Month: July 2020

When Royal Rights Are Wrong

When King George III died on January 29, 1820, he had lived and reigned longer than any preceding monarch; and only two – Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II – have since surpassed him.

“Farmer George,” as he was fondly known early in his reign, was 81 years and 239 days old when he died and had been King for 59 years and 96 days. He is best remembered as the “Mad King” who lost England’s American Colonies in his descent from vigorous leader to the darkest shadows of mental illness.

In 2020, we may be a little kinder in our description of our leaders than we were when George III was blundering his way through history. “Mad” is far too harsh a pejorative when questioning the conduct of a royal – or doubting the sincerity of the president of one of the world’s once-great countries, a president who appears to dream of being royal.

So, we may well shake our heads and mutter madness when we recall King George informing his realm: “Once vigorous measures appear to be the only means left of bringing the Americans to a due submission of the mother country – the Colonies will submit.”

But, we can only wonder about President Donald Trump’s mental ability when we hear him bluster similar threats to state governors – that if they don’t start roughing up “black lives matter” protesters in their towns and cities, He – the Lord High Executioner – will send in the National Guard to sweep the streets.

If we have read any histories of the rise and fall of the British Empire, we may have stumbled across another King George gem that resembles a Trump twitter: “A traitor is everyone who does not agree with me.’’

I realize we are getting a little late in the American presidential election cycle; still, I think it would be a great idea if CNN and the U.S. newspapers started a series of articles on the USA Declaration of Independence and the 27 “grievances” attached that made sure England understood what was bothering the colonists in the new world.

Taxes, as always, were of paramount concern, but how they were imposed and collected were more important than the amount of the tax.

Grievance 1: “He (the King) has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Grievance 2: “He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

Grievance 3: “He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

To read the next 24 grievances, go to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grievances_of_the_United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

There is a clear theme: “You, King George, set us up to look like a government, but all our decisions depend on your final say — and we have no appeal …” It’s a form of phony democracy Donald Trump would love to institute – and tries to impose from time to time. Readers with the patience to riffle through all 27 of the Grievances will notice how easily “would-be-king Donald” could be substituted for “mentally challenged King George.”

I leave my final thought on the loss of the American colonies to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a few years old but thoughtful, honest, mentally sound and stands up well: “We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time – and the manner – of yielding what it is impossible to keep.”

A Fashionable Fight

It was in 1977 that the Government of British Columbia awakened the residents of Lotus Land with a new law. And I mean, awakened.

On a specified but not too distant date if you drove a motor vehicle in BC in would be mandatory to be safety-belted in. And anyone who wanted to ride with you would also be strapped in.

Later refinements would widen the straps and buckles

to create  safety seats for infants and slightly older youngsters. And full adult safety seats would have to be available for any passengers. There were hefty fines for law breaker.

The new law designed to protect travellers on highways being made increasingly hazardous by careless drivers, was not welcomed. Drivers, whose accident rates were making the safety requirements essential, regarded the “buckle up or be fined” regulations as punitive, and the speed with which they were being brought to law a threat to democracy.

But the government stayed firm, insisted that it was driver’s and their ever mounting medical plus car repair costs that made the seat belt safety program not just needed –but essential,

The debate continues and, of course always will because people don’t like to be told that sometimes the only way keep costs in check is to curb their bad behaviour. And if the people, who should know better, continue to misbehave, then tough action to get their attention is required.

We appear to have arrived at one of those “tough love” checkpoints in the current pandemic now staggering the world and at present defying science. In the past the men and women of science have won most of their major battles with the ills that plague us.

For sure it’s true they haven’t won them all, but where they haven’t yet won they continue to fight with some success at slowing down some diseases which once were unchecked; and I do believe they edge ever closer to the day when we can claim another victory.

In the present battle they have asked for our help. They have asked us all to give them a hand by wearing a small face mask. And some of us are responding by doing just that – but we do get a bit indolent out here where we complain if the sun doesn’t shine every day.

So, anyway, I wear a face mask on the rare occasions when I venture forth into the ever-wider world. My own doctor tells me it helps, and I need to believe his advice,

I regret that I still walk with the minority when it comes to masks – but I have great hopes for a mass conversion. I read in the New York Times a view days ago that Gucci had designed the mask Billie Eilish wore at the Grammy awards. It maybe all the medics need to boost their cause for a growing use of face masks.

All that is needed now is for women to realise that a face mask fashionably associated with a blouse, dress or jacket can be most attractive. Men won’t be far behind as they search for the “rugged” look.

And our health care workers will be delighted.

The World Is Still Waiting

It wasn’t until 2015 that descendants of former and long-dead British slave owners received final payments in compensation for their ancestral financial “losses” in 1837. That was the year the United Kingdom signed into being the Slave Compensation Act and established the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave Owners.

And, yes, it did take quite a while.

The British had been in the slave trade for centuries before “ownership” of one human being by another became recognized symbols of wealth and arrogance. And, when they formed a colony in far off America, they encouraged the early settlers to look across the ocean to Africa for a labour force easily, if brutally, recruited, and shipped in shackles to cheaply fulfill the needs of ever-larger plantations growing cotton and tobacco.

It is estimated that, from start to finish, close to 13 million slaves were captured for shipment to the American and Caribbean colonies. That is before, during, and after the great rebellion which saw the American colonists rebel at tax increases and sever family relations with the Brits.

In the process, the English – slave traders since time began, moved into a period of enlightenment which led to the abolition of one man or one family owning another. Amazingly, in freeing all slaves owned by the English, like plantation owners, the government piously agreed to a compensation package to make sure no one who owned slaves suffered a financial loss.

Under the law signed Dec. 23, 1837, English slave owners would be compensated for their losses. And the now freed slaves? Ah, yes, well, it seems that they were expected to be so pleased with freedom they wouldn’t expect more.

Readers with a thirst for detailed money trails can find guidance from Wikipedia and a conclusion I accept without serious challenge: “This 1837 (Slavery Abolition) Act paid substantial money to the former slave owners, but nothing to the newly liberated people.”

It is difficult to believe in 2020 that the freed slaves under English law in 1837 would regard that “gift” of freedom and equality as more welcome than cash. It pains us when we hear the cry “Black Lives Matter” – a continuing cry for justice – still echoing on the streets of our neighbours.

The National Archives of the UK tell many a horror story of slavery before the Brits decided it was time to change their old ways and attitudes. On the small Leeward Islands on the old British Colony at Dominica the court records are brief, concise:

“1814, January 15. Pierre. Attempting to return to runaways with provisions and having (himself) been a runaway (for) two months. To be hanged. Head cut off and put on a pole.”

“1814: January 15-16: Peter. Exciting a mutiny among 20 negroes of the estate and harvesting them with provisions while runaways. To be hanged. Head cut off and put on a pole.

“Rachel: 30 lashes. To be worked in chains 3 months. Received 30 lashes and released to owner.” Stealing food was a cardinal sin

There were 3,000 British slave owners; most were on the seemingly endless list of brutal actions against men and women seeking only the basic qualities of freedom.

One of the thousands was widow Hannah Barnes of Barton Cottage Dawlish, Devon, England who had an annuity of 400 pounds from her late husband’s a Cumberland Estate in Jamaica. She had inherited ownership of nine slaves in Kingston, the capital of the island. She needed more to maintain her life style.

It was in 1835 that she appealed to the Commissioners of Slave Compensation: “I, my daughter and her children, are entirely dependent for support on what we receive from my late husband’s estate; that in consequence of the non-receipt of our remittance for many months past I am much in want of money.”

It has been estimated by the men and women who track such events that at least 3,000 British slave owners have received 20 million pounds ($1.8 billion in today’s currency) since 1833. And if you ever paid any taxes in the UK before 2015, the old slavers thank you.

On April 16, 1862, some 30 years after British reformers abolished slavery, with a hefty compensation program, USA President Abraham Lincoln followed. It had taken a bloody civil war between brothers to amend the United States much revered Constitution to read “all men are create equal” but Lincoln did it

Like the English they offered compensation to their 900 USA registered slave owners of $300 a slave. They accepted the money, but as a nation had difficulty in accepting the fact that reciting “all men are created equal” doesn’t make it so.

And still do.

A Canada Day Worth Remembering

It was a strange sight deep in the heart of rural France. Barely fluttering from a tall weather-beaten flagpole was an immaculately laundered Canadian flag. In September 1976 – our flag being a mere 11 years old – it was a wonderful sight to see even if it wasn’t close to July 1 Dominion Day (1879) which became became Canada Day in July 1982.

I almost missed it as we pulled out of Chaumousey, one of the many colourful villages scattered across the Vosges range in eastern France. During the Second World War, it was on the direct route as the Allies – the United States Fifth Army and the French First Army – drove across France to cross the River Rhine and penetrate into the heart of Hitler’s Germany.

We were driving from Vienna to Paris, looking for nothing in particular, everything in general. The Maple Leaf, flying alone atop a very tall flagpole deep in rural France demanded a pause in plans. There were questions to be asked, answers to be sought.

I did a quick U-turn to drift back to Chaumousey, which isn’t far from Epinal, where 5,255 white crosses stand in vast mute testimony to U.S. battle deaths. In comparison, the cemetery at Chaumousey was postage stamp size, a final resting place for generations of villagers with not much room for mass intrusions.

But the villagers had found room for the graves of six members of the crew of Lancaster bomber III PB253 UL-A2 of Royal Air Force Squadron 576. They lie side by side in one special manicured grave, placed there by the villagers on July 29, 1944, when their aircraft was shot down by German night fighters. Only the pilot, Flying Officer Jimmy Archibald of the New Zealand Air Force, survived the mid-air explosion that blew him through the flight deck windows leaving him with just enough instinct to pull his parachute ripcord.

He was later found hanging in a tree, with multiple fractures and internal injuries. He was rescued by German troops, taken to a German hospital, and eventually returned to England after liberation by U.S. troops.

The six dead were left for the people of Chaumousey to bury. Five were English; one was Flying Officer Peter Joseph Biollo, a 20-year-old from Edmonton, and the lone Canadian in the crew.

The Maple Leaf flew for him the day I drove by in 1976. For reasons village historians cannot explain, it is the only foreign flag to fly over the gravesite. In Chaumousey, it remains where “the Canadian bomber crashed and where the Canadian airman is buried.”

A letter written in September 1945 by Abbe Albert Mercier, parish priest of Chaumousey, provided details of the July 31, 1944 funeral service for the crew: “A very large … number of people formed the funeral procession of these heroes whose caskets were covered with flowers and, in spite of the interdiction of the Germans, the big crowd went to the cemetery and joined in the final prayers at the graves.”

I have always wondered what the “interdiction of the Germans” was in 1944 when their thousand-year empire was in disastrous collapse. Not pleasant I suspect.

Today, I wonder if Chaumousey still holds memorial services for the crew of PB253 and still flies the Maple Leaf as it was so proudly continuing to do in 1976 “for the Canadian” when we paused so briefly to stand in the awe and pride the Maple Leaf can command when seen so far from home in such respectful cause.

In Nanton, Alberta, they have an aircraft museum boasting a fully re-built Lancaster bomber. Inscribed on the Bomber Command Memorial Wall are a few words from Father J.P. Lardie, Chaplain 419/428 Squadron RCAF.

“Three thousand miles across a hunted ocean they came, wearing on the shoulder of their tunics the treasured name – Canada – telling the world their origin. Young men and women they were, some still in their teens, fashioned by their Maker to love, not to kill, but proud and earnest in their mission to stand, and if it had to be, to die, for their country and for freedom …”

The old folk of Chaumousey would say “amen” to that and let their children tell the story of why, for a few days in late September, the Maple Leaf  still flies high and proud over “their” Canadian grave.