Vimy 100th Anniversary Tour – April 6-16, 2017

VIMY_MEMORIAL_FOR_BROCHURE_EThe Americans called them “an inspiration … for a generation.” The British described what they did as “the greatest victory of the war.” The French declared their achievement an “Easter gift.”

What the world witnessed that Easter Monday morning – April 9, 1917 – was a near miracle of ingenuity, co-operation and courage among volunteers of the Canadian Corps. That day, 80,000 of them – fighting for the first time as a national army – swarmed up that strategic ridge in north-central France and in a matter of hours accomplished what no Allied army had, in nearly three years of blood-letting in Europe. They seized Vimy from an entrenched German army. Some say those young citizen soldiers also breathed life into a fledgling nation – Canada.

Behind.Jacket hlaThe year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. So, for 10 days next year, travellers will return to the scene of those historic four days in 1917. Ted Barris, author of the bestselling book Victory at Vimy, will lead his fellow travellers to the centennial observance at the Vimy Memorial on April 9, 2017. But in addition, the tour will visit other important First World War sites, such as Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval, Ypres, Passchendaele and the Menin Gate. As well, in the latter half of the tour, Ted will lead his group to Second World War sites at Dieppe and the Normandy beaches to recognize the significance of the D-Day invasion and beyond.

For the full itinerary, accommodation, travel details and pricing, visit the Merit Travel website http://www.merittravel.com

Or call Georgia Kourakos, Senior Manager, Product Development & Groups, Merit Travel, 416-364-3775 x4259, or 1-866-341-1777.

Soldiers of secrecy

On her first return visit to Bletchley Park, former teleprinter operator Theo Hopkinson searches for her past.

On her first return visit to Bletchley Park, former wartime teleprinter operator Theo Hopkinson searches for her past.

She strode toward the building with a protective rampart in front of it. As I watched her, I sensed she needed to find something, maybe something tangible from long ago. Once inside this rather plain building, labelled simply Block B, her pace slowed. Inside, she passed glass exhibit cases and along walls laden with images and captions from the past. Then, she spotted it.

“There. That’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s like the one I worked on,” said Theo Hopkinson, now nearly 90.

I asked what she was looking for.

“A teleprinter,” she said. “We used them to key in messages.” [more…]

Love in War

Winston Churchill had to be encouraged by his relatives to propose to Clementine Hozier.

Winston had to be encouraged to propose to Clementine …

The two almost did not meet. The couple nearly didn’t marry and become one of the most famous couples in 20th century Britain. But thanks to the intervention of Winston Churchill’s cousin, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, a visitor to Churchill’s family home – Blenheim Palace in England – Clementine Hozier did meet Winston in August 1908. They took a walk in the garden, dashed for cover during a rain shower and he finally proposed.

“I took two important decisions (at Blenheim),” the great wartime leader of Britain wrote later, “to be born and to marry.” [more…]

Reviewing the rank and file

Queen Elizabeth doing what only Royalty can do well - reviewing the troops.

Queen Elizabeth doing what only Royalty can do well – reviewing the troops.

When he called and asked for assistance, it didn’t take me long to consent. My acquaintance, Warren Ralph, needed a guest to perform the duties of the Reviewing Officer at a ceremony recognizing young people in his military cadet corps. I said I had no experience. But Ralph said it was easy. They would lead me through it.

“But I’ve never been the Reviewing Officer before,” I said.

“Piece of cake,” Capt. Ralph said. “All you have to do is walk through the ranks of the cadets with the Parade Commander at your side.” [more…]

Lives in a salvaged suitcase

This briefcase-sized suitcase revealed a unique wartime correspondence story.

This briefcase-sized suitcase revealed a unique wartime correspondence story.

It’s one of the most compelling wartime stories I’ve ever encountered. And I almost missed it. There I was, up to my eyeballs in other stuff, when I got a call from two acquaintances. Jeremy Van Dyke organizes overseas travel tours and Frank Moore, a retired former banker, collects classic cars.

“Ted, we’ve got to meet,” Van Dyke said on the phone from Cambridge.

“I’m really busy,” I said.

“We’ve got a story you’ve got to tell,” Van Dyke insisted.

[more…]

Stop mangling O Canada

Because it was appropriate, Whitney Houston belted out The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. Photo www.newyorker.com

Because it was appropriate, Whitney Houston belted out The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. Photo www.newyorker.com

Dignitaries had been gathering at the French Embassy in Ottawa for an hour. Wine was flowing. Hors d’oeuvres fast disappearing. And finally, an assistant to the ambassador announced that His Excellency was in the hall. The din dissipated and our attention was directed to a mezzanine level where a woman dressed in red, white and blue began to sing.

“O Caa-naa-daa,” she began in elongated, almost dirge-like tones.

“Oh no,” I thought. “This is going to be another of those interminable renditions of our national anthem.”

[more…]

The salve of understanding

Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.

Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.

Joe Tilley recalled the day his son died. He recounted the scene in front of an audience that knew the story. He described the day two years ago, when his wife answered a heavy knock at the front door. The fact that a police officer was knocking didn’t surprise Penny-Claire Tilley. Their son, Spencer, had had several run-ins with the law. But this police visit seemed different.

“You’re here to tell me my son’s dead, aren’t you,” Penny-Claire Tilley said.

“Yes,” the officer said solemnly. [more…]

Free speech not always free

FLQ painted windows.

FLQ painted windows.

I met the man at a party. He told me he’d just experienced the worst week of his life. He said he’d been rounded up in a Quebec City dragnet and that the police told him they had the authority to keep him in jail indefinitely. I was all ears. I figured I could somehow benefit from listening to his story. Better than that, as the host of a regular radio broadcast, I hoped I could get his story on the air.

“I was a victim of the War Measures Act,” he told me.

“Would you come on my radio show?” I asked him. “I’d like you to tell your story.”

As it turns out, his experience was indeed one that every Canadian wanted to hear at that moment. [more…]

What is the benefit?

Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.

Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.

It was that time of the night. The host had told plenty of jokes. The volunteers had completed most of the preparations. The event was unfolding the way most had hoped. Even the chair of the fundraising committee had a smile on her face. It was time for the pitch. So, out came the president of the charity that was the beneficiary of the evening to speak.

“Time to dig deep folks,” he said. “It’s why we’re here, right? To make some money.” [more…]

Inside out

As kids, we would lose ourselves below the high-tension wires of Rouge River Park on day-long outings.

As kids, we would lose ourselves below the high-tension wires of Rouge River Park on day-long outings.

It must have something to do with age, but instead of waking up and getting out of bed refreshed, last Sunday morning, I was hurting. Nothing very complicated. It was just a knot in my back. I chalked it up to a tumble during a late-season hockey game or maybe carrying home too many bags of students’ papers to mark.

Anyway, soon after, I took my coffee up to my office and began editing and evaluating those papers. But it was hard to ignore the gorgeous day unfolding outside my office window. So, eventually, with all that blue sky and long-overdue warm air, I gave in.

“I’ll just rake the lawn for a while,” I thought to myself. “At the very least, it’ll clear my head.” [more…]