Defence Today

For whom the ship’s bell tolls
Front Lines

For whom the ship’s bell tolls

Ships’ bells mark the watch, sound alarms, send signals, declare a ship’s presence in foggy weather and even serve as baptismal fonts. Usually engraved, the ship’s bell is often the primary identifying element of an historic wreck, as was the bronze bell from HMS Erebus, explorer John Franklin’s vessel that was found after 168 years beneath Arctic waters. Bells aboard modern ships often bear the name of the shipyard that built the ship in addition to the name of the ship itself. If the ship’s name is changed, maritime tradition dictates the original bell with the original name remain with the vessel. For all the high technology of modern-day ships, both naval and otherwise, a bell remains standard equipment and has been since at least the 15th century. International law requires i...
‘And all who sail in her. . . .’
Front Lines

‘And all who sail in her. . . .’

There was a bit of a row across the pond recently after the Scottish Maritime Museum decided to adopt gender-neutral signage for its vessels. Museum director David Mann told The Guardian newspaper the decision to drop “she” for “it” when referencing ships was made after two signs were vandalized, presumably by folks opposed to the feminization of inanimate objects, a practice also applied to man’s other favourite toys: planes, trains and automobiles. “The debate around gender and ships is wide-ranging, pitting tradition against the modern world,” Mann said. “But I think that we have to move with the times.” Not so, the Royal Navy, which said it has no plans to abandon its longstanding tradition of referring to its ships as “she.” Nor does the Royal Canadian Navy...
A feather in your cap
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A feather in your cap

Celebrated officers wore the feathered crowns of egrets. British infantrymen wear “hackles.” Italian shock troops, known as Bersaglieri, rather flamboyantly sport the feathers of a particular wood grouse known as a capercaillie. Military tradition has spawned a bizarre menagerie of headgear, both for dress occasions and battle. The practice is virtually as old as warfare. It knows no borders and, at times, it seems to defy logic. The traditions have given birth to phrases such as “a feather in your cap” (an accomplishment one should be proud of) and “a brass hat” (a person of high position). “Throughout history,” historian Michel Wyczynski wrote in a paper for the Canadian War Museum, “the headdress has been the most distinctive, varied and visible part of the uniforms...
Diving into healing waters
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Diving into healing waters

Retired Marine gunnery sergeant and combat diver Dan Griego spent two years combing the eastern seaboard from Florida northward searching for an area rich in shipwrecks so he could give his brothers-in-arms some meaningful, healing work. He ended up with Jeff MacKinnon, a third-generation treasure hunter, in Nova Scotia, home to more than 10,000 recorded shipwrecks dating back almost four centuries. Griego had found the Holy Grail of North American wreck diving, and for two years the highly decorated Marine veteran with nine deployments over two decades mined site after site with an eye to producing a reality television series. “If you’ve seen the shows that are on today, they’re on Season 8 and still haven’t found anything,” says Griego. “Most of it is just a bunch of BS and edit...
Elmer Cole: “I don’t think we’ll make it back to the pub tonight”
Front Lines

Elmer Cole: “I don’t think we’ll make it back to the pub tonight”

Trooper Elmer Cole spent nine hours driving a Churchill tank at Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942, trying to hold off German forces and find a way past the obstacles inland. The stone beach was already littered with dead Canadians and disabled tanks from the King’s Own Calgary Regiment of the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade when the Saskatchewan farm boy drove ashore early that morning. His crew fought their way onto the promenade along the beach, his gunner returning fire from wherever it came. By daybreak, however, Cole’s windshield had been hit and his periscope had been shot off. There was a gaping hole right above his head, through which he feared a German would drop a grenade. As the morning passed, the situation went from bad to worse. Their prospects were dire. Cole’s co-drive...
Words of war (part 2)
Front Lines

Words of war (part 2)

It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them. —Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins, Royal Irish Regiment It was the eve of the invasion of Iraq—March 19, 2003—and Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins was speaking to his troops of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, at their staging point in Kuwait. Born in Belfast and a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Collins delivered one of history’s most poignant and elegant battle speeches, all of it off the top of his head. It has been compared to the Agincourt address in which Shakespeare’s Henry V urges his legions “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Th...
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