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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

9/25/2004

Hoisting the Blue Jack

Nick Packwood at Ghost of a Flea has created the Red Ensign blogs, a collection of bloggers who recognize and celebrate Canada's proud history in the face of the sad depths to which thirty years of hopeless government have brought us. As Nick puts it,
This country has also been a force for liberty. The third largest navy in the world fed Britain through the dark days of the Blitz and Hitler's north Atlantic wolf packs. This is the country that took Vimy Ridge and that stormed Juno Beach. Let's bring back that Canada.
ghost of a flea
The flag you see here and will see over at the top of the right column is not the Red Ensign; rather it is the Royal Canadian Navy Jack which my father served under during his service in the Navy during World War II. He was one of the men who kept the wolf packs at bay.

September is a funny month for me. My father died in September almost twenty years ago. We had, by the time he died, moved from antagonists to friends and, in a very strange sense, had become best friends. I say strange because our friendship really began when I recommended Anthony Powell's "A Dance to the Music of Time" to him and he devoured it. Right then our friendship, our sense of enjoying one another's company, was locked in.

My dad was a profoundly conservative man in ways which I will never be. He really had fought for King and Country which, for a kid from the poor end of Hamilton, was key. It was key to understanding the rest of his life as well.

When he volunteered as a rating the Navy sent him back for his first year at McMaster. He was barely seventeen and they had plenty of seventeen year olds who did not have a place in university. But, a year in, he went.

As a young man Dad had two great talents: the first was a nearly perfect memory for cards. As a rating he was making twenty to thirty dollars a week playing poker. Patiently. The second was a draftsman's eye for pinups. With a little tempra paint my dad put truly bodacious babes on sailor's duffle bags throughout the fleet. Five to ten bucks a bag and he'd take six or eight out on patrol in the corvette at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. (And, yes, I would give my eye teeth for one of those duffle bags, one on which must be in an attic somewhere.)

Over a beer one night he told me that he was making more money as a rating in a week than his father made as a postman in a month. "I've never been richer. Even after sending my mother my sailor's pay."

It didn't last. After Dad was overheard by senior officers arguing with a gunnery officer that the aim of the gun my father was about to shoot would hit the lighthouse at the point outside Halifax habour - the round missed by no more than half a dozen yards - off Dad went to officer training. At eighteen, he became the youngest sub-lieutenant in the Canadian - or, for that matter, the Royal, navy. No more poker, no more babes on sailor's duffle bags.

There was one problem: as an officer Dad had to supervise the shore patrol which rousted the sailors from the bars of Newfie John and Halifax. The problem was that, by law, he was three years too young to actually enter those bars. I asked him how he solved it. "Oh, I lied and the doormen took one look at the military police behind me and believed me."

When Dad died we covered his coffin with the Navy Jack. I could not be prouder to fly it on this site. I miss my Dad every day.