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RCAF No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron in the Battle of Britain

Seventy-one years ago today, No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force departed Montréal, Québec for the United Kingdom.  There were destined to be part of the few to whom so much was owed by so many, in PM Churchill’s famous phrasing.

The RCAF’s No 1 (Fighter) Squadron is the only Canadian squadron that took part in the Battle of Britain. Transferred overseas in June 1940, the pilots went through intensive training to be up to the level of their RAF counterparts before being sent to the front. In their Hurricanes, the pilots of No 1 Squadron had their first encounter with the enemy on August 23rd, 1940, and took part in the action until October 8th. Three pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC): Squadron Leader E.A. McNab, Flight Lieutenant G.R. McGregor and Flight Officer B.D. Russel.

— “RCAF Fighter Squadrons Overseas.”  Juno Beach Centre.  n.d.  Web.  08 June 2010.

Groundcrew servicing Hawker Hurricane aircraft 315 of No.1 (F) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Rockcliffe, Ontario. September 5th, 1939—a mere four days before the start of the Second World War. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-063512)

Groundcrew removing the chocks from Flight Lieutenant E.A. McNab's Hawker Hurricane aircraft 315 of No.1 (F) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Rockcliffe, Ontario. September 6th, 1939. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-063510)

S/L E.A. McNab, Commanding Officer, with a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No.1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, England. September 12th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176200)

S/L E.A. McNab (centre) and pilots of No.1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, Surrey. September 12th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / MIKAN #3643021)

An unidentified airman refuelling a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No. 1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, England. October 6th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176201)

Pilots at readiness with a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No. 1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Digby, England. January 22nd, 1941. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176202)

In 1941, No. 1 (F) Squadron was renamed No. 401 Squadron and transitioned to new aircraft (later-model Hurricanes and early Spitfires).  The squadron ended the war as the top-scoring unit within the RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force, with 186 ½ kills—29 of which were from 1940 under the old No. 1 Sqn moniker.

In more contemporary times, 401 Squadron transitioned to rotary wing craft and was most recently known as 401 Tactical Helicopter and Training Squadron, flying the CH-136 Kiowa.  When the Kiowas were retired, the squadron’s days were numbered; it was disestablished on June 23rd, 1996.

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Abbaye d’Ardenne, June 7-8, 1944.

Sixty-six years ago today (and tomorrow), some twenty Canadian prisoners-of-war were executed near Villons-les-Buissons in the Abbaye d’Ardenne by their captors, the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Youth).  That division would go on to murder as many as 156 Canadian POWs in the days and weeks following the Normandy invasion.

You may be surprised and dismayed to learn that the man responsible, SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer, was arrested, tried and convicted for the murders, but his sentence was commuted by Canadian Major General Christopher Vokes—who also ordered the deaths of two POWs himself (although his division commander intervened), and was perhaps a little more sympathetic than one might wish.

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Canadian Contingents in the Second Boer War, 1899-1902

Soldiers departing for the Boer War. Ottawa, Ontario; near the post office. c1899-1901. (Library and Archives Canada/C-003950)

Royal Canadian Regiment on dock before embarkation. c1899-1901. (Capt. Samuel Maynard Rogers, RCR / Library and Archives Canada / e002505774)

Non-commissioned officers and enlisted men of Lord Strathcona's Horse en route to South Africa aboard S.S. Monterey. 1899. (Library and Archives Canada / C-000171)

A bivouac on Bloemfontein Common. c1899-1901. (Library and Archives Canada / C-003477)

Troops of the Royal Canadian Regiment crossing the Modder River at Paardeberg Drift. February 1900. (Reinhold Thiele / Library and Archives Canada / C-014923)

Field hospital at Paardeberg Drift, South Africa. 19 February 1900. (Reinhold Thiele / Library and Archives Canada / C-006097)

Miss Minnie Affleck, Nursing Sister, 1st Canadian Contingent. 1900. (Minnie Affleck/Library and Archives Canada/C-051799)

Trooper (later Colonel) Lorne Winfield Redmond Mulloy, Royal Canadian Dragoons. (Photographer: Pittaway, Alfred George / Patent and Copyright Office / Library and Archives Canada / C-014081) Mulloy lost both eyes during the Boer campaign and subsequently enjoyed a career as a lawyer and lecturer at Royal Military College, Kingston. He died in 1932.

Return of Canadian soldiers from South Africa. Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario. c1901. (Library and Archives Canada / PA-034097)

Yonge Street crowd celebrating the end of the Second Boer War. Toronto, Ontario. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2049)

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The glass ceiling

…isn’t much of a factor when your job is precision flying, your skill level is exemplary and you have relevant experience.

431 Air Demonstration Squadron (the Snowbirds) got their first female commanding officer—LtCol. Maryse Carmichael—on May 6th, 2010.  Bravo Zulu, Lieutenant Colonel.

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Unveiling the National War Memorial, May 21st, 1939

Their Majesties doubtless had a pretty fair notion that within a few months’ time, another devastating war would be underway.

H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth unveiling the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario. May 21st, 1939. (National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / C-002179)

A veteran bows deeply while shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth after the official ceremonies of the unveiling of the War Memorial. May 21st, 1939. (Library and Archives Canada / PA-211006)

Detail of bronze figures during construction of the National War Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario. c1938. (Library and Archives Canada / C-010447)

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Après nous, le déluge

One of my concerns about Col. Russell Williams’ stunning treachery is that it would inevitably create a self-perpetuating media cycle.  It is no surprise to anyone who consumes news—whether via newspaper, magazine, television or radio—that sensational crimes beget a lengthy media search and focus for similar events, no matter how tangental the relation.

Thus I have noticed in my “Canadian Forces” news filters a change in focus; instead of largely laudatory items regarding ISAF or humanitarian relief, I see a lot more items focusing on misdeeds and death (training-related or otherwise).

For example:

These are all, of course, quite newsworthy items on their own.  And it would be a huge mistake to infer any wider trend out of these incidents, but because the media focus is inevitably going to be on the CF, member arrests, and deaths on base, we are going to end up getting a steady diet of it until the next sensational item redirects the media’s short attention span.

Where it can create a problem is that even if the pundits and reporters do not draw any inferences themselves, they could end up creating one for the ordinary Joe and Jane just through a steady accumulation of similar articles in a relatively short time span.

It didn’t take very long for a spate of negative attention to divorce the Forces from the Canadian public back in the early 1990s, during the Somalia affair.  Subsequent to that there was a long fall-off in defence spending and atrophying of key capabilities.

A perceived fall in public esteem today will likely herald a fall from political grace; which will breed the perception amongst highly competitive ministerial departments that DND is a ripe target with few political defenders.  That could mean budget oblivion, something Canadians have seen and regrettably accepted in the recent past.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in the long run, because the CF’s ability to weather this media focus on its bad apples could once again decide the Forces’ future, and the types of roles and missions they are able to execute.  One hopes that the brass at NDHQ are cognisant of that possibility.

8 Wing and CFB Trenton get new CO

Lieutenant Colonel D.B. (Dave) Cochrane, CD, will take command of CFB Trenton and host unit 8 Wing on February 19th, 2010, following his promotion to full colonel.  Col. Cochrane was previously commanding officer of 426 Transport Training Squadron from 2006 through 2009; this unit prepares aircrews to fly the CC-130 Hercules tactical airlifter.

Col. Cochrane takes over from LCol. David Murphy (8 Wing Operations Officer), who was designated acting CO last Tuesday following the arrest of Col. Russell Williams.