Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Force To Be Noticed

At Mountainview Cemetery, as with many cemeteries around the world I would assume, there are fields of honour for those local citizens who have perished while fighting for causes our country believes in.

The Militia Act of 1855 saw Canada with its own militia. 5,000 volunteers were trained at the taxpayers' expense but the men provided their own uniforms. By 1856 this idea had gained so much popularity that there were now 10,000 men.

Enthusiasm for the Act waned by 1858 because most Canadians were concerned about the economic depression. But it was revived in 1860 with a visit from the Prince of Wales, Edward VII of England.

In 1884 Canada was asked by Britain for assistance in defending their empire. We were asked to send experienced boatmen to the Sudan to rescue Major-General Charles Gordon from the Mahdi uprising.

Our leaders in Ottawa were reluctant to do this but eventually the Governor General Lord Lansdowne recruited a private force of 386 voyageurs  who were placed under the command of Canadian Militia officers. (voyageurs were people who travelled in canoes and transported furs during the fur trade) The Nile Voyageurs, as they were known, served ably in the Sudan and became the first Canadian military force to serve abroad. 16 died during that campaign.

Canada was called again to assist the British during the Second Boer War - October 11, 1899 to May 31, 1902. The seating government, the Conservative Party, were anxious to help but this decision met with resistance from certain factions such as the French Canadians.

Initially Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier sent over 1,000 soldiers of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. Others were sent later including the privately raised Strathcona's Horse.

Although Canada missed the early parts of the war and the crushing defeats in Britain's Black Week- from December 10-17 British forces suffered three defeats by the Boer Republics- our fellow countrymen won much acclaim for leading the charge at the second Battle of Paardeberg, one of the first decisive victories of the war.

Three Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for protecting the rear of a retreating force during the Battle of Leliefontein on November 7, 1900.

Over 8,600 people volunteered to fight in the Second Boer War. Of those 7,400, including 12 female nurses, served in Africa. 224 died, 252 were wounded and several were served with the Victoria Cross.
For a long time Canada didn't have a navy. We did have a small fishing protection force attached to the Department of Marine and Fisheries but for maritime protection we relied on Britain.. But Britain was becoming more involved with an arms race with Germany. In 1908 we were once again asked for help.

Some thought it would be better to just  send money to Britain to help them out, others felt we shouldn't help at all and then there were those who felt Canada should have its own navy. In 1910 the Canadian Naval Service was created and designated the Royal Canadian Navy in 1911.
That was a glimpse into how our armed forces started and today is the day that we must remember what those people have done and are doing for us. Not only are these brave men and women fighting to uphold the honour of Canada but also they protect the innocent around the world.

We are recognized as an effective peacekeeping force having served in places such as Korea, Croatia, Kosovo and others. Sometimes Canada goes to observe and report and other times it is to enforce ceasefire terms. In either case our forces are subjected to danger, both physically and mentally.

Most people aren't in favour of war or fighting or killing but there are times when it is necessary. And I am thankful everyday for those men and women in the Canadian Forces that put themselves at risk so that I can be safe and live the life I want to. Aren't you?

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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