Military History

Airwomen
Air Force, Military History

Airwomen

Female pilots had broken endurance, altitude and speed records before the war, but their hopes of a wartime flying career were stopped in Canada by a thick glass ceiling Helen Harrison was a child when she decided to become a pilot.  Born in Canada in 1909 but educated in England, by the age of 27 she had earned her pilot’s licence, qualified as a commercial pilot and received seaplane and instructor’s ratings. The Royal South African Air Force offered her an instructor’s course on military aircraft; while there she also earned an instrument flying rating.  “When I applied to the RCAF, I was rejected because I wore a skirt”. She became the first woman in the British Empire, it is believed, to instruct on military aircraft after she was hired to train reserve air force pilots in Sou...
Jerry Potts and the March West
Military History, Military Milestones

Jerry Potts and the March West

In September 1874, a North West Mounted Police patrol heading west to Fort Whoop-Up to rein in the violence of the whiskey trade, hired Métis scout and interpreter Jerry Potts. For the next 22 years he was an invaluable asset to the force, arguably as responsible for the peaceful settlement of the West as the Mounties he served. Potts was born with each foot in a different, dangerous world, that of his mother, a Kainai (Blackfoot) woman who named him Ky-yo-kosi, or Bear Child, and his Scottish fur trader father. In childhood Potts moved between both worlds. With the Blackfoot he learned to track and hunt and became a formidable warrior; with his adoptive father he travelled between trading posts, learning several Indigenous languages, acting as a cultural go-between and becoming f...
Hit so soon
Military History, My Story

Hit so soon

My great-uncle William was killed in the attack on Regina Trench Harvey Doane, my great-uncle, was a noted engineer, a celebrated yachtsman, a captivating storyteller and a veteran of the Great War. In short, he was a family icon whose name still floats and dances among us more than three decades after he died. An elegant, old-world gentleman in a pencil moustache and yacht-club blazer, he and his wife, my Aunt Mildred, whom he called “Skinny,” used to come with Mildred’s sister, Aunt Dot, for Sunday dinners at my parents’ home in Halifax. Wielding a loaded cigarette holder in one hand and a scotch in the other, my great-uncle would regale us. These sessions with the senior generation of the family were generally not much fun for a young boy who was expected to dress up, sit st...
Cracking the Enigma
Military History, Military Milestones

Cracking the Enigma

During the Second World War the Germans used a machine for sending coded signals. The Allies called it Enigma (Greek for riddle). Each branch of the German services developed its own version, but at the heart of them all was a set of five to eight interchangeable rotors that continuously scrambled the letters of the alphabet. There were 103 sextillion possible settings—that’s 103 with 21 zeroes behind it. Starting positions of the rotors were changed with each message and the machines were reset every day, according to a key list distributed monthly. The Germans thought the codes were unbreakable. They were wrong. But to break the code, the Allies needed an Enigma machine. In May 1941, they got one. The Royal Navy captured a U-boat in the North Atlantic, recovering its Enigma m...
Remembering Indigenous war heroes
Military History, Military Milestones

Remembering Indigenous war heroes

Their ancestors fought beside the British in the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In 1885, they navigated Africa’s Nile River on a British military rescue mission and volunteered for Canada’s first international expeditionary force at the dawn of the 20th century, fighting with the British in the Second Boer War in South Africa. But when Great Britain called for aid during the First World War, the support of Indigenous Peoples—First Nations, Inuit and Métis—initially caught the Canadian government off guard. Thousands of Indigenous people answered the call after the Second World War was declared. Status Indians were “wards of the government and did not have the rights or responsibilities of citizenship,” historian L. James Dempsey, who is of Kainai (Blood...
Commodore James Yeo & Commodore Isaac Chauncey
Heroes And Villains, Military History

Commodore James Yeo & Commodore Isaac Chauncey

Victory in the War of 1812 depended on which side controlled Lake Ontario James Yeo joined the Royal Navy when he was 10 and earned a rapid rise in promotions spurred on by a stunning series of military successes.  In 1810, King George III knighted him. Just 31, Yeo assumed command of the Provincial Marine in Upper Canada on May 5, 1813. His daunting task was to wrest control of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain from American Commodore Isaac Chauncey’s fleet. Previously under army command, the Provincial Marine had been manned by local sailors. Despite adding 465 Royal Navy officers and ratings, Yeo still considered his force woefully insufficient “to man the squadron” on Lake Ontario. Yet, it was essential that “a general action must take place as every military operation or success...

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.