The Missing of the Great War

April 10, 2017
Menin Gate Memorial-Names

Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium showing interior wall with names of missing.

As I watched the 100th anniversary ceremonies at the Vimy Memorial in France and listened to news reports I noticed there was some confusion when discussing “missing” soldiers. I hope to clarify that in this article, another in my series on the Great War 1914-1918.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is charged with ensuring that the final resting places of the dead from both World Wars are preserved forever. After the November 11, 1918 Armistice the Commission’s work began. They began by recording the details of the dead from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and other countries of the British Commonwealth. Some 587,000 graves were identified and a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave. Once land had been acquired they began constructing cemeteries. They consolidated smaller cemeteries into the larger ones and located as many battlefield burials as they could and interred them in the larger cemeteries.

The principles of the Commission mandated an identical headstone for every soldier regardless of rank, religion or race. Basic information where known was inscribed. Christian soldiers stones have a cross and Jewish soldiers have the Star of David. All cemeteries are well maintained. The Commission replaces about 20,000 stones every year due to weathering or damage or information correction. They also did not allow the reparation of any of the dead they were all to be buried where they died.

These cemeteries contain two types of burials, those containing identified soldiers and those graves containing remains of unidentified soldiers. The latter are the “Unknowns”. Finally all those killed, but where remains have never been located are the “Missing”. As can be seen from the previous paragraph this is a staggering number. In the war years of 1914 to 1918 soldiers were blown to bits in battle, sank into the deep mud and just disappeared. Over the years as bodies are found through various activities on the battlefields identification is attempted. If a name can be associated with the remains they are buried with that on the headstone, otherwise they are buried as unknown. They are removed from the missing list.

The War Graves Cemeteries commemorate the dead whose remains were located. The Commission also wanted to commemorated the “missing” in some permanent way so they decided to engrave the names on memorials. The Vimy Memorial walls contain the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France during World War I, but who do not have a known resting place. It should be noted there are no cemeteries at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, but there are a short distance away.

For those who died in Belgium (or Flanders) the Menin Gate Memorial was constructed in Ypres, Belgium. This memorial contains the names of over 54,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who do not have a known resting place, the “missing”. Those Canadians who went missing presumed killed at Passchendaele for example are included at this memorial.

In my case I had a great-uncle, Herbert T. Waite, who was killed at Vimy but never found. His name is engraved into the Vimy Memorial Wall. I located him by searching the Commission’s database for all the surnames in my family I was researching. For common surnames you may need additional information to narrow the search results to the correct individual. You can also search for cemeteries. The search is free and easy to use.

So next time you hear about the “Missing” remember they have no known resting place, but their names are etched into the walls of Menin Gate and the Vimy Memorial and others so we can remember them always.

Should you wish to located the grave of a relative killed in the Great War or the Second World War here is the link to search. The results will tell you the exact location if it is a burial. If the person is one of the “missing” is will have under Burial “N/A” but will tell you where the name is engraved.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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Vimy Ridge: Canada’s Defining Moment

April 8, 2017
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Canadian stamps issued to commemorate Vimy Ridge. They show the Vimy Memorial and preserved trenches nearby. The memorial was completed in 1936. 

This post is one in my continuing series related to World War I or The Great War as it is also called. It has been 100 years since these events took place that still impact us today.

One hundred years ago on the morning of April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps consisting of four divisions commenced the attack on a key high point in the Arras sector of the Western Front. This was Vimy Ridge a strategic point held by the Germans since the early days of the war. Numerous attempts had been made to capture it before without success now it was Canada’s turn.

Within the first two days it was captured and in the hands of the Allies thanks to the detailed planning and execution of the Canadian Corps. The cost was high, 10,600 casualties including 3,598 killed.

Canada’s victory gained us much respect and admiration from the world. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind it was a pivotal point in the history of our nation. We became more than just one of the colonies. We became proud to be Canadians.

Today we do not celebrate a victory so much as we remember the sacrifice of the men who gave their all serving Canada. We remember and mourn those who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield of Vimy. May we never forget these men.

My thoughts are with them today. I am proud to be Canadian.


Golf at the Olympics: One fan’s view

October 20, 2016

This past summer at the Olympics in Rio golf was a recognized medal sport for the first time since 1904. As a die-hard golfer and golf fan I’d like to give some of the history behind this and my thoughts on golf as an Olympic sport.

The last and only time golf was an Olympic sport was during the 1900 Olympics in Paris, France and the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

First let’s look at Paris in 1900. Men’s and women’s events were held. The men competed in a 36 hole stroke-play tournament and the women in a 9 hole stroke-play tournament. Charles Sanders of the USA won the men’s Gold Medal and Margaret Abbot of the USA the women’s Gold Medal. A total of twenty-two golfers competed from 4 nations.

At St. Louis in 1904 only men competed. No women’s golf events were held. Seventy-seven golfers from just two nations completed, Canada and the United States. Men’s individual events were match play. Team events were held. Three teams of 10 golfers each competed in stroke play. The individual results of each team were totalled to determine the team standings. USA won Gold and Canada Silver. In the individual event the Gold Medal winner was George Lyon, a Canadian. This was the last time the sport of golf was an Olympic event.

At the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 a vote was held and golf accepted for the Olympics in 2016 in Rio and for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. After that an evaluation will be done by the IOC and golf’s governing bodies to see if it should continue.

The format for the golf events was also determined and will be,

  • 120 golfers, 60 men and 60 women.
  • 72 hole (4 rounds of 18 holes) stroke play tournaments for the men and the women.
  • Official Rules of Golf to be used as on the PGA, European, Asian tours and the LPGA tour.
  • In case of a tie a three-hole play-off will be held to determine the Gold Medal winner. Ties for Silver or Bronze are permitted and medals awarded appropriately.
  • Qualifiers are to be based on World Rankings prior to the Olympics.
  • Top 15 players of each gender automatically qualify, but a limit of 4 golfers per country. Remaining spots to highest ranked players from countries not having two golfers qualified.
  • Guaranteed at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographic region.
  • No cuts in the tournaments after two days as is usual practice. All golfers play all four rounds.

Unfortunately at Rio many of the world’s top golfers both men and women withdrew because of the Zika virus, their schedule or personal reasons. In the end the competition featured 34 nations. In both the men’s and women’s tournaments play-offs weren’t required.

Men’s winners:
Gold – Justin Rose, Great Britain
Silver – Henrik Stensen, Sweden
Bronze – Matt Kucher, USA

Women’s winners:
Inbee Park – Gold, South Korea
Lydia Ko – Silver, New Zealand
ShanShan Feng – Bronze, China

As a fan I managed to watch most of the rounds and the finals in both men’s and women’s. The competition was fierce and close in both cases. Very entertaining. I am biased but I vote a resounding Yes for golf in the Olympics.


The Greatest Generation

November 5, 2015
One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada’s war death lie.

On November 11, 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of the Second World War 1939-1945 and over 100 years since the beginning of the Great War 1914-1919.

Tom Brokaw’s  famous book, “The Greatest Generation”, is in my opinion one of the best reads on war and sacrifice. It is a collection of stories from veterans and their wartime experiences. It’s not about generals and strategy, but rather about ordinary people and how they stood up and fought for our freedom against the evil forces seeking to destroy and conquer the world. Although American it applies to all who were of that generation. These people grew up in the Depression of the 1930s and did what had to be done in the 1940s. They made it possible for us to have the society we have today. The following quote from the book says it all

“They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”

These men returned from the horrors of war to short-lived celebration and then resumed their lives as best they could. For years they never talked about their experiences. All that changed after fifty years when they realized age was killing them off at a rapid rate. They didn’t want to tell their stories to glamourize war, but so that we would never forget. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know some older vets who told me of their experiences. It is incredible to see a vet tear up when he remembers a buddy from all those years ago. They remember the friends they lost like it was yesterday such was the horror of it. To all the vets who tell the stories thanks for letting us know what it was really like.

To younger people if you want to know about wars don’t read the accounts of generals and politicians, read the stories of ordinary people, the soldiers who went through the mud, the fire, and the blood. For Canadians there is “Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans” by Blake Heathcote which I highly recommend.

Other books to read are Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” or Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day”. These books are far more interesting and enlightening then some general’s memoirs. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” which revolves around the D-Day landings is one of the most realistic war movies of all time. Director Steven Spielberg screened it for veterans of D-Day to get their input. To a man they liked it, but said it lacked one thing, the smell. They told him the smell of blood, gore, death and cordite from shells was overpowering during the combat. They also told him the noise level pierced them to the very soul. These were the things they still remembered all those years later.

When you attend or watch the Remembrance Day ceremonies and you see all the old vets close your eyes and visualize them as young boys and men in their late teens and early twenties preparing to charge off the landing craft into the hellstorm of machine gun fire and shelling. While you’re contemplating that image ask yourself if you could stand up and do what needed to be done.


Minority governments in Canada.

October 18, 2015

canadian-flag-blowing-in-the-wind-PublicDomanThe Canadian election is tomorrow, October 19, 2015. The present government is the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper. They have had a majority government since the election of May 2, 2011. Prior to that the Stephen Harper and his Conservatives were elected twice before, but both times with minority governments.

In 2006 for the first time, but were 30 seats short of a majority. This government lasted 2 years, 207 days (total 937 days) before another election was held. Then in the subsequent election held October 14, 2008 the Conservatives again failed to obtain a majority. This time they fell 12 seats short. This time the minority government lasted 2 years, 4 months, 9 days (total 859 days).

Finally in the next election of May 2, 2011 the Conservatives won the majority they were seeking. The two minority governments he and his party formed are the two longest lasting in Canadian history.

There are pros and cons to both majority and minority governments. Failing to obtain a majority government forces the winning party to work with the other parties on important legislation. This need to compromise is not easy, but if important legislation such as a budget are defeated then the government must resign and another election called. With a majority these is no need to compromise. However, if the government doesn’t take other parties and stakeholders concerns into account then at the next election they may be defeated or lose their majority. Minority governments require a deft balancing act to remain in power.

Here are some interesting facts about minority governments in Canadian history since 1867,
– the longest consecutive term was 937 days (2 years, 6 months, 24 days) by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. Elected January 23, 2006 and dissolved September 7, 2008.
– the shortest duration of a minority government was the John Diefenbaker Progressive Conservatives elected April 12, 1957 and dissolved February 1, 1958. It lasted just 177 days (5 months, 25 days).
– smallest minority was the Stephen Harper Conservative government elected in 2006.
– average duration of minority governments in Canada is 479 days (about 1 year, 140 days)
– first minority government in Canadian history was William Lyon Mackenzie King led Liberals in the election of October 8, 1921. Initially this government held an exact number of seats for a majority but lost two seats in by-elections of 1924 and then continued as a minority government until later in 1924 when another by-election returned them to a majority.

The election of 2015 is too close to call at this writing, but polls show the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau forming a minority government. The other two parties having a realistic chance are the incumbant Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Thomas Mulcair. It would be a huge surprise if a majority government is elected on October 15th. Voter turnout is anticipated to be heavy based on the Advance Polls so anything can happen.

** Update – Liberals pull off upset majority government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau) will be sworn in November 4, 2015.


Prohibition Lawman – Book Launch

August 26, 2015

ProhibitionLawman-BookCover0001The evening of September 21, 1922 was a fateful one for infamous bootlegger Emperor Pic of the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberata.

In the aftermath of an attempted illegal liquor run and an ensuing Alberta Provincial Police pursuit Picariello and associate Florence Lassandro gun down an unarmed Alberta Provincial Police officer outside his office and home in downtown Coleman. After their arrest and a sensational trial the two are hanged the following year.

Forgotten in the splash of media coverage are the victims, Steve Lawson, and his wife and five young children who witnessed his cold-blooded murder.

Read how the inadequate resources of the Provincial Police, and an unenforceable law, prohibition, resulted in Lawson’s death and the lawlessness of the Crowsnest Pass.

This book is the true story of a war hero and lawman, Steve Lawson, and the impact of his murder on his family and society. It is an untold story that will surprise and touch the reader.

Too often crimes and criminals are glamourized at the expense of their victims. This book focuses not on the story of the crime, but on the life of a victim.

Available as a paperback at,

Prohibition Lawman

Soon to be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books and many others.


RCMP Service Dog Training Centre

August 20, 2015
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Handler with his dog. photo SB Davis

My kids and I visited the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre yesterday. It’s located in Innisfail, Alberta just south of Red Deer along Highway #2. This is the national centre where all service dogs and their handlers are trained. The centre has been located here for 50 years. Prior to that several centres were located across Canada. For those non-Canadians reading this RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They are the federal police force of Canada, but also are contracted by eight provinces to do their provincial policing. The only existing provincial police forces are in Ontario and Quebec.

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Some of training apparatus with teams in foreground. photo SB Davis

Every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm during the summer months of July and August the centre puts on a free demo and information session open to the public. The day we were there it was very well attended, around two thousand persons. The grandstand was filled to capacity with standing and sitting room only on the grass next to the fence.

The sessions last about 45 minutes and include search and apprehension skills. There is usually a chance to meet a dog up close and sometimes there are puppies, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Training is done on site, but the majority of the training is conducted outside in the real world, nearby farmer’s fields, wooded areas, industrial areas and residential areas.

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Police Service Dog Memorial. Plaques have info on each dog lost in service. photo SB Davis

Finally near the entrance and the grandstand there is a memorial (pictured) to all the dogs lost during service. Adjacent to the memorial are the graves of some of the dogs.

Overview:
RCMP members occasionally used privately owned dogs to assist them from 1908 to 1935. Then in 1935 the force acquired three German shepherds. Later in 1937 satisfied with their performance a training school for dogs was established in Calgary, Alberta. The first case won with dog search evidence occurred in 1940. The present training centre was established in Innisfail in 1965. Staff consists of officer in charge, one program manager, one senior trainer, five sergeant trainers, one acquisition sergeant, two corporal pretrainers and support staff of six.

The Dogs:
German shephards and Belgian shephards (Malinois) in perfect condition are used. These are considered best for police work as they are adaptable, versatile, strong, courageous and can work in extreme conditions. We were told that a dog entering the program only has a 17 percent chance of becoming a police service dog. This is due to the high standards of the RCMP. The annual cost to maintain a police service dog is less than $1000 per year. Most police dogs retire at the age of seven which was surprising to me.

Dogs start training anywhere from 12 to 18 months of age. Basic training is 17 weeks, but training is on-going to maintain physical and mental fitness. Dogs and handlers are validated on an annual basis.

Dog Handlers:
Handlers are regular members of the force who volunteer for this duty. There is a long waiting list. Candidates are screened for selection. Obviously they must have a tolerance towards animals and appreciate dog instincts. The handlers and dogs go through the training program together and form a team.

What police service dogs do:
Police service dogs locate lost persons, track criminals, search for narcotics, explosives, crime scene evidence and lost property. In addition they provide VIP protection, crowd control, and assist with hostage situations. The dogs are great with police and community relations.

A search dog is trained for a specific skill in some cases. For instance a dog trained for sniffing out explosives only does that. Same with a dog trained for narcotics otherwise the nose get confused. The officer presenting to us said the officers need to know what’s in the package a dog finds. If a narcotic dog finds a package the officer must be assured it’s not anything else such as explosives.

Fascinating facts about police service dogs from the website,
A dog can search a car in about three minutes.
Dogs can work up to four hours with rest intervals.
At present there are 112 RCMP dog teams across Canada.
The estimated cost to train a handler and dog team is $60,000.

An interesting thing we found out is that the RCMP has its own breeding program at the centre. All the dogs are bred via artificial insemination. Private individuals nearby keep the females during their pregnancy until they’re ready to birth. At that time they are brought to the centre where the puppies are born. Once the puppies are about 8 weeks old they are given to handler candidates on the waiting list to be raised and looked after until they are ready for training at 12 to 18 months of age. Many of these member candidates in waiting have raised several puppies. I think it must be hard for them to give the puppies back I know it would be for me. By the way we were told they don’t receive any extra renumeration for doing this on behalf of the force. Dogs that are found unsuitable for training are sold and the demand is high.

We found the centre well worth the visit and went away with a new appreciation of these magnificent animals and their humans.

Further Information:
RCMP Dog Services


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