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The hairy private

Illustration by Malcolm Jones

A female polar bear born at the Toronto Zoo on Remembrance Day 2015 is the official mascot of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The bear, Juno, was named after Canada’s D-Day beach. The CAF say it is “a living example of the bravery, tenacity and strength of Canadian soldiers who were instrumental in the success of D-Day operations on the shores of Normandy in 1944.”

Initially a private, the bear has since been promoted twice and is now an honorary master corporal.

Retired commander Fraser McKee of Toronto recalls a memorable ceremony of the naval reserve on HMCS York.  The 120-member ship’s company was drawn up on the inside parade deck with medals, swords and a band.

To begin the proceedings, the commanding officer mounted the dais ready for “Colours,” the hoisting of the white ensign. Because the ceremony was indoors, the bundled flag would be run out on a three-metre staff projecting from a balcony and at the proper moment, a tug on the lower hoist would let the folds unfurl.

McKee reported to the CO that all was ready and marched to his assigned spot.

Signalman at the hoist on the balcony: “Colours, sir.”

McKee: “Make it so. Bugler, sound the Still. 

“Guard, present arms.”

The band began “O Canada.” 

The flag slid up the staff, the signaller tugged the lower hoist and the red-and-white X-ray flag dropped free. Wrong flag.

The company stood amazed. The CO cast a jaundiced eye on the scene.

“Guard, shoulder arms,” shouted McKee.

The hapless signaller was called on the carpet.

“But sir, in the flag locker they looked the same when all rolled up.”

McKee was having none of that. “You should look where you take it from. Never be duty signalman again.”

Initially a private, the bear has since been promoted twice. 

Gilbert Scott, who served with the Scots Guards and whose father served with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and 2nd Canadian Division in the Second World War, shares a family anecdote about his dad: “One of his duties was to collect rations for his battalion, including a tot of rum for each soldier. 

“On one occasion, after picking up supplies, he halted the convoy a short distance from the provision’s depot. He had arranged to stash several bedsheets and some empty containers on one of the trucks. He and his crew took the rum jars and smashed them. They used the sheets to strain out the broken glass and collected the rum in the containers.

“Back at the depot, he explained that the truck had hit a rough patch and the rum jars broke. Since he had the broken shards to prove it, he was issued another full rum ration and the battalion got double their rum that week.”

Retired lieutenant general Guy Thibeault has passed on a tale of a very ungrateful turtle. Here it is: “As vice chief of the defence staff, there were always obligations to meet with military attachés and foreign diplomats in support of our bilateral defence relations. With an early morning meeting with the newly accredited ambassador of one of our partner nations, I was anxious to get to the office and get ready for his excellency’s arrival.

“My usual route to work along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal was, for some unknown reason, stalled and when it was apparent that I might be late, I hopped out of my car to see what was going on. In full dress uniform, I walked past the line of vehicles and found a large turtle sitting in the middle of the road.  

“‘For goodness’ sake’, I thought to myself, ‘what is wrong with these people?’ I picked up the pizza-sized turtle and moved it out of harm’s way. I went back to my car smiling and waving to folks in the waiting cars feeling proud as a Canadian Forces member doing a good deed by saving this turtle and getting traffic going.  

“Back in my car and moving again, I was feeling quite smug when I was struck by a horrific, awful smell and realized that the turtle had pooped all over the front of my tunic, pants and shoes. I can honestly say that I have never smelled anything worse.   

“I arrived at National Defence Headquarters 15 minutes before the meeting and rushed up to my offices where, luckily, I had a change of uniform, all except shoes. Not wanting to spread the putrid smell in my office, I changed into a clean uniform in my aide-de-camp’s cubicle, then commandeered his footwear.   

“The call with the ambassador went well, although I wonder what he thought about the odd residual smell that undoubtedly was in the air, or if he noticed my aide standing smartly outside my office door in his stocking feet.” 


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