Month: November 2019

The Other “Day Of Infamy”

It was just before eight o’clock on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when Japanese warplanes struck Pearl Harbour. A “day of infamy” well remembered every year since.

Not so well remembered is the fact that as Japanese bombers launched their attack on Hawaii, other squadrons sporting the “Rising Sun” emblem were thundering over Hong Kong to launch a campaign that would lead to the death or capture of 1,975 young Canadians. They were the men and the women, mostly nurses, of ‘C’ Force” destined to die, be wounded or taken prisoner and brutally treated in the brief battle for Hong Kong.

‘C’-Force – outnumbered, out-gunned, out-supplied, out-maneuvered, defending a position Winston Churchill had said could never be adequately defended – surrendered to the full might of the Japanese army 18-days later, on Christmas Day. 

On November 27, the 1,975-strong ‘C’ Force had marched proudly through the streets of Vancouver from their train to the docks to board two transports for an unknown destination. Their ships – the HMT Awatea, a converted passenger liner, and HMCS Prince Robert – sailed at 9:30 p.m., but not happily.

Official logs record a mini-rebellion onboard Awatea. HMCS Prince Robert, officially the armed escort for the transpacific trip, took her station without comment and the Awatea disturbance was played down as the unhappiness of 30 or 40 new recruits from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles who “didn’t understand conditions would improve.”

Years later rank and file soldiers recalled unpleasant below-deck accommodations with the first dinner served on board described as an appalling version of tripe and onions. In protest, a group of soldiers had tried to disembark. It took removal of the gangplank to stop them – and “restraint by force” of the unhappy diners.

The Winnipeg Grenadiers, forming the bulk of ‘C’ Force, had just ended 16-months of prized, laid-back garrison duty in Jamaica when, with the contingent from the Royal Rifles, they were arbitrarily ordered to their mystery destination.

After a brief stop at Pearl Harbour, in still neutral Honolulu, the men were told their destination was Hong Kong, where they would boost British forces already at war with Japan. ‘C’ Force reached Hong Kong on November 16. Enroute there had been lectures on what to expect when Japan attacked the Colony. They ranged from the possibility of “another Dunkirk” to morale-boosting stories that all Japanese soldiers were “myopic dwarves who wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and shrank from close combat … that their pilots were sloppy, flew wooden aircraft and would be easy targets.”

When they disembarked, 17-year-old Ken Cambon of the Royal Rifles recalled: “The sun shone, but not oppressively, in a cloudless sky. Our battalion marched down Nathan Road, steel helmeted and obviously invincible … The streets were lined with cheering crowds waving small union jacks.” Winston Churchill had said Hong Kong was not defendable, but the crowds that day chose to believe other military leaders who had insisted the Canadian and other troops already there could withstand any attack.

And, for a few weeks, the illusion seemed the reality. Then came the Pearl Harbour and Hong Kong December 7 and 8 air attacks and the land assault on Hong Kong. The attacking force of 50,000 battle-hardened Japanese soldiers outnumbered the defenders 50 to one and out-gunned them in every phase of warfare.

On December 13, Private John Gray, 21, from Manitoba, became the first Canadian soldier to die in combat in WW2 when he was captured and executed.

It was during the battle for Hong Kong that 42-year-old Grenadier Sgt. Major John Robert Osborn threw himself on a live grenade to protect his men. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On Christmas Day, it was over; the Colony surrendered. There were 290 Canadians dead, many of them executed after capture. On Christmas Day morning 60 wounded men and their nurses were bayoneted or shot at the St Stephen’s College field hospital.

Years later, inquiries into those halcyon pre-Hong Kong battle days acknowledged the troops shipping out of Vancouver to defend Hong Kong in 1941 were poorly trained, ill-equipped and officially termed “unfit for combat.” A more honest army confession would have been “untrained for combat.”

So unprepared were they that, when the ships sailed, a great deal of equipment was left on the dock in Vancouver. Astonishingly, decades later, it was revealed that 212 vehicles were required to service ‘C’ Force, but there was room on board for only 20.

Post-war inquiries revealed that, while drills were conducted at sea, “regular weapons were in limited supply.” Post-war, it was noted that few had ever fired a gun with intent to kill, and most had never fired a gun at all.

Of the Grenadiers and Rifles taken prisoner, 264 died in POW camps; only 1,421 eventually came home emaciated, sick and with memories of horrors beyond understanding.

While we “remember Pearl Harbour,” we should never forget Hong Kong and the time we so carelessly sent so many of our young people into harm’s way.

(Recommended reading: ‘C’ Force to Hong Kong – a Canadian catastrophe by Brereton Greenhaus; VC citation for Sgt. Major Osborne)

Memories As Good As Gold

This is a continuing story of a political reporter paying gambling debts to a politician and, even worse, a politician paying gambling debts to the reporter. In today’s frenzied media search for scandal it might rate a front page tabloid screamer: “GAME FIXED? PRIME MINISTER AND REPORTER INVOLVED IN GREY CUP BETTING.”

Forty years ago, it rated only amusement.

It all started in Edmonton in 1964 where I had sojourned briefly as senior political reporter for the Edmonton Journal. I had been dispatched one bitter cold November day to the wilds of Lloydminster where I was to confront Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, in town to deliver a speech, and demand answers on “drug dealer Lucien Rivard.”

Back in Ottawa, Erik Nielsen, Conservative MP for Yukon, was asking questions in Parliament about the organized crime man Rivard who had been jailed to await extradition to the United States. One evening in March, Rivard had been allowed outside to “water the jail’s outdoor ice rink.” He had left the water running and just walked away.

Nielsen was now charging bribery was involved in Rivard’s escape. He was naming highly placed Liberals. The Journal’s intrepid reporter was on the way on the way to root out truth and justice. 

I ventured into 14-below Lloydminster, the first reporter to get in the PM’s face since Yukon Erik thundered his Rivard accusations. Lester B’s response to my first questions on “The Rivard Affair” were clear and concise: “Well, as you know, I have been away from Ottawa for a few days and don’t have all the details. When I do I shall no doubt have something to say. But until I do I have a full report it would be unwise to make any comment, wouldn’t it?”

It was Prime Ministerial final. Disappointing for me – even more so for my editor – lusting for the full loaf of scandal we were being offered only honest crumbs.

This was on a Thursday evening just before Prime Minister Pearson returned east for a Saturday kick-off to the 1964 Grey Cup game in Toronto between the BC Lions and the Hamilton Tiger Cats. I wished the PM “a good kick” and asked for a winner. The Pearson grin flashed: “The east of course.”

“A dollar says you’re wrong”, I said. And we shook hands as a Lloydminster posse of suited sycophants gasped at the audacity of a reporter telling the PM he was wrong. They quietly escorted me to the door and I caught the train home stymied on Rivard, but with a happier story to follow.

Saturday came and went. BC won 34-24. In early December, to my great but pleasurable surprise I received a letter from the PM’s office with a cheque for $1 and a note dated December 8, 1964: “Dear Mr. Hume, I would not want you to think that I am not prompt in settling my sporting debts …”

It was the start of a series of high stake ($1) Grey Cup correspondence wagers between Lester B. and yours truly. I offer them here in detail for the first time, the final words on my exclusive expose of gambling press and politician. 

By November 1965, I was out of the frozen north and reporting for the Victoria Times. I wrote the PM asking if he was ready to again gamble on the Hamilton-Winnipeg final.

He was and wrote on November 25th:

“Dear Mr. Hume: I have just received your letter and I am glad to take you up on the outcome of the Grey Cup. My dollar is on Hamilton, so be prepared to cut down on your Christmas shopping.”

Hamilton won 22-18. I sent my dollar, a nice new silver one, encased in clear plastic with a note that it could be used as a paperweight or a sharp cornered response to the Opposition. In his generous thank you “Mr. Hume” had become: “Dear Jim: Sharp corners or no, that is a very tempting weapon you sent me in payment of your wager! I shall try to control myself. With your abiding faith in the Lions, perhaps you will win next time. Thank you for the paper weight which I am using as a reminder of my ‘brilliant forecasting’, and for your good wishes which I heartily reciprocate.”

In November 1966, Saskatchewan and Ottawa Roughriders clashed in the Grey Cup in Vancouver. On November 18, he wrote accepting the annual $1 challenge: “Dear Jim it actually seems unfair to accept a bet on what appears to be almost a certainty … However, if you insist I accept your challenge.” Saskatchewan won 29-14. From the PM dated Nov. 30: “Dear Jim: Herewith the amount of my indebtedness to you. It was a great game even if Ottawa didn’t win.” 

In 1967, I was traveling at bet-renewal time so we missed a year, which was good thing for me because in 1967 Hamilton beat Saskatchewan 24–1 in Ottawa – and silver dollars encased in plastic cost me around $5 plus postage. Then by Grey Cup time 1968 Lester B. was on his way to retirement from the PM’s office but the east won him a final dollar, this time paid by a $1 certified cheque!

April 19, 1968: “Dear Jim: I have been too long in replying … but you will know how hectic these days have been … I am happy to receive your ‘sporting debt’ of $1 which will augment my now diminished revenue … Thank you for your good wishes and warm regard.”

P. E. Trudeau replaced him. I wrote hoping to continue a tradition – and collect more PM cheques but Pierre didn’t gamble – not with commoners, anyway. There was no reply.

On December 27, 1972, Lester B. Pearson, Nobel Peace Prize winner, President of the 7th Session of the United Nations, the man who introduced social reforms and brought us our Maple Leaf flag, succumbed to cancer.

There hasn’t been a Grey Cup game since 1964 when I haven’t raised a glass to the politician with whom I used to gamble and share the best of east-west, reporter-politician respect and Canadian goodwill.

The 2019 Grey Cup will be no different in memory with happiness at having known and been friends with one of Canada’s great men. His notes and uncashed, personal account, $1 cheques hang framed in my room, the ink fading a little but not yet the memories.

Send Home The Clowns

I made a silent pledge to avoid joining the raucous but divided chorus praising or condemning Don Cherry’s latest outburst of bully-boy belligerence. And decided to break it five minutes later.

When I first heard – and saw – Canada’s most famous clown 17-years ago I was impressed with his grotesque costume and critical, analytical, examination of Canada’s best known team sport and the players engaged at princely sums to play it at least once a week.

But he grew tiresome after a while. His Clown Costumes grew more outrageous; his opinions on individual players, especially those from Sweden, Norway or Finland, became wearying tirades of regret that while they brought some hockey skills with them they lacked the fighting spirit of Canadian born players.

It didn’t matter how skilled the stick-handling, the precise passing at dazzling speed, the shots on goal – if they didn’t show a willingness to “drop the gloves” for an on-ice version of Saturday night bare-knuckle brawling, there was something lacking in their game.

A steady procession of stars from Europe slowly brought a slight change in Cherry’s views on “foreigners” daring to challenge Canadian ownership of the highest skills.

In his long Saturday night reign he was berated for his open, often boorish, belligerent criticism of others but won consistently high TV viewing ratings. Meeting and surpassing the ever  demanding TV gold-standard viewer ratings kept Cherry’s job safe – until his latest outburst about people who do not wear a poppy on Memorial Day, November 11, the day set aside in 1919 to mark the Armistice to end the blood-bath of WW1, the war to end wars.

Simultaneous storms followed Cherry’s condemnation about Canadians who don’t wear a poppy. The first erupted with the charge that Cherry was being racist and attacking new immigrants – a charge Cherry hastily denied. He says he just misspoke a word or two when he meant to say “everybody who doesn’t wear a poppy” should be ashamed.

Within a few hours Cherry was fired and the second storm burst with at last count 110,000 names on a petition screaming “drop the gloves” and demanding he be reinstated immediately. Most protesters charged Cherrry was being punished for exercising our much cherished, often abused, right to free speech. Others – a lot of others – claimed he meant new Canadians, “immigrants” only and was and justified in his criticism.

Cherry chipped in with an offer to apologize: “I think I could have smoothed it over pretty good,” he said – and I believe him as readily as I believe President Donald Trump when he talks before he thinks.

Like Trump Cherry has had a good run with fractured English and limited vocabulary and a petition with 110,000 signatures and still growing in support of “drop the gloves” philosophy is proof of some success. It is also, a little scary, unwarranted and unneeded north of the 49th parallel.

When Dreams Held Promise

It was 4 a.m., Easter Saturday, March 30, 1918. A cold first-light dawn with heavy mist; dull, but promising slow burn-off as the sun rose over Moreuil Wood near Amiens in France.

The already mounted troops of Lord Strathcona’s Horse were waiting for the command to advance and lead the Second Canadian Cavalry in what would be the last major cavalry charge of WWI.

The advance call should have been given as dawn broke, but the only early command had been “move postponed two hours” giving the cavalry men just enough time for what the journals of the day described as “a hot breakfast of bacon and tea.”

Riding with Lord Strathcona’s Horse that day was Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, the young son of a wealthy family of immigrants to western Canada; a teenager seeking relief from severe bouts with pleurisy. He had finally settled in a rapidly growing English community called Walhachin, which in the early 1900s promised to be Canada’s new Camelot.

And it may well have happened had WWI and a local weather disaster not decided otherwise. The war stripped the small but growing community of Walhachin of its manpower when 90 per cent of the males left overnight to fight for king and country. Flowerdew was first among them heading for Calgary, where he joined the Lord Strathconas.

Walhachin began to die from lack of a work force.

The close to final blow to the sweet dream of a second Garden of Eden came in 1918 when a wild storm wrecked the settlement’s irrigation system, and young proud orchards died. And in France many of the young men who built the system perished in the maelstrom of the “last charge.”

Walhachin, 65 km west of Kamloops, still exists. Wikipedia lists its population in 2018 as 31. It even has a small museum.

I wonder what Lieut. Flowerdew, 33, was thinking that far off morning as he rode through the chaos of battle. The official description provides part of an answer: “Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other … (His) squadron passed over both lines killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost 70 per cent of its members killed and wounded … the enemy broke and retired …”

Amazingly, Flowerdew, found badly wounded lying at the tree line, kept his mind in focus as he was picked up to be carried to safer ground by a “Lieutenant Harrower and a sergeant. As they carried him into the woods, a burst of machine-gun fire struck Harrower in the foot. The still conscious Flowerdew said: ‘You had better get under cover Hammy or they’ll shoot your head off next.’ Four men then took over carrying Flowerdew back to the field ambulance.”

Wartime stories seldom have happy endings. Wounded multiple times in the thighs and chest, Flowerdew died the following day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and had his approved promotion from Lieutenant to Captain confirmed. The citation reads in part: “There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime fact in the capture of the position.”

They say Flowerdew’s charge with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and a few lads from Walhachin marked the beginning of the end for Germany in WW1 – but sadly it didn’t mark the end of war itself..

We have spent decades since Nov 11, 1918, reviewing annually the murder and mayhem of war, praising our heroes, lamenting the destruction of our youth, and the loss of golden dreams. But we don’t seem to make much progress down the paths of peace. Man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn.

Up on the high plains of British Columbia, Walhachin still dreams of what might have been. In France – in plot I, row H. Grave 1 in Namps-au-Val Cemetery, 11 miles south-east of Amiens and not far from Moreuil Wood lie the remains of Captain Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who once played polo and cricket and “rode to hounds in Little England”, Walhachin – when dreams held promise.

Where Even Angels Should Walk With Care

We must be careful when, as adults, we abdicate traditional leadership roles on matters of great public concern and welcome children to the forefront of the battle.

My concern is prompted by the explosive arrival on the global warming battlefront of one teenage female named Greta Thunberg. It is historical fact that young women have from time to time over the centuries used family connections, their vocabularies and their access to big money to leap from obscurity to national fame – or beyond – to big-time sensations on the international stage.

Times do not appear to have changed much in recent weeks as we have watched, enthralled, as the instant teenage superstar from Sweden made her dazzling United Nations debut. A short time later, the 16-year-old Ms. Thunberg was in Vancouver, British Columbia, savouring the cheering adulation of a crowd estimated by some at 100,000.

Now comes a dangerous time for this intelligent young woman and her handlers – for never let it be thought she does not have handlers to organize travel between countries and cities and places to sleep and eat. People with money and/or the ability to raise funding for such epic adventures are essential for a 16-year-old or even a 60-year-old. These things happen by design, not luxury.

And, with today’s ever-growing demand for “transparency” when the public donates money to be used for a specific purpose, there’s a need to tell the donors from time to time how much has been collected, and where it has been spent. 

It has never been easy to get new, refreshing thinking into the political orbit, but Joan of Arc did it back in the 1400s – and she’s still listed as a saint although her claims to have conversed on a regular basis with Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret have long been suspect.

She was 13 when she started talking about her hopes and dreams for her beloved country, France. Though peasant born, she displayed a surprisingly intelligent vocabulary and enjoyed the power of persuasion. At the age of 19, she was the titular head of the French army, but there are many who believe she never did learn to write what she could speak. And she spoke often of the need to drive England from France and end the 100 Year War.

In the sometimes-bewildering mix of fact and legend in ancient history, we are told Joan convinced French political leaders her conversations with dead saints were real, not figments of her imagination.

The Roman Catholic Church gave her it’s blessing and Joan of Arc became commander in chief of the army, but – according to http://www.history.com/news7 – “never actually fought in battle or killed an opponent.” She was the inspiration, carrying a battle flag or ceremonial sword, delivering the dawn of battle exhortation and leaving the tawdry business of finding the money to fight such wars and supplying armies in the field to lesser mortals.

It all came to a mortal end for Joan in 1443 when she was taken prisoner in her final battlefront appearance and was charged with 70 offences in a special English ecclesiastical church court. The charges ranged from sorcery to horse theft but were eventually reduced to 12 – with heavy emphasis on two claims – that Joan liked to wear men’s clothes and that she received messages and instructions directly from God.

And, at the end of the road, there was no eye to pity, no arm to save. The politicians and courtiers she had favoured with her inspiring talk and dreams for her homeland scattered like the ashes of the fire that consumed her.

And to finish where I started: Greta Thunberg’s teammates should tell her to stop waving a finger on camera and snapping like an angry adult with quavering cheek: “Don’t you dare tell me … ”

So, I won’t.