Newsletter - RUSI Vancouver
Highlights of the May 22 Newsletter
World War II: May 24 - 29, 1943
John Thompson Strategic Analyst - Quotes from his book “Spirit Over Steel”
Minister of Defence Officially Opens Colonel Karen Ritchie Building
Base Borden welcomed a special visitor for a dedication ceremony to honour the late Colonel Karen Ritchie today.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was among the dignitaries at the ceremony.
Shawn Gibson - May 15, 2018
Potentially Hazardous Mould Detected in Esquimalt-Based Warship
The Canadian Press - May 11, 2018
The US Army Is Looking for a ‘Stealth’ Uniform for Combat Troops
Michael Peck, The National Interest - May 14, 2018
Scientists Get Closer to Creating Real-Life Invisibility Cloak
Jacqueline Howard, CNN - July 20, 2016
Vancouver Artillery Association Yearbook Updates
Who Is It
Artillery Day - May 26
Fort Macaulay Historic Interpretation Event - May 26
NOABC Monthly Lunch Program with Speaker - May 30
65th Annual Ceremonial Review - June 2
Change of Command, 39 CER - June 2
First Annual Walk for Veterans - June 3
Robert W. Mackay's Newsletter "Forces with History"
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
The battle at Moreuil Wood on March 30th 1918 and the subsequent engagement at Rifle Wood two days later came to define the role played by the Canadian cavalry in the Great War. The preceding months and years in the trenches and out of them, and the cavalry’s role in the Hundred Days that followed Moreuil and Rifle Wood, were brutal and costly. But for sheer bloodiness and loss of life, and as well as for significance to the Allied war effort, those two engagements stand out.
Lieutenant S. H. Williams, author of Stand to Your Horses, was there for both battles. He observed that after Rifle Wood the Strathcona’s were down to 98 officers and men, out of their normal complement of 350. Counting the other two regiments, the Dragoons and the Garrys, they mustered fewer than 300 able-bodied men between them.
The German Operation Michael onslaught made it no further than Moreuil and Rifle Woods. In fact, both sites were hard-won by the Canadians and British in the two battles, but were again later occupied by the enemy. As Williams noted, on August 8 at the commencement of the Battle of Amiens, the German line stood right where “…we had held them up on March 30 at Moreuil Wood and on April 1 at Rifle Wood.”
One part of the fight at Moreuil Wood captured the imagination of the public shortly after, and is about to be commemorated on March 30th this year, its centennial. The charge of Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew’s “C” Squadron, memorialized in a painting held in Ottawa, will be re-enacted by the Lord Strathcona’s Mounted Troop on that day. It will also be marked by dinners, lunches, and reunions all across Canada and in Europe. Courage shown by those troopers a hundred years ago continues to inspire Canadian troops today.
For images of Moreuil and surroundings, and past observations of March 30th Moreuil Day, see my blog post. There's also a photo of my dad and me. Dad was a casualty with many wounds he caught in Flowerdew's charge, so he was one of the 250 or so Strathcona's who couldn't answer the bell for April 1st and Rifle Wood.
Forces With History has its emphasis firmly on "History" for now.
Many of FWH's early posts dealt with the Battle of Moreuil Wood and the charge of Lieutenant Flowerdew's "C" Squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse (RC). On March 30th this year LSH(RC) will be back on hallowed ground.
Making the trip will be a large contingent of Strathcona's, including their Mounted Troop; dignitaries; and descendants of those in the battle a hundred years ago.
To find out more about what was going on in those dark days, see a thumbnail sketch of the circumstances on my blog: www.robertwmackay.ca/blog.
Many of the readers of Forces With History will have thoughts or comments; I'd be happy to receive them via reply to this email. No doubt others will find them interesting as well.
The CBC did an excellent news item about HMCS CHICOUTIMI and her activities in the eastern Pacific. She's been working with USN and Japanese forces, and help monitor North Korean shipping. Even if you caught the item on the National on February 6th, I recommend you check out the longer and more detailed photos and videos on the CBC news website.
* P. S.You're entitled to a free ebook when you buy a paperback copy