I must apologize to you, dear American cousins, for missing an important War of 1812 Bicentennial date earlier this week. Yes, 200 years ago on August 24, 1814, British troops came down from Canada to Washington and burned your White House to the ground.
Now I KNOW we shouldn't gloat about this. And generally speaking, Canadians are NOT big gloaters. But JEEZ, give us this one little crumb of passive-aggressive schadenfreude, willya? After all, you guys came to York (Toronto) in 1813 and burned down OUR Legislative Assembly FIRST. You HAD to expect SOME kind of small tit-for-tat, didn't you?
So in honour of this momentous historical anniversary, I thought I'd post this jaunty little commemorative song --
Well, THAT video doesn't seem very politely Canadian AT ALL, does it? Plus it has all these weird historical anachronisms and inaccuracies in it. Like, even if he WAS an ass-kisser while Prime Minister of Britain, surely that doesn't justify portraying Tony Blair as an actual AMERICAN! Really, it's kinda disturbing.
On his blog, Dan Piraro, the genius creator of Bizarro Comics, revealed his thought process behind this recent cartoon:
My Superwoman cartoon came to me as I was thinking about all the hot, supermodel-types who play female superheroes in the movies and on TV. If my life was on the line, Personally, I’d prefer a beefy lesbian show up to help me out of a tough spot.
Me too, Dan, me too!
P.S. -- Many of the commenters on Dan's blog didn't understand why Superwoman is calling the bad guy "Mary" so in case anyone reading my post is wondering too -- "Mary" is a nickname used way back in the day between gay men to essentially call each other "you silly sissy." Slang terms like this, used by ourselves within our own community, are not considered slurs. Superwoman's use of the term is what identifies her as being lesbian, not just a chunky non-supermodel in sensible shoes.
I've been looking back over my August posts and OMG, soooooo serious! Wars, more wars, PTSD, hymns about the abyss -- sheesh, what a downer, eh? So let's lighten up with everyone's favourite goofy looking animal! That's right, GOATS! No, not Goatse, ewwww. GOATS!
Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry is now home in Canada once more. The regiment is stationed mainly at CFB Edmonton in Alberta, with some troops at CFB Shilo in Manitoba.
I'd like to conclude this series of posts with the following tribute video that I found on YouTube. It is set to the PPCLI's official regimental marches -- Quick March Medley: Has Anyone Seen the Colonel / Tipperary / Mademoiselle from Armentières; Slow March: Lili Marlene. The young woman at the beginning of the video is, of course, Princess Patricia. About halfway through the video, the regiment's battle honours flag is pictured, as well as photos of the three Patricias who have been awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration of the United Kingdom, Canada and the Commonwealth.
The last two wars in which Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry have served to date were Korea and Afghanistan.
[Ted Zuber, Holding at Kapyong]
The PPCLI's most notable battle in the Korean War was the 1951 defence of Kapyong Valley against the Chinese. By successfully delaying the Chinese advance for 3 days, United Nations forces had time to regroup and reposition in order to save Seoul.
[Allan MacKay, Coalition Soldiers, Khandahar Air Base, July 2003]
The Princess Pats were deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and remained there until 2010, enduring Taliban attacks by IEDs (improvised explosive devices), landmines, grenades, suicide bombers and conventional firefights. Canadians had the third highest death rate among the western Coalition Forces.
The ugly realities of the Afghanistan war have greatly impacted current generations of Canadians born since World War II who until now knew nothing but peace. Today the Silver Cross Mothers at our Remembrance Day services are no longer frail white-haired seniors from the early 20th century but middle-aged women of my own generation. The fallen are their children, young men and women of Generation X and Y. The veterans parade is now full of younger people as well, swelling the declining ranks of aged veterans.
Continuing on with the history of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, today's post is about my family's more personal connection.
World War II
[Charles Comfort, Sergeant P.J. Ford]
The PPCLI drew its members largely from Western Canada and so when my Manitoba farm boy father joined the Canadian war effort in 1942, he joined The Patricias. The regiment was part of the Italian campaign along with British forces and Patton's American units. They invaded Sicily in 1943 and fought their way up the Italian peninsula, successfully knocking fascist Italy out of the war and diverting as many Axis resources as possible from the Eastern Front in order to provide some relief to Russia. The Princess Pats then became part of the liberating forces of Holland.
After the Normandy invasion, the Allied soldiers in Italy (who had suffered the heaviest losses in the Western theatre of war) were sometimes teasingly called "D-Day Dodgers." This caused much resentment. I remember my Dad still being pissed off about that nickname decades later, LOL!
When he was 21, my father returned from World War II with what would today be easily recognized as a pretty severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course, in those days such symptoms were dismissed simply as temporary "shell shock" which soldiers were just expected to endure or ignore for the short term.
But, undiagnosed and untreated, my Dad suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life. After 20 years, the worst of the extreme symptoms abated so he was no longer wild, volatile, violent or prone to suicide threats. But he remained moody and subject to unpredictable fits of rage for a further 20 years. The last 20 years of his life were the closest he ever came to living on a relatively even keel but still, his moods could turn on a dime.
His military service was the thing my Dad was most proud of in his life, but he paid a high price for it. As did we who lived with him.
This month is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. I'm marking the PPCLI centennial on my blog over the next four days because my father was a Princess Pat when he served in World War II. His military service profoundly affected him for his entire life and therefore also shaped my family in indelible ways.
World War I
[William Barnes Wollen, Second Battle of Ypres (Frezenberg)]
Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was privately raised and equipped in August, 1914, the same month that World War I began. Canadians were very enthusiastic about the Great War at the start and the new regiment quickly attracted financing and recruits.
The PPCLI's first honorary Colonel-in-Chief was Princess Patricia of Connaught, the daughter of Queen Victoria's son Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, who was Governor-General of Canada at the time. That explains the regiment's feminine name. I'm sure having a female patron was meant to evoke the far-off days of chivalry when a royal damsel would send her knight into battle wearing a token of her love attached to his armour. That's the kind of romanticized nonsense about war that prevailed before the killing fields of France woke people up to modern realities.
The Patricias were the first Canadian infantry unit to arrive in France during the First World War. In May 1915, the PPCLI had its first battlefield victory at Frezenberg (Ypres) although it cost them 500 men in 3 days. The highest ranking officer still alive at its conclusion was a lieutenant. The Princess Pats also fought at the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens and Mons -- all the major battles in which Canada served.
I've been a huge fan of Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn since the mid-1970s (yikes, that's 40 years now!) Many of his songs concern the spiritual journey and our relationship with the Divine. Although he is a devout Christian, the imagery he uses is not explicitly Christian nor even explicitly spiritual. "Those who have ears to hear, hear, and eyes to see, see."
To me, one of his most profoundly spiritual songs is Southland of the Heart. Actually, I've always regarded it as a modern, updated equivalent of Abide With Me. Cockburn's imagery for the abyss is the arid, shadeless, remorseless desert -- the southland -- to which we are driven by our own experiences and our own demons. There the only sanctuary and peace is to be found in the Divine, the "help of the helpless," who gently invites us:
In the southland of the heart . . .
Take your rest with me.
And yet, the genius of Cockburn's songwriting skill is that it's entirely possible to interpret this song in a purely human, non-spiritual way as well. It can easily be seen simply as a dialogue between two people, one of whom is comforting the other and offering them a shoulder to lean on during difficult times. That's why Cockburn's music is so universally appealing -- no one's experience is alienated or excluded.
Southland of the Heart is found on Cockburn's 1994 album Dart to the Heart. The whole album is fabulous. Hard to believe it's been 20 years since it came out. (Man, I really have to stop feeling so old about every little thing, LOL!)
P.S. -- Watch for the photo at the end of the video of Bruce Cockburn's own Canada Post stamp which was issued a couple of years ago!
In the spiritual journey, the "dark night of the soul" is often fraught with mortal peril. Moses may have met the Divine up on the mountaintop, but all too often the Divine is actually encountered deep in the abyss when death is near. Which is exactly when and where the encounter must occur if you hope to emerge safely from the depths again. If you do not meet the Divine in the abyss (and not everyone does), all will be lost and you will not return to life's surface. The difficult thing about an encounter with the Divine is that it cannot be willed, forced or fabricated. Those who return from the abyss know that the meeting occurs only by divine grace beyond our control. Abide With Me has always been a favourite hymn of mine because it expresses so compellingly the comfort and strength which the Divine may grant in such an encounter. The words were written in 1847 by Henry Francis Lyte, a Scottish Anglican dying of tuberculosis. It was set to music in 1861 by William H. Monk, whose young daughter had just passed away. These men knew the abyss and what it is to look death in the face.
"Help of the helpless, oh abide with me."
Although the words of this hymn utilize the Christian idiom, it goes without saying that the abyss and divine grace are equally well known in paganism and every other form of spirituality. Many gods and goddesses embody the ancient myth of descent, death and rebirth which expresses the same truths about this spiritual experience. It was the Great Goddess Inanna and her Dark Sister Ereshkigal who called my own name so many years ago now.
Thanks to dbs of think.stew blog who suggested posting this recent rendition of Abide With Me by the fabulous Scottish singer Emeli Sandé -- I agree with you, dbs: whoa.
Over the past few years, Canada Post has been periodically issuing stamps to honour various Canadian singer/songwriters, musicians and bands. Last week they issued one for k.d. lang! The great photo featured on the stamp was taken a few years ago when she was at her sexiest butch best. Mm, mm, mm! And before anyone asks, Canadian stamps are now self-adhesive, alas. Whaaaat? Closest I was ever gonna get.
I've seen k.d. lang in concert several times over the years but my favourite memory is of her solo outdoor Winnipeg Folk Festival concert about 22 years ago or so. She was still a country singer then and for that concert, she wore dark jeans and a fab silver rhinestone jacket, very retro and campy. I went to the concert with Big Bad Butch (my girlfriend at the time) and let me tell you, every lesbian in Winnipeg and surrounding area was there. We all sat together in our own huge cheering section on the grass centre-left and carried on something fierce as only wild wimmin can do!
One hundred years ago today on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany, after Germany declared war on France and Belgium. Canada also was automatically at war with Germany, since we were part of the seamless British Empire. With scarcely any diplomatic negotiations, public consultation or apparent thought, the great imperial powers of Europe plunged the world into the as-yet-unknown and unimagined horrors of mechanized warfare and death.
Our modern era began with that "reckless dance into the abyss" as the Great War was called in a recent article by Brian Stewart, former CBC foreign correspondent and current Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.* He wrote that World War I --
has been called the "seminal catastrophe" of modern times and the calamity from which all other calamities sprang. . . .
The conflict itself saw 16 million killed, including 10 million soldiers, half of whom, it has been estimated, were never found or identified in the sea of mud and craters that the battlefields became.
No one will ever be able to calculate the lifetimes of grief left for those millions of relatives of the fallen, and for those survivors with broken bodies and spirits.
For years after the war, people talked of "the great silence" as the pain lay too deep to be spoken aloud. . . .
In just four years [the war] collapsed four entire empires — the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman (Turkish). It bankrupted Europe both literally and emotionally, shattered faith in governments everywhere and left people desperate for extreme new ideologies that promised to make life livable again. By giving birth to communism, fascism and the Nazis, the First World War was the essential precondition for the Second World War just 21 years later, and for the nuclear age and Cold War that followed. "It is hard to imagine a worse initial condition for the modern era of which we are the inheritors," the Australian historian Christopher Clark wrote.
LEST WE FORGET
* Brian Stewart, "The 100-year conflict that is the First World War" (July 30, 2014) found here.
[All photos are from the internet. The first two are of Canada's National War Memorial in Ottawa. The third shows one of the seven Books of Remembrance housed in the Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa which list all the names of Canada's war dead.]
I awoke with a start. A baleful feline eye glared at me from close range.
"OMG am I hallucinating?"
"No, you are not hallucinating, human. Calm down. I have returned."
"Returned? How is that even possible?"
"The Goddess Bast in Her infinite wisdom has sent me back to haunt you . . . I mean, to help you. Neither Ceiling Cat nor the Great Mother of All are convinced that you can actually manage on your own. Clearly you are already halfway to hell in a handbasket. I have been sent back to be your Life Coach and Guide."
"Oh I do NOT fucking believe this."
"Believe it, human. Now get up and feed me. And by the way, I also barfed up a hairball by the TV in the living room. You'll need to deal with that. Just because I'm in spirit form now doesn't mean I don't still have all the same needs as before. Time to scoop the litter box too."
And so, dear readers, HRH's Adventures begin again. Stay tuned.