Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sir John A. of Ebrius: No Stomach for the Opposition

Another legend of John A. Macdonald's drunken capers has come to my attention through Christoper Moore's 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal.  It really is a shame that JAM is remembered for his drunkenness, but here I am contributing to such immaturity.

Andrew Hutchinson.
Magpie and WhiskyJack

Moore writes, "Weeks into a progressive drunk, Macdonald once horrified an election crowd by vomiting on the stage when he got up to answer his opponent - and then won them back by saying, 'I don't know how it is, but every time I hear Mr. Jones speak it turns my stomach.'"

Andrew Hutchinson places Macdonald's penchant for the bottle in the context of legendary big-drinkers. In the interesting medium of  encaustic, the colourization of beeswax, Hutchinson has completed a whole series of fun and flippant Canadian historical portraits.  The encaustic paintings are 1 meter wide and nearly 1.5 meters high.  Check out Hutchinson's work at his website.

Sir John the Scrapper

One may not think of John A. Macdonald as the type of man to resort to blows, but there were times when the red Scottish temper would boil over and get the better of him.  In a session of the parliament of the Province of Canada in 1861, Macdonald's future rival and former legal pupil, Oliver Mowat, was the target of a violent outburst from the future Prime Minister Sir John.

Oliver Mowat  H104-09
Macdonald had taken his seat after a speech which argued for a powerful central government.  The breakout of the American Civil War, with the cannons firing at Fort Sumter only a week before lent a credence to his suggestion for the federal government to hold robust overarching powers. In Macdonald's speech he had chastised Mowat for supporting representation by population, but Mowat took offence to being misrepresented.  Donald Creighton describes the ensuing furor in The Young Politician (1956):

"There must have been some provocation in his remarks - some charge that Macdonald had wilfully falsified his views.  Macdonald gasped.  These impertinences were actually coming from the fat boy who had been his inky junior at school and his respectful apprentice at law!  Suddenly, as the plump bespectacled, rather self-important little man finished his statement, Macdonald's brittle temper was shattered into splinters as at a blow.  In a minute - as soon as the Speaker had left the chair - he walked quickly across the gangway.  Blind rage in his heart, he confronted Mowat.

'You damned pup,' he roared, 'I'll slap your chops!' 
Pete DeCourcy gives Sir John a hard left.  Drawn by Leonard Kirk.  ComicBookDaily

Thursday, December 16, 2010

John A. Macdonald and the Dancing Bear

Most Canadians when asked to describe something about their first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald will report that he was a drunk.  It must be admitted that the man had a particular affinity for the bottle, and legendarily was caught clutching his desk for stability during the crisis of the Fenian raids.  It is reported that when delivering a particularly tricky oration in the parliament of the Province of the Canadas, that a number of his supporters, not knowing of each other's efforts, delivered a glass of gin to the speaker, cleverly disguised as a glass of water.  John A. Macdonald (not yet knighted for his service to Britain as architect of confederation) was inspired by the juniper juice and treated his listeners to a rousing speech.  For all these myths of debauchery, however, it seems slightly sad that a man whose later life was so dedicated to the national dream should be primarily remembered for falling off the waggon.

This being said, a recent read of the first volume of Donald Creighton's classic 1956 biography of the PM, The Young Politician provoked a contribution to the legend of JAM's party life.  Apparently Macdonald befriended a young Scotsman by the name of John Rose, living in Montreal in the early 1840s or late 1850s.  The following is Creighton's amazing description of a badly behaving man in his thirties:

"They were lighthearted and still fairly irresponsible young men who enjoyed life to the full without taking it very seriously; and once, when Macdonald at least was old enough to know better, they went off on an absurd adventure in the United States, and wandered around as travelling showmen, with Rose capering around as a dancing bear, and Macdonald playing some 'rude instrument' in accompaniment."  (Creighton, 243).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Harry Garrison - Casualty at Vimy

On a recent trip to the arid grass lands of southern Alberta,  I was taken aback by the lonesome prairie cemeteries.
In the middle of nowhere, here was the last testament to bone-numbing toilsome lives.  I couldn't help but think of the old cowboy song, "Bury me not on the lone prairie."
In the Etzikom rural cemetary, I found the grave of Harry Garrison, who was killed at Vimy Ridge in 1917.  His casualty details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that he was in the 31st (Albertan) Battalion, of the Iron Sixth (Western) Brigade.  

Tim Cook in Shock Troops describes Lt. Col A.H. Bell's 31st Battalion  "assembled under the fall of enemy and friendly shells, with dozens being killed or maimed as they tried to form up thier sections."  They drove forward into the sleet following the creeping barrage and dug in the cold mud next to the shattered town of Thelus.

Harry Garrison was one man out of the 159,000 casualties in the Arras offensive, one part of which was the battle of Vimy Ridge.  Garrison, like so many men, would never return to his home.  Perhaps Garrison left his friends and family on the prairie to fight in the Great War due to the difficulties of farming on the arid north-west plains.  Perhaps he was a patriot, enlisting out of national pride, or allegiance to the British monarchy.  Maybe he was a young man in a rural community that saw his chance for travel and adventure in the recruitment posters of the 31st Battalion.  I'll probably never know much more than the fact that he died at Vimy Ridge, but that alone was enough to give me pause.  While wandering the expanses of the north west plains, here too I found the cruel hand of Mars had extracted his toll.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monumental Sherman

The Sherman tank was ubiquitous on the battlefields of the Second World War.  With over 50,000 tanks produced during the war, and a bad reputation for going head-to-head with those big German cats (Tigers, and Panthers, and Nazi's oh my!) the Sherman has been used as an example proving the Brute Force concept of Second World War historiography.   This line of reasoning claims that while the Sherman was inferior to the later model panzerkampfwagens, the Allies eventually used their sheer numbers to overcome the Wehrmacht. Yet a handful of historians challenge this popular version of the Sherman's failings and claim that in certain terrain, and commanded by skilled operators, the Sherman could best the hallowed panzers.

Charlottetown, PEI

"Athena" Memorial in Ortona, Italy
Shermans are also ubiquitous in Canadian memorials across the country and overseas.  The vast majority of these memorials are not, however, the M4A4 model Sherman, which was widely used by British and commonwealth formations during the second world war, but in fact M4A3E8s, used in the post-war era.  Giveaways, include muzzle-breaks on 76mm guns and the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension.

M4A3E8 in Kelowna, BC
Here a few pictures of Shermans that I've "discovered" in my travels.  What message does the Sherman tank send when used in this way?
Mewata Barracks, Calgary, Alberta
A Sherman Firefly at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec

M4A4 in Normandy

The Banner Unfurled!

Klaxon's sound, trumpets blare, and the war drum pounds!  The sound of a hundred hooves of the cavalry charge echoes unto eternity!  The reek of acrid cordite and the stench of heroism's remains fill the air of the battlefield!

Bit dramatic ain't it?  Ne'er you mind!

This blog will be dedicated to Canadian Military History, and while that seems fairly straight forward some sort of a definition of boundaries seems appropriate.  I will set the parameters widely to begin with and narrow things down if need be.  For the time being, however, I'm going to define my subject area as armed conflict within the geographical boundary of current day Canada, but open up exploration to pre-1867 conflict on colonial and pre-colonial soil as well.  The military exploits of Canadians overseas will, of course, also be examined.

As an academic who studies Canadians in the Second World War, the tendency will be to drift in this direction, but I hope to use this space to entertain my militant thoughts on a broad range of subjects.  While I know that the Cannon's Mouth largely features a monitor of academic events of interest to Canadian Military Historians, I'll include those events that occur on my radar that have been overlooked by that excellent blog.

The King's Own Calgary Regiment's motto seems an appropriate way to close this inaugural post: