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CANEX: The company store

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CANEX: The company store

CANEX: The company store

Story by Stephen J. Thorne

The CANEX, run by Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, is 50 years old. By turns supermarket, clothier, convenience store, lunch counter, hardware store, furniture shop and electronics mecca, CANEX was for years all things to all people in uniform. First opened in 1968 to provide goods and services to the defence community, CANEX now operates 35 retail outlets on bases and other military sites across Canada, as well as an e-commerce store, CANEX.ca, where folks in uniform can buy everything from TVs to Fitbits, camping gear to military kit.

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Twenty-Five Great Canadian Aviators!

September 11, 2001
Norad springs into action

RCAF Lieutenant-General Rick Findley just happened to be director of Norad operations at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Centre skyscrapers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was the day North Americans learned they could be attacked from domestic airspace, too.

Within an hour of the attacks, U.S. air traffic was shut down and international flights directed to Canada. By the end of the day, Norad had nearly 200 armed U.S. and Canadian aircraft in the air.

The next day, the U.S. and Canada added monitoring and responding to threats originating within North American airspace to the Norad mission. In the following five years, it responded to 2,100 potential threats.

It was not the first tweaking of the agreement to co-ordinate air defence of the continent, which began in earnest Sept. 12, 1957, with establishment of North American Air Defence Command headquarters in Colorado.

Norad’s initial mission was to detect and react to airborne threats, then primarily Soviet long-range bombers, armed with nuclear weapons. Over the years, Soviet flights regularly have skirted North American airspace, notably recently in May, when Norad was marking the 60th anniversary of the official signing of the joint agreement in 1958.

In 1981, a new name—North American Aerospace Defence Command—reflected the addition of monitoring for missiles and space vehicles to the mission. In 2006, maritime threat was added.

By custom, both countries staff Norad operations—about 150 Canadians were working at Cheyenne Mountain on Sept. 11, 2001. Findley was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross for his actions that day and Norad’s headquarters building at the Peterson Air Force Base was renamed the Eberhart-Finley Building.

Canada operates and maintains the radar stations of the North Warning System. Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg serves as the Canadian Norad headquarters, with CF-18 Hornet fighters provided by the RCAF from tactical fighter squadrons in Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que.

Combat-ready interception awaits any aircraft that does not radio its course and destination upon entering air defence identification zones, which extend 320 kilometres offshore.

Chief miscreants are Russian long-range bombers, sometimes with fighter escorts, on “training” missions. But civilian aircraft also come under Norad’s watchful eye. In 2017, U.S. fighters escorted back to Montreal a Cuba-bound charter flight with a passenger threatening crew and passengers.

This week in history
This Week in History

September 13, 1759

General James Wolfe leads the British in an attack against the French, commanded by General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm at the Plains of Abraham. Both generals die from wounds sustained during the battle. The British are victorious, resulting in the French ceding most of its eastern North American possessions to the British.

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97-year-old Lancaster pilot has no regrets ✈️

From the Legion Magazine.


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Front lines
Jack Widdicombe: From combine to Lancaster and back

Jack Widdicombe:
From combine to Lancaster and back

Story by Stephen J. Thorne

Lancaster pilot Jack Widdicombe was a wide-eyed Prairie farm boy about to be thrust into the inferno of Second World War Europe when he boarded a double-decker bus and toured London shortly after arriving in England.

The 21-year-old native of Foxwarren, Man., and a pal set out to see the sights and instead encountered block after block of rubble. Twenty-three bombing missions over Nazi territory and 1,200 hours of combat flying lay ahead of him.

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Battle of the Atlantic

September 10, 1939
Protecting Britain’s lifeline

The Battle of the Atlantic, the fight for control of shipping routes between North America and Europe, was the longest of the Second World War—and Canadians were involved even before the country officially declared war on Sept. 10, 1939.

As country after country fell in Europe before the Nazi onslaught, Britain’s very survival depended on what it could receive by sea. The success of every Allied effort in Europe depended on delivery of machinery, arms, fuel and men. Germany believed it could win the war by squeezing off Britain’s North Atlantic lifeline.

It began its assault on Sept. 3, 1939, with a U-boat attack that sank SS Athenia, a liner carrying 1,400 Montreal-bound crew and passengers. It is believed four Canadians were among the 128 dead.

Within two weeks, the first convoy for Britain sailed from Halifax, escorted by Canadian destroyers HMC Ships St. Laurent and Saguenay and British cruisers.

For Canada and Newfoundland, the Battle of the Atlantic meant convoy duty: shepherding precious cargo and troop ships across hostile ocean, in all weathers and all seasons. The Royal Canadian Air Force provided air support. By war’s end, Canadian merchant vessels alone made more than 25,000 trans-Atlantic trips.

Both hunters and prey often huddled together, ships in convoys with armed escorts for protection, marauding U-boats in wolf packs. On Sept. 10, 1941, HMC Ships Chambly and Moose Jaw joined the battle against 19 U-boats attacking a convoy, and were credited with the first acknowledged Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) U-boat kill of the war.

From just six ocean-going ships and about 3,500 personnel, the Royal Canadian Navy grew to the world’s third largest, boasting about 400 vessels and nearly 100,000 men and women in uniform. The merchant marine saw similar growth, from fewer than 40 ships and about 1,500 sailors to nearly 400 ships and 12,000 mariners. Canadian shipyards produced over 4,000 vessels, including 300 warships and 410 cargo ships.

But at first, they couldn’t produce them fast enough; U-boats often outnumbered escort vessels. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, the whole of the North American seaboard became U-boat hunting grounds. Already stretched thin, Canada was also asked to protect shipping headed south.

Things were grim in 1942. Emboldened U-boat captains began picking off ships close to Canadian shores, destroying more than 70 vessels, including 21 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In March 1943, 108 Allied ships, with 569,000 tonnes of cargo, were sunk by U-boats.

More ships, development of equipment suited to U-boat battles and development of long-range aircraft capable of providing cover farther out to sea, helped turn the tide for the Allies beginning in 1943, but the threat continued to the final day of the war in Europe.

The toll on Canada was high—33 RCN ships and motor torpedo boats, more than 60 Canadian-registered merchant ships were among the 2,900 Allied ships lost. Nearly 2,200 merchant mariners, 1,990 RCN and Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service personnel and 752 members of the RCAF were lost during the 68 months of the battle.

This week in history
This Week in History

September 7, 1942

HMCS Raccoon is sunk by U-165 while on convoy duty near
Pointe-au-Père, Que., killing all 37 crew on board.

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Steaming up the track

From the Legion Magazine.


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Front lines
Steaming up the track
Steaming up the track
Steaming up the track

Steaming up the track

Story and photography by Stephen J. Thorne

Some 650 young athletes, including 317 sponsored by local legions across Canada, met in a steaming hot Brandon, Man., for the 42nd annual National Youth Track and Field Championships. Weekend temperatures hit 40℃ as under-16 and under-18 youth competed for 333 medals in 87 events. They were supported by 300 volunteers, 124 coaches and 60 officials. Here are some pictures.

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The Fight for Italy

August 31, 1944
Breaching the Gothic Line

The breaching of the Gothic Line on Aug. 31, 1944, was just a continuation of hellish fighting for 1st Canadian Corps in Italy.

The last major German defence in Italy was a heavily-fortified line of thousands of bunkers, machine-gun nests, fortified artillery positions and observation posts protecting Italy’s industrial heartland. It was vital to the German war machine, to be protected at all costs.

The line was meant to put a full stop to the Allies’ advance. Its defences included 2,375 machine-gun posts, 479 anti-tank gun, mortar and assault-gun positions, 3,604 dugouts and shelters, 16,006 rifleman positions, 72,517 teller anti-tank mines and 23,172 anti-personnel mines, four Panther tank turrets and 18 gun turrets, supplemented by 117,370 metres of wire obstacles and 8,944 metres of anti-tank ditch.

The Canadians were given the job of ripping a hole in this supposedly impregnable line. Attacks Aug. 30 by infantry and tank divisions along a line marked by Montecchio on the eastern flank, Osteria Nuova in the centre and fortified defences on the western flank near Borgo Santa Maria, breached the line.

On Sept. 1, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and two battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment led the advance through the breach. The Gothic Line took a heavy toll on Canadian troops–4,511 casualties including 1,016 killed.

The Germans retreated north, but the fighting got no easier. Crag by crag, ridge by ridge, Canadian troops battled German forces on through the mountains, then across soggy plains.

The war ended in Italy on May 2, 1945, just one week before Germany surrendered, ending the Second World War in Europe.

This week in history
This Week in History

August 30, 1945

HMCS Prince Robert sails into Kowloon, Hong Kong, liberating Canadian prisoners of war.

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