Military Milestones

Weekly Military Milestones

The taking of Monte la Difensa
Military Milestones

The taking of Monte la Difensa

Lumberjacks, mountaineers, construction skywalkers, hard-rock miners, wilderness prospectors—only the hardiest men were sought for the First Special Service Force, a Canada-U.S. joint venture to deploy troops against the highest odds in the toughest terrain of the Second World War. Recruits’ mettle was severely tested even before tasting combat. They earned their parachute badges in the first week of training. They learned how to survive knife fights and, blades unsheathed, bayonet attacks. They mastered unarmed combat and the art of silent killing. They became adept at skiing, rock climbing, arctic survival skills, handling weapons and blowing things up. They had to complete 97-kilometre marches in 20 hours, ski cross-country in formation through the night. They were trained to be h...
The disappearance of  <em>HMCS Shawinigan</em>
Military Milestones

The disappearance of HMCS Shawinigan

After the ferry SS Caribou was sunk by a U-boat in October 1942 with a loss of 137, including many women and children, the navy provided escorts to ensure the safety of passengers. Near the end of the war, HMCS Shawinigan was in Cabot Strait off Newfoundland. The corvette was not new to escort duty. Commissioned in late 1941, Shawinigan spent two years escorting convoys back and forth across the Atlantic. In 1944, it began escort duty in home waters, seeing East Coast ferries safely to and from port and patrolling for submarines. U-boats had been a danger in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence since 1942. “The Royal Canadian Navy established a routine of patrolling the Maritime coasts, but could not prevent the loss of 15 merchant and naval vessels,” wrote Gordon Laco in The Search for the HM...
Spy was great Canadian hero
Military Milestones

Spy was great Canadian hero

On Nov. 18, 1942, Canadian spy Gustave Bieler and his wireless operator were parachuted into France to begin work behind German lines. It was an inauspicious beginning—Bieler seriously injured his back when he landed on some rocks and he spent six weeks recovering in hospital under an assumed name. But he refused to return to England, and soon had set up one of the most successful spy rings in northern France, known as the Musician Network. Bieler, who emigrated to Canada at the age of 20, spoke European French and was serving as a regimental intelligence officer when he was recruited by the Special Operations Executive, which established networks in occupied countries to foil Germany’s war efforts and gather intelligence. The 25 teams in Bieler’s network were made up of French Re...
The last soldier killed in WW I
Military Milestones

The last soldier killed in WW I

Becoming the last casualty of a war is a distinction no soldier wants, but in the First World War, it fell to a Canadian. Just minutes before the Armistice went into effect on Nov. 11, 1918, George Lawrence Price was shot, the last soldier of the British Commonwealth killed in the First World War. Price was born in Nova Scotia in December 1892, and as an adult he moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., where he toiled as a farm labourer. He was conscripted on Oct. 15, 1917, was sent to France in May 1918 and joined the 28th Battalion (Northwest) in June. He was 25 years old. In September, he spent time in hospital in France recovering from a gas attack during the Hundred Days Offensive. He was back in the line by the end of the month. On the last day of the First World War, two Canad...
Nursing pioneer
Military Milestones

Nursing pioneer

When the First World War started, Major Margaret Macdonald of Bailey’s Brook, N.S., was already seasoned from serving overseas. While working as a nurse during the construction of the Panama Canal in 1896, Macdonald contracted malaria. She served aboard a U.S. military ship during the Spanish-American War in 1898. And she was one of eight nurses, dressed in uniforms provided by the army, who cared for Canadian troops during the Boer War. In 1906, she was appointed to the Canadian Army Medical Corps along with Lieutenant Georgina Pope. In 1911, she petitioned for a six-month leave to study the new British nursing service. On her return, she began working to reform the Canadian service. When the First World War was declared, Macdonald became responsible for recruiting nurses to se...
A gruelling rescue effort
Military Milestones

A gruelling rescue effort

On Oct. 30, 1991, the Canadian Forces transport aircraft CC-130H Hercules 322 left Greenland on a routine airlift of supplies to the isolated Canadian Forces Station Alert, an electronic listening post on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic. Everything—personnel, food, supplies, fuel—had to be airlifted into the station, situated 817 kilometres from the North Pole, far north of any settlement. Flight Boxtop 22 was scheduled to arrive at the Alert airfield in the dark at 4:30 p.m. On board were a crew of five, 13 passengers and 3,400 litres of diesel fuel. When the airport lights came into view, Captain John Couch started his descent for the runway. He was less than 10 minutes from the airfield when he radioed that the aircraft was in trouble. The ai...