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Canadian Medal Madness in Afghanistan - 4

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July, 2007 - The dust is flying in Afghanistan, and its blinding everyone there. It's all, report journalists at the Toronto Star, about medals...

Certain members of the Canadian Army seem to have forgotten their reason for being there... They think it's all about medals...

As the war degenerates into predictable, and imminent failure, the squabbles have begun, everyone trying to claim this or that trophy of the spoils of war.

It's all about who is a better soldier, a braver, more meritorious hero, deserving of a higher class medal than some others.

It's all about medals, the trophies of war for professional soldiers, and really their only achievements in life - the clatter of hardware on their chests - their service medals.

In the Boer War, 1899-1902, where Canada sent its first ever fighting troops overseas, Canadian soldiers, each got a basic service medal for going and serving in South Africa, in whatever capacity.

Whoever got off the ship in South Africa got the medal.

Those who took part in set piece battles, received a clasp with the name of the battle. Canadians who were present at Paardeberg, during the battle, got the Paardeberg clasp.

Some like James Diffey, left managed to get five clasps.

It was relatively easy to define a set piece battle; the enemy held a piece of ground, like Paardeberg, and the Canadians helped capture it after a 10 day battle.

Everyone there, not just the shooting troops, got the clasp. James Diffey was a member of the British Army Service Corps, probably driving a wagon to bring up the supplies for those in the line of fire. Common sense dictated that food and supply wagons were not parked where the shooting took place.

James' bar for Paardeberg was not withheld because he did not try to engage Boers in hand-to-hand combat.

He was there; he did his part; he got the clasp. And no one thought the lesser of him for it. They were all civilian soldiers... doing their bit, for Queen & Country. Not professionals, competing for Glory...

James Diffey's service medals are, in fact, the perfect model of how Canadian medals evolved from Victorian to modern times.

TO MEDDLE OR NOT...
The macho members of the Canadian Forces have suggested that those who stay safe behind the wire, near Tim Hortons on the base at Kandahar - the vast majority - should get a medal that suitably fits the dangerous environment in which they serve their country - while the combative few go out and about in tanks raining death and destruction on any hapless Afghans who may be around, wherever a terrorist has been spotted, or presumed to have been spotted, or presumed to have been a terrorist, or whatever...

The Canadian Army brass is currently working hard to come up with a solution to help separate "the men from the boys" in Afghanistan.

We're not sure into which group Rosie diManno would fit or whether she has been embedded with enough grunts to qualify for an honour? Hopefully she's keeping score; we know they are...

We suggest the Tim Hortons Clasp to stop the squabbling. It's a totally unique Canadian clasp, which no other armies can claim. It will clearly show - this should please General Hillier enormously - which soldiers are cast in his mold and which are not...

Tim Hortons - we're sure it would cooperate fully - could even be approached to pay for the clasps; another plus in that this enormous cost saving would permit the Canadian military to buy thicker armour plating for their helmets, vests, and vehicles, to give them better protection from the locals, as they continue to do their "development work" in Afghanistan.

The chances for this are very good. Here's what General Hillier said about the Canadian Forces relationship with Tim Hortons:

“Opening a Tim Hortons to serve our troops in Afghanistan strengthens an already superb relationship between two great Canadian institutions. I would like to thank Tim Hortons for their endless support of the CF over the years.”

In the first year of the Boer War, set-piece battles, with one group confronting another, over a set piece of ground, and contesting it till there was a clear cut winner, had actually been the norm in history.

That changed at the end of 1900, when the Boers gave up this foolish out-in-the-open test of arms against a vastly numerically superior enemy. Instead they launched small guerilla operations all over the place, at totally unpredictable times, and with devastating, but often inconclusive results.

Guerilla warfare created horrific headaches for General Kitchener and his army.

He wanted to fight set piece battles but couldn't, finding himself fighting a brush fire of insurgency in every part of South Africa.

It would take him a year and a half after the British said they had won, to get peace.

And even then, he didn't win it; it was given to him by the Boers who had lost the will to sustain the losses of their women and children at the hands of the British war machine.

Some 80,000 British troops couldn't defeat a determined guerilla army of some 12,000 that were in the field at the end.

The clasp makers in England were tearing their hair out. Just which of all these scores of guerilla skirmishes do we give a clasp to? The Army concluded that the clasp system for set-piece battles, that had been used seemingly forever, had to go.

So medals issued during the guerilla war - which coincided with the succession of Edward VII in January, 1901 - were only issued with territorial clasps, the South Africa Bars for 1901, and for 1902. James Diffey, the wagon driver, got them both, the very same ones awarded to the shooting troops.

When World War I started, a dozen years later, James Diffey was there, but this time as a Canadian in a Canadian unit, the Army Medical Service Corps.

Again he was not a shooting soldier in the front line but possibly a medic in a hospital behind the lines.

The Army brass again debated the problem of medals. Do we resurrect the battle clasp system of old?

They decided that it was a nightmare of trying to figure out which was a battle, and which was not, and where one ended, or not.

In the end they opted for service medals based on territories, not combat honours, also reasoning that if you served in a dangerous place you could die of disease, get killed in accidents, or ship sinkings.

lf you went overseas to serve you got a medal; if you entered a theatre of war you got another; if you were an original in the war zone you got another. Those behind the lines got the same medal as those in the line of fire. There were no second class soldiers in the fight to make the world safe for democracy.

The practice continued in World War II.

Joe Barfoot never shot at anybody; never was shot at by anyone, did his service in beautiful Ucluelet, British Columbia, on Canso patrol for Japanese submarines or warships that might threaten Canada's west coast.

He died, in service to his fellow Canadians, as selflessly and surely as any soldier in the front lines in Germany, Africa, or Asia.

Only one more thing one can say about Joe Barfoot. He was - as were the overwhelming majority of Canadian soldiers in World War II - civilian, short-term, volunteer soldiers, not career militarists.

He would never have understood, or condoned, the selfish and unseemly squabbling over medals that has recently consumed the time and energy of Canada's professional soldiers.

It shames the thousands of Canadian civilian soldiers, in World Wars I and II who never returned home to wife and families, to share a future with them, to live, and grow old, in peace.

A Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Flight Sgt. Joseph Colclough Barfoot 1918-1944
Where's your medals, Joe? We miss your kind today...

Joe was one of the civilian heroes who gave his life for his country during World War II. Only 26 years old, he was killed when his Canso PBY-5A flying boat returned from a Pacific patrol and crashed and exploded on the inlet at Ucluelet, on western Vancouver Island, June 9, 1944. Eight of his companions were killed; one survived.

Neither war, nor medals, were his game, or his passion; only service to his fellow man, at a time of great national need.

And he sacrificed everything a 26 year old could: his entire future life as a civilian, a recent bride, and a daughter he would never see...

He had expected nothing for his service, beyond $3.70 a day for a Sergeant's pay, and .75 cents a day, food allowance. That's it. He expected nothing more, not even a medal, which he never received... He wouldn't have cared...

Where are people today, willing to make that kind of deal? In exchange for losing it all...

He saw it as his gift to the Nation; the gift of his generation of selfless, men and women civilian volunteer soldiers.

He, like 47,000 others in World War II, gave his life so that others - and not just Canadians - could live,
in Peace.

He would never have understood the squabbling of today's professional soldiers over medals, and to denigrating the service of some, who serve, to the sacrifice of others.

The Hollowness of Medals - The only thanks Joe's widow, Audrey, ever got for Joe's sacrifice - the Memorial Cross, issued to all mothers or widows who lost a loved one in World War I and II.

The painful cry from mothers who have suffered the ultimate loss, in every war, has always been:

"Keep your damn medals, I would rather have my child back!"

From Canada, some 67,000 of them in World War I; some 45,000 in World War II.

Just what is wrong with those two to three thousand career professionals - who fight for pay in Afghanistan - squabbling for better medals?

Are they, like Joe Barfoot, the brightest and the best?

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

General Service Medal - 1899
Orig. medal - Size - 37 cm
Found - Campbellville, ON

Inscribed - J Woodward, 27th Bn
The Civilian Volunteers of 1866 & 1870

It is strange beyond belief - and totally un-Canadian - that in the midst of a campaign, professional soldiers are squabbling over medals...

In 1866, and again in 1870, when the homeland of Canada was under attack, by Irish Fenian invaders from the United States, the Canadian Militia - civilian part time soldiers - responded, instantly, to the defence of the motherland. No questions asked... Some died.

No one thought of medals; their concern was the safety of their country, their communities. That was their passion. not rewards and honours to strut about with.

In fact it would not be till some thirty years later - at which time many who served were long dead - that a medal was struck to commemorate their service in the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870.

How times have changed with today's professional army... squabbling during the campaign, before the war is even won...

Now we are left with the disquieting thought that the effectiveness of the Canadian military is greatly being undermined by the acidic divisiveness over who is getting the best medal, and this in the middle of a combat tour no less!!!

The Civilian Volunteers of 1866 & 1870

It is strange beyond belief - and totally un-Canadian - that in the midst of a campaign, professional soldiers are squabbling over medals...

In 1866, and again in 1870, when the homeland of Canada was under attack, by Irish Fenian invaders from the United States, the Canadian Militia - civilian part time soldiers - responded, instantly, to the defence of the motherland. No questions asked... Some died.

No one thought of medals; their concern was the safety of their country, their communities. That was their passion. not rewards and honours to strut about with.

In fact it would not be till some thirty years later - at which time many who served were long dead - that a medal was struck to commemorate their service in the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870.

How times have changed with today's professional army... squabbling during the campaign, before the war is even won...

Now we are left with the disquieting thought that the effectiveness of the Canadian military is greatly being undermined by the acidic divisiveness over who is getting the best medal, and this in the middle of a combat tour no less!!!

Right, a photo of an unknown Canso PBY-5A aircrew - but friends of Joe Barfoot - taken at Ucluelet, May 21, 1944, just two weeks before Joe's Canso at the same air base, crashed, killing eight of the nine aboard. Call us if you see any wearing medals... Just guys off Civvy Street "doing their bit" for Canada. We miss their kind today..

A Good Question?

Since the front line troops are bickering about who the real soldiers are, and the medals that should be their due, will the maintenance guys - who stay behind the wire - put sugar in the gas tanks of those who drive out into harm's way, to get even?

Should Canadians start to worry, that if ever a real danger threatens Canada, they will first have to negotiate a proper medal deal satisfactory to the professional Canadian Forces, before we can expect them to respond in an effective and timely manner?

All legitimate questions, as the Canadian Forces are transforming from the spirit of nearly two centuries of volunteer civilian soldiering towards a paid pit bull force of US style professionals, attracted by what many call the horridly macho, American-style, TV recruiting campaign clearly targeting only men and women who are interested in,
FIGHTING, FIGHTING, FIGHTING...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Boer War & World War I Medals of Canadian WO James Diffey CAMC
Orig. medals - Size - ea 37 mm
Found - Wingham, ON
Prov - James Diffey Collection
The fabulous rack of medals of the perfect Victorian - Edwardian - Georgian Canadian soldier - Warrant Officer James Diffey of the Canadian Army Medical Corps:

Left to right, the QSA (Queen's South Africa Medal) with bars for Cape Colony, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Diamond Hill, and Wittebergen. At the time James was in the British Army Service Corps, probably a wagon driver.

A five-bar QSA is rare enough that collectors demand to see paper work that the medal is not a fake, that the person was actually at those locations and entitled to all those bars. (Lots of people remove bars from other medals to make up a more valuable five, six, or seven bar medal.

A KSA, King's South Africa Medal, never had more than two bars. This reflected the changing nature of war. In the early months battles had been set-piece engagements with a beginning, middle, and end, that took on the name of the place - resulting in a medal bar.

By the end of the war, under King Edward, there were only guerilla hit and run operations - much like the war in Iraq. So naming the theatre of operations and the year was the best that could be done..

A set of Canadian medals bridging both first modern wars of the 20th century are rare too.

Most Canadians were only entitled to either a QSA or a KSA because their units only served under one monarch. Many soldiers who were in the Boer War were too old to fight in World War I; and most who fought in the Great War were far too young to have fought in the Boer War. As well so many died they never got the full complement of World War I medals either.

James Diffey was different: he fought the Boers under both Queen Victoria and Edward VII, and he was accepted for service in World War I, under George V, and lasted long enough to be entitled to the third medal, the 1914-15 Mons Star, as well as the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. He also received the MSM, the Meritorious Service Medal, for special acts of merit far right.

The 1914-15 Mons Star is a lacquered bronze medal issued to everyone who served in the theatre of war before Dec. 31, 1915. (James had signed up in August.) By 1918, and the deaths of millions, this was the elite service medal of the war for the survivors. Some 2,078,000 were struck.

An exploratory attempt was made to design medal bars for campaigns and battles - like for the QSA of the previous war - but proved an impossible exercise. Too many battles; too many campaigns; too many theatres of operation. War had gotten out of control.

Warfare had evolved so that it was no longer seen as the job of a select group of professionals, but the patriotic duty of every able-bodied man. In the process military medals were cheapened. What is the use of an award if everyone has one...

The British War Medal (1914-19) was a silver medal issued to anyone who left his native land to join the war effort waged by the British Empire. Some 6,600,000 medals were struck.

The British Victory Medal (1914-19) was struck in bronze and issued to anyone who entered a theatre of war. Some 5,720,000 were struck.

These latter three medals are so common that they were often referred to as "Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred."

The Meritorious Service Medal, first instituted in 1845, came along with an annuity paid yearly to the recipient who had to be a senior NCO, above Sergeant. This medal was not just for showing up for work, as the others were, but for performing above the standard.

Everybody got Squeak and Wilfred. James was also proud of his Meritorious Service Medal.

For comparison see the medals below.

Go to James Diffey, of Wingham, ON

To see medals of other Canadian WW I soldiers:

Go to Jack Cockburn RCA, of Colborne, ON
Go to Jack Baker CEF, of Cookstown, ON

A 1944 Canadian Canso PBY-5A, like Joe Barfoot flew in, and died, leaving a life unfulfilled, a widow to grieve a marriage of a few months, and a daughter he would never see: Joan Barfoot Goldi. Thanks to his sacrifice, and Veteran's Affairs Canada, she would have her university education paid for by the tax payers of Canada.

Had he lived, Joe Barfoot would have been pleased, and proud of his country, and his daughter... After all, he fought in service to them, not for a chest of medals...

Go to Joe Barfoot, War-time Love Affair
Go to Joe Barfoot, Lest We Forget
Go to Disaster in Kandahar