November 5, 2012

The three VC winners from one block in Winnipeg

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:18

The Canadian War Museum now boasts all three Victoria Crosses won by Winnipeg soldiers during World War 1 … who all lived on the same block of Pine Street (now Valour Road):

Victoria Cross Medal Ribbon & BarWhen Acting Cpl. Lionel B. (“Leo”) Clarke was faced with the choice to surrender to the enemy, or to fight his way out of the trenches against all odds, he chose the latter. And, for that act of valour on Sept. 9, 1916, in which he killed or captured 18 German soldiers and two officers, Clarke — then 24 years old — received the highest honour awarded to Canadian soldiers: The Victoria Cross.

Less than two months later he was dead, dying in the arms of his brother Charles at the Battle of the Somme.

On Monday, Clarke, a native of Waterdown, Ont., who volunteered to go to war in 1915 as a bomber, was again honoured in a ceremony at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

It marks an extraordinary occurrence in Canadian military history: in different years and different battles during the First World War, three men from the same block of Winnipeg’s west-end Pine Street earned the Commonwealth’s highest military honour. And with the acquisition of Clarke’s medal, the War Museum now owns all three Victoria Crosses awarded to the men of Pine Street, which in 1925 was renamed Valour Road.

Each of the three men — and the 96 other Canadians who bear the honour — won it for “the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy.”

Update: And, if I watched a bit more TV, I’d have known what David Stamper just pointed out to me on Facebook … that they were featured in a Heritage Moment TV spot:

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Filed under: Britain, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

Today is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot:

Everyone knows what the Gunpowder Plotters looked like. Thanks to one of the best-known etchings of the seventeenth century we see them ‘plotting’, broad brims of their hats over their noses, cloaks on their shoulders, mustachios and beards bristling — the archetypical band of desperados. Almost as well known are the broad outlines of the discovery of the ‘plot’: the mysterious warning sent to Lord Monteagle on October 26th, 1605, the investigation of the cellars under the Palace of Westminster on November 4th, the discovery of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, the flight of the other conspirators, the shoot-out at Holbeach in Staffordshire on November 8th in which four (Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy and the brothers Christopher and John Wright) were killed, and then the trial and execution of Fawkes and seven others in January 1606.

However, there was a more obscure sequel. Also implicated were the 9th Earl of Northumberland, three other peers (Viscount Montague and Lords Stourton and Mordaunt) and three members of the Society of Jesus. Two of the Jesuits, Fr Oswald Tesimond and Fr John Gerard, were able to escape abroad, but the third, the superior of the order in England, Fr Henry Garnet, was arrested just before the main trial. Garnet was tried separately on March 28th, 1606 and executed in May. The peers were tried in the court of Star Chamber: three were merely fined, but Northumberland was imprisoned in the Tower at pleasure and not released until 1621.

[. . .]

Thanks to the fact that nothing actually happened, it is not surprising that the plot has been the subject of running dispute since November 5th, 1605. James I’s privy council appears to have been genuinely unable to make any sense of it. The Attorney-General, Sir Edward Coke, observed at the trial that succeeding generations would wonder whether it was fact or fiction. There were claims from the start that the plot was a put-up job — if not a complete fabrication, then at least exaggerated for his own devious ends by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, James’s secretary of state. The government’s presentation of the case against the plotters had its awkward aspects, caused in part by the desire to shield Monteagle, now a national hero, from the exposure of his earlier association with them. The two official accounts published in 1606 were patently spins. One, The Discourse of the Manner, was intended to give James a more commanding role in the uncovering of the plot than he deserved. The other, A True and Perfect Relation, was intended to lay the blame on Garnet.

But Catesby had form. He and several of the plotters as well as Lord Monteagle had been implicated in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in 1601. Subsequently he and the others (including Monteagle) had approached Philip III of Spain to support a rebellion to prevent James I’s accession. This raises the central question of what the plot was about. Was it the product of Catholic discontent with James I or was it the last episode in what the late Hugh Trevor-Roper and Professor John Bossy have termed ‘Elizabethan extremism’?

Vikings lose in Seattle, 30-20

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

The Vikings went in to Seattle as underdogs, and the odds-makers were actually a bit kinder to the team than the final score. Adrian Peterson had another great outing (182 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns), but there was no passing game to speak of (Ponder was 11 of 22 for only 63 yards and 1 INT). Perhaps fortunately, I didn’t get to watch this game, as it wasn’t carried on regular channels in the Toronto area.

Commemorating the “Great War”

Filed under: Britain, Education, Europe, France, Germany, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

“Sir Humphrey” is on what he terms as his “very late Summer Holidays”, but left a thoughtful-as-always post on the British government’s recently announced World War 1 commemoration program:

It was announced that over £50 million of public funding will be provided to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War in 2014. This high profile event will include commemoration, remembrance, and a chance for every school in the country to send students to the battlefields of the Western Front in order to see first-hand ‘Flanders Fields’.

Rarely do wars have such a dramatic impact on a national psyche, but the First world War continues to occupy a place in the heart of the British consciousness which will take generations to reduce. It is sobering to contemplate that across the whole of the UK, there were fewer than 50 ‘Thankful villages’ (locations where everyone who served came back alive). Even today, as a nation we have only just seen the last veterans of the conflict pass on, and there are still plenty of people alive who were born in this time. In Government, it is often forgotten that Lord Astor, who acts as the spokesman for Defence in the House of Lords, is the grandchild of Field Marshal Haig. Even now, almost a century on, our current links to the war remain tangible.

Humphrey has long been a ‘revisionist’ when it comes to WW1, and believes that what should be remembered as not only a violent and bloody war, also represented many of the finest feats of arms in British history. While the conventional view of the 1960s and beyond was of a war that comprised senseless slaughter, where legions of troops were thrown into battle by an uncaring General Staff, the reality is far different. Arguably WW1 represented a supreme accomplishment by the General Staff, who had to take a tiny professional army, expend it and buy time using the TA to mould a new citizen based force, which within five years became the world’s most accomplished fighting force. They did this in a backdrop of expanding the military far beyond what any would have thought possible, while adapting to technological changes at a vast rate. By the start of the One Hundred Days campaign in 1918, there is no doubt that the British Army was probably the best trained equipped and operationally effective army in the world.

This is not to diminish the slaughter or the losses felt, but it often feels that the emphasis is too greatly placed on the hellish experiences of the trenches, and not that of understanding the war, nor decision making as a whole. It is perhaps telling that the most popular public memory of WW1 comes not from primary sources, but from the comedy ‘Blackadder Goes Fourth’, clips of which to this day brighten up innumerable MOD presentations.

The Canadian memories of WW1 are a bit different from those of Britain, although shaped by the same forces: before the war started, Canada was still psychologically a colony of the Mother Country. At the end of the war, Canada stood as a recognized independent entity from Britain (though still recognizing the importance of Britain and the Empire and a proud member of the Empire), with a very hard-earned military reputation. The legalities of full independence still lay in the future (the Statute of Westminster, 1931), but the Canada of 1918 was not the same place it had been in 1914. It saw itself as a nation, not a colony.

Matt Ridley on the real threat to our ecology

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It’s not global warming:

I’m pessimistic about the ash trees. It seems unlikely that a fungus that killed 90 per cent of Denmark’s trees and spreads by air will not be devastating here, too. There is a glimmer of hope in the fact that ash, unlike elms, reproduce sexually so they are not clones — uniformly vulnerable to the pathogen. But it’s only a glimmer: tree parasites, from chestnut blight to pine beauty moth, have a habit of sweeping through species pretty rampantly, because trees are so long-lived they cannot evolve resistance in time.

The Forestry Commission’s apologists are pleading ‘cuts’ as an excuse for its failure to do anything more timely to get ahead of the threat, but as a woodland owner I am not convinced. An organisation that has the time and the budget to pore over my every felling or planting application in triplicate and come back with fussy and bossy comments could surely spare a smidgen of interest in looming threats from continental fungi that have been spreading out from Poland for 20 years. The commission was warned four years ago of the problem.

Here’s what the commission was up to instead. Just last year, I received a letter from the Forestry Commission demanding access to survey one of my woods to answer the question ‘what are the forecasts for timber, biomass and carbon?’ in order to ‘help the United Kingdom meet international commitments, such as reporting for the Global Forest Resources Assessment and the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE)’.

Notice the Sir Humphrey-esque circular argument: surveys must be done so that the results can be reported to assessment meetings. In other words, as far as I can tell, the Forestry Commission’s priority has been, as in so many government bodies, to supply talking points for the international carbon-obsessed bureaucracy. The implicit assumption here, of course, is that climate change is the greatest threat to Britain’s trees, when in reality far greater threats come from diseases carried around by foresters themselves.

This is happening throughout the world of nature conservation. A climate fetish has sucked all the oxygen from the real threats to species and habitats — indeed it has actually begun to make those threats worse.

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