Newsletter - RUSI Vancouver
Highlights of the August 14 Newsletter
World War II: August 15 - 22, 1943
John Thompson Strategic Analyst - Quotes from his book “Spirit Over Steel”
Second World War Pilot Mary Ellis Dies Aged 101
Ellis joined Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941 and flew 1,000 planes in four years.
Jessica McKay - July 26, 2018
Modernized Mobile Bridge Systems
A necessity for every army
Marcello Sukhdeo - July 24, 2018
Battle of Amiens Remembered
Descendants of those who fought in decisive first world war assault gather at city’s cathedral.
August 8, 2018
Defence Chief Wants to Toss Canadian-Made Uniforms for US Version
— at a cost of $500M. Internally, within the Forces, insiders say the project has been given a deadline of a
year to deliver the new clothing.
Christie Blatchford - August 1, 2018
Vancouver Artillery Association Yearbook Updates
Who Is It?
All Aboard! The Steveston Interurban Tram - Aug. 18
4th Annual Drive For Victory, Ardmore Golf Course, Sidney, BC - Aug. 26
15th Field Artillery Regiment Annual Mess Dinner - Sept. 8
Battle of the Plains of Abraham Commemorative Mess Dinner - Sept. 22
"Spouses Supporting Transition" - until August 17
Robert W. Mackay's Newsletter "Forces with History"
On August 8th, 1918, the Allies launched the Battle of Amiens, designed to knock the Germans back from their threatening position close to the vital Amiens-Paris rail line. At Zero-hour, 4:20 am, 4,600 heavy guns opened up, providing a creeping barrage to cover the infantry advance across the fog-shrouded fields of northern France.
At the heart of the attack were the Canadian and Australian Corps, with the Aussies on the left of the Canucks. To the left of them was the British Third Corp, and to the right of the Canadians the French First Army.
At 5:40 am the Canadian Cavalry Brigade joined the advance, operating under the Canadian Corps banner for the first time in the war. They swept forward through the infantry positions, a small part of the tens of thousands of mounted troopers in the fight on the Allied side.
Famously part of the undertaking were some 600-plus tanks, 324 of which were heavy British models.
Lighter, faster (a man’s walking pace!) Whippet tanks were assigned to each cavalry brigade, a sign of the changing times. The Whippets couldn’t keep up with the horsemen, but on the other hand they were mighty handy at times when the cavalrymen were up against heavy fire.
Today’s Canadian cavalrymen are still called troopers, but their mounts are mechanical.
It’s hard to say where our government’s defence policy is just now, given its rightful preoccupation with American tariffs and the stalled NAFTA talks. What we do know is that there is the Mali mission and our continued presence in Latvia. But both those are relatively small, with the African involvement committed to for only a year.
In the meantime, Mr. Trump has gone to Asia and pronounced Kim of North Korea a good fellow. In return for Kim shaking his hand, Trump cancelled scheduled US armed forces exercises with its major ally South Korea. He thus handed an original member of what an earlier president called the Axis of Evil a huge propaganda victory.
The US president intends meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia within a few days. In the background are credible findings that Putin hacked the US presidential election, not to mention that his Russian forces overran Crimea. He is now waging a war on Ukraine, and according to the British government poisoned an ex-spy in England.
Trump, for reasons unknown, continues to fawn over Putin. What will he do to try to further cement his relationship with the Russian leader? Given Trump’s threats to the stability of NATO and formerly close bonds to the UK and Europe, is it beyond the realm of possibility that he’ll somehow water down NORAD? After all, he might say, those sneaky Canadians don’t pay their share of defence costs. Who cares if Russia does a few overflights of northern Canada?
We may find ourselves spending more on defence out of necessity.
The Saga of John Willoughby
(for accompanying photos see my blog post)
On March 30th, 2018, a dozen members of the Willoughby family gathered in northern France to mark, among other events, the death of their Great-uncle Jack, who died a hundred years earlier. John James Willoughby was one of hundreds of casualties of the Battle of Moreuil Wood, but long after his death his presence was felt.
French farmer Jean Paul Brunel worked his fields as normal in 1986, preparing them for the spring planting. Like prairie farmers who deal with rocks heaved up by the frost every spring, Jean Paul kept an eye out for debris on the surface of the land—often unexploded munitions dating back a hundred years. From his tractor seat he saw something different—the remnants of a boot. And in that boot was a skeletal foot, with other bones still intact. With the body were various metallic objects: a bayonet, brass buttons, a shoulder badge that read LSH(RC)—and identity tags. Two of them, meaning the body had not received a proper burial. But the hitherto unremarked remains of John James Willoughby were the catalyst that a hundred years later saw hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike on the spot where he perished.
Jean Paul became an unofficial guardian of the memory of Jack Willoughby and the long-ago events of March 30th, 1918. On that date Brigadier-general “Galloper Jack” Seely led the Canadian Cavalry Brigade into its fiercest fight of the Great War at Moreuil Wood. Seely set up his post at the spot where Willoughby’s body was found, and directed the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the Strathcona’s, and the Fort Garrys into the battle. Willoughby was a member of C Squadron of the Strathcona’s, led by Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew, late of Walhachin, British Columbia.
Flowerdew’s squadron was held in reserve when Seely committed the rest of the brigade to the fight in Moreuil Wood, eventually sending it around the south-east corner of the wood to engage what were anticipated to be Germans driven out by the Canadians. Flowerdew and his men were met with enemy rifles, machineguns, and artillery, but carried out a deadly charge. Roughly a third of the squadron were casualties, and Flowerdew himself died a day later.
Jack Willoughby may well have taken part in that charge. In any event, his body was buried, perhaps by an artillery shell, back where Seely had his headquarters, until it was discovered by Jean Paul Brunel sixty-eight years later.
Later research by a documentary film crew led the search for J J Willoughby’s descendants, if any. Researcher Judy Ruzylo turned up John James Willoughby, of Rocky Mountain House Alberta, J J’s great nephew.
In the meantime, Jean Paul Brunel was in closer contact over the years with the Strathcona’s. He would welcome descendants of the Moreuil Wood veterans, history buffs, and serving members when they sought out the site. A very dramatic moment occurred in 2008 when the younger John James Willoughby was introduced to Jean Paul, and escorted to a memorial set up by Jean Paul where he had discovered the remains of “Uncle Jack”.
Now an armoured regiment, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) has always celebrated Moreuil Day to commemorate March 30th 1918. Twenty-eighteen was to be particularly noteworthy, being the 100th anniversary of the battle. Jean Paul Brunel’s determined and focussed efforts in France, and those of the regiment, culminated this year. Hundreds attended the anniversary, highlighted by the presence of the LSH(RC) Mounted Troop, descendants of veterans of the battle, and French citizens. The extended Strathcona’s family, including no fewer than a dozen Willoughbys, joined General Seely’s family and the English branch of the Flowerdews, taking part in a tight schedule of events highlighted by the re-enactment of the charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron.
As some of my readers will know, I was in Moreuil, France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Moreuil Wood. One of the survivors of the charge of Flowerdew's C Squadron was my father, acting troop leader Tom Mackay.
My sister, Lamont Mackay, was unable to make the trip to Moreuil with me for health reasons. She turned her mind to poetry. Her poem, Moreuil Wood, follows. It is also featured on the Strathcona's website.
March 30, 1918
a spread of trees among rolling hills and farmers’ fields
in a river valley, near a French village
to the sounds of overhead artillery
the thundering tempo of galloping horses
and the shouts of Canadian cavalrymen
Lord Strathcona’s Horse “C” Squadron
with sharpened swords drawn
charges toward the spread of trees
where the enemy
hidden among the leaves, waits
for the right moment, to open fire
with rifles and machine guns
the commanding officer falls
a sergeant, a young man from Winnipeg
spurs his terrified steed forward
hooves digging into the dirt
muscles stretched to the limit
the men of “C” Squadron follow
carrying the charge
doing what they have been trained to do
bullets eat at the sergeant’s legs and his horse’s belly
screams of horses and men meld
in the stampede toward the incessant barrage of firepower
Moreuil Wood, March 30, 2018
a spread of trees among rolling hills and farmers’ fields
in a river valley near a French village
where the soil continues to bubble up bullets, belt buckles and bones
the son of the young man from Winnipeg
is standing with others to witness
the galloping horses of Lord Strathcona’s Mounted Troop
swords sharpened and drawn
hooves digging into the dirt, muscles stretched to the limit
this time, a cavalry charge without machine guns or demands of sacrifice
a re-enactment, out of respect for the courage of Canadians 100 years ago
* P. S.You're entitled to a free ebook when you buy a paperback copy