If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Dominion Day

If anything my own military experience has taught me, it is that one should never expect the expected.  It is more often than not that the situation will develop beyond that which is planned for, and so a good lesson in contingency and flexible preparedness.

Tomorrow is Canada Day.  On the First of July 1867, Confederation came into effect, and thus the country of Canada was created.  Unlike many other nations which arrive at their inception through revolt or revolution, our nation was brought forth in a spirit of compromise, and as those nations forged in a crucible of violence seem to have that nature endemic to them in their later affairs, so has Canada maintained that compromising ability throughout our history.

However, the first of July has itself another poignant anniversary.  In 1916 it marked the first day of the Battle of the Somme, a day which remains the single bloodiest in British military history.  It is also significant to the last province to enter Confederation, Newfoundland and Labrador as the Newfoundland Regiment (the title "Royal" was bestowed afterward) lost nearly eighty percent of its active strength on that day and remains in many minds a day of mourning for those men rather than a celebration of nationhood. 

I won't divest on the nature of the battle itself, it's objectives and reasoning, but rather,  I'm going to put a little perspective on the amount of casualties which were caused in the first twenty-four hours.  Most estimates place these numbers at 60 000 of which approximately 20 000 were fatal.  These are difficult numbers to conceive in the abstract.  Meaning it is hard to fathom the amount as, no matter how popular one might be, even on Facebook, it is nigh on impossible to be personally familiar with that many people.  

Consider this, then.  Imagine if you will attending a game at Roger's Centre.  Extend that imagining that the Blue Jays have managed to fill every seat (a bit far fetched, to be certain).  Today, on this notional day, a double header is being played.  Before the end of the second game, everyone sitting along the first base line will be dead, and everyone else in the stadium will be hurt in varying degrees of seriousness.  Much easier to picture it that way, isn't it?  That is the level of loss which the British had to cope, and one in which they were not adequately prepared for.  The perception of that loss is magnified by the way in which the units who went into action that day had been recruited, which was mainly geographical.  This means when such a unit suffered severely, the impact was absorbed by a singular community.  Which is why, then, that Newfoundland and Labrador looks to this day as one of loss rather that the festival nature felt elsewhere in Canada.  

However, a bit of news came up recently that is a cause for, if not celebration than one of the relief of closure.  Remains of a Canadian soldier of the First World War have been recently been positively identified as those of Alexander Johnston of Hamilton, Ontario, believed to have been killed in action on or about 29 September 1918 during the battle of the Canal du Nord.  The Hamilton Spectator has written a great article with regards to Pte. Johnston.  He was conscripted in 1917, which isn't odd for that time as volunteers were not coming in enough numbers to replace losses. Like a large portion of the CEF, he was only a recent arrival Canada.  There is a slight connection in that with me to him as he was born in my mother's hometown of Coatbridge, Scotland.  He will be laid to rest with full honours along side his fallen comrades in France, and I hope his surviving relatives will be able to take solace in that he will now have a known resting place.  

I would then like to dedicate this Canada Day posting of If Ye Break Faith to the memory of Pte. Johnston and his family.  His name liveth forever more.

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