Military Milestones

Weekly Military Milestones

Convoy duty aboard HMCS <em>Port Arthur</em>
Military Milestones

Convoy duty aboard HMCS Port Arthur

It’s fair to say Harvey Douglas Burns did not know what lay in store when he left the merchant marine and joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942. Sailors in the merchant navy had cabins, shared with one shipmate. After joining the crew of HMCS Port Arthur, he asked a shipmate where he was going to sleep. “Do you see them bars up there? That’s where you hang your hammock.” Conditions on the corvette were crowded. “The ship was made for 85 crew, and there was 105 of us aboard. You didn’t have any privacy,” said Burns in a Memory Project interview. In the washrooms, called heads, the men shared three toilets and wash bowls, “so you had to wait your turn. And there was more mealtimes than meals. When the weather was bad in the North Atlantic, they just give you a can of strawberry jam an...
Squabbling over Vancouver Island
Military Milestones

Squabbling over Vancouver Island

In January 1790, 27 years after France ceded Canadian territory to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, it looked as though the world’s leading colonial power was going to have to battle with Spain over Canada’s Pacific Coast. The first Europeans to set foot on Vancouver Island were members of Captain James Cook’s expedition looking for the Northwest Passage in 1778. Cook had been told not to step on Spanish toes, for fear Spain might side with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Spain had been exploring these waters since 1774 when Juan José Pérez Hernández was the first European to visit the Pacific, and several Spanish explorers claimed North America’s west coast and islands for Spain. It, like Britain, was looking for a trade shortcut linking the Pacific and Atlantic o...
DART team swings into action
Military Milestones

DART team swings into action

Early on the morning of Boxing Day in 2004, a fault in the earth’s crust ruptured under the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The massive earthquake caused a tsunami, with waves up to 30 metres high racing toward communities along the coastline. A quarter-million people in 14 countries were killed. Televised images of the deadly waves and devastated communities shocked the world. Canada had people on the ground there within a week. On Dec. 30, an international reconnaissance team including a dozen Canadians went to Sri Lanka to begin planning logistics for the massive humanitarian aid effort. More than 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed and about half a million displaced by the tsunami. It was decided the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)...
Keeping the peace along the Suez Canal
Military Milestones

Keeping the peace along the Suez Canal

After decades of disagreement, Egypt nationalized and seized control of the Suez Canal in July 1956, sinking ships to plug the shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The canal had been regulated and operated under an international system since the Convention of Constantinople of 1888. The British considered the canal crucial, its closure an economic threat. France backed its ally Israel, whose cargo ships traversing the canal had been routinely searched and seized by Egypt. Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt at the end of October. Egypt appealed to its ally, the Soviet Union, whose response was to threaten to use nuclear weapons unless the attacks stopped. As allies on both sides lined up to lend support and an international conflagration loomed, a Ca...
Christmas offensive
Military Milestones

Christmas offensive

When bad weather interfered with air reconnaissance on Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans took advantage to launch a surprise attack on a weak point in Allied lines in the densely forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and northeastern France. The plan was for more than two dozen divisions to split the lines, take Antwerp, Belgium, squeeze shut the Allied supply line, encircle and capture the British and American armies, and force a negotiated end to the war. German troops and tanks initially created a 65-kilometre gap in Allied lines. But they encountered more resistance than expected in the bloody Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last major offensive campaign on the Western Front during the Second World War. The Americans bore the brunt of the assault, but some Canadians did take par...
Getting the mail out
Military Milestones

Getting the mail out

During the Second World War, the Canadian Postal Corps delivered millions of letters and parcels to and from military personnel, earning the nickname The Morale Department. “It was long hours and hard work,” said Harry Gower, who unloaded mail in England. But it was also rewarding. “They were always thrilled to get mail,” he said in one of many Memory Project interviews quoted here. “It was a big deal for them, because you were away from your family for several years.” “Everybody was dedicated to getting that mail out,” said Joseph P. Tobin, who sorted letters and packages during the Italian campaign. Military staff were always on the move, “letters and parcels following them around, trying to catch up,” recalled Louis R. Brochet. Mail for field personnel “was mostly all redirecte...