Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Honour Restored

. Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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Time, observed a wise man, can sometimes run back. Tuesday at 9:00 AM Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced at CFB Halifax that once again we shall have a Royal Canadian Navy and a Royal Canadian Air Force. Land Force Command will again be known as the Canadian Army. The change is purely symbolic and has little impact on the administration of the Canadian military. The services' uniforms may have to be changed, but all in good time.


Let me express my delighted shock over this news. For Canadian traditionalists this is a glorious day. The National Post's editorial board rightly points out this is merely a small symbolic change, the military is still woefully underfunded. We are some way off from the glory days of the RCAF and RCN. It is unlikely that even so relatively pro-military a government as this one would countenance the commissioning of a new aircraft carrier. Our submarine fleet is still a mess. Nor is it likely that Hollywood will be making films about the RCN and RCAF any time soon.


The choir invisible of post-Pearson Canada is not happy about this change. The distinguished military historian Jack Granatstein has decried the change as "abject colonialism." It's alright professor, I don't think Minister Mackay will be declaring that the Statue of Westminster has been rescinded as well. Just the ill-conceived symbolic unification of the forces is being tossed in the ashcan.


Douglas Bland, head wonk at Queen's Defence Management program, is also not amused, fearing a revival of inter-service rivalry. Because of course that sort of thing doesn't exist now. Large bureaucracies, even necessary ones like the armed services, are prone to fighting over scarce resources, regardless of the ceremonial nomenclature. Professor Bland describes the change as "absolutely nostalgia" by veterans.


There is certainly an element of nostalgia. Most of the younger officers and servicemen and women have no memory of the pre-unified forces and likely little emotional attachment to the honour. Yet this misses the point of restoration. It is not about restoring what was so much as about preserving the future of Canada's military.


To the generation that came to the fore in the 1960s, like Bland and Granatstein, Canada was a country striving to distance itself from the imperial past. Professor Granatstein even cites incidents during the Suez Crisis in which Canadian peacekeepers were criticized for flying Union Jacks and having regimental names like Queen's Own Rifles. There is no doubt today that Canada is an free and independent country. This is not about returning to the past. Restoring the honour allows this generation of Canadians, for whom both Suez, Juno and Vimy are only names in a textbook, to reconnect with their past.


Through out history loyalty and identification with a military unit has been essential to espirit de corps. Many an old soldier, who never speaks of himself, will regale you with stories of regimental battle honours. They fought then and there. Nearly two decades after its disbanding, there is a movement to restore the old Airborne Regiment. The regiment's last commanding officer said that "they tore the heart out of me" when the unit was stood down. These symbols matter to those who served and serve now. To know that you are not alone but part of a tradition that stretch both backward and forward in time.


That is what this restored honour will give to those who serve Queen and Country today. They may claim in a small way a part of that tradition which stretches to the birth of Canada and before. Those who wear the uniform now march in the same symbolic lines as those of Vimy, Juno, the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of Britain.


A very royal honour indeed.


18 comments:

samstarrett said...

I'm thrilled. God Save the Queen.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I suspect all naysayers of harbouring republican sentiments, rot their souls.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Absolutely wonderful news.

Flight Sgt C.A.Rodgers said...

Well done Canadian monarchists! You did it, keep fighting the good fight and be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the RAF,RAAF and RNZAF. God save the Queen!

Leacock said...

Splendid news! I am wondering if this will mean the adoption of a Canadian White Ensign for the navy, some of the news sites have mentioned new flags as a distinct possibility.

CJG said...

Three cheers for Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth! HIP HIP!

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

I must admit that I held out very little hope at all that the politicians would ever concede to the obvious common sense of it. However I am more than happy to eat humble pie in this instance.

Mac

P said...

This is very exciting news for Canada.

I recall when I was in the Royal Naval cadets going out on a day at sea at Faslane. On board, the First Lieutenant was a Canadian and a good egg, but he was obliged to wear a sanitised and bland uniform which marked him out from the rest. It was clearly a slight embarrassment to be trapped in a world pretending that there was no history to his service. Most especially since the Royal Navy maintains so many traditional aspects.

This great event compliments the excellent decision to reinstate the naval curl and should be great for the morale of the Canadian military.

Just thinking about it, when you see the Canadian military at their ceremonial best they are so impressive and clearly have centuries of tradition behind them. This is a most logical decision that should have been made many years ago.

Captain R. Miller, CAP said...

As an American who has long admired the professionalism of Canada's Armed Forces (who do so much with so little), I was bowled over pleasantly by this announcement.

I served in the USAF/ANG and currently in the Civil Air Patrol. It was always good to know that Canada was flying top cover for us in NORAD, and that any Bears or Bisons would have to get through Sabres, Canucks, Voodoos, Hornets (and almost Arrows) first.

This is long overdue. Unification robbed three justly-proud services of much of their lineage.

Long may the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy defend your northern Dominion.

Lyon Fawkes said...

Like everyone else, I'm both stunned (who knew the Conservatives had this in them?) and thrilled.

A quick comment on Granatstein -- how is it possible that a military historian knows so little about the military as not to understand the rationale for this decision? Astonishing. And as for his remarks about Suez -- does he really think that had only the Canadians had different uniforms and a different flag they would have ended the Arab-Israeli conflict and brought lasting peace to the Moslem world? What a buffoon...

Captain R. Miller, CAP said...

I was a bit surprised at Jack Granatstein's comments.

I have his book "Who Killed The Canadian Military?" and in it he excoriates Paul Hellyer.

I would have thought he would support the re-establishment of the Army/RCAF/RCN.

Does anyone know if the RCAF are going to get their RAF-derived ranks back, and if the Army are going to get pips/crowns (officers) and go back to lance corporals, staff sergeants, etc. for NCM's?

Anonymous said...

I note that there has been no time wasted in re-titling the internet home pages of the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Airforce!

Let's check the score:

1. Distinct Service uniforms - check.
2. Three distinct Services - check.
3. RCN officers have the executive curl re-instated - check.
4. RCN have naval ratings/ranks - check.

Now the Canadian Army and RCAF just need appropriate ranks and insignia!

4 out of 6 isn't too shabby eh?

Just need to sort out the Army and RCAF rank and insignia (and the salute) and hey presto,we're at the point we should have been 43 years ago - three Services (with their traditions intact) working under a joint command arrangement!

Fr Theodore said...

Congratulations! All in all, a very good (and surprising) sign!

A well-wishing American (USA)

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Indeed a good sign in this day and age!

And I might add, something for the other side of the ledger with the House of Lords anniversary we are now having.

Leacock said...

Anonymous what needs changing about the salute? I only learned about a month ago that the Canadian and British salutes are different so I obviously don't know much about this, are you suggesting adopting the British salute?

Anonymous said...

Leacock,

Traditionally the Canadian Army and Airforce saluted with the palm outwards, just as in the other Commonwealth realms. It was only the Navy which saluted with the palm down / hidden.

I presume that when the Services were merged in the 60's a common salute was required - and the one used by the Navy was chosen.

A story I've heard (but can't verify) is that Queen Victoria having been saluted by a naval individual with a dirty palm, decreed the sailors of the fleet would salute palm down, palm rotated 90 degrees of a typical salute with the palm now pointing towards the member's shoulder.

Leacock said...

Thank you for the information Anonymous I had no idea, I have been very curious about the topic ever since I learned that there was a difference.

A somewhat amusing article I found at the Globe and Mail precipitated by this event: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/royal-critic-wonders-is-union-jack-next-on-tory-agenda/article2133447/comments/

I certainly wish the Union Flag was next on the Tory agenda!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Just brilliant! I speak as an Englishman who honours the memory of the magnificent Canadians in two World Wars. Without them the free world would probably have gone under.

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Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
FADE BRITANNIA: THE UNION OF ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND IS OVER - Simon Heffer
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary