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Bronze – The Reminders of their Service

Posted By on August 17, 2017

A Great War Memorial Plaque presented to the family of Robert Blakeley.

FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR. A Great War Memorial Plaque presented to the family of Robert Blakeley.

For Freedom and Honour…For Valour

There is a round bronze disc about 5″ across…Britannia with a lion, a son’s or daughter’s name, and the words “HE [or SHE] DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR. One Vancouver, B.C. family to receive a Great War Memorial Plaque was the family of Captain Cecil Mack Merritt, a former officer of the 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada), killed in action 23 April 1915 at St. Julien, Belgium when serving with the 16th Battalion CEF (The Canadian Scottish). On this occasion a widow received her husband’s plaque, Mrs. Sophie Almon Merritt of Vancouver, who received, as well, his campaign medals with oakleaf symbolizing a Mention in Despatches as well as the Canadian Memorial Cross. A second Memorial Cross was received by Cecil’s mother in England, Mrs. Mary B. Merritt, of Summer Place, London. These are the reminders of his service.

Captain Cecil Mack Merritt in the uniform of the 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Captain Cecil Mack Merritt in the uniform of the 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Cecil and Sophie had a son Cecil Jr., aged six when his father fell. Cecil became a soldier…another soldier of bronze who would wear the  bronze cross,  the Victoria Cross, “FOR VALOUR”. Cecil, like his father, was originally a Seaforth, who later commanded the Saskatchewan Regiment at Pourville, France during the raid on Dieppe when, on 19 August 1942, he earned his bronze that now resides with the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Canada. His awards, like his father’s, include a Mention in Despatches oakleaf and the Efficiency Decoration.  In 1951 Merritt was made the Honorary Colonel of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In 1984, Major General George Randolph Pearkes, a Great War recipient of the Victoria Cross passed away and “Cece” Merritt attended the service held in Victoria, B.C. As the horse-drawn caisson, carrying  the casket of George Pearkes wheeled its way along Fort Street towards Christchurch Cathedral, “Cece” Merritt was alongside wearing his own bronze cross and other awards. Cece Merritt died in Vancouver 12 July 2000.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt V.C., E.D.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt V.C., E.D. in the uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August, 1942

From the point of landing, his unit’s advance had to be made across a bridge in Pourville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire: the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required; waving his helmet, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting ‘Come on over! There’s nothing to worry about here.’

He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge. Quickly organising these, he led them forward and when held by enemy pill-boxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runners became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions.

FOR VALOUR. THe Victoria Cross.

FOR VALOUR. The Victoria Cross.

Although twice wounded Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit’s operations with great vigour and determination and while organising the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and ‘get even with’ the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach.

Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War.

To this Commanding Officer’s personal daring, the success of his unit’s operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due.

(London Gazette, no.35729, 2 October 1942)

With the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid on our horizon we remember son and father, for their strength and their bronze, alloys of one and other…father and son…for Freedom, for Honour, for Valour…the reminders of their service.

The Highway to One Man of Passchendaele

Posted By on August 11, 2017

Passchendale 31 July - 10 November 1917.

Passchendale 31 July – 10 November 1917.

Captain Oswald Howey Lunham, “…for now and all time”

The Highway takes us up the island to our turn to the left…..to a solitary church…..near to a railway bridge…..near to a river.

Sitting at my desk some while back I wrote and re-wrote the words that have become this day’s Passchendaele. A battle whose centennial was recently marked July 31, 2017 – but the words of mine, for that time, did not meet my expectations and so I let them rest until this day when I have traded pen and paper for keyboard and screen. I can reminisce more easily this way winding my way visually and through the keys to our person of interest.

As we meander towards the church with its place of rest I contemplate the phrase we are to encounter. I know not much of our soldier but he is here with one line to remind us all of his Passchendaele. It is his story – a family story – captured for all – and for all time – by one mindful soul’s thought, “CALLED TO HIS REST AFTER LONG / SUFFERING PATIENTLY BORNE / NOV.12.1930.”

Resting Place of Captain O.H. Lunham, Passchendaele Veteran,  St. Andrew's Anglican Church, Cowichan Station, BC.

Resting Place of Captain O.H. Lunham, Passchendaele Veteran, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Cowichan Station, BC. (P Ferguson image, August, 2017)

Captain Oswald Howey Lunham joined the 112th Battalion CEF at Windsor, Nova Scotia. A mine manager, Lunham served in France and Flanders commencing in July 1917 with the 13th Canadian Machine Gun Company. It was 10 November 1917, at Passchendaele, that Oswald Lunham suffered Shell Shock. Though his service record includes lengthy observations of his symptoms, some lines stand out from the others, “He has the appearance of a very neurotic person, and has a cast down expression as if some great sorrow was on his mind…He states he was always of a nervous temperament, but since this shell shock his nervous system seems completely shattered.”   (Assistant Director of Medical Service, Military District 6, April 13, 1918, pages 61 and 64)

Evidence of a previous breakdown, ca. 1914, are recorded in medical reports of 1918, however, Oswald Lunham chose to wear the uniform of his Canada. After seven months service in France, it was after two attacks at Passchendaele that Lunham’s system broke down leading to rheumatic fever, a complete nervous breakdown, difficulty in sleeping, difficulty in the company of others, afraid to be left alone in the dark, headaches and depression.

As I continue to read through these reports the repetition of his symptoms bounce again and again from the pages of 1918 to the face of 2017. Our goodly Mr. Lunham’s Passchendaele would remain with him for the rest of his days…and yet I take some comfort from the words of 1918 when I read “He can travel by transport as his wife can accompany him…” and it is perhaps from Myrtle Lunham, his dear wife that chose our thought for now and all time at a solitary church…..near to a railway bridge…..near to a river….

 The Trews, Highway of Heroes.

Support the Canadian Hero Fund

Your Destination is Dunkirk

Posted By on July 26, 2017

Screenshot of Mr. Dawson's Moonstone from the Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk. (Warner Bros., 2017)

Screenshot of Mr. Dawson’s Moonstone from the Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk. (Warner Bros., 2017)

Moonstone

The 700 little ships of Dunkirk included fishing boats, lifeboats, pleasure boats, private yachts and launches berthed along the River Thames and the southern and eastern coasts of England. There were three routes the boats could take, each journey with unique hazards.

Route Z (39 nautical miles) the shortest route, of two hours sailing time, took the vessels along the French coast and with the possibility of subjecting the craft to artillery bombardment from the shore.

Route X (55 nautical miles) avoided the French coastline but journeyed through a known heavily mined area that could not be used at night due to these spiked terrors and the risk of running aground on sandbanks.

Route Y (87 nautical miles) a sailing time of four hours was equally hazardous with the threat of being attacked by German Kriegsmarine surface vessels, U-Boats or from above by the Luftwaffe.

Apart from the British little ships, 39 Dutch coasters and 65 Belgian ships took part in the evacuation that saved some 324,00 British and French soldiers. An additional 220 ships of war took part.

Twelve original Dunkirk little ships were employed in Christopher Nolan’s new film; Caronia (1927), Elvin (1937), Endeavour (1926), Hilfranor (1935), Mary Jane (1926), Mimosa (1935), MTB 102 (1937), New Britannic (1930), Nyula (previously Betty, 1933), Papillon (1930), Princess Elizabeth (1927) and RIIS I (previously White Heather, 1920)…and they were grand to see…especially with Hans Zimmer’s score borrowing from Elgar’s Nimrod in one scene featuring New Britannic…ah these boats, these finely crafted wood structures upon the waves, whitecaps and rainbowed coloured sea.

Mr. Miniver (1942) and now Mr. Dawson (2017)

Winston Churchill said that the 1942 production of Mrs. Miniver did more for the war effort than a destroyer flotilla. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) is married to Clem Miniver (Canadian-born actor Walter Pidgeon), the latter who owns a fine motorboat that is berthed at his private dock along the River Thames. Called upon for an unknown task Clem Miniver and other boat owners pilot their small ships to Ramsgate, Kent where they learn of their destination, Dunkirk.

Like Mr. Miniver, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) pilots his fine little ship, Moonstone, across the English Channel to Dunkirk, where he and his son assist in the rescue of soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, British sailors and a Royal Air Force fighter pilot.  It is during the voyage that we learn that Mr. Dawson’s other son was a fighter pilot, sailing the skies in Hurricanes. Similarly, Mr. Miniver has a fighter pilot son who flies over his parent’s home cutting out the engine to let them know he is safe when returning from operations.

Moonstone is the focus representing one of the 700. As I watch Mr. Dawson’s graceful wood and white painted dream, I turn my attention to the boat’s name. Certainly, Moonstone was not one of the original Dunkirk vessels of which 12 were used in the film but methinks the name perhaps has meaning to the film?

Below: Mrs. Miniver film clip, Your destination is Dunkirk! (1942) from TCM. It takes a second or two to start.

The Gemstone

As I wander through the various interpretations of the gemstone I learn that moonstone is considered a stone of protection and associated with travel at sea. The gem represents calm not unlike the Rylance character Mr. Dawson, and is also synonymous with relief from stress which maybe the spirit of Dunkirk itself – achieving success from debacle – relief after stress.

Though I am tempted to learn if director Christopher Nolan and his creative team knowingly drew upon these moonstone definitions and representations, I rather hope it is serendipitous and like the Romans who felt the gem was created from the solidified rays of the moon, I hope upon the tides, that the Moonstone will continue its ride, its sheen like that of the sea of whose waves and whitecaps, like the gem are milky white, filled with the colours of the rainbow.

Dunkirk: Operation Dynamo

Posted By on July 22, 2017

The Coat of Arms of Dunkerque (Dunkirk, France. (via Wikipedia)The Coat of Arms of Dunkerque (Dunkirk, France. (via Wikipedia)

The Coat of Arms of Dunkerque (Dunkirk, France. (via Wikipedia)

Identifying the Regiment

The evacuation of Dunkirk was a success wrought from devastation. Churchill, the British Prime Minister understood that victory could not come from retreat, the war was young, surrender not an option.

Not wanting to give much away after viewing Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk I thought instead to would share the history of one regiment portrayed in the film.

The Film

A small group of soldiers hurry along the beach heading towards the site of evacuation. One man wears a glengarry…unbadged. Without any insignia I sit and wait. When will we learn which Highland unit this is or will this simply pass without any revelation? Caught up in the details of the film I wait from scene to scene until these same soldiers return to the screen as they seek shelter within a beached vessel. It is while in this vessel waiting for the tide that I first see the black letters of a Khaki shoulder strap slip on title “A & S H”.

Dunkirk actors Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Fionn Whitehead. (Warner Bros. screenshot).

Dunkirk actors Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Fionn Whitehead. (Warner Bros. screenshot).

The Regiment

Five battalions of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders served during the Battle of France May 10 – June 25, 1940 and took part in the, Battle of Belgium May 10 – 29, 1940, and the Battle and Evacuation of Dunkirk May 26 – June 4, 1940. These include men of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions.

The regimental insignia of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The regimental insignia of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The 5th Battalion

Served in France and Belgium, 1940. Afterwards they became the 91st Anti-Tank Regiment and returned to Northwest Europe at the time of the landings in Normandy, June 6, 1944.

The 6th Battalion

A Machine Gun battalion, the 6th landed in France in January 1940 and as a unit of the British Expeditionary Force’s Second Division arrived in Belgium May 10, 1940. Initially serving near Brussels the 6th, through the withdrawal to the coast and evacuation from Dunkirk suffered heavy casualties. Less than half of their men returned to Britain.

The 7th and 8th Battalions

Two battalions of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders served with the 154th Infantry Brigade of the 51st Highland Division. The 7th and the 8th landed in France in February 1940, being deployed, to a name familiar to an early generation – the Somme. Along the River Somme the two Battalions were heavily engaged by German forces who commenced their attack June 5, 1940. Two days later the 7th and 8th, having suffered heavy losses, withdrew and what remained of the regiment escaped the continent by evacuation from Le Havre, France.

It was the 7th who suffered the blackest days of the Regiment’s History, June 5 – 7, 1940, when at Franleu, 23 officers and 500 soldiers were killed or taken as prisoners of war. D Company of the 7th managed to join up with A and C Companies of the 8th and made their way with together to to the coast. On June 15, 1940 the surviving men of the two Battalions returned to Britain on board the SS Duke of Argyll.

9th Battalion

The 9th Battalion as the 54th (A & S H) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment arrived in France in November 1939. Prior to being evacuated to Britain they provided Headquarters and airfield defence as part of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade covering the retreat to the beaches. Upon reaching the coast the units 12 Bofors guns were destroyed prior to embarkation. However, the Regiment’s 162nd Battery was to remain in France for another month as they had become separated from the main body while defending the airfields near Rheims.

 

 

Tamzine!

Posted By on July 19, 2017

Tamzine. Now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010) Tamzine at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. The evacuation of Dunkirk took place between May 27 - June 4, 1940. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

The Dunkirk little ship Tamzine at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. The evacuation of Dunkirk took place between May 27 – June 4, 1940. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

Tempest and Tranquility

Less than 15’ in length the 1937-constructed Tamzine is believed to be the smallest of the little ships that set forth to the beaches of Dunkirk where it helped save soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force; many of whom would fight on these shores again and across Northwest Europe. Tamzine, built of Canadian spruce, is now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London where I have stood in its virtual wake thinking upon its journey across the English Channel. What must the day have been for its skipper and those who managed to save themselves during the evacuation amidst continual attack? Carrying their saturated, weary, perhaps wounded selves over the gunwales and hopefully to safety as the Tamzine took them to larger vessels in deeper waters. Then the little vessel [and others] would turn around and do it all over again. This is the Spirit of Dunkirk.

The hull and paddles of Tamzine. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

The oars and bottom boards (burden boards) of the Tamzine. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

I have crossed that Channel, watched the water quake upon the hovercraft’s bow and become enchanted as the ferry plows into the deep green and blue sea, its bow rising repeatedly like a great angular shark. White water launches itself upwards to port, starboard and bow with each deep, watery slice. The cold turbulence breaks and crashes on the deck rhythmically and yet discordant. The Maestro’s baton cannot lay claim to this structure, it can only mimic as the waves have their own will and tempo…staccato, adagio, largo…it can be a tempest…it can be tranquility.

Tazmine's tiller where the Master or Captain piloted his 14.7' craft across the Channel to Dunkirk.

Tazmine’s wooden tiller and rudder were replaced with an outboard motor when its skipper piloted his 14.7′ little ship across the  English Channel to Dunkirk. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

And so as we near the day when the new Dunkirk film plays nearby and I will go, I will, I know, want to see Dunkirk, France for myself within today’s tranquility. I will want to see that landscape – that seascape of the great evacuation…and of all the ships, the large and the small, I will think of Tamzine, that little wooden craft of England and Dunkirk that would not surrender from within the tempest and whose maestro today is unknown.

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The little ship itself, the Tamzine, from the British Pathe film, Dunkirk 25 Years After (1965). Tamzine at 0:19 seconds.

For more information visit: The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.