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Series Overview

This series by historian Terry Copp examines many aspects of our military history. Guaranteed to fascinate.

Cover Story

Published in January/February 2004

News From The Editor

Here's To History

From 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 air force.

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 bookstores.

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.

There's More...

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.

Mac Johnston




PART 50  

The Liberation Of Western Holland

Canadian 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 infantry.

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 17.

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 hands.

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 salient.

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 flatly rejected.

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.




It Began With Fish And Ships

From 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 academy."

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 territorial waters.

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 urged action.

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 recommended.

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 too much.

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 the empire.

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.





The Aries Flights Of 1945

After her modification for scientific research, Aries sits at a Canadian airport in 1945. Inset: Wing Commander Kenneth Maclure.

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 Passage.

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 in Montreal.

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 Boothia Peninsula.

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 most praiseworthy."

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.


Canada And The Victoria Cross

by Arthur Bishop

PART 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

Lieutenant 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 Pickers.)

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 lifeless.

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 a divorce.

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 Militia.

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 been abandoned.

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:

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 two years.

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.