Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. We remember with reverence and thanks for the ultimate sacrifices our citizen soldiers who answer the call in defence of our Nation or that of another, an ally, when asked.
For reasons, I don't understand, I get quite weepy on such remembrances and yet feel compelled to each year try to understand more of the meaning of this day.
I shall always prefer calling it Armistice Day for it is the day of the Armistice to end the first World War at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. The was the Great War, the "war to end all wars", perhaps the most miserable war for the average soldier to fight., often dying in trenches and being sucked down to their grave in the mud of the battle field. Such was the case of the Battle for the Passchendaele Ridge where 15,000 Canadian soldiers died , in a few days, on the muddy fields . By remembering in this way, we are reminded at how mankind has failed at ending war and establishing an enduring peace, herein lies the tragedy for which I weep each year.
A grave of an Unknown Soldier at Flanders France
This year I have been remembering , in particular, two special military institutions of the Second World War, which required extraordinary effort and guile. Both involved both Canadians and Americans. Both, in their way, have change the way wars are fought. Both have not been remembered by most for their extraordinary contribution.
They are popularly known as Camp X and The Devil Brigade.
The Badge of STS 103 Camp X (Special Training School)
Camp X was the training camp of unorthodox warfare. It was a place where spies, intelligence officers and others were prepared to be dropped behind the enemy lines to do their mischief and help the resistence where they found it.
I grew up in the Toronto area and know nothing of the existence of Camp X just east of Toronto between Whitby and Oshawa on the shore of Lake Ontario. Here a joint effort by Britain , Canada and the US trained individuals to do extrodinary things for silently killing to explosives and decifering codes.
Early on a friend of both Churchill and Roosevelt, William Stephenson, (The man called Intepid),a Canadian, was chosen to head of the Intelligence efforts for the war, of which the establishment of Camp X was part.
At Camp X the seed idea of the Intelligence Agency was first sown to later become in the US, The Central Intelligence Agency and in Britain, MI 6.
One of the trivial facts is the Ian Fleming spent time here. He later went on to write the James Bond stories.
I first had my curiosity about Camp X tweaked when I was was reading about Igor Gouzenko, the Russian Embassy clerk who defected in Canada, with documentation of Russian spies in North America. In my youth he was a mysterous figure who occasionally appeared in public with a bag over his head to hide his identity. He actually lived in my home down under an alias.
When he first defected he was hidden at the site of Camp X while being debriefed by the Royal Camadian Mounted Police.
There is now a quite extensive website on Camp X, Camp X Official Site, in an effort to maintain a memory of this wartime institution. The sacrifices and contributions of it's graduates have been under recognized and appreciated. Appropriate for a secret spy training agency, I suppose.
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The second wartime effort I am thinking about this year is The Devil Brigade. It was a joint US and Canada Special Forces military unit. It earned it's popular name by a German Officer, in response to their blackening their faces and creeping out at night quietly killing soldiers behind the German lines in an effort to make the enemy think there were more of them than there were. This was just one of their imaginative and innovative fighting exploits.
The shoulder patch of the Devil Brigade.
This highly trained 1800 man commando force,, founght with the Americans (1/3 were Canadian soldiers) had an extraordinary history of soldiering in the Second World War. It was decommissioned at the end of the war but soon it inspired the creation of the Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy Seals of the US military and JTF2, Canada's secretive commando unit.
The famous Candian soldier, Tommy Prince, the highest decorated Native (Ojibway) Canadian, about whom my mother used to tell me. Sadly, he had a hard life struggling with all the social ills of the life of First Nations Canadians, to our shame. This too is in need of remembrance.
I trust we all will stop for two minutes of silent reflection at eleven o'clock, to remember, to give thanks and to promise to do better to achieve the goal of every Veteran I have ever heard speak, "Never Again!".
We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, November 1918
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
(The is an American woman's response to John McCrae's, In Flander's Fields)