Military History

This series by historian Terry Copp examines many aspects of our military history. Guaranteed to fascinate.

“A splendid boy”—Thomas Ricketts, VC
Military Milestones

“A splendid boy”—Thomas Ricketts, VC

A sturdy lad who had worked from an early age beside his fisherman father, Thomas (Tommy) Ricketts was not asked for proof of his birthdate when he followed in the footsteps of his brother George and joined the Newfoundland Regiment in September 1916, at the age of 15. He was destined to become a hero before his 18th birthday. Private Ricketts was a seasoned soldier by the time the Hundred Days Offensive began in 1918. Sent to the front in July 1917, he went over the top at the Battle of Langemarck in August, fought at the Battle of Poelcappelle in October. In November, he was wounded early on in the First Battle of Cambrai, which claimed his brother in December. After recuperating, Ricketts returned to the front in the spring of 1918, rejoining comrades in what was now the Royal New...
The bombing of Dortmund
Military Milestones

The bombing of Dortmund

In the fall of 1944, a new Allied bombing directive called for heavy attacks on Germany’s industrial heartland, with oil, transportation and communication the chief targets, and the added benefit of eroding civilian morale. The directive said the aim was virtual destruction of areas attacked, demonstrating the overwhelming superiority of Allied air forces. “Bomber Harris [Royal Air Force Marshal Sir Arthur Harris] sent us on thousand-bomber raids…intending to flatten Germany,” said air gunner Murray Heselton in a Memory Project interview. “Which we pretty well did.” Dortmund, the largest city in the Ruhr Valley, was in the sights of Bomber Command on Oct. 6-7, 1944. It was “the largest single enterprise ever attempted by Canada’s bomber force,” said Brereton Greenhous et al in The...
On this date: October 2020
On This Date

On this date: October 2020

1 October 1917 Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Bent of Halifax is killed while leading a successful counterattack to regain lost positions at Polygon Wood in Belgium. He receives a posthumous Victoria Cross. 2 October 1535 Jacques Cartier arrives at Hochelaga (now Montreal) on his second voyage to North America. 3 October 1914
 The Canadian Expeditionary Force’s first contingent of 30,000 sails from Quebec to join the war effort in Europe. 4 October 1944 HMCS Chebogue is torpedoed by U-1227 in mid-Atlantic and seven sailors die. The ship is towed 1,400 kilometres to Wales. 5 October 1970 British Trade Commissioner James Cross is kidnapped in Montreal by the Front de libération du Québec, beginning the October Crisis (see page TK). 6 October 1939
 Invading German and Sovi...
Eyes in the sky
Military Milestones

Eyes in the sky

Squadron Leader William Isaac Clements is credited as the first Royal Canadian Air Force member to fly a wartime sortie over enemy territory during a reconnaissance trip into Germany at the end of September 1939. Clements was already in England when the Second World War broke out. He had joined the RCAF in 1930 and earned his wings the next year. In 1939, he was among many Canadian air force personnel seconded for duty or to study with the Royal Air Force prior to the war. He was promoted to squadron leader a week after he was attached to the Royal Air Force on March 24, 1939, and served as a flight commander in No. 53 Squadron, which was sent to France in September as the strategic reconnaissance unit of the Advanced Air Striking Force. On Sept. 29-30, he flew a reconnaissance so...
Caterpillars at Courcelette
Army, Military History

Caterpillars at Courcelette

The tank, Britain’s new secret weapon, spread fear across the battlefield during Canada’s first major offensive operation In the minds of many, the First World War was characterized by a largely static front that stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border and witnessed the unremitting use of machine guns, barbed wire, trenches and artillery barrages. Coupled with this was a dearth of new ideas. Yet, the war did bring several innovations in equipment and techniques. It saw the first use of airplanes, tanks, long-range artillery, “creeping” barrages, wireless communications and flamethrowers. During the infamous Battle of the Somme, a new technique and a new weapon were employed for the first time. And Canadian soldiers were among the troops who used them. The background to...
The mystery of the Thames Victoria Cross
Canada & the Victoria Cross, Front Lines

The mystery of the Thames Victoria Cross

In December 2015, a “mudlark” treasure-hunting along the bank of the Thames River in southern England found a corroded metal cross buried in the ooze exposed at low tide. His name was Tobias Neto, and the hunk of rusty metal was none other than a Victoria Cross. Or was it? “It was covered in mud,” Neto recalled. “I kept it and carried on detecting. Only when I got home did I realize I had a VC medal in my hands—I could read the writing ‘For Valour’ below the crown. “Eventually I noticed the date on the reverse: 5 NOV 1854.” The Thames foreshore—that 150-kilometre strand of slimy shoreline exposed when the tide goes out—is a treasure-trove of history, a veritable archive of London’s long and colourful past where clay pipes, pottery shards, ships’ timbers, medieval stoneworks, ru...
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