Commons vote calls for state funeral for last Great War veteran
OTTAWA (CP) by John Ward, Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The House of Commons unanimously approved a motion Tuesday asking the government to offer a formal state funeral for the last Canadian veteran of the First World War. It's believed there are only three survivors of the 600,000 Canadians who served under arms in the 1914-18 war: Dwight Wilson, who is 105 and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, who are both 106. But Babcock, who became an American citizen 60 years ago, doesn't want the honour, his wife Dorothy said in a telephone interview from Spokane, Wa. "His personal feeling is that, yes, he was a veteran, he did go to England, but he was not one that served in a very combative position over there," she said. "He was just waiting and thank heavens he didn't have to go -- the Armistice was signed." Babcock was only 15 when he enlisted in Sydenham, Ont., and was 16 when he arrived in England. His effort to get to the fighting in France ran into a policy that prohibited soldiers under 19 from serving at the front. "He is not a decorated war hero or anything like that," his wife said. Relatives of the other two survivors could not be reached immediately. Tuesday's vote marked a quick success for a petition campaign launched by the Dominion Institute just three weeks ago. The institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting knowledge of Canada's history and heritage. "We're six or maybe 12 feet off the ground," said Rudyard Griffiths, the institute's executive director. "It's a pretty remarkable outcome. Hats off to all the parties for the unanimous consent. "It's a victory for vets, a victory for remembering this war." The institute opened its drive on Nov. 6, setting up an online petition. More than 100,000 people signed. While most were supportive of a state funeral, others opposed it. "It strikes me that honouring the last man standing runs contrary to the idea that each and every one of our veterans deserves recognition," wrote one opponent. "It's not a lottery," said another. But the public, newspaper editorials and eventually MPs took up the cause, especially as the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies came around. "Canada's veterans are our greatest heroes and our country's greatest volunteers," said Peter Stoffer, the Nova Scotia New Democrat who proposed the funeral motion in the Commons. "Offering a state funeral for the last Canadian veteran of the First World War is a fitting and symbolic tribute to recognize the great personal sacrifices of those who have served and who are currently serving our country." A state funeral is normally reserved for serving or former prime ministers, governors general and the like. It usually involves lying in state in the Parliament Building with flags at half-mast and the Peace Tower bell tolling, a procession to the church with a guard of honour and a military band and the attendance of dignitaries, including the Governor General and prime minister. The last such funeral was held in 2002, for former governor general Ray Hnatyshyn. Griffiths said he envisages a formal, public funeral service, maybe a ceremony at the National War Memorial and perhaps a program of local ceremonies across the country to remember the 60,000 Canadians who died in 1914-18. "We as a country now have an opportunity through this state funeral at the appropriate time to renew that solemn pledge that we made at the end of the First World War never to forget." He said Second World War veterans are particularly keen on commemorating their predecessors because some feel the Great War vets got less than their due. "We kind of let the old soldiers fade away without the proper ceremony, the proper respect and the proper commemoration," he said. "This is doing the right thing for a generation of men who maybe didn't get all of the honour, all of the respect that they so richly deserved when their generation was passing on in the 1970s and 80s." Griffiths said the fighting in Afghanistan seems to have touched a chord in Canadians and refocused their attention on the sacrifices of the past. "I think we as a country, maybe because of Afghanistan, are understanding once again that occasionally Canadians are called upon to pay an awesome, if not horrible, price for our citizenship, for the freedom, for the democracy we enjoy."
World War I Australian Submarine Ae2 To Be Recovered From Her Grave In Istanbul Strait
Turkisch Press, Published: November 14, 2006
MELBOURNE - World War I Australian submarine Aero 02 (AE2) which was damaged by a Turkish torpedo boat and was scuttled by her crew in Istanbul Strait in 1915 will be recovered before 2015 under a project sponsored by the Australian government. The Australian government has allocated a fund of 388,500 Australian dollars for the AE2 project. AE2 project's Turkish advisor Vecihi Basaran in a written statement indicated today that the submarine, which lays 72 meters beneath the surface, was discovered in June 1998 by Selcuk Kolay, then curator of Rahmi Koc Museum in Istanbul. "On April 25th, 1915, AE2 became the first Allied submarine to pass through the Canakkale Strait to attack Turkish shipping in the Sea of Marmara. Unable to find any large troop transport to attack, she was damaged on April 29th in an attack by the Turkish torpedo boat 'SultanHisar' in Artaki Bay and was scuttled by its crew. 'SultanHisar' rescued the crew of AE2 and they were held as POWs till the end of the World War I," he said. According to Basaran, the submarine belonged to Turkey according to international laws. Basaran added that the team will start efforts to recover AE2 from her grave in Istanbul Strait in 2007 and they aim to finish the job by 2015.
Fate of WWI fighter plane up in the air
JESSICA BROWN, Freelance, Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Knowlton residents ponder whether to keep rare Fokker D.VII in museum or sell it to create space and make improvements.
Belgium WWI remains confirmed as Australian
ABC NewsOnline, November 8, 2006
First World War remains discovered in Belgium have been identified as those of five Australian soldiers. The remains were found during the construction of a gas pipeline in September.
Veterans' Affairs Minister Bruce Billson says authorities are trying to work out which unit the men were fighting with. Mr Billson says he is not confident the individuals will ever be identified, but an archaeological study has confirmed the remains are Australian. "Well there's a number of clothing items, the insignias found on the remains confirm that they are Australians," he said. "There's no personal effects have been found apart from a pencil and a penknife and none were wearing an identity disk. "It was custom at that time though for any personal items to be returned to the grieving families." Mr Billson says the unearthing of the remains during the construction of the gas pipeline was an unusual discovery. "To find five remains seemingly placed with some thought and consideration with great dignity in one location's quite unusual and we're hopeful that might actually help in identifying the individuals, although we're not confident of an identification," he said. Once forensic examinations are finished, the remains will be buried in an Australian war cemetery in Belgium.
German shelter from WW1 discovered
Het Nieuwsblad (Belgium) – November 4, 2006
Mesen – On a field nearby the Armentiersesteenweg in Mesen, just opposite of the Irish Peace tower, a German shelter has been found dating for the First World War A farmer busy harvesting sugarbiets noticed a large hole appearing when his tractor began to sink in to the ground. When people of the Historical Museum in Mesen inspected the hole it was soon discovered that it lead to a German shelter completely made out of oak wooden planks and beams and still in remarkable good condition (being well preserved under water all this time). On the roof of the shelter were sheets of corrugated iron and cobble stones of the former road to Ploegsteert. The shelter is situated 9 feet under ground and measures 6 by 9 feet. In it they found several items such as schnapps bottles and pieces of gasmasks. The location has been shield of by Police to prevent looting. It is suspected that in the surrounding area more of these shelters may be found. They are however not easy to locate due to inaccurate WW1 staff maps at the time. At this moment it has not been decided what will happen to the shelter.
Well preserved German shelter found
Het Nieuwsblad (Belgium), October 14, 2006
ZONNEBEKE – On the premises of the brick factory ‘Terca’ in Zonnebele a well preserved German shelter dating form the First War One has been discovered.
Terca is currently working on the development of a 16 acre piece of land for the retrieving of clay. It is expected that more discoveries will be made
over the next months. Franky Bostyn, curator of the ‘Memorial Museum Passchendaele’, is very pleased with the discovery of the shelter: ‘It concerns a
large wooden structure measuring 12 by 9 feet, covered by a corrugated iron roof. It has a wooden floor which is fully salvageable’. ‘Inside we have found
several well preserved items: a leather belt, a helmet, a spade, a cartridge pouch, a boot. Also a stone jar with the text Branttwein (schnapps), several
wine bottles and a complete pocket watch. Further more some pieces of gasmasks and several rifle cartridges bearing the production date 1916’.
WWI Diggers' bodies found in Belgium
AAP By Max Blenkin, September 19, 2006
EIGHTY-nine years ago five soldiers died in the mud and blood of Passchendaele, their deaths unexceptional in the carnage of World War I and their bodies lost until this month. The bodies have been discovered in excavations for a gas pipeline at Zonnebeke in Belgium. It is believed the five are Australian and there's a chance they could be identified. Australian War Memorial senior historian Ashley Ekins admits that's a long shot, but he is hopeful, especially if anything remains of their badges and identity tags. The remains of Australian and other soldiers are regularly found on the old western front battlefields but seldom identified. In 1998, a skeleton discovered near Pozières was identified as Private Russell Bosisto of the 27th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces. Others can be identified only as Australian then re-interred in one of the many Commonwealth war cemeteries. Mr Ekins said if the five bodies did prove to be Australians, it was most likely they went missing in September or October 1917 in the Battle for Broodseinde Ridge.They could have been members of the 18th Battalion.He said that was part of the great third battle of Ypres, usually termed Passchendaele, in which Australians were involved from the outset. "The whole five divisions went through that meat grinder over the course of three months," he said. "The rain set it in and it became an area of utter misery. Men drowned in the mud if they stepped off the duckboards, horses drowned, guns sank in the mud. "Six thousand Australians died there in October 1917. That was the worst loss Australia had in the entire First World War. "One third of them would be missing. These guys would be amongst that horrendous tally." Veterans' Affairs Minister Bruce Billson said yesterday the discovery had been reported to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Office of Australian War Graves was awaiting a full report. Mr Ekins said the bodies could be identified as Australian through badges which might also identify their unit. "If they are really lucky they might even find an identification tag and find a name of one or more of them," he said. Mr Ekins said the heavy clay soil around Ypres preserved artifacts quite well – unlike the chalk soil of the Somme – and it was possible the all-important identity tags might have survived. Mr Ekins said at that stage soldiers were supposed to carry two such tags, one of aluminum and other of a fiber material with the idea that one would be removed from a body to report death. Neither type has proved especially durable under western front conditions. "The chances of those surviving aren't always that good. That's the first thing they would be looking for because we have such a good register of the names of the dead from the first world war," he said.
WWI-era explosive to be destroyed in Delaware
Associated Press, September 1, 2006
ABERDEEN, Md. -- A vintage artillery shell containing mustard agent will be destroyed in Delaware rather than be transported to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for testing, Army officials said. Officials initially had said the barnacle-encrusted World War I-era shell dredged up off the Atlantic Coast last year could help the military learn what effect the marine environment has had on millions of pounds of chemical weapons dumped into the ocean before 1970. But some Aberdeen-area residents were wary of the Maryland base bringing in more mustard agent just months after it had eliminated a troublesome stockpile of the toxic substance, The (Baltimore) Sun reported. An Army spokesman said senior Pentagon officials reviewed the benefits of testing the shell found at a Delaware clam processing plant and decided against moving it to the proving ground. The shell instead will be destroyed in a mobile explosive destruction chamber from the base. In recent years, scores of unexploded shells have been found mixed in with crushed clamshells used to pave driveways and parking lots in Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore. Officials have traced the ordnance to loads of clams dredged from the ocean floor and delivered to the Seawatch International plant in Milford.
Unknown French veteran of 1914 war emerges from mists of time
By John Lichfield in Paris, March 6, 2006
A living unknown soldier has emerged from the mists of time and claimed his place among the "last patrol" of surviving French veterans of the
René Riffaud, 107, was so horrified by his experiences of the trenches that he refused to sign up as an official "veteran" in the 1920s. Now,
at the urging of his family he wants to "re-enlist" and join the half dozen other French official survivors.
His request - likely to be approved this week - has more than just personal or sentimental importance. President Jacques Chirac has pledged that
the last survivor will be given a full state funeral. With only six other veterans still alive in France - one of whom was also recently
"rediscovered" - M. Riffaud's re-enlistment will give him a lottery ticket for everlasting fame as the "last poilu". (Poilu, or "hairy man",
is the French nickname for Great War veterans and equivalent to the British Tommy.)
Born in Tunisia on 19 December 1898, M. Riffaud was called up to the 42nd Regiment of Colonial Artillery in 1917 and fought in the Ardennes during
the final Allied offensives of 1918. Now living in a retirement home at Eure, in upper Normandy, his lungs are still scarred by mustard gas.
M. Riffaud says he did not apply for a veteran's card because "I didn't have fond memories of the war ... I never wanted to attend any ceremonies.
That would have brought back memories of barbarity. Oh, no, no, no ..." He retired in 1973 as head of a company which made electric motors near Paris.
At the urging of his granddaughter, Laurence Berthaud, M. Riffaud has decided to apply for veteran status - almost 90 years later. "I was a poilu or
someone will have to prove I wasn't. I went along with all the others to smash my head in places that weren't much fun."
The other rediscovered veteran is François Jaffré, 104. He served as a sailor on anti-submarine ships in Atlantic troop convoys. He signed up as a
veteran but was lost to officialdom and declared dead after a change of address. He has been found living in a nursing home in Yvelines, near Paris.
Five other survivors are known of the more than seven million French soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in 1914-18. The oldest, identified only
as "Maurice", is 111 and was twice injured and badly disfigured.
The cases of M. Riffaud and M. Jaffre raise an awkward question, however. Are other centenarians out there who, like M. Riffaud, chose not to recall
the war or who, like M. Jaffre, were "lost" by a ministry? Could France bury its last poilu with state honours only to find he was not the last after
A living unknown soldier has emerged from the mists of time and claimed his place among the "last patrol" of surviving French veterans of the 1914-18
René Riffaud, 107, was so horrified by his experiences of the trenches that he refused to sign up as an official "veteran" in the 1920s. Now, at the
urging of his family he wants to "re-enlist" and join the half dozen other French official survivors.
His request - likely to be approved this week - has more than just personal or sentimental importance. President Jacques Chirac has pledged that the
last survivor will be given a full state funeral. With only six other veterans still alive in France - one of whom was also recently "rediscovered" -
M. Riffaud's re-enlistment will give him a lottery ticket for everlasting fame as the "last poilu". (Poilu, or "hairy man", is the French nickname for
Great War veterans and equivalent to the British Tommy.)