945. The United States 9th Army reached the
Elbe on April 11 and secured a bridgehead across the river
the next day. General W.H. Simpson was confident his troops
could reach Berlin quickly, it was just 70 miles away, but
the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower
was adamant, no lives were to be lost in pursuit of an objective
that would have to be handed over to the Soviets.
That night President Franklin D. Roosevelt
died, plunging America and the West into heartfelt mourning.
Newspapers and radio stations focused on stories about Roosevelt,
his successor Harry Truman, the shocking evidence of Nazi
death camps--especially Bergen-Belsen --and speculation about
an immediate collapse of German resistance.
The war, it appeared, was all but over. On
April 16 the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force
suspended the strategic air offensive and prepared to use
their heavy bombers to bring relief supplies to Holland. In
Berlin, Hitler, confined to his underground bunker, celebrated
his last birthday on April 20 and two days later announced
his determination to stay despite the advance of Soviet troops
who had all but surrounded the city. Other Nazi leaders, including
Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goring, attempted to arrange
a separate surrender in the west while what was left of the
German army held off the Russians but these approaches were
In mid-April Eisenhower believed that two
important military operations remained to be carried out.
In the south, Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd U.S. Army must continue
its advance to reach the Danube so that the Allies would have
a postwar role in Austria. In the north, Eisenhower was anxious
to see a rapid advance to the Baltic to prevent Soviet forces
from entering Denmark. Ike offered to provide Montgomery with
a force from his SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary
Force) reserve to carry out this task but Montgomery's attention
was focused elsewhere.
Montgomery, with full support of the British
chiefs of staff, was determined to capture the German north
seaports of Emden, Wilhelmshaven, Bremen and Hamburg. Denmark
would have to wait. The background of this decision has never
been fully explored but its consequences for 30th British
Corps, assigned to assault Bremen, and 2nd Cdn. Corps, tasked
with the capture of Emden, in the last days of the war were
enormous. Operations against Bremen began on April 18 and
the battle quickly turned into a bitter contest of wills.
German resistance was skilful and resolute and casualties
to both sides were heavy. Medium and heavy bombers reduced
the city to rubble and for the final assault two heavy and
four medium regiments supported the field artillery of four
divisions. The city finally fell on April 25.
The battle of Bremen was well under way when
Crerar handed over temporary command of 1st Cdn. Army to Lieutenant-General
Guy Simonds. Crerar felt he was needed in London to deal with
repatriation issues and since the only operations under way
involved 2nd. Cdn. Corps, Simonds acted as both army and corps
commander, meeting with his divisional commanders to allocate
tasks. Major-General R.H. Keefler, now commanding 3rd Div.,
was told "to prepare for an infantry brigade assault across
the River Leda" to capture Leer and then advance to Emden.
Hoffmeister's 5th Armd. Div. was to clear Delfzijl and the
guns of the Ems fortress located in Holland.
Third Div., known since the Rhineland as
the Water Rats, assumed that Buffaloes, tracked amphibious
vehicles, would be available to make the river crossing. However,
Simonds was told that the vehicles were needed at the Elbe.
He was also informed that neither Bomber Command nor the medium
bombers of Second Tactical Air Force were available. Simonds
and his staff were upset at what they saw as the unco-operative
attitude of Second Tactical Air Force which insisted that
the flak defences of the fortress area and the islands in
the mouth of the Ems estuary would exact too heavy a toll
on the medium bombers.
* * *
By the morning of April 24, 5th Cdn. Armd.
Div. was in position north of Groningen and Brigadier Ian
Johnston's 11th Inf. Bde., the Perth Regt., the Cape Breton
Highlanders and the Irish Regt. of Canada joined by the Westminster
Regt. (Motor) began to probe the German defences of Delfzijl.
Across the German border, Brigadier John Rockingham's 9th
Highland Bde. prepared for the assault crossing of the Ems
estuary: "Rocky", who always led from the front, conducted
a personal reconnaissance of the German defences. Air photos
showed numerous slit trenches along the dikes and having to
hit the ground because of small arms fire convinced him the
positions were manned. Without the familiar Buffaloes which
could handle mud, climb the river bank and bring the infantry
ashore, the attack would have to be at high tide when the
storm boats could beach at the base of the dikes.
Rockingham was given enough boats to lift
six companies of about 80 men each. He decided on a complex
plan that involved simultaneous attacks on Leer from three
directions. The North Novas sent one company directly into
the town to create a bridgehead. The Highland Light Inf.,
with three companies, entered the river well away from the
city and under cover of smoke landed in a lightly defended
sector east of the built-up area. The Stormont Dundas and
Glengarry Highlanders crossed to the west, establishing a
bridgehead for the tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers.
Success depended on tactical surprise and
the neutralization of the enemy during the assault phase.
Typhoons, field and medium artillery and a pepper pot (concentrated
fire) orchestrated by the divisional machine-gun and mortar
regiment, the Camerons of Ottawa, kept enemy heads down and
both the North Novas and HLI were on top of the enemy while
they were still under cover. The Glens were confronted with
strong enemy positions that wrecked havoc during the build-up,
sinking three boats for the loss of 15 men.
With three battalions advancing into Leer,
Rockingham was more concerned with confusion and losses from
friendly fire than the enemy who quickly surrendered as soon
as their own lives were in danger. As darkness fell he ordered
a halt to operations turning over the battle for Leer to 7th
Bde. which used the darkness to get its battalions into position
for a carefully controlled attack at first light. Only the
Reginas encountered organized resistance and when this was
overcome around noon on April 30 Leer was clear of the enemy.
Emden was 30 miles away across flat polder country and any
movement brought down shell fire from the coastal guns on
both sides of the estuary. At 9:30 p.m. 7th Bde. started north
using Wasp flamethrowers to supplement their personal weapons.
Movement was slow and when dawn broke everything stopped.
Any daylight advance would bring unacceptable casualties.
On the Delfzijl front Hoffmeister and his
infantry brigade commander Johnston decided to squeeze the
perimeter from two directions. The Perths and Cape Breton
Highlanders from the west and the Irish Regt from the east.
The Westminster Regt. (Motor) was dismounted and ordered to
take the Termuten battery directly across from Emden. Initially
the armoured regiments were used as supporting artillery but
11th Bde. was so thin on the ground that both the British
Columbia Dragoons and the New Brunswick Hussars were required
to supply troops to fight as foot soldiers. There are no reports
of armoured corps personnel subsequently volunteering to transfer
to the infantry.
Johnston was trying to compress a 25,000-yard
perimeter "in flat country with little cover and a complicated
system of ditches and canals that made cross-country movement
impossible." His solution was to advance only at night in
carefully controlled bounds. The companies were to be dug-in
and under cover at first light. The town of Delfzijl fell
on the night of May 1 and the next day the last battery position
west of the estuary surrendered. This was welcome news to
3rd Div.'s 8th Bde. which had taken over the advance to Emden.
On May 4 as Brig. J.A. Roberts was negotiating the surrender
of Aurich news of a ceasefire reached divisional headquarters.
Casualties in these operations were high,
72 Canadians killed at Delfzijl and about the same number,
spread across the three brigades, in the Leer-Emden battles.
After-action reports suggest both divisions conducted themselves
with a skill and determination maintaining good unit morale
to the end. There was much to be proud of and much to regret.
It was not easy to understand why such intense operations
were ordered in the last days of the Third Reich with the
Russians in Berlin and Hitler dead at his own hands. But the
army had done its duty and it was now time to celebrate a
hard won victory.
Began With Fish And Ships
NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA--PA123951 and PA139190
top: Before she was commissioned as a naval patrol vessel
in 1915, Canada saw service as a fisheries patrol vessel.
Here she is seen off Bermuda prior to 1910; Crew members
of HMCS Niobe pause while on deck in this photo taken
before World War I. The cruiser was commissioned in
the Royal Canadian Navy in September 1910.
A century ago this year Canada ordered its
first armed patrol vessels, Canada and Vigilant. The government
of Sir Wilfrid Laurier bought them for the Fisheries Protection
Service (FPS), but also as the modest beginnings of a professional
navy. Six tumultuous years later the Canadian navy was finally
established, but it nearly foundered at its launch when Canadians
could not agree on just what the navy was supposed to do,
how big it should be and what kind of ships it ought to have.
A hundred years later, with the successors of those humble
vessels roaming the oceans of the world as part of a "middle
power" navy with global reach, the debates over our naval
policy in 1904 indicate just how far we have come as a nation.
It has always been hard to articulate a peculiarly
Canadian requirement for anything more than a coast guard.
The fundamental reason why this was--and remains--is that
since 1763 Canada, in its various forms, has always been part
of, or allied to, the dominant naval power of the day. From
at least the mid-18th century until well into the mid-20th
century (some would claim until the middle of World War II)
the Royal Navy's dominance of the sea was absolute. Under
these circumstances Canadians concentrated on the defence
of their land frontier with the United States, or projecting
military overseas. No permanent naval institutions arose in
the 19th century, and even attempts to establish a naval militia
came to naught.
Nonetheless, as many Canadians observed during
the naval debates--a century ago, we already had a navy, the
Royal Navy. In the mid-20th century the U.S. assumed the mantle
of dominant sea power and we have been safely inside the compass
of the new imperium ever since. And so the question of why
we need a navy has never really gone away.
The short answer to that question a 100 years
ago was the failure of the imperial government to defend Canadian
fish from American poachers. From the moment of Confederation
the new Dominion found the British unwilling to enforce existing
fisheries agreements with the U.S.
A force of six schooners, the Marine Police,
was established in 1870 to restrain American poaching. It
was disbanded after the Treaty of Washington, signed in 1871,
settled all remaining disputes between the imperial and American
governments. Or so it was thought. In 1885, when the U.S.
unilaterally abrogated the Washington Treaty's fisheries provisions,
Canada was forced to act again. A new agreement was ratified
by Canada in 1888, but the U.S. Senate failed to do so. The
formal rejection of that fishing agreement (it nonetheless
formed the basis of a working relationship) meant that the
FPS became a permanent federal service and the kernel from
which the navy would ultimately spring.
Meanwhile, the rise of new industrial powers
and their navies by the late 1800s forced Britain to concentrate
its naval power closer to home and avoid entanglements elsewhere.
In 1902, Britain signed an alliance with Japan, and made it
clear to Canada that defence of the western hemisphere lay
in the care of the burgeoning U.S. Navy. From the Canadian
perspective, that left the cat in charge of the henhouse.
And so at the 1902 Imperial Conference, Laurier
announced that Canada would develop a local navy under the
auspices of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Specifically,
Laurier and his Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Raymond
Préfontaine, proposed to militarize the FPS as a way
of developing a small fleet to defend Canadian interests inshore.
In 1904 the government ordered the two modern,
high-speed steel hulled cruisers, armed with quick firing
guns. Canada, a 200-foot ram-bowed vessel, was purchased from
Vickers Barrow in England for the East Coast and Vigilant,
at 175 feet--"the first modern warship built in Canada"--was
ordered from Polston's Yard in Toronto for the Great Lakes.
Préfontaine also drafted legislation for a naval militia
to train on the new vessels, and plans for a "naval military
It was as sensible for a modest force to
do just what needed to be done. Unfortunately, when Préfontaine
died in 1905 so too did his bill, and Laurier's government
was distracted in 1906 by the hurried takeover of the last
imperial garrisons and naval bases at Halifax and Esquimalt.
The sudden British decision to abandon them meant that all
semblance of a maritime defence--save for the FPS--would be
gone. The solution, under the new minister of Marine and Fisheries,
Louis Phillipe Brodeur, was to continue the militarization
of the Fisheries Protection Service, and lay the groundwork
for a larger service. This scheme fit well within the constitutional
framework of the empire, and it even appealed to Quebec nationalists
who accepted the need to protect Canadian interests within
A small but efficient local fleet ideally
suited for coastal patrol and fisheries protection might well
have developed in Canada after 1907, but for two things: a
change in attitude in London towards the idea of local navies,
and the relentless rise of the Imperial German Navy. It was
the Australians who broke the log-jam over the issue of local
ocean-going navies within the empire. In 1906 they announced
plans to suspend their subsidy to the imperial fleet and raise
their own service composed of large ocean-going vessels.
At the Colonial Conference the next year
the Admiralty relented, accepting the principle of local squadrons
as part of one imperial fleet. For the moment, Laurier and
Brodeur stuck to their scheme for a militarized FPS. A cruiser
squadron, along Australian lines, was too much for simple
sovereignty and fisheries protection, and because its proper
place was on the high seas it would inevitably be drawn into
imperial roles in both peace and war.
Laurier might well have yet built his local,
coastal navy but for the revelation on March 16, 1909 to the
British House of Commons that Britain was falling behind in
the naval race with Germany. The news sent shock waves through
the empire. In Canada it shifted debate away from fish towards
the larger question of the naval defence of the empire. Within
days of the warning the New Zealand government offered funds
to build a battleship for the imperial fleet, and several
Australian states followed suit. Imperialists in Canada now
The initial Canadian response to the 1909
crisis came in the form of two resolutions in the House of
Commons. The first, presented to Parliament on March 29 by
Sir George Foster, a Conservative MP, called for the establishment
of a proper navy. "That in the opinion of this House, in view
of her great and varied resources, of her geographical position
and natural environments, and of that spirit of self-help
and self-respect which alone befits a strong and growing people,
Canada should no longer delay in assuming her proper share
of the responsibility and financial burden incident to suitable
protection of her exposed coastline and great seaports."
Laurier's militarized fisheries service now
seemed hopelessly inadequate. In fact, the new middle ground
between a militarized FPS and buying battleships for the imperial
fleet was the establishment of a real navy. Laurier's own
resolution, which also won widespread support, rejected "the
payment of regular and periodic contribution to the imperial
treasury for naval and military purposes" as unsatisfactory,
and concluded that "the House will cordially approve of any
necessary expenditure designed to promote the speedy organization
of a Canadian naval service...."
The unanimous passage of these resolutions
occurred, Gilbert Tucker wrote, "because public opinion was
on the whole ready to accept a naval policy." But this high
degree of concurrence in early 1909 was due, Tucker commented
perceptively, "to the fact that they had not as yet reflected
much upon the subject."
The subsequent debate was propelled by the
deepening naval arms race with Germany and pressure by the
imperial government to draw the dominions into the expansion
of the Royal Navy. At a hastily convened imperial conference
that summer, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa all
proposed direct financial contributions to the fleet. Australia
and Canada disagreed. The Admiralty's position, therefore,
was that local navies ought to comprise discrete fleet units
capable of rapid integration into the imperial navy in time
of war. In Canada's case, this meant a fleet of one heavy
cruiser, four light cruisers and six destroyers.
The conference of 1909 was the genesis of
both the Australian and Canadian navies, but it remained for
Laurier's government to develop a policy and a plan. That
was done through the rest of 1909 and early 1910, with Laurier
eventually settling on the establishment of a naval service
and the building of a fleet of small cruisers--as the Admiralty
The process of settling this policy shattered
that wondrous spirit of co-operation evident in the passing
of the original resolutions in early 1909. Quebec nationalists
like Henri Bourassa and Quebec Conservatives launched a passionate
and bitter campaign against the new Liberal scheme. Such a
force, they argued, was both a sop to the empire and a dangerous
foray into uncharted waters. The cruisers were more than Canada
needed to police its territorial waters, and yet were large
and powerful enough to operate with the imperial fleet in
distant waters, which would draw Canada into international
crises. In other words, anything more than an armed FPS was
Anglo-nationalists (those who identified
with the larger British conception of an imperial 'nation',
sometimes called imperialists) in Borden's Conservative Party
also attacked Laurier's scheme for doing too little. If the
imperial fleet was destroyed, no "tinpot" Canadian navy would
save Canada from peril. Canada, they felt, should follow the
lead of New Zealand, several Australian states and a couple
of African colonies, as well as the sentiments of Manitoba,
Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia, and fund the
construction of battleships for the Royal Navy.
Thus by late 1909 Laurier was on the horns
of a dilemma: his plans for a Canadian navy were too big for
the isolationists and too small for the imperialists. Somehow
he had to convince the former that the new service would remain
under Canadian control, while insisting to the latter that
the imperial fleet was indivisible. It could not be done.
With his opposition bitterly split over the
issue, Laurier introduced his Naval Service Act to the House
on Jan. 10, 1910. His local squadron of 11 warships (five
cruisers and six destroyers) would be built in Canada, and
sustained by an annual expenditure of three million dollars.
In the debates that followed, Laurier taunted Borden over
the suggestion that a Canadian navy would somehow stand idly
by if Britain herself was attacked. "If England is at war
we are at war," Laurier observed, "and liable to attack."
Laurier admitted that Canada did not have
to take part in all of England's wars, and that Canada's parliament
had some say over how Canadian forces would be used. But he
made it clear that no Canadian warships would stand by if
the empire was in peril: a commitment which simply confirmed
the fears of Quebec nationalists.
Many MPs supported the Act, noting that it
was time Canada began to look after herself. Most Canadians
agreed. But the sovereignty card--then as now--was a weak
one in the final naval debates: the fish got lost in the shuffle.
No one believed Canada could defend herself from her only
serious threat: the U.S. And between the growing power of
the U.S. Navy and the power of the British Empire, it was
hard to see what a Canadian navy was supposed to do--apart
from protect Canada against American fishermen, or help defend
Laurier understood this, which was why he
insisted that his navy be built in Canada. That, in the end,
may have been as important in the ultimate collapse of his
government and his fleet plan as anything else. Warship construction
is big business, and by 1909 Laurier had already signed an
agreement with Vickers to establish a yard in Montreal (later
Canadian Vickers) to build the new fleet. This was probably
a ploy to soften opposition in Quebec, but it hurt him in
Ontario. There the prospect of massive federal government
spending on a shipyard in Quebec to build Laurier's Tinpot
Navy did little to endear the scheme to voters.
The whole nation was engaged in the naval
debate as Laurier sought to find a middle ground. The government
narrowly won a federal byelection in Ottawa in late January
1910 fought largely on the naval issue. It was a portend.
The vote in the House following third reading
of the bill on March 10, 1910 failed to demonstrate that 'cordial'
approval of the resolutions passed a year before. The vote
split along partisan lines, and so in the end the Liberal
majority in the House carried the day: 111 to 70, with 18
abstentions. The Naval Service of Canada formally came into
being on May 4, 1910. Canada now had a navy, at least on paper,
but no fleet.
Laurier's government fell in the general
election of 1911, one fought largely around free trade with
the U.S. and the naval issue. Free trade with the Americans
was rejected, and so was Laurier's naval policy. Borden favoured
close economic ties with the empire and direct financial support
to the imperial fleet. The latter was entirely stymied in
the Liberal dominated Senate, and so when the Great War erupted
in 1914 there was neither a Canadian squadron nor Canadian
funded battleships. The defence of Canada's coasts was assumed
by British, Australian and Japanese cruisers.
It is ironic that a century later Canadian
frigates--about the same displacement and range as an early
20th-century cruiser--ply the oceans of the world supporting
Canadian intervention in all manner of crises. Canadians seem
content with such an activist foreign policy, and of course
we have free trade with the Great Republic to the south. It
is also the expressed policy of the Canadian navy to achieve
and maintain the ability to integrate seamlessly into the
operations of the new imperial fleet, the United States Navy,
and of late Canadian frigates routinely operate as part of
American carrier battle groups in the mideast. Few in 1904
would have foreseen that, and one wonders what Laurier and
Borden would think.
HUGH A. HALLIDAY
Aries Flights Of 1945
NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA---PA066006 and PA197489
her modification for scientific research, Aries sits
at a Canadian airport in 1945. Inset: Wing Commander
In the closing months of World War II the
Empire Air Navigation School, Shawbury, Shropshire, was more
than a school; it was a centre for research into the problems,
techniques and tools of aerial navigation. Two particularly
outstanding officers were wing commanders David Cecil McKinley
of the Royal Air Force, and Kenneth Cecil Maclure of the Royal
Canadian Air Force who had been studying the problems of navigation
in Arctic regions since 1942. Maclure in particular had worked
out a method he dubbed the "Greenwich Grid System" by which
all headings and readings were calculated relative to the
prime meridian. His interest in the subject was appropriate;
in the 1850s his ancestor, Robert Maclure, had been engaged
in the Franklin search which also traced the elusive Northwest
Late in 1944 a Lancaster bomber was offered
to the school for research flying; McKinley and Maclure proposed
to the air ministry that an aerial expedition be launched
to study polar flying. The resulting flights, coming immediately
after VE-Day when military censorship was being relaxed, were
widely publicized. They also heralded the future of peacetime
aviation, with special emphasis on the North Atlantic air
routes soon to be opened to commercial operators.
Lancaster PD328, named Aries, was a very
special machine. Built as a standard Mark I bomber, it had
completed a round-the-world flight in 1944 as part of RAF
preparations to deploy heavy bombers to the Pacific theatre
once Germany had been defeated. Her pilot on that occasion
had been McKinley, who was awarded an Air Force Cross for
the mission. In April 1945 the aircraft was modified extensively.
All armament and armour were removed; camouflage paint was
replaced by a glistening metal finish; the fuselage was altered
for streamlining and the fuel capacity expanded, increasing
maximum range to 5,000 miles or about 21 hours continuous
flight. Most important of all was the scientific array added,
including 11 different types of magnetic compasses distributed
throughout the aircraft.
Yet it was impossible to solve all potential
problems; Aries had been designed as a bomber and that imposed
limitations. Space was limited and crew comforts could only
partly be accommodated. Wing Commander R.H. Winfield, medical
officer of the expedition, wrote of some difficulties: "During
the flights, one of the major problems was to keep warm the
observers working in the fuselage. In the standard Lancaster,
the crew are placed either in the cockpit towards the nose
of the aircraft or in the gun turrets. Those in the cockpit
are warmed by an efficient hot-air system of cabin heating,
while the gunners wear electrically heated suits. The fuselage
is uninhabited, and heating is not required. When the Aries
was converted from heavy bomber to flying laboratory, it was
not possible to warm the fuselage; and since the generators
were already loaded to their full capacity to provide current
for the scientific equipment, the observers in the fuselage
could not use electrically heated clothing. In fact, it became
so cold that after spending an hour in the fuselage, it was
necessary to go forward to the cockpit for about five minutes
in order to thaw."
Preparations included mock flights in a device
called the Celestial Link Trainer--the most advanced flight
simulator of the day. Existing records of Arctic navigation
and flying were studied. Winfield sought out suitable clothing,
food and survival equipment; clothing in particular had to
allow freedom of movement in a cramped aircraft, had to be
cool enough to avoid overheating, yet give protection in the
event of a parachute descent or emergency encampment awaiting
rescue. Prior to departure the crew lived two days in a refrigerated
chamber eating dehydrated meals.
The Aries expedition was given several tasks--to
test Maclure's theories of grid system navigation, search
for the North Magnetic Pole, identify problems associated
with Arctic flying, assess performance of existing instruments,
collect weather data, investigate possible radar mapping of
icefields, observe effects of polar flying on aircrew, and
collect engine and airframe data. Nailing down the position
of the Magnetic Pole was important because its position had
shifted since it was last discovered.
Eleven men crewed Aries. They were: Wing
Commander McKinley, DFC, AFC, the pilot and officer commanding
the expedition; Wing Commander E.W. Anderson, senior navigator
and responsible for external observations needed to plot position
such as astral bodies; Wing Commander Maclure, senior observer
and responsible for collecting magnetic, radar and other special
data outside of navigational observations and the co-ordinator
of research; Wing Commander R.H. Winfield, DFC, medical officer
and assistant of Maclure; Squadron Leader A.J. Hagger, co-pilot,
meteorological observer and photographer; Flight Lieutenant
S.T. Underwood, navigator/plotter, responsible for maintaining
a continuous record of the aircraft's position; Flying Officer
S. Blakeley, wireless operator; Warrant Officer A.S. Smith,
wireless operator; Corporal W.S. Gardner, airframe mechanic;
Leading Aircraftman E.M. Wiggins, aero-engine mechanic; Leading
Aircraftman H.J.B. Dean, electrician.
Those organizing the expedition would have
preferred winter flying; with the Arctic shrouded in darkness,
precision navigation could have been performed using astral
readings. Preparations for the operation had delayed it until
spring. Timing thus assumed great importance; for this navigational
exercise there were only five or six days each month when
the positions of moon and sun met the necessary conditions
(northerly declinations, separated by at least 60 degrees).
Even that time window narrowed to two days per month over
the summer, not increasing again until September. The expedition
began May 10, 1945--ironically, the centennial date of another
departure from Britain, that of Sir John Franklin's two ships,
bound for tragic fame in the Northwest Passage.
The first stop was at Meeks Field, Reykjavik,
Iceland, from whence they intended to sortie over the North
Geographic Pole. The weather was unco-operative; the aircraft
was heavily loaded with fuel and instrumentation and could
not risk heavy icing. Early on the morning of May 16 they
took off, intending to run up the northeastern coast of Greenland
and the 10th meridian to the pole. Cloud and icing developed,
forcing a return to Reykjavik. They had been airborne nine
hours and accomplished nothing.
Weather reports suggested that a different
route, further east of the earlier track, might be better.
McKinley decided to try again as soon as Aries had been refuelled.
Less than two hours after landing, the aircraft was off again.
This time they struck northeast, passing Jan Mayen Island
on its eastern side before running north again, roughly along
the prime meridian towards a sector in northern Greenland
known as Peary Land. About 200 miles after the northern turn,
icing again appeared, lasting an hour before they broke clear
of it. However, they had burned off enough fuel that the condition
did not present a serious hazard.
Approaching the pole, each man chose a different
way to mark the event. Wing Commander McKinley subsequently
wrote: "Shortly after 0200 hours on May 17 we were within
a few miles of the pole when the navigator called an alteration
of course to take us over the top. Quite a lot happened in
the next few minutes; the wireless operator off duty began
to peel a banana which he had procured in Gibraltar 10 days
before, and was preparing to eat it while crossing the pole;
the operator on duty was in contact with Reykjavik and was
passed a bearing of 000o; and the doctor threw a bottle of
beer and the Union flag overboard. Circling the pole before
the return journey, we crossed all the meridians in some 80
seconds, and a moment later we crossed the International Date
Line for the second time in less than two minutes while going
in the same direction."
The return flight to Reykjavik was uneventful
until the last two hours, when they encountered the same icing
conditions experienced on the outward run. Nevertheless, all
equipment worked perfectly and they touched down after having
been airborne nearly 19 hours.
With only three hours sleep after returning
from the North Pole, the Aries crew began preparing for the
next part of their mission. Only two days remained of the
"window of opportunity" to chart the North Magnetic Pole,
the position of which was only estimated as being in the vicinity
of the Boothia Peninsula, west of Baffin Island. Given that
its position was both changing and indeterminate, and its
importance significant to aerial and marine navigation, establishing
the location of the Magnetic Pole was highly desirable. They
departed Reykjavik at 3 a.m. on May 18, intending to fly directly
across Greenland to their objective before turning south.
As they began crossing Davis Strait they
sustained the only serious mechanical failure of the expedition.
An electrical generator bearing failed and the generator had
to be shut down. That left one generator to serve all equipment
needs. Even if it did not fail, it would certainly deliver
diminishing current, compromising the accuracy of scientific
readings. Aries turned south, heading for Goose Bay, where
they landed at 5 p.m. Racing the clock--the "window" was down
to 35 hours--they repaired the generator, charted a revised
track, and waited impatiently for suitable weather. Early
on May 19, Aries was airborne again.
The outward flight was marked by some minor
difficulties--moderate but sporadic icing, failure of the
automatic pilot--but the chief problem was the one they had
come to investigate. Within 200 miles of the magnetic pole,
compasses became more erratic; they were stable in periods
of steady flight, but should the aircraft accelerate or slow
down, the needles wandered aimlessly. They had still not attained
the North Magnetic Pole on reaching their Prudent Limit of
Endurance, but the evidence was clear enough that it lay north-northwest
of previous estimates. They turned south, running down the
east coast of Hudson Bay, finally touching down at Dorval
McKinley was deeply satisfied with results
to date; he summed it up as follows: "By May 21 we had thus
achieved our two main objects, and had amassed a wealth of
information which would take many months to sift. Two of our
conclusions were immediate and outstanding; Maclure's suggestion
for high-latitude orientation was a complete success, and
a magnetic survey from the air was perfectly feasible. We
still could not say exactly where the magnetic pole lay; of
one thing only could we be certain, that it did not lie in
It was now decided to put their work to immediate
and practical work. They would find a base in the northwest
of North America, from which they would fly directly to Britain,
passing between the North Pole and North Magnetic Pole. The
ideal departure point would have been Fairbanks, Alaska, but
the plan had been hatched on the spur of the moment, and it
seemed quicker to make the flight an "all-Empire" affair than
to make special arrangements with American officials.
The Aries crew flew to Ottawa where they
conferred with RAF and RCAF senior officers, proceeded to
Toronto for a meteorological conference, carried on to Rivers,
Man., to visit the RCAF's Central Navigation School (Canadian
counterpart of the Empire Air Navigation School), flew to
Edmonton for a final aircraft and weather check, and then
travelled to Whitehorse. Describing this final leg, McKinley
wrote eloquently: "This was truly wonderful country and we
all looked forward to seeing the mighty Rockies on our 1,000-mile
journey north. We met nothing but rain, hail, snow and blizzard
until we reached Watson Lake far up in the Yukon. Thence,
running in under an overcast sky, we saw the northern reaches
of the Rockies in all their splendour. Coming in to land at
Whitehorse, we rolled down onto the Dominion's most westerly
and certainly one of its most magnificent airfields. A single
runway standing on a plateau some 500 feet above the Lewes
River, it strangely resembled a giant aircraft carrier hove
to in the cold clear light of the western sun."
The finale of the Aries expedition commenced
on the morning of May 25, 1945. Aircraft and crew departed
Whitehorse, turning northeast for their homeward run across
the polar regions. By now the moon had been lost for navigational
purposes; more reliance was placed on radio aids. Apart from
some icing and turbulence at the outset, it was an uneventful
flight. Nevertheless, important observations were made en
route. By 74 degrees North 110 degrees West it was obvious
that the North Magnetic Pole lay south of their track, itself
250 miles north of their turning point of May 19--further
proof that it was much further north than previously thought.
The flight across Greenland indicated that existing maps were
very inaccurate; some charted mountains that did not exist;
others noted as being 20,000 feet high were only 13,000 high.
Aries landed at Shawbury at 12:45 p.m. on
May 26, having been airborne for 18 hours. Over a period of
16 days it had flown 110 hours, covering some 22,400 miles,
roughly half of which lay within the Arctic Circle. The crew
had accumulated a massive quantity of information--30,000
observations on magnetic phenomena alone.
Virtually every member of the Aries crew
received some formal recognition. McKinley was awarded a Bar
to his Air Force Cross; Maclure and Anderson received the
AFC, Wiggins and Dean the Air Force Medal, while the remaining
crew members were commended for Valuable Services in the Air.
The citation to Maclure's award is worth
quoting in full, not only because he was the RCAF's representative
but because his navigational theories had largely inspired
the expedition: "Wing Commander Maclure is a navigator and
has been employed on navigation test and development duties.
He acted as chief research officer during the flights made
in the Lancaster aircraft Aries between the 17th and 26th
May 1945, involving 110 hours flying, in the course of which
a scientific survey was made over the north geographic and
magnetic poles. The peculiar problems of navigation at high
speed over these regions where, in the extreme case, all directions
become south and where traditional methods of orientation
by magnetic instruments inevitably fail, have been exhaustively
studied by this officer. Over a period of the last two years
he has perfected a system of navigation based upon entirely
new conceptions of orientation and he has taken the lead in
making the necessary technical arrangements by which the accurate
execution of these first polar flights of the Royal Air Force
were assured. The contribution which he has thus made to the
accomplishment of the flights and the scientific data he was
able to collect will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects.
To obtain his readings, Wing Commander Maclure worked in the
virtually unheated rear of the aircraft where temperatures
down to 65 degrees of frost were experienced for periods of
eighteen to nineteen hours at a time without intermission.
Without Wing Commander Maclure's extreme devotion to duty,
the valuable scientific information would not have been obtained.
The ingenuity and industry with which this officer has always
applied himself to furtherance of air navigation has been
Nor was this the end of his honours. In 1946
he was recognized by the American Institute of Navigation.
Maclure remained in the postwar RCAF. His assignments included
secondment to the National Research Council. He rose to the
rank of group captain before retirement in 1962.
The expedition, then, had been a scientific
and personal success. It had been made possible by earlier
pioneers, as well as by RAF wartime crews who had developed
northern flying in the course of hazardous sorties between
Scotland and Russia. At the same time it pointed out new ground,
new routes to link continents--and old problems of polar navigation
to be solved. A Canadian had been a major player in the Aries
flights; Canada as a nation would gradually take a larger
role in developing the northern sky trails.
And The Victoria Cross
1 of 18
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred
Cannon to right of them
Cannon to left of them
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
SHARIF TARABAY INC.
Alexander Roberts Dunn, VC.
The Battle of Balaclava! An atrocious disregard
for human life. The stupidest, most ill-The Battle of Balaclava!
An atrocious disregard for human life. The stupidest, most
ill-conceived tactical blunder in the annals of military deployment.
Nonetheless, this costly debacle moved Queen Victoria to praise
"the brilliance of the charge and the gallantry displayed
by all have never been surpassed by British soldiers under
similar circumstances," and decreed that a medal be struck
for gallantry in the field or at sea that would be eligible
to all ranks.
On the chilly, gray morning of Oct. 25, 1854,
a swashbuckling cavalry officer, Lieutenant Alexander Roberts
Dunn of the 11th Hussars, so distinguished himself during
the Charge of the Light Brigade that he became the first of
96 Canadians to receive that medal, the British Empire's highest
military honour for valour--the Victoria Cross.
When the design for the VC was originally
submitted to the Queen, an inscription on the obverse read
"For the Brave." Not good enough. Her Majesty surmised that
this would imply that no one was brave except those who received
the medal and she changed it to read "For Valour." A very
astute decision by a very introspective monarch.
During the Charge of the Light Brigade, Canada's
first VC winner displayed that revised designation of the
medal to a fare-thee-well and then some. Born Sept. 15, 1833,
at York (renamed Toronto), the fifth son of the receiver general
of Upper Canada, Dunn took his early education at Upper Canada
College then, when his father moved to England after his wife's
death, Dunn attended Harrow School. In March 1852, at 19 years
of age he purchased a commission in the 11th Hussars (Prince
Albert's Own Regiment of Light Dragoons, nicknamed the Cherry
Tall, six-foot-three, high in the saddle,
blond-headed and handsome with a drooping moustache, Dunn
not only cut a glamorous, romantic figure, he proved to be
an outstanding cavalry officer as well. To accommodate his
height and reach he had Wilkinson's Swords fashion a four-foot-long--several
inches longer than regulation--sabre for him.
A strong disciplinarian he was nevertheless
popular and respected by the men serving under him. By the
time his unit sailed for Crimea in 1854, where Britain and
France had gone to war to stem the Russian advance on Turkey,
Dunn held the rank of full lieutenant and was in charge of
F Troop. On that Oct. 25th, the morning loomed unsettling
and foreboding, an omen of what lay in store. A massacre.
Six hundred and thirty British cavalry were thrown into the
Valley of Death flanked by slopes on either side heavily defended
by Russian troops and artillery and a 12-gun battery placed
wheel-to-wheel at the end of the depression.
It was suicidal, prompting the French general
to proclaim: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre!
C'est la folie!" It wasn't war, it was madness. The attackers
were hacked to pieces. Out of 110 cavalrymen making up Richard
Dunn's 11th Hussars, only 25 survived. Overall, the entire
attacking force was decimated, 156 killed and missing, 134
wounded, 14 taken prisoner. But throughout the assault Dunn
showed himself the warrior possessed that characterized him.
Time and again he led his troop against the
Russian guns. Finally the regiment was forced to withdraw
when it came under withering fire from Fedouikine Hill on
the right. While retiring from the scene, Dunn saw that Sergeant
Robert Bentley from his troop was wrestling with his horse,
which had been severely wounded, and the Russians had singled
him out as a straggler. Three of them concentrated their efforts
to knock him out of his saddle and were preparing to finish
him off. Seeing his predicament, Dunn wheeled around and galloped
through a maze of dead and dying as well as riderless horses
charging about in all directions to rescue him.
Prancing, side-wheeling, rearing his thoroughbred,
he parried, thrusted and slashed at the assailants, felling
them all in a matter of minutes. But Bentley was still in
dire straights, desperately hanging on to his horse by one
of the stirrups so Dunn dismounted, lifted Bentley back into
his own saddle, then belted the horse on the rump to send
it galloping towards the British lines. On foot Dunn suddenly
caught sight of Private Harvey Levett from his troop who had
lost his mount and was in danger of being cut down by a Russian
hussar. Dunn rushed to his aid and skewered the enemy to death
with his giant-sized sabre. When he returned to his unit and
saw how badly it had been decimated in what had been a full-scale
slaughter he broke down and cried.
Altogether 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded
during the Crimean War. Dunn was the only officer in the Charge
of the Light Brigade to receive the medal and the only cavalry
officer in the entire campaign to whom it was awarded. (In
addition he was awarded the Crimean Medal with four clasps
as well the Turkish Medal). The citation for his VC read:
"For having in the Light Cavalry Charge on
the 25th October, 1854, saved the life of Sergeant Bentley,
11th Hussars by cutting down two or three Russian Hussars,
who were attacking from the rear, and afterwards cutting down
a Russian Hussar, who was attacking Private Levett, 11th Hussars."
The Victoria Cross itself had a notable,
if somewhat erratic but certainly memorable, history all of
its own. Having received Royal sanction what evolved was a
Cross Formy or Cross Paty design, close to one and one-half
inches square attached to a ribbon by a wide V to a bar on
which there is a sprig of laurel, the symbol of victory. The
sign of self-sacrifice, the cross originally hung from a ribbon
1 1/2 inches wide, red for the army, blue for the navy. When
the Royal Air Force came into being in 1918 the colour of
the ribbon was changed to red for all three services by Royal
Warrant signed by Winston Churchill then Secretary of State
for War (eg: Dunn's VC ribbon was red).
As medals go compared to other more colourful
decorations like the Distinguished Service Order and the Military
Cross the design was, in the words of The Times newspaper
of London, "poor looking and mean in the extreme." Drab and
At the outset the medal was designated The
Military Order of Victoria. But Prince Albert dismissed it
as too long-winded and blue pencilled this somewhat cumbersome
nomenclature altering it to a simpler, more intelligible Victoria
Cross. Lord Panmure, the British Secretary of War, commissioned
the jewellers Hancocks & Company to make up a prototype.
Though the firm's expertise lay in silver they decided that
it should be struck in base metal. But Her Majesty was unhappy
with it. As her secretary noted:
"The Cross looks very well in form but the
metal is ugly; it is copper not bronze and will look very
heavy on a red coat with the Crimean Ribbon. Bronze is, properly
speaking, gun metal; this has a rich colour and is very hard;
copper would wear ill and would soon look like an old penny.
Lord Panmure should have one prepared in real bronze and the
Queen is inclined to think it ought to have a greenish varnish
to protect it; the raised parts would then burnish up bright
and show the design and inscription."
What better or more appropriate choice of
metal than to use the bronze from the Russian guns captured
at Sebastopol, the last battle of the Crimean War (in which
Dunn had also taken part). At the Woolwich Barracks, where
two 18-pounders were made available, engineers sawed off the
cascabels, knobs on the breech of the cannon secured to restraining
ropes when the gun was fired. This metal was then used to
produce the first batch of the freshly authorized medals.
This presented a problem. It was later discovered
that the guns were not Russian but of Chinese origin and the
bronze was of such poor quality that the VC had to be sandblasted
instead of cast from a die. In addition, on the back of the
medal where the date and name of the recipient was engraved,
the details had to be handcrafted. Not entirely inappropriate,
after all each medal was awarded for individual acts of valour.
Dunn was awarded his VC two years after the
actions for which he won it. Meanwhile he had sold his commission
and returned to Canada after running off with the wife of
a fellow officer who refused to grant his cuckolding spouse
Fortunately Dunn's family was wealthy enough
to allow him to live in the style to which he had grown accustomed
at his parents' estate in Toronto. He could hardly have supported
a "wife" or, more accurately, a mistress, on his annual VC
stipend of 10 pounds for the rest of his life. (By 1950 this
had been increased to 100 pounds.)
But all this luxurious ease and comfort failed
to relax a restless spirit so that when the Indian Mutiny,
which lasted for two years, broke out in 1857 and Britain,
whose armies were extended all around the world, called upon
her colonies for enlistment for the very first time, Dunn
helped form the Prince of Wales Royal Canadian Regiment which
arrived in England in 1858. However, much to the disappointment
of the officers and other ranks the regiment was sent to Gibraltar
as a garrison unit instead of taking part in the Indian Mutiny.
By 1864 Dunn became a full colonel, the first
Canadian to command a regiment and the youngest colonel in
the British army.
The future for the 30-year-old cavalry officer
indeed looked promising, but even that prospect failed to
satisfy his need for the excitement of battle and he transferred
to the "hard drinking" 33rd Duke of Wellington's Regt. of
Foot. Now his prospects for the future appeared even brighter.
The Times reported: "His career has already given promise
of sufficient distinction to justify the belief of his friends
that the highest military appointments are within reach."
Fate, however, decreed otherwise.
Dunn's regiment was sent to Malta, then India,
where the mutiny had ended eight years earlier. Next it was
posted to Abyssinia (renamed Ethiopia) where it joined Napier's
march on Magdalen against the Emperor Theodore. It was during
this expedition--on Jan. 25, 1868--that Dunn lost his life
near Senafe, the circumstances of which still remain a mystery.
The official version of his death issued
by the 33rd Regt. is that during a hunting expedition Dunn
was trying to uncork a brandy flask when his rifle slipped
between his legs and discharged both barrels into his chest.
His last words to his manservant were: "Run for a Doctor."
But when help arrived it was too late. Dunn was dead. This
suggests that he killed himself accidentally.
Another version brought up the question of
whether he committed suicide. Dunn is said to have dismounted
from his horse and sent his valet to a nearby stream for some
water. When the manservant returned he found his colonel dead
from gunshot wounds.
Nor can murder be discounted. The dashing,
handsome, VC hero was well known as a womanizer (eg: He had
already walked off with a brother officer's wife in Crimea).
It is possible that a jealous suitor or husband
shot him or had him shot. Another possibility is that his
valet killed him. It was known that he had reversed his will
in favour of the manservant and the valet might have murdered
him to reap the benefits.
Dunn's body was never returned to England
or Canada, which sheds further speculation as to his demise.
The Canadian Military Gazette dismissed the issue with these
words: "Colonel Dunn died of gun wounds in Abyssinia. It is
generally supposed that his fowling-piece was accidentally
discharged when he was clearing some obstruction, though some
believe that his servant murdered him, a few that he committed
suicide. The truth will probably never be known."
This in no way detracts from the fact that
Alexander Dunn was a bona fide military hero in every sense
of the word. He was a soldier for soldiering's sake, not for
the fame his honours and bravery won him.
In July 1894, Dunn's VC, along with other
medals, was sold at auction at Sotheby's in England. Canadians
in London took strong exception to this mercenary transaction
and demanded action by John Patterson, Canadian Minister of
Patterson cabled Charles Tupper, the Canadian
high commissioner in London, authorizing him to buy the medals
from the purchaser at the market. They arrived in Canada in
time to be displayed at the Quebec Exhibition that year. Later
they were transferred to Upper Canada College where Dunn took
his early education and there they remain on display.
In addition, a plaque erected in 1966 by
the Archaeological and Historical Board stands at the northwest
corner of Clarence Square, near the foot of Spadina Avenue,
south of King Street in Toronto where Dunn spent his youth.
It is headed "Canada's First Victoria Cross."
Until 1945 the biggest mystery of all was:
what happened to Dunn's body? That was when a regular British
army soldier, Reg Rimmer, who was leading a patrol of Eritrean
Mounted Police along the border with Ethiopia, came upon a
small cemetery near Senafe, which showed signs of having long
The exception was that among the plots, one
grave on a grassy slope sheltered by a large rock appeared
to have been given some attention--by the Italian army during
the Fascist occupation, as it turned out. A headstone read:
IN MEMORY OF
A.R. DUNN. VC COLONEL
WHO DIED AT SENAFE
ON THE 25th JANT 1868
This information did not reach the British
Trade Commission until 1974, 29 years later. At that time
the Department of Veterans Affairs began an investigation.
But due to the military activity in Ethiopia no work could
be undertaken for another eight years. Restoration finally
took place and the commission now monitors the grave every
In 1995 I wrote: "Somewhat reassuring, but
unsatisfactory nonetheless. Our first Victoria Cross winner
has lain too long in a foreign soil to which neither he, nor
we, have any real significant attachment. He belongs at home.
This is not to suggest that our other war dead, buried in
cemeteries all over the world, should likewise be disturbed.
They must be allowed to rest in peace where, or close to where,
they fell on the sword. Dunn's case is different. His death
in Abyssinia did not occur in battle. It is time to bring
our heroic hussar back to his native land and honour him with
the salute he so richly and rightly deserves as one of our
bravest and best."
Last summer I received a phone call from
an individual who preferred to be anonymous. He had been in
Africa and visited Dunn's grave and hoped to gain support
to have his body returned to Canada as I had proposed. When
he returned home he contacted Veterans Affairs and inquired
whether or not they had or would consider bringing his body
home. He was told that it was under advisement. Par for the
course. Enough said. For the time being anyhow.