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Not in the face of the enemy

Posted By on December 23, 2018

John Rennie served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada

Acting Sergeant John Rennie G.C. saved the lives of soldiers during a training exercise.
(Wiki Commons Image)

George Cross Recipient: John Rennie

On 24 September 1940 the George Cross was instituted by King George VI for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger* not in the presence of the enemy. It is the second highest award for gallantry and follows the Victoria Cross in the Order of Precedence. A posthumous award of the George Cross was granted to Acting Sergeant John Rennie of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.

The George Cross

The George Cross for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
(Image from www.veterans.gc.ca)

During a grenade-throwing training exercise, 29 October 1943 at Riddlesworth, England a live grenade having failed to clear the protective embankment fell back into the trench that the trainees occupied. Quickly, John Rennie, pushed one of the soldiers to the side, picked up the grenade and when attempting to throw the grenade out of harm’s way it exploded mortally injuring Rennie whose body shielded three fellow soldiers who were within five yards of the explosion.

John Rennie was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

At Brookwood Military Cemetery, England. The grave and marker of John Rennie G.C.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

The Aberdeen, Scotland born John Rennie came to Canada as a young child and grew up in Kitchener (formerly Berlin), Ontario. He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in July 1940 and arrived in England with the battalion in the summer of 1943. John Rennie G.C., aged 23, is buried at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, England.

*From the Fifth Claus of the George Cross Warrant.

In the Service of Peace

Posted By on December 20, 2018

Sergeant Edward William Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Postal Corps, Congo Christmas rush 1960. (Ferguson Family)

Sergeant Edward William Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Postal Corps, Congo Christmas rush 1960.
(Ferguson Family)

Canadian Armed Forces Away at Christmas

Sergeant Edward William Ferguson was a career soldier and during his 21 year army career served on several United Nations peace-keeping missions across the globe. Korea, Egypt, the Belgian Congo, Cyprus. His journeys took him to many other places fulfilling a childhood vision to see the world, sometimes not always at its best. He was an amazing photographer.

Ed Ferguson frequented many places that continue to remain common discussion for his generation and those a bit younger. Recently I watched four men, of an age, sitting over breakfast sharing stories. Were they speaking of Naden, Stadacona, Work Point, Cold Lake, Soest, Verl, Metz, Marville, Grostequin, Baden-Baden, Rabat, Zweibrücken, Decimomannu or one of a thousand plus other places that our armed forces have been?

Often our nation calls and they go. Separation from family can occur at any time. Ed Ferguson was in the Belgian Congo attached to 57 Signals Unit, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, for Christmas 1960. On his return he spoke frequently of his time there, playing chess with the father of actor Michael J. Fox, of the rebellion, Tshombe and Leopoldville. The last Christmas I recall him away was 1970 when on attachment to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Cyprus. Some may recall their postie, the man in the red jogging suit who came back to Canada a trim and fit 180 lb. soldier. He ran everywhere, probably every day when not on duty. Running was part of his youth, regained in 1970 and how he missed it when age took fleet of foot away from him.

The Congo image of Sergeant E.W. Ferguson was published in Canadian newspapers that appeared across the country. I always liked it…surrounded by the mail…parcels at Christmas. Its quite a reminder of days gone by…of a career soldier…and Dad. Miss you forever…and in tribute to your attempts to play an alto sax…a little Christmas music….sounds just like him!!!!

Sayer’s Tea Shop

Posted By on December 15, 2018

At Sayer's Tea Shop - Everything stops for Tea!

At Sayer’s Tea Shop – Everything stops for Tea!

Codfish, Mackerel, Mimi and Toutou

Rose Allnut turned the sign on the shop door one last time.

Sayer’s Tea Shop served her and Charlie well since coming to Courtenay two decades plus three ago. As Charlie’s machines spun for the last time, he wiped his brow and back of neck. Now one last evening to sit amongst the teas, cakes, trifles…[cucumber sandwiches]…and friends.

Dundee, Ginger-Walnut, Buttercup, Chocolate and Pear Charlotte…scones and clotted cream…the finest in jellies and jams; while from the far back the metal turnings of a final day’s work dripped in the sweet smell of machine oils mixed with hot metals, and steam. As the belts slackened – one final blast from the steam whistle. Charlie pulled the chord, it was a familiar sound for all.

Charlie washed in the large, chipped, granite-ware bowl and came through the draped door passage, turning towards the chair where he could best watch his whirling and spinning amusements. They gave Charlie and Rose, as well as the families who stopped by great fun, especially at Christmas time, when children sat amongst the plates of biscuits chewing and sipping cocoa as the machines provided endless wonder. It was Christmas Eve.

Here too at Sayer’s Tea Shop, Charlie and Geoffrey passed their evenings speaking of their days, Rose’s too, in Africa. Their adventures similar – boats, a journey, a lake, an opponent. Heat and adventure, a distant land, where brother and brother-in-law, Reverend Samuel Sayer, remained within the ground of August 1915.

There was a bold fisherman who sailed out of Pimlico, Charlie would sing and as his chorus slipped to the evening Rose, Geoffrey, occasionally Amy, and Charlie would laugh. Animals and insects, reptiles and leeches, Königin Luise, Kingani, Hedwig von Wissmann…all were familiar.

Unlike their Royal Navy friend, Geoffrey Spicer-Simson DSO, Rose and Charlie were civilians during their Great War in Africa managing to escape the continent for safer shores in Malta. In the dockyards Charlie worked machining parts, small and large, for the engines of the Royal Navy, while Rose joined the Patriotic Society in Valletta, raising funds, writing letters for wounded soldiers, and producing bandages from well-laundered linen bed sheets. Both were well-known.

Home, for a time, was nearby at Floriana but in 1919 they came…for Charlie…back to Canada…to Middleton…Saskatoon…Courtenay. But there remained a desire for one last visit to Rose’s England, Floriana and their East Africa. Wherever Rose and Charlie went friends remained.

As young eyes closed in Sayer’s Tea Shop to a Christmas sleep, grateful families left with their precious bundles and the Captain rose…They would meet again and as the door closed behind Spicer-Simson, the door’s bell jingled, an angel took flight, and Geoffrey heard one last time…There was a bold fisherman who sailed out of Pimlico.


Today we have had some fun for Christmas – mixing classic film fiction with “Based on a True Story”.

Charlie and Rose Allnut are characters from C.S. Forrester’s The African Queen (1935) and released in 1951 as a major motion picture starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. The novel and film differ. In the film, Charlie Allnut is a Canadian, not a Cockney Englishman…I wanted him to come back to Canada, together with his Rose. As well, watching Charlie and Rose (Bogart and Hepburn) I wanted to know what became of them…where did their lives take them? In the novel Forrester’s narrator records, Whether or not they lived happily ever after is not easily decided.

Anglican Church where Geoffrey Spicer-Simson DSO is buried.

St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Sandwick, B.C
(P. Ferguson image, August 2017)

For some years I wanted to bring Charlie and Rose together with a real-life African adventurer…today this is done…bringing together the Allnuts with Geoffrey Spicer-Simson DSO, who commanded the Lake Tanganyika Expedition, the Mimi and the Toutou, and who moved to Courtenay, B.C. in 1937. As a historian and researcher I was always interested that Spicer-Simson became involved in the local historical society. Geoffrey Spicer-Simson died in 1947 and is buried in St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Sandwick, just outside of Courtenay on Vancouver Island.

Gravce marker of Geoffrey Spicer-Simson

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson’s marker at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Cemetery. His wife, Amy Elizabeth Spicer-Simson is next to him.
(P. Ferguson image, August, 2017)

The second line of the Allnut/Bogart song, includes codfish and mackerel. The four words together, in the subtitle, Codfish, Mackerel, Mimi and Toutou, are a deliberate odd choice adding curiosity and a “where is this going?” portion for this year’s Christmas story. Knowing of Spicer-Simson’s eccentricities I hope he might have approved. Incidentally Spicer-Simson originally wanted to name his vessels Cat and Dog. I can hear them all laughing now.

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson D.S.O.

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson D.S.O. After service in China, during the Boxer Rebellion, he came to Victoria, B.C. and in 1902 married Amy Elizabeth Baynes-Reed.
(Wiki Commons image)

And so at this time of year…hopes for a jolly Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…may your world bring sunshine and joy…to you and yours…for all time…and time for all.

Today it is December

Posted By on December 1, 2018

Great War Scottish postcard.

Scottish Christmas and New Year’s postcard.
Wreath inscribed with scrolls of Great War place names.

Discussions around the tables…

…and so it is December…families…some partly reunited…peace on earth…discussions around the tables and hearths, turn from thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow…somehow today is recognized as a turn away from present conversations…Well today is a new day..but conversations soon pick up from whence they start.

The Armistice…soon to be eclipsed by interactions from another table…the Quai d’Orsay (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, France), contentious discussion at the Hôtel Trianon Palace…Hôtel des Réservoirs…all towards a signing…a treaty…28 June 1919…in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

But for today it is December…peace on earth…discussions around the table and hearth…it is at least a new day.

To the Light of the Morning…

Posted By on November 11, 2018

The inscription on Private W. Fletcher’s, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, grave at Ypres...Some Day We’ll Understand. (P. Ferguson image, 9 November 2018)

The inscription on Private W. Fletcher’s grave at Ypres, Belgium…Some Day We’ll Understand.
(P. Ferguson image, 9 November 2018)

…I’ll let it in

This day, 11 November 2018…a hundred years has passed and in my time I have hoped to bring to you…connection. These words have followed my path as I have followed the trails of the Great War from the June heat of Gallipoli to the cold gusts of a November Western Front.

It was not long ago that I wrote the 100ths are soon upon us…and now, a little more than four years later, it is time. Not to let it go…but to let it rest…there is more to follow…but for now, allow me this chance for quiet thoughts…to rejoice in today’s silence…some regeneration…but a few more lines please…

…In August 2018  I visited here at the Menin Gate, bringing Rosemary to this and all the other places that I have experienced. Vimy…Thiepval…Spoilbank, and more. I have mentioned, many times, searching for peace in the chaos…I have found new ways, new designs, new messages…I have become more aware. I have invited connection…and it has provided. There is symbolism here, there is metaphor…there is peace in this chaos. One needs to let it in…

If the Great War teaches us anything, it is that it continues to provide its lessons…It offered me the chance to find a voice and I accepted…I can only hope that in some small way I have, through my clatterings, found the voices of those with whom I have visited whilst searching for my peace.

In August last year Rosemary and I stayed in Ieper (Ypres) and discovered a kindred spirit…Elodie…whose similar taste in music offered another chance at reclaiming the peace I sought. Through Elodie, we discovered Bon Iver. I was connected immediately. Again this morning, at 8:22 a.m., its words came to visit once again…I have searched for its meaning…you can too…It is, for Bon Iver, an awakening of understanding…it is a metaphor of my journey…to the light of the morning…peace in the chaos…if we let it in…

To all those who served…We all have a voice.

Thank you!