Saturday, November 22, 2008

Military Hardware!

There's nothing like an explosive device to ruin a good days paddle. Saturday Mark, Craig and I launched from the Oak Bay Marina on the east side of Victoria for a day paddle down and around Trial Island. We'd hoped to maybe catch the tail end of one of the lows that have been blowing through the last week.

Alas when we arrived the inner bay was like a mirror and while the Yaughters where all a flutter over the 5 knot wind we left the shore with a feeling of disappointment.

Our trip south was uneventful. I scraped some more Gel coat from the hull looked for golf balls in the shallows off the golf course but found none. I like to roll and retrieve the balls from the sea floor then pop back up and throw them up onto the fairway.

Just as we approached McNeil Bay Mark and I discovered something floating in the water. Paddling over we found a 24"X5" cylinder with something like the following warning.

"Danger may explode. Extremely corrosive! Notify the Military or Police if discovered."

Of course we'd picked it up before discovering the warnings. So in the spirit of civic duty Mark pulled out his cell phone and called 911. Eventually the 911 operator passed us on to the Military Dive team who said they'd be there in 30 minutes. Except they didn't know where McNeil Bay was and didn't seem to know where Beach Drive was. A half hour later we get a return call asking us to describe what we had found and telling us not to keep it on our decks but to take it to shore.

With the device stashed we paddled circles around the bay taking phone calls from the navy. Naively we thought either the coast guard auxiliary or a police officer would simply come by and collect the damn thing. Well Jimmy we live in a more complicated world.

Eventually we got so cold from paddling nowhere that we came back to the beach for a lite lunch. Bring out food and sure enough the military arrives. Turns out the device was a smoke marker that ignites on contact with salt water. These things are usually dropped by sub hunting aircraft like the Aurora or from helicopters.

There's some Phosphorus inside the device and if exposed to air it'll burst into flames. Which can only be extinguished with foam. Gee, no wonder they don't list the contents on the canister. Someone might get hurt.

The Diver said we should have just tossed it up on shore. We were going to do that but were afraid it might bounce off one of the kids playing amongst the rocks. As an alternative I suggested we shove it up the tail pipe of a Volvo parked along the road.

Next time we'll take a GPS reading call it in with an foreign accent. A Texas drawl should work fine and just paddle off. "This is Jimmy Jim Jim Bob, u all. Dares un uh dem IED's floatin in da water rite down by da shure. Say how d ya spell IED?" With apologies to my Texas cousin/sister.With the device safely secured, by wrapping it with duct tape, we having known we'd done our civic duty, however small, and with hearts glowing with the thoughts that we'd done our bit to protect our homes, children and mostly our women folk, left for the return trip to the put in.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kinmel 1919

If you should ever find yourself travelling along the A55 in North Wales there's a small village, Bodelwyddan, just off the motorway. The village is recognizable by the tall white church and steeple. Next to the church is a grave yard. Eighty five of the graves are those of Canadian Service men and women who died at Camp Kinmel in 1919; long after the great war had ended. I discovered this remarkable place where else but in a Welsh pub. My host was regaling me with the conflicting histories and myths surrounding this cemetery.
Many local Welshmen believe that the Canadians died during a riot at the hands of British MP's sent to quell the riot. Some people believe many of the soldiers where lined up and shot by British firing squads.
My friend Peter told me of accounts he had heard from aging seniors who could remember their parents and grandparents telling them how the Liverpool MP's shot the Canadians.
Tonight in Victoria the fog has rolled in off the sea. It's drifted down the streets and lanes obscuring the reality that's just outside my window much the same way that time, fear, and a misplaced sense of propriety has blurred the truth of Kinmel.

Buried deep in the passage of time are the kernels that have given birth to some fascinating myths. An Internet search conducted in Great Britain turned up a treasure trove of arguments, points and counter points. Conspiracy theories abound.

Some believe the soldiers where being held in Kinmel because Canada didn't want them back. It was argued that unemployment was so great that Canadian politicians didn't want to make the situation worse by bringing home it's service men. Another account held forth that Canada was in fact expelling all "foreigners" from the country and that these men where mostly east European and were no longer welcome in Canada.

Anyone with a decent education in Canadian history would dismiss these accounts.

This much is certain. Troops where held at Kinmel awaiting transport back to Canada. Troop ships were in fact diverted to take others back. In fact recent recruits who saw no action were some of the first to return to a hero's welcome in Canada. Back in Kinmel veterans of four years of hell sat in the mud and cold waiting for boats that seemed would never come.

Conditions in the camp where not much better then those the soldiers had endured in France. Food was poor, there was little coal for stoves as there was a coal shortage due to a British coal miners strike, few blankets and rain soaked mud was everywhere. This whole area is only meters above sea level and catches all the foul weather blowing off the Irish Sea. Sitting through a winter here would have been difficult. To keep the men occupied the officers drilled them daily. Marching up and down relentlessly through the mud too no purpose began to have an unanticipated affect.

The quality and quantity of the food was also an issue. Some believe a lot of the food was being stolen by black marketeers. It was also certain that the men's patience was running dangerously short as they'd awaited months for transportation home. But the most significant factor at the camp was the affect of the world pandemic. Men were dying from influenza as were people all over the world. Most of those buried at Kinmel where felled by flue.

All of these factors are contributors to some of the myths surrounding Kinmel. But clearly what fired a lot of the tales was the initial Times account of what transpired on March 4th 1919. The Times portrayed the events as a Bolshevik riot organized by William Tarasevich a Russian/Canadian from Montreal.

Tarasevich with his east European name was clearly the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Times recounts how a red flag was waved as the men marched on the officers barracks. Clearly the Times was looking for a scape goat and the Bolsheviks revolution in Russia was readily at hand. Blaming the riots on these sinister characters neatly deflected any criticism from the military administration.

Perhaps it's the distance but the Canadian accounts lack the passion of what I turned up in north Wales. Official army records show that one man was shot and that by accident as the round came through a window and struck him as he sat at a table. Wisely the camp commander had secured most of the ammunition long before conditions reached the rioting stage.

Sadly four men were in fact bayoneted, by the MP's.

Despite the conflicting myths surrounding Kinmel the local Welsh population take great care in the local cemetery. Walking up and down the rows of white gravestones and reflecting on our current war effort in Afghanistan I couldn't help but wonder what myths will spring forth over the next 100 years.