NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99

NE99

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Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 65 O n 26 July 1904, as the then recently-fired last General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia boarded ship in Montreal he shouted to the crowd: "Men of Canada - keep both hands on the Union Jack!" For Lord Dundonald had lost his battle with Liberal Minister of Militia, Sir Frederick Borden, to keep British military control over the Canadian forces. Canadian troops had only recently come home from the South African War wearing maple leaf badges in the service of the Union Jack. And Rudyard Kipling had captured the spirit of the whole empire: "It's only an old bit of bunting,/It's only an old tattered rag;/But thousands have died for its glory/And given their lives for the flag." That wide-spread devotion to the British flag survived in Canada for another 60 years and led to bitter rows that tore families apart before Canada got her own Maple Leaf flag (l'Unifolie, in French). And folly it was to some at the time. The past 25 February 2015 was the 50th anniversary of what for me was a sad event. But it was the sad "flag flap" over Newfoundland offshore gas and oil revenues that reminded me of my own unhappy plight on that cold Monday in 1965. For just before Christmas 2004, Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador ordered all Canadian flags lowered from provincial buildings as a protest. By the time he ordered them back up on 11 January 2005, the gesture had hurt his cause both at home and throughout Canada. Canadians love their flag, and Williams had slashed the national fabric in a way that he hadn't foreseen. In 1964, the Liberals ruled Canada with a minority government. The last thing they needed was a new split in the country that didn't run along party lines. But Prime Minister Lester Pearson had his own agenda. Without discussing it with his caucus, one day in May he put on his medals and spoke to a Royal Canadian Legion convention in Winnipeg. He was going to replace the Canadian Red Ensign with a "made in Canada" flag, he said. A fit hit the plan. The legionnaires went wild. "Shame!" they cried. "Traitor!" "What about the lads who died at Hong Kong and Dieppe and Italy and Normandy fighting for that flag?" Pearson had stirred up a hornet's nest. And like a bull at a red rag, Conservative leader John Diefenbaker led the ensuing charge up Parliament Hill. He started a snarly debate and filibuster that lasted most of the summer as Pearson kept the House in session. In September the issue was side-tracked to a 15-member committee given six weeks to come up with a design. They held 35 cut-and-thrust meetings and studied the thousands of designs that flooded in. But Kingston's John Matheson, then Liberal member for Leeds, slipped-in a design that his friend Royal Military College (RMC) historian George Stanley had drawn based on the RMC flag. And by deft tactics and alliances, Matheson and NDP member Reid Scott led that design to victory, even over the personal designs of both Pearson and Diefenbaker. As Scott put it: "The monarchists wanted the Union Jack, the Legion wanted the Red Ensign, the Creditistes wanted the fleur-de-lys and Dief wanted himself shaking hands with the Queen." After more wrangling, Quebec Conservative caucus-leader Leon Balcer turned on "the Chief" and demanded that Pearson bring in "closure" to pass the bill; other Quebec members supported him. The Maple Leaf flag - scorned by Diefenbaker as resembling a bacon wrapper - was adopted by 163 votes to 78. As a young sergeant in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, I was given the "privilege" of lowering the Red Ensign and running up the new flag at one of the ceremonies that took place across Canada. But uneasy about it, I went home and talked to my ex-RSM father. "If you do it, you'd better not set foot in this house again," he said. My fiancée's father, another old soldier, said the same thing. My ex-navy brother said: "It's a bacon wrapper." I went back to my regiment and told my squadron commander I wouldn't do it. "I'll have you charged with disobeying a lawful command," he said. "You'll be finished in the army." When the day came he gave me another chance - but again I refused. The parade brought tears to my eyes as I watched the dear old flag come down. Later, I reported to my sergeant-major, as I'd been ordered to do. "What do you want?" he said. I told him. "You get the hell outta here," he said, "or you'll really be in trouble - and with me this time!" Thinking he didn't understand I tried to explain. "Bugger off!" he said. I never heard another word about it. I don't know how he'd done it, but when it came to bacon, my sergeant-major, WOII A.W. Nichols, RCD, had saved mine. And, like most Canadians I came to love the new flag. But when I see it going up the pole I might be forgiven if once in a while I smile - and sometimes think of breakfast. An Old Bit of Bunting by Terence Cottrell BA(Hons), MA, JD.

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