Front Lines

A Black soldier at the Somme
Defence Today, Front Lines

A Black soldier at the Somme

James Munroe Franklin was among the first Black Canadians to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and, six months before the Americans joined the fight, he is believed to be the first Black North American killed in action in the First World War. He served in the Ontario-based 76th and 4th battalions and died four days shy of his 17th birthday at Regina Trench during the Battle of the Ancre Heights. His family left his native Whitaker, Miss., and crossed the Canadian border in 1901, settling in Hamilton, safe from America’s Jim Crow South. He was just seven when his mother Angeline died during pregnancy. His father, Walter Van Twiller Abraham Franklin, worked as a farmer and an inventor and was credited with inventing the original keyboard chromatic harp. He raised his son a ...
Tales my grandfather told me: Memories of memories of the Somme
Defence Today, Front Lines

Tales my grandfather told me: Memories of memories of the Somme

It’s been more than a century and still the words ‘The Somme’ resonate with Canadians who grew up with a grumpy old granddad or family lore surrounding a strapping young man who fought in one of history’s most notorious conflicts. About 100,000 Canadians did battle at the Somme—four divisions’ worth, plus a regiment from the Dominion of Newfoundland. For many a KIA or wizened old war veteran, it was their last, if not only, fight of the First World War. Over the course of the three months that Canadians fought there, between August and November 1916, some 24,000 were killed or wounded, along with 2,000 Newfoundlanders, many of whom fell on July 1, the battle’s first day. Many of the survivors went on to fight at Vimy Ridge the following April. Some survived that epic victory to fi...
Military selects new uniform camo
Defence Today, Front Lines

Military selects new uniform camo

It seems like yesterday when the Canadian military last unveiled a new camouflage pattern uniform. Their pixelated look, known as the Canadian Disruptive Pattern, or CADPAT, was computer-designed to reduce the likelihood of detection by night-vision equipment as well as the naked eye. It comes in a single Multi-Terrain pattern, designed for wherever operations might go. Coming in woodland green and desert sand patterns, it marked a dramatic, high-tech change in military fashion—and spawned a revolution in uniform design among Canada’s allies, starting south of the border. That was in 2001. CADPAT uniforms have been used by the army, navy and air force. Those fatigues got a lot of use, underwent a lot of refinements, and a lot of water’s gone under the bridge and a lot of Canadian bloo...
So long, Matthew Fisher, Canada’s most-travelled warco
Defence Today, Front Lines

So long, Matthew Fisher, Canada’s most-travelled warco

He could be blunt, bombastic and cringingly irreverent. He was also smart, generous, and always, always interesting. Like virtually all of the most talented, committed and absorbing people I’ve known, Matthew Fisher was a human full of quirks and contradictions. He died in Ottawa on April 10 after a short battle with liver disease. He was 66. He was without doubt Canada’s most travelled and seasoned foreign correspondent of the past half-century—he’d been to 170 countries (only 193 exist) and covered 20 wars in 35 years. Like my dear friend Garth Pritchard, who died a year earlier almost to the day, Matthew did not suffer fools gladly, and he wasn’t afraid to say so. Interestingly, he and Garthy, who’d seen more than his share of war zones, shared a grudging respect but, beyond th...
Frank Hurley: Adventurer and war photographer
Defence Today, Front Lines

Frank Hurley: Adventurer and war photographer

You may not know the name Frank Hurley but you almost certainly know at least some of his pictures. Hurley was an Australian who left school at age 12, escaped the drudgery and hardship of a working-class life at the dawn of the 20th century, and turned his gift of gab and passion for photography into a lifetime of adventure and renown. He sailed to Antarctica with Douglas Mawson and Ernest Shackleton, survived stranding in the frozen wasteland, documented both world wars and travelled the world. He was, in his heyday, a household name among his countrymen. Hurley spent more than four years on Antarctic expeditions. Working as a postcard photographer in Sydney, Australia, Hurley mastered the art of superimposing images from two or more negatives into one composite photograph. ...
Art of the war horse
Defence Today, Front Lines

Art of the war horse

Mercifully, the First World War was the last major confrontation in which horses played a major role.  British cavalry were among the first units to see action in WW I, but they didn’t last. The war’s most impactful weapon—the machine gun—along with the mud and barbed wire of trench warfare would ultimately spell the end for equine-borne military.  One of the last successful cavalry charges on the Western Front took place at the Somme—on July 14, 1916, when the 20th Deccan Horse, an Indian cavalry unit, attacked a German strongpoint at High Wood. Armed with lances and despite an uphill climb, enough horsemen reached the woods to force some Germans to surrender.  The cost, however, was high: 102 of the attackers were killed, along with 130 horses. Two months later, the tank debuted...

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