Why Canada Slept Pt 2
Thanks to Gerhard for getting these to me, and thanks to Dave for letting me post this series of essays entitled "Why Canada Slept" which originally were published in the back of Cerebus. I have kept the original formating and haven't edit it at all. If you rather read a MS Word document of it, here it is.
Why Canada Slept
Much as was the case with “Islam, My Islam,” I’m going to rely, extensively, on excerpts from various articles that I have found, personally, to be both authoritative and relevant. In establishing the salient facts of Canada’s military history in the modern era, where possible (and for what I consider self-evident reasons) I have chosen to use the writings of those individuals whose background (unlike my own) includes or included military service and to limit my own interjections to the interpretation of those facts and/or to explaining specific items of “Canadiana” which might be unfamiliar to my non-Canadian readers. As is usually the case, I haven’t asked anyone’s permission to reprint their words here. I hope that they would agree that the pressing need in a democracy for wide-ranging and open discussions of Large Issues with the best materials available supersede those interests which are served by strict observation of the legal niceties of copyright. In this same spirit (as is the case with all of my writings) I waive my own copyright in the name of those same interests and welcome the dissemination of any of my observations as any individual sees fit.
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“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed and, finally, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
“Can the Canadian Forces carry out a reasonable range of operations within Canada to ensure the surveillance of our air and sea spaces? Can they move rapidly about the country to assist the government and using force where necessary? The answer is ‘no’ on both counts.”
Douglas Bland, lieutenant colonel (ret.)
Chairman, Defence Management Studies
“For Canada not to have started to address the purpose, nature and configuration of its defence and security establishment in a coherent, coordinated and comprehensive way one full year after September 11—the single most catastrophic security event on North American soil in the history of either North American nation—can no longer be qualified as ‘benign’. It is neglect of duty. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Canada’s leaders appear more interested in their internecine struggles for control of the governing party than in the long-term security of its citizens. That the government is, at a bare minimum, completely disinterested in its men and women in uniform, there can be no doubt.”
The People’s Defence Review
Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century
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The following is taken from an article in The National Post, 27 July, “Peacekeeping If Necessary” written by Mark F. Proudman—who served for ten years with the Royal Montreal Regiment—and which so effectively distills a great deal of information in a very short space that I think I could only damage the incisiveness of his observations by paraphrasing them.
[S]ince 1918, no Canadian government has sought to play an important military role in any way; most Canadian military actions have been aimed primarily at the domestic audience.
Reading declassified Cabinet minutes from such historic crises as those of the Second World War (when minutes began to be kept) and the Suez affair, one is struck by the absence of any serious thought given to the underlying situation. The entire focus of our leaders’ discussions has always been the domestic audience.
It wasn’t always that way. During the First World War, Canadian military action had been focused on defeating the enemy. The Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, insisted that Canada keep a corps of 60,000 combat troops on the front line at all times, and he brought in conscription, used troops against rioters in Quebec, and gerrymandered the election of 1917 in order to achieve that goal.
I will interrupt at this point to mention that the use of troops against rioters in Quebec cuts to the very heart of “Why Canada Slept” and why, in my view, Canada has such a predisposition towards slumber in times of international crisis. There is a fundamental schism between the English and the French in Canada which mirrors the centuries-old schism between their mother countries, England and France, a schism which has been “acted out” at considerable length over the exact number of centuries that Canada has existed. As an example, historically (and significantly—at least up until the dawning of our largely secular age), English Canada has been predominantly Protestant and French Canada predominantly Catholic. The English defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, an event which ultimately brought about the union of (English) Upper Canada and (French) Lower Canada. Of course, to even use the term “union” to describe what took place is, in this country, to knowingly provoke French hostility, since the French of Lower Canada didn’t choose to unite with the English of Upper Canada. They were defeated in battle and made subservient to the British Crown, pretty much bringing to an end the French hegemony which had dominated the “New World” from 1534 to 1763 (when most of Eastern Canada, the Great Lakes Region and Louisiana were collectively known as New France). One consequence of this, among many, is that in time of war French Canada has always rebelled against conscription—usually to the point of rioting in Montreal and Quebec City—rebelled against being pressed into military service on behalf of the British Crown which remains (even with our repatriated constitution) the highest Canadian authority, ceremonially represented in this country by the Office of the Governor-General (whose present occupant is a Mrs. Saul). This antipathy of French Canada towards the British Crown has made it severely problematic for some time for the Prime Minister of His or Her Majesty’s government of the day (any day) to institute conscription—the “draft” as it’s called in the States. Canada is structured as a parliamentary democracy (on the Westminster model—with some key differences I’ll be discussing later) whereby the Prime Minister is the leader of the party holding the majority—or plurality—of seats in the House of Commons after an election. Each seat represents a political jurisdiction called a “riding”. I’m not sure what the split was during the Second World War, but presently there are 75 ridings in Quebec and 226 in the rest of Canada, so while it is not impossible, it is difficult to form a majority government without a substantial representation in Quebec and equally difficult to enact any policy which is universally opposed in Quebec if a substantial number of your caucus have been elected in that province.
(To give you an idea of the level of centuries-old tension that Canadians live with on a daily basis, it is equally provocative to even describe Quebec as a Canadian province: of Canada’s ten provincial jurisdictions, all but one describe their legislatures as “provincial legislatures”. The Quebecois call theirs the “Quebec national assembly” and it is adorned, not with the red-and-white Canadian maple leaf flag, but with its own blue and white “fleur-de-lis” flag. Along the same lines, Quebec is the only province—or, as they would have it, “province”—which has not signed the repatriated Canadian Constitution).
So, in the event of war, the Prime Minister is always going to be caught between the “rock” of (in the interests of fairness) having to conscript soldiers from every corner of the Dominion and the “hard place” of committing political suicide in Quebec through trying to force Frenchmen (sorry, Frenchpersons) to fight for the King or Queen of England. (In an earlier article “What King, St. Laurent could teach Chrétien,” Mr. Proudman wrote, regarding Canada’s foreign policy during the 1930’s—when the Prime Minister also held the post of External Affairs Minister—“King managed this difficult portfolio by not talking about it. ‘Say nothing and do nothing,’ was the summary of one diplomat at Canada House in London” and “King’s foreign policy was not to have a foreign policy. Insofar as he could not avoid having one, it was to evade commitments to Britain, to minimize overseas contacts…and to avoid engaging in public discussion.”)
Resuming Mark Proudman’s earlier narrative:
The date of the battle of Amiens, Aug. 8, 1918, is not often mentioned in Canadian history books, but it is in European ones. The German commander, Field Marshal Erich von Ledendorff, called it, “the black day of the German Army.” The Canadian Corps, commanded by General Sir Arthur Currie, a former Victoria real estate agent and reserve artillery officer, was in the van of the Allied attack that led to the collapse of the German armies and thence to the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918. The Canadians lost 4,000 men that day.
This military triumph, ironically, caused permanent damage to the standing of Borden’s Tory [Conservative] party in Quebec, which, unlike English Canada, saw the war as a British conflict, unrelated to Quebec’s interests. The Liberals’ status as the “natural party of government” dates from this period.
By way of illustrating just how deeply-rooted this “natural party of government” status has come to be in the life of this country, the Liberals, since 1921, have been the governing party for sixty of the eighty-plus years in question.
That status is founded on the customary exclusion of the Tories (and other more conservative parties) from Quebec. The Liberals know this, and have been wary of military engagement ever since. In the inter-war years, Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King went out of his way to avoid military preparations.
I would never be forgiven by my fellow “Kitchenerites” if I failed to mention that William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s 10th prime minister—who served from 1921 to June of 1926, from September of 1926 to 1930 and then from 1935 to (literally) 1948—was a Kitchener native. “Woodside,” his boyhood home, is preserved as a National Historic Site at 528 Wellington St. N. here in town (Parkscanada.pch.gc.ca/parks/Ontario/Woodside)
But back then, English Canadians were proudly pro-British; they saw the Union Jack and the Red Ensign [the precursor of the maple leaf flag which incorporated the Union Jack (in an area comparable to that occupied by the stars on the American flag) and the coats of arms of Canada] as their flags, and when war broke out in 1939 there was no possibility that English Canadians would tolerate Canada staying out of it.
King had promised Quebec that he would not introduce conscription as the Tories had done [in the First World War]. He gradually slid out of this commitment, but he did it so adroitly, and so slowly—the process took four years—that he was able to keep his Quebec support intact. King was not even afraid of the occasional absurdity: Between 1940 and 1942, it was possible for an American to be conscripted to defend Canada, but not a Canadian.
In 1940, Canada sent a division to Britain to help defend against a possible Nazi invasion. After 1940, as Hitler turned against the Soviet Union and the danger of invasion receded, Canadian troops remained in Britain, while the Australians and the British fought the Germans in North Africa.
Why were Canadian troops not sent to Africa? Because the Canadian government insisted Canadian troops remain together and remain under Canadian command which had the desired side effect of keeping them out of battle, keeping casualties low and thus keeping the conscription largely off the agenda.
But by 1943, English Canadian opinion was becoming impatient with inactivity, relieved only by the disastrous Dieppe raid of August, 1942. King therefore suddenly abandoned his determination to keep Canadian troops together and insisted, instead, that the British include them in the coming invasions of Sicily and mainland Italy. After D-Day, there was a shortage of troops in northern Europe and a political crisis erupted in Ottawa over conscription.
As a consequence, Canadian troops were shifted from Italy back to the Western Front. The eminent Canadian war historian C.P. Stacey labeled the whole episode “a silly chapter in Canadian war policy” in which Canadian troops were shipped around Europe, not to help defeat the Germans, nor even to impress allies or secure a post-war bargaining position, but solely to satisfy Canadians at home.
King’s intervention in the naval side of the Second World War followed similar lines. At the height of the Atlantic convoy war, King, needing to tell English Canadians how well his government was doing, asked Churchill (whom English Canadians trusted) to say something positive about the performance of the Royal Canadian Navy.
In fact, the performance of the Navy was terrible. University of New Brunswick historian Marc Milner has shown that the Canadian Navy was the worst of the Allied navies at sub-hunting. The fault for this lay not with the men in the Navy, but with the government—the Navy had only six destroyers in 1939 and had been completely unprepared for the rapid expansion required by the war. Poor equipment and funding before the war led to poor performance in combat—and, of course, inadequate pre-war preparation was itself a result, ultimately, of King’s pandering to his Quebec supporters.
Mention of “pandering to Quebec” and the ill-fated Dieppe raid necessitates a lengthy detour before we return to the linear history of Canada’s military and Canada’s leadership in the modern age.
Since 19 August 2002 was the 60th anniversary there was, over the summer, quite a bit of coverage of the above-mentioned Dieppe raid, the best of which I found to be J.L. Granatstein’s “Dieppe, 60 years on: What is the truth?” (The National Post, 19 August):
Sixty years ago today, some 5,000 Canadians, a brigade’s worth of infantry and armour, landed on the beaches of Dieppe. There was great courage and unspeakable horror in a few hours, and the raid left 907 Canadians dead on the beach and 1,946 prisoners of war, many of them wounded. Only 2,200 returned to England and half of those [hadn’t gotten] ashore. The Dieppe raid was a military disaster, one of the worst in Canadian history. Such losses understandably led soldiers then and historians since to search for explanations. The British had sacrificed Canadian troops rather than their own, some said. The Germans had known the raid was coming, many Dieppe veterans still maintain. Others…argued that the success of Overlord, the D-Day invasion two years later, simply could not have occurred without the lessons learned on Aug. 19, 1942. What is the truth?
The first point that must be made is that the Canadian high command, not the British had pressed strongly for the Canadian army to have the lead role in the raid. Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, acting commander of the Canadian Corps in England in the winter of 1942, had learned of the raid and insisted that his men get the job. The Canadians were bored and needed to see action, Crerar believed. Moreover, he said, public opinion in Canada was restless [emphasis mine] and it would be a disaster if the Americans, in the war for only a few months, saw action before the Canadians [emphasis mine, again], some of whom had been in the United Kingdom since December, 1939. Crerar was right in his assessment, and he made the case strongly and well enough that he persuaded the British to select the 2nd Canadian Division. The blame, if blame there is, rests on a Canadian commander, not the British.”
I take issue with Mr. Granatstein’s conclusion here. I think it is naïve to assume that Lieutenant-General Crerar—on his own—suddenly decided that the Canadians, after two years of sitting around, needed to get involved in a major, high-profile raid. On the contrary, I think Dieppe represented an example of a Liberal Canadian leader—make that “leader”—typically, wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. That is, as long as it was just Britain and just the Commonwealth countries and just the Allies (in their nascent form) fighting the Axis powers, Prime Minister King—in typical weasel-y Liberal Canadian fashion—was happy to insist that Canadians serve only as a unit and only under Canadian military leaders (allowing him to then, basically, not authorize Canada’s field officers to do anything for the better part of two years so as to avoid casualties and, thus, avoid conscription and, thus, avoid upsetting Quebec). It was only with America’s entry into the war that that policy became untenable and for that most parochial and typically Canadian of reasons: jealousy of America. The only people who would think it would be a “disaster” if the Americans saw action before the Canadians were the Canadians. Obviously, Mackenzie King had no problem with Brits and Aussies and Kiwis seeing action before the Canadians did. In fact, the Liberal Prime Minister was happy to, in effect, make that the centerpiece of Canada’s War Policy: that is, to make a great show of deployment (for the sake of public consumption) and then let other countries do the actual fighting (to avoid having to conscript soldiers and thereby upset Quebec). Conservative Prime Minister Borden’s experience with Doing the Right Thing as a western democracy in the First World War had not been lost on King. It’s all well and good to Do the Right Thing, to provide men and arms for the defense of democracy and freedom, but it costs you support in Quebec and the loss of support in Quebec means the loss of power. As we will see, so effective was Mackenzie King’s wartime policy in allowing the Liberals to maintain their hold on power both during and after the Second World War that the political imperative Don’t Do Anything to Upset Quebec soon became both the centerpiece of what passes for Liberal “thinking” and a Liberal panacea for every real or imagined Canadian ill. In fact, Don’t Do Anything to Upset Quebec would, in the ensuing sixty years, so thoroughly supersede every other consideration within the Liberal Party of Canada’s mass consciousness—and from there ultimately supersede every other consideration within the Canadian “identity” itself…
(said “identity” having proven so elusive even to those theoretically in possession of it—having proven, that is, to be as mythical, in its own way, as Sasquatch or Ogopogo—to me, dictates that it be braced by quotation marks. My own view is that the Canadian “identity” is not actually elusive at all but is, on the contrary, self-evident. It is only viewed as being elusive because it is, in fact, morally repugnant and ethically reprehensible. To wit:)
…that Don’t Do Anything to Upset Quebec would, arguably and in very short order, come to be the Canadian “identity” and to be universally viewed by all Canadians as being indistinguishable from Doing the Right Thing so that all Canadian public policy would eventually come to be measured against the yardstick of Quebec’s PMS-like mood swings. If a national policy doesn’t upset Quebec, it is the Right Thing to Do. If a national policy does upset Quebec, it is the Wrong Thing to Do. This, as we will see, ultimately became both the means and end by which appeasement and outright capitulation became, not only second nature to Canadians, but would, in fact, make of appeasement and capitulation the Canadian Way. As much the Canadian Way as Showing the Americans a Thing or Two, the intrinsic Canadian conceit in which I believe Mackenzie King was indulging with his abrupt volte-face of his War Policy from “unofficial malingering” to suddenly, in 1942, pushing for Lieutenant-General Crerar to demand from the British a high profile combat role solely in the interests of appeasing Canadian public opinion without once considering whether there was a wiser or more useful role that the Canadian troops could play under British or American command. Post-1918, post-Robert Borden, this reprehensible trait in Canada’s Prime Ministers to never make Doing the Right Thing the basis of their military decisions but to always make the political cost of an adverse effect on public opinion—and always foremost Quebecois public opinion—the basis of military decision-making would be echoed most recently with Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s studied ambivalence and half-hearted contribution to the Gulf War in 1991 and Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s own Hamlet-like vacillations about whether or not to send ground troops to Afghanistan in 2001-02.
Back to 1942:
“But did the Germans know the raid was coming? Initially planned for July, bad weather cancelled the attack…Defying logic, the planners decided to use the same troops against the same target the next month; the Germans surely would not expect such a foolish violation of elementary military good sense. And they didn’t. There is no hard evidence that the Germans knew a raid on Dieppe was planned in August. But the attackers had terrible luck when their flotilla ran into a German coastal convoy in the English Channel. Firing ensued and the Nazis’ coastal defences went to a heightened state of alert. This likely doomed the raid to failure, but its chances lessened even further when some landing craft put men ashore in the wrong places and when most touched down late and in daylight. The disembarking troops became easy targets for the Wehrmacht’s artillery and machine guns. The Canadian dead piled up in heaps on the beaches and only a few very brave men managed to get inland.”
My own view is that this was an amateurish Canadian operation which failed because it was run by military leaders who lacked any actual combat experience in amphibious landings but who were under strict orders not to share their command with anyone else. The sensible thing to do would have been to put the Canadian forces under the command of someone who knew what he was doing, either as a unit (if that’s how the someone who knew what he was doing wanted to deploy them) or in bits and pieces (if that’s how the someone who knew what he was doing wanted to deploy them). In short, I consider the failure to have been Mackenzie King’s own. If the Canadians were solely under Canadian command then a failure like Dieppe can only be seen as a Canadian failure. It would probably have helped if the motivation for the raid had been something larger than what I suspect it was: Showing the Americans a Thing or Two and appeasing Canadian public opinion.
“After August 19, the idea of seizing a defended port in a major invasion was dropped. The need for heavy air and naval support was recognized, as well as the requirement for better intelligence, better ship-to-shore communications, more specialized assault training for the attacking forces and better tanks and landing craft. And certainly all these were essential for D-Day’s success.
Let us be clear, however. Assaults from the sea were nothing new in 1942. The United States Marine Corps had a developed doctrine for such attacks, and the British themselves had staged seaborne attacks in the Great War. Who could have believed that tactical surprise was all that was necessary to get 5,000 men ashore on defended beaches? By what planning principles did the staff decide that a relative handful of aircraft could provide air support and that eight destroyers could give sufficient covering fire?
More to the point, what fool decided to attack Dieppe? No one who has stood on the stony beach in front of Dieppe—as hundreds of thousands of British vacationers had done for a century before 1942—could have failed to notice the cliffs that commanded the Canadians’ landing areas. Where else would the Germans have placed their weaponry? Dieppe was a failure of intelligence, a “gross lapse in command sense and leadership,” historian Bill McAndrew has correctly noted. Yes, there were lessons learned from Dieppe, but most of them would have been obvious to a second lieutenant fresh out of officer cadet classes.”
But not, I suspect, to the Prime Minister of Canada and his military proxies in their first “go-round” with military autonomy on the world stage (King had played a major role in negotiating the 1931 Statute of Westminster, by which Canada assumed full independence, including control of its foreign relations), military proxies who had been instructed to zealously guard their command and to keep it exclusively under their own—and, consequently, ultimately under King’s—jurisdiction. The resultant mythology which attached itself to Dieppe was part of the under-pinning of my decision to volunteer for “cannon fodder duty,” the deeply-held Canadian conviction (which now runs at a near-genetic level) that you have to sacrifice vast numbers of troops (as we have been fervently instructed to believe happened at Dieppe) to determine how not to conduct your war before you learn how to conduct your war. There are elements of that—no battle and no war goes according to plan—but Dieppe was beyond the pale. I think this is especially true when you consider that there were so many capable military commanders in the European theater—including experienced senior British commanders with actual experience in directing large-scale military operations of the sort exemplified by what the Canadian military leadership was attempting to do with the Dieppe raid (5,000 men is not exactly a small-scale operation). Presumably those senior British commanders—who, up until 1931 had had oversight over those officers who were in 1942 at the highest levels of the Canadian military would, whatever their own failings (and no military commander is infallible) at least not have made the transparently foolish choices that the Canadian commanders did. Foolish choices which resulted primarily, I suspect, out of inexperience. At the highest levels of command, speaking militarily, William Lyon Mackenzie King was, to say the least, no Winston Churchill. With 20-20 hindsight it would have been infinitely preferable for the Prime Minister to have entrusted the 5,000 Canadian troops of the Canadian Second Division to the command of whomever Winston Churchill might have designated and to whatever purpose that individual might have chosen for them.
As to those soldiers who actually took part in the “turkey shoot” that Dieppe turned into, “brave” dramatically understates their case. I still find it virtually inconceivable that any soldiers made it inland from the landing sites. The fact that some of them did indicates, as does most Canadian military history, that bravery was never—and never will be—a Canadian military “issue”. Just 217 of the nearly 600 soldiers of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry—the Rileys—returned to England after the raid, and half of them were wounded. Two-thirds of the rest were either killed or taken prisoner. “They captured the large casino that dominated the western end of the Esplanade and some even succeeded in penetrating into the town before becoming bogged down in vicious street-to-street fighting in Dieppe’s narrow cobblestone lanes and alleys,” according to one of the anniversary articles.
(Ron Beal, the president of the Dieppe Veterans and Prisoners of War Association, in an interview marking the anniversary was asked about the fact that the raid is still a sensitive topic, sixty years later. “The reason is that so many were killed. In my regiment they had something like 95% casualties. Out of 504 men we put on the beach, only 67 came back…and only 28 of them were fit for duty the next day.” “Fit for duty the next day.” That speaks volumes to me about the caliber of men who participated in the Second World War and, to me, shows how far masculinity has eroded in our own Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder age)
I also think that it is significant that after the disaster of Dieppe, Prime Minister King performed another volte-face and, having abandoned his insistence that Canadian troops remain together and serve only under Canadian command, now began insisting that the British include Canadian troops in the imminent invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland. The key Canadian traits exhibited, of course, were extensive, hand-wringing Prime Ministerial vacillation coupled with the indignant Prime Ministerial insistence that the Canadian Will be capitulated to—even as that Will staked out, in rapid sequence, every available contradictory position available to it. These traits, which have proven endemic to Canada’s leadership, to me, were best summed up by Dean Acheson (1893-1971)—Secretary of State in the Truman Administration and the architect of the NATO strategy in the Cold War—in the title of an essay he wrote in 1966: “Canada: Stern Daughter of the Voice of God” (I chuckle out loud every time I read that).
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If Dieppe was Canada’s greatest military disaster, there is no question that Vimy Ridge, in 1917, remains Canada’s greatest military victory (although the sacrifice of the Battle of Passchendaele—where three-quarters of the Nova Scotia Battalion involved gave their lives to capture 200 meters of German-held territory in October of the same year—would have to be judged as comparable). Chris Wattie’s article in the National Post earlier this year (“Britain finally yields, will lend Vimy Ensign”), to me, captures the spirit of Vimy Ridge and the battle’s significance to Canadians of every generation—whether they recognize that significance or not:
A British museum has agreed to return a Canadian flag flown over Vimy Ridge, 85 years after the First World War victory that symbolized Canada’s coming of age as a nation.
After months of delicate negotiations, the Imperial War Museum in London has agreed to lend the flag, a Red Ensign believed to be one of the oldest Canadian flags in existence, to the Canadian War Museum when it moves into its new home in 2005.
Joe Geurts, director of the Canadian War Museum, confirmed yesterday the Ensign will be in Ottawa when the new $58-million war museum opens.
“It will be on loan, but it will be in the Canadian War Museum,” he said.
Previous efforts to return the flag to Canadian soil were rebuffed by the British museum, but Mr. Geurts said veterans from the Royal Canadian Legion finally succeeded in convincing the curators to release it.
“It’ll be a centerpiece of our World War I display,” said Tim Cook, a historian at the museum.
The Ensign, Canada’s flag until 1965, was carried up the shell-shattered ground of Vimy Ridge by the 5th Saskatchewan Battalion in April, 1917, after the Canadian Corps captured the key high ground in northern France after five days of heavy fighting.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne Tudor, commander of the Saskatchewan battalion, donated the Ensign to the Imperial War Museum at the end of the war, likely because the Canadian museum at the time was in its infancy and little known, Mr. Geurts said.
David Penn, keeper of the Imperial War Museum’s department of exhibitions, said the now tattered and threadbare flag would be a unique addition to any museum because it was relatively rare for regiments to carry their colours into battle in the mud and trenches of the First World War.
“The Canadian units tended to take their unit flags into battle with them in a way that British regiments did not,” he said. “It’s the only one of its kind that survived.”
Mr. Penn said that after lengthy discussions with his Canadian colleagues and Canadian veterans’ groups, the British museum came to realize the emotional attachment to the flag and the victory at Vimy Ridge that it represented.
“It was a critical action…and of course French and British troops had [twice] failed in previous attempts to capture the ridge, which the Canadians quite magnificently did,” he said. “It was a very great victory indeed.”
A total of 3,598 Canadians died in the battle for Vimy Ridge—the first time the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together.
Many historians have called Vimy Ridge a pivotal event in Canada’s coming of age.
The French government later deeded the land upon which the battle was fought to Canada and a massive war memorial was built on the highest point of the ridge.
In May, 2000, Imperial War Museum officials rejected Canada’s request to acquire the flag for the ceremonies around the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Liberal MPs and Canadian War Museum officials had hoped to drape the Red Ensign over the coffin of the Unknown Soldier, an unidentified Canadian killed at Vimy Ridge, who is entombed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
Dr. Jack Granatstein, the historian and former head of the Canadian War Museum, said he was gratified to learn the Ensign will finally be coming home.
“This is one of only two flags still in existence that were carried up Vimy Ridge…a great Canadian victory,” he said. “It’s of great historical significance to Canada and it ought to be in Canada’s war museum.”
The other Vimy flag is in a museum in Penticton, B.C.
The Ensign in Britain—during the First World War, it was the closest thing the then Dominion of Canada had to a national flag—is even more valuable to Canadian historians because of its apparent age.
Although Canadian War Museum officials have not yet had a chance to examine the Ensign closely, it is believed to bear the coat of arms of only four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—the original provinces in confederation.
That would make the flag the original Red Ensign of 1868—[the Canadian province of] Manitoba was added in 1870, British Columbia in 1871—making the Vimy flag at least 132 years old and possibly the oldest Canadian flag in existence.
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A substantial part of the reason behind my choosing to write “Why Canada Slept” is to indicate to my American readers—who are largely insulated from the extent to which an entire country can fall asleep, militarily, and the extent to which a country’s national defense can be, has been and continues to be allowed to erode (in a country most of whose population lives a few hundred miles from the events of 11 September)—how much, here in the first hours of the twenty-first century, the defense of democracy and of freedom rests upon the shoulders of Americans alone.
Having familiarized you with Dieppe and Vimy Ridge, I’m sure that at this point most of my American readers will have understood what I was discussing by calling to mind an analogous legendary battle in the American pantheon: the Alamo, Valley Forge, Midway, Normandy (there are certainly no shortage of examples in your proud and sterling history) and with which the average American schoolchild would be familiar. Well, maybe not an American schoolchild of today—the feminization of public schooling is pretty widespread and through-going (I’m reminded of the NEA’s recent efforts to mark the first anniversary of 11 September with study programs which emphasized that the attacks were no one’s fault in particular)—but an American schoolchild of my own generation, let’s say. And if you won’t even concede that point (you left liberal quasi-socialist you), I think you would at least agree that the present Secretary of Defense of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, would be familiar with those American battles.
Which brings me to the unhappy point of this second installment of “Why Canada Slept,” to the “airing” of a particularly nasty—and recent—bit of Canada’s dirty laundry by way of striking a bourdon cautionary note for my American readers of How Bad Things Can Get in a Completely Feminized Democracy which is illustrated clearly in an article by Chris Wattie in The National Post, 29 August of this year, “Defence Minister ignorant of Dieppe”:
John McCallum, the Minister of National Defence and titular head of the Canadian Forces, has conceded that until last week, he had never heard about the 5,000 Canadian troops who stormed ashore for the Dieppe raid, one of the greatest military disasters in Canadian history.
The former banker, who was appointed Defence Minister last May, has no military experience beyond four years in his private school’s Air Cadet corps and says he has a lot of learn. He replaced Art Eggleton, who was fired.
“I had a pretty good—you could even say a privileged—education,” Mr. McCallum said during his visit to the French port last week to mark the 60th anniversary of the raid. “But I never learned any of this in school. I haven’t even been to Vimy Ridge…yet.
“This is, in a way, a sort of crash course in the military and military history,” he said. “So I’m getting everything all at once, from [the liberation of] the Netherlands or Dieppe to Afghanistan.”
Duane Daly, the dominion secretary for the Royal Canadian Legion [Canada’s equivalent of the VFW] was saddened by the Defence Minister’s ignorance.
“It’s really unfortunate,” he said yesterday. “But it’s not just McCallum: it’s all MP’s [Members of Parliament] and Cabinet ministers. So few have any military experience or even knowledge of our history.”
Mr. Daly said the ignorance of Canada’s leaders reflects broad and long-standing flaws in the teaching of history in Canadian schools, but wished Mr. McCallum well in his “crash course” on military history.
Leon Benoit, the Canadian Alliance [the official Opposition Party to the Liberals in the present Parliament] defence critic, said Mr. McCallum’s ignorance of things military is in character for the entire federal Cabinet.
“This government shies away from things military,” he said. “They feel uncomfortable talking about anything to do with the military, particularly the combat capabilities of our military.
“So I’m not surprised.”
To help him make up for lost time, the Minister has arranged for National Defence historians to give him private tours whenever he visits such historic sites as Dieppe.
Last week, an historian walked Mr. McCallum and a handful of aides along the stony beach where Canadian soldiers stormed ashore in 1942, showed them the seawall and the wide esplanade where the town’s German defenders mowed down the men, and patiently explained the progress of the battle.
“It was amazing to me…It was very moving,” he said after his tour. “I have a new respect for the military.
“You can draw a parallel between what these 80-year-old [veterans] did in Europe and what the 18-year-old [Canadian Forces soldiers] did in Afghanistan.”
However, the Minister’s grasp of historical parallels is not yet perfect. In a speech to veterans of the raid and government officials in Dieppe last week, he vowed: “to do the best I can…to see that our modern generation of soldiers and airmen and seamen have the same resources to fight for freedom and democracy that you did.”
“I sure hope they’re better prepared than we were,” one veteran said with a chuckle.
The Canadian army, navy and air force was tiny, ill-equipped and under-funded when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
Mr. McCallum, whose father was a decorated veteran of the Second World War [emphasis mine], is being given the benefit of the doubt by many members of the Canadian Forces and appeared to impress most of the veterans of Dieppe he met last week.
* * * * * * *
This was followed, a few days later by another article by Chris Wattie, “McCallum Mixes Up Vimy & Vichy”:
“In a letter to the editor in Saturday’s National Post, the Minister, addressing an earlier article on his lack of knowledge of the disastrous 1942 Dieppe raid, said he had been “misinterpreted.” However, he continued by saying: “Dieppe, like Vichy more than two decades earlier, attests to our pride as a nation in defence of freedom and justice.”
The City of Vichy, in central France, was the capital of a right-wing regime installed by the Germans after the fall of France in 1940. Vichy France controlled about 40% of the country not under direct German military control.
Mr. McCallum said yesterday that he meant to write “Vimy” instead of “Vichy.”
“Obviously, that’s a typing mistake,” he said last night in a telephone interview. “Because obviously I meant Vimy.”
Dr. Jack Granatstein, the prominent Canadian historian, said Mr. McCallum has no shortage of military historians in his department and should have consulted them before writing the letter.
He said the error “suggests a certain lack of attention to detail and a woeful ignorance of Canadian history.”
But Dr. Granatstein shrugged it off as “not that serious.”
Historian Michael Bliss, of the University of Toronto, chuckled when he read the letter.
“Anything that helps educate our Defence Minister about history is a good thing,” he said. “Even if it’s another mistake.”
Dr. Bliss said the error should not lead to calls for Mr. McCallum’s resignation. “At least he’s trying to educate himself about the military…that’s more than most previous defence ministers can say.”
Next issue: A one-issue break to present the recipient of the 2002 Howard E. Day Memorial Prize. Part three of “Why Canada Slept” will appear in Cerebus 286.