William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

RUMINATIVE THOUGHTS

Below is a story about Vimy Ridge – What’s it mean to you and me?
Sacrifice, slaughter guts and courage, it’s how a Nation came to be!
It was won by our Canadian Corps at the height of the first great world war
We lost our sons to bayonets and guns and we kept the Empire free!

‘Twas where Fighting Frank – the Father of the Tank,
As a platoon Sergeant, won his second M.M.
Against the Ridge, guys like Frank led their men
and Canada would never be the same again!

The Canadian Red Ensign o’er that battle was seen
then was carried away to the Imperial War Museum
Now in Ottawa, Loaned by the IWM
Has our Canadian Symbol come home again?

Young Canadian Soldiers during WW1
Young Canadian Soldiers during WW1: (Photo courtesy of Canadian War Museum)

Korea Vet News: Independent Internet Publication April 9, 2006
Dedicated to the sacrifice and indomitable spirit of Canada’s Korean War Veterans

REMEMBER VIMY RIDGE – APRIL 9, 1917: 89 YEARS AGO THIS DAY

The following column by Peter Worthington is republished from today’s Toronto Sun, the newspaper that Peter founded following several successful years as a special assignment reporter with the old Toronto Telegram.

Peter served as a sub lieutenant in the RCN Fleet Naval Air Arm during World War Two.

He enlisted in the Canadian Army during the Korean War. He served in Korea as a lieutenant and platoon commander with both the 1st and 3rd Battalions of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Before the war ended he also served as an observer with the US Air Force’s “Mosquito Squadron” and took part in operations at Pork Chop Hill in the late spring of 1953.

His father, Major General Frederick Frank Worthington, joined the Canadian Army as a private soldier in 1914. He was awarded two Military Medals in the operations at Vimy Ridge. Commissioned in the field, Frank Worthington subsequently was awarded two Military Crosses for bravery.

He became a specialist in tank warfare and is known in Canadian military history as the father of the Canadian Armoured Corps.

He rose to the rank of Major General in World War Two, having commanded the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division in the European Theatre. In 1945 he was appointed General Officer Commander in Chief of the Canadian Army Pacific Command. After the war he was appointed General Officer Commander in Chief of Western Command.

His son, Peter, had joined the RCN instead of the Canadian Army in World War Two, partially to avoid possible favouritism as the son of a distinguished general.

Lt Thomas Greer Courtenay, the father of the editor of Korea Vet News, also served at Vimy Ridge, where he was wounded in action. He also had earned a battle field commission.

Later wounded a fourth and final time he was invalided out of the Canadian Army and had to give up what he had hoped would be a military career.

He had served as a Guardsman with the Irish Guards in London in 1914. He then transferred to the Victoria Rifles of Canada where as a lance corporal; he trained the entire battalion in close order drill.

He was a platoon sergeant at 18, when he was wounded for the first time, the rifle bullet passing right through his sergeants chevrons.

His older brother, John, also served in the Victoria Rifles and also was commissioned in the field and invalided from the service because of wounds. He had been wounded by an enemy flame thrower.

Their younger brother, Lt William Courtenay, first enlisted out of Ontario Teacher’s College into the Princess Patricia’s. He was quickly discharged because of heart problems. He “faked” his way into the Canadian Flying Service and received pilot training.

He was shot down in a Sopwith Camel fighter plane over the Italian Alps. His assailant, a Hungarian pilot, followed him down in flames. William did aerobatics, extinguished the flames and crash landed. The pilot who shot him down went to great lengths to ensure that William Courtenay received good hospital care.

He was recovering well when he contracted influenza and died of the disease.

Tom Courtenay lived in considerable pain from his wounds for the rest of his life. He lived in England for several years with his family. At the outbreak of World War Two he applied for a commission in the British Army, without success.

Desperate, he tried the RAF as well. He considered the air force to be a step down from the army. He was quite bitter when they turned him down, too. He was an author and could type and argued that he could serve as a clerk. They sent him away.

He had only one hand, had chronic lung problems from the trenches, had a long silver plate in the shin bone of a leg that had shrunk by more than an inch during the surgeries, had hearing problems. He also had a fiery temper and raged at those who would not let him serve again.

Canada House provided him and his family with passage to return to Canada on a refugee convoy in August, 1940. He died in Canada in 1951 at age 56.

His Veteran Affairs disability pension passed on to his wife and provided her with financial support until her death at age 96.

Tom Courtenay also was a proud Canadian.

He named his older daughter after his respected friend and commanding officer, LCol William Hew Clark-Kennedy, who was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery in France in August, 1918.

He and Tom Courtenay had returned to the Battalion in France from England at the same time. They were both wounded in the same desperate campaign. Clark Kennedy refused evacuation to stay in command and for his actions was awarded the VC. He already had been awarded two Distinguished Service Orders.

Lt Tom Courtenay, badly wounded by machine gun bullets in both legs also refused evacuation so that wounded men from his platoon could be recovered. A wounded private refused to leave his side. They stayed together in a water filled shell hole for four days until rescued. Lt Courtenay recommended the private for a decoration for bravery, which was awarded.

Toronto Sun Banner
Sun, April 9, 2006

The Final Say

By PETER WORTHINGTON

Peter Worthington
Peter Worthington
The letter from Oakville Grade 8 student Devin Castilloux, 13, arrived towards the end of March.

In it, he recounted how he was in the Air Cadets, and how his father had taken him some time ago to Sunnybrook Hospital where he interviewed veterans from WWII and Korea. He even met one of the last surviving WWI vets.

Devin began collecting signatures of vets on a Canadian flag which he hoped would be flown in Ottawa on Remembrance Day. A letter from Scott Brison, then a Liberal cabinet minister, warned him that writing on a Canadian flag was not allowed. So Devin got a big white flag and hopes to get 800 signatures by this Nov. 11.

What struck me as significant — apart from a kid being so interested in those who served in past wars — was that Devin knew all about the battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place 89 years ago today.

It was the battle that forged a nation. For the first time in WWI, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought as one — and captured the supposedly impregnable position that both the British and French, separately, had failed disastrously to take. Vimy was also the first offensive victory for the Allies in WWI.

At Vimy, the 5th Saskatchewan Battalion went into battle carrying the Red Ensign which, until 1965, was recognized as Canada’s flag. After the war, Lt. Col. Lorne Tudor, CO of the 5th Saskatchewans donated the flag to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, as there was no Canadian war museum at that time.

Over the years, the Imperial War Museum vigorously guarded that Ensign, refusing to give or loan it to Canada until the new Canadian War Museum was opened in Ottawa. Even now, it is officially on “loan” to Canada.

Young Devin Castilloux thinks the battle-worn Ensign should remain in Canada — a significant reminder of our heritage and what Canadian soldiers accomplished on April 9, 1917.

I agree, and doubtless Joe Geurts, Director and CEO of the CWM, agrees as well. “It’s on loan to us until 2007, and we are hoping for an extension,” says Geurts. “We have excellent relations with the IWM, and they’ve been very helpful.”

Until WWI, British regiments carried the flag bearing their battle honours into the fray. In the wars against Napoleon, capturing the enemy’s “colours” was a big deal — just as having your colours captured was a calamity.

In WWI, the Canadians were apparently among the few who carried their colours into battle. The Vimy Ensign is one of the few battle flags that still exist.

Another Vimy flag is in a museum in Penticton, B.C., but isn’t as old as the 5th Saskatchewan’s flag, which dates back to 1868 — believed to be the oldest Canadian flag in existence.

When he headed the Canadian war museum, historian Jack Granatstein said the Vimy Ensign was “of great historical value to Canada and ought to be in Canada’s war museum.” That’s where it is now, and Joe Geurts’ comments indicate he is hoping the Brits will make it a permanent loan.

Some 3,500 Canadians were killed at Vimy — modest casualties by WWI standards. Had the Allies been prepared, Vimy was the breakthrough they’d fought three years for. But High Command expected a Canadian defeat.

After Vimy, Canadians were recognized as the elite troops of the war, with Gen. Arthur Currie arguably the most able commander on the Allies’ side.

British-born Victoria Cross winner George Pearkes (later a lieutenant governor of B.C.) was one who said “I became a Canadian on Vimy Ridge.” My father, who won a Military Medal (MM) and bar at Vimy, was another who never felt he was a full Canadian before Vimy, and never felt he was anything but a Canadian after Vimy. That was a prevailing sentiment among many who fought there.

A flag is just a symbol, but the Ensign that flew atop Vimy Ridge is part of our legacy, and important to kids like Devin Castilloux who take pride in what those who came before them achieved in Canada’s name.

Submitted for the April 2006 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Ruminative