Letters to the Editor

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Cover image of Vol. 17, No. 2



Your cover illustration depicting the 1936 unveiling of the Vimy memorial for the Spring 2017 edition of CMJ (Vol. 17, No. 2) was not only appropriate, given the anniversary of that battle this year, but perhaps as a predictor of some of the issues addressed in the copy. George Bertin Scott’s painting (the original now hangs in the Canadian War Museum) brings out elements and themes of the event in a way that no photo can properly capture. Front and centre in the picture (and rightly so) are the politicians: King Edward VIII in his new role as King of Canada, and the President of France, along with Ernest Lapointe (effectively Canadian Deputy PM), Charles “Chubby” Power (Minister of Pensions and Health), and just behind the King to his left, Ian Mackenzie (Minister of Defence). Further back, behind the King, is the wartime PM, Sir Robert Borden. The image is not just one of soldiers on parade and veterans in the background, but also of politicians and politics in the forefront – for as your other articles point out, war is a continuation of policy (or politics, the German word can be translated either way) by other means. And so it is in this image in a very Canadian way. The painting shows rather prominently the King wearing the Vimy Pilgrimage Medal minted for the occasion by the Royal Canadian Legion. Some 6000 bronze medals, plated in silver were issued for wear by veterans who attended the event. Five were cast in gold. These were issued to the King (his medal hangs by Scott’s painting in the CWM), the President of France, the King of Belgium, Walter S. Allward (the designer of the monument and who may be the lone figure in the background), and … to Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King. Try as you might you won’t see Mackenzie King anywhere in the picture. He had sat out the First World War, and in consequence, always felt rather ill at ease around war veterans. He was ill that day.

The painting, then, can be looked at as an allegory for an issue discussed in your final book review in the issue discussing the travails of Canadian defence procurement. This takes so long that one government spends its political capital approving a project, the next gives up financial capital to fund it, while the third gets the kudos for deploying the capability finally acquired. Just as in 1917, when Borden almost lost the nation in backing the Canadian army with conscription to maintain our capability through to the end of the war – while Mackenzie King got the medal…

Mark Tunnicliffe
Commander (Ret’d)
Royal Canadian Navy


The entire Spring 2017 issue (Vol. 17, No. 2) was interesting and invited comment, but what attracted my concern was “Conscience and the Canadian Armed Forces” by Chaplain Victor Morris. I have enormous respect for our military padres, and hope that my remarks will not be taken as criticism of Padre Morris. He is entitled to his opinions. But when he claims that the Shidane Arone torture and murder by two members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment was a “cover-up,” I must object.

I was retired to a civilian pursuit just before that episode, and knew only what was touted by the press. What I subsequently learned from known members of the Canadian Armed Forces was somewhat different. Sources I trust said that the murder was immediately reported through the unit’s hierarchy to NDHQ’s Operations Centre via military message and follow-up methods, and thereby to the Canadian government, in accordance with long-standing rules. Details were passed to the media by the same route. Some two weeks later, a journalist who had been assigned to the Airborne Regiment’s element in Africa returned from a vacation (possibly not authorized by his parent medium) in another country, saw a note about the event on a notice board, and raised a hue and cry. His medium seized upon his report, and others followed. The resulting public relations caused the MND of the day to take certain placative action. Further, the later Airborne hazing tale eventually prompted him to eliminate the Airborne Regiment entirely.

The Arone incident was not covered up. I had no great love for the Airborne Regiment, as I was always a little too old to join despite repeated applications and changes to its age standard, but I respected that unit as the bravest and boldest of Canada’s combat organizations. It should not have been disbanded. Chaplain Morris stated that the Arone incident was “…within earshot of individuals who could and should have stopped what was happening.” If he is right—and I think he is—the hierarchy of the Commando should have been punished. I believe that they were not punished at all.

Canadian Forces rules intimate that all ranks who are guilty of an offense satisfy Canadian justice if they alone are punished. As a retired Canadian Forces officer, I again must object. We generally require our Other Ranks to obey blindly the commands of our officers. In many cases, other ranks know nothing beyond their immediate horizons of action, and we neither expect nor train them to make decisions beyond those horizons. It is the officers who make decisions, based upon a wider and adequate knowledge of a given situation. Therefore, we should not expect non-commissioned military personnel to accept responsibility for mistakes beyond their ken.

In the Sharon case, the master corporal and his assistant were both guilty of murder. But in my opinion, their officers were equally guilty, due to their lack of adequate oversight. This case resulted in the permanent disability of the master corporal thus engaged, and punishment of his immediate non-commissioned subordinate. But where were the Duty NCO, Duty Officer, Company Commander, and Commanding Officer? Was any corrective action taken against them? Had the Geneva Convention ever been read to the other ranks?

In Canadian government circles, ministers of the Crown take responsibility for their subordinates’ mistakes—or they should—and then resign. I suggest that officers commanding criminal subordinates should be subject to similar punishment, because according to our commissioning scrolls, we are to “…exercise and well discipline in arms both the inferior officers and men serving under you and use your best endeavours to keep them in good order and discipline.” We should read our commission scrolls more often…

Charles Hooker
Major (Ret’d)
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals