An Introduction to New Brunswicks St Croix Branch #9 Royal Canadian Legion. August 2021..
“At the veterans channel we celebrate volunteers every day, those local heroes that daily go above and beyond, dedicating their time to make our communities and Nation’s stronger. Canada’s veterans organized in support of each other on their return from deployment after each mission from our founding in 1867, but it wasn’t until the First World War brought every group together leading to the Dominion Veterans Alliance who met in Winnipeg creating the ‘Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League’ by a special act of Parliament with a Charter issued in July 1926.
As President of St Croix Branch #9 its my honour to update our world Community on the incredible Royal Canadian Legion resource’s available to everyone across Canada or as in our case locally. St Croix District Charlotte County New Brunswick can boast RCL outreach with Blacks Harbour Branch #39, Grand Manan Branch #44, Campobello Island Branch #83, McAdam Branch #7, Passamaquoddy Branch #8 in St Andrews, St George Branch #40, Milltown Branch #48 with our St Croix Branch #9 veterans and associates having served St Stephen and region’s citizens for over a century.
Thanks to Boer War and World War One founding Veterans soon being joined by following generations, a support family lives on in our community, an evolving membership of veterans and Associate members who’s passion is and always will be to support our Nations military sacrifices by following the Royal Canadian Legions mission “To serve Veterans, including serving military and RCMP members and their familys, to promote Remembrance, and to serve our communities and our country.” This history of ongoing community support is only enabled by local citizens who continue to answer this crucial call. The Royal Canadian Legion is as vibrant and relevant today as it ever was !
Heroe’s come from Charlotte County Canada, they Always have and Always will! This community humbles me often as I learn of those that have gone before us in this southwest corner of New Brunswick with either the American border or the Bay of Fundy hemming us in on each side. While the ‘International border’ next door to us has for 200 + years been crisscrossed by trade and marriage for so long, this entire region is to the locals ‘home’ away from home’ irregardless of passport held as relatives, business’s even Fire department coverage regularly blurs border restrictions. The same goes for volunteers of military service since Canada’s founding.
As Branch President of #9 St Croix, St Stephen New Brunswick its my honour to call steadily on the experience and support of our membership and Executives, each with a wealth of local outreach and knowledge with many of them directly related to those Founders of Aug 2 1917 when returning veterans joined the ‘Great War Veterans Association, merging with other War vets in 1926’s Canadian Legion. (In December 1960 Queen Elizabeth II gave her consent to use the prefix ‘Royal’). The ancestors of those early veterans who paved the way for generations to follow would be proud that the torch has been passed on! I think of those who continue to volunteer as ‘Legacy’ members keeping alive their family and community connection of a century of service now strengthened by those of us ‘from aways’ on the same path as them, all making Charlotte County home. Our Branch treasures its membership looking forward always to new members bringing their own unique energy. Both veteran and associate members are always welcome!
My family has had the good luck to enjoy Charlotte County’s hospitality each summer since 1958, including during my military service, my pleasure always taking any chance to return. As a serving soldier I found myself surrounded by those in uniform hailing from Charlotte County soon learning of the area’s historic military legacy. As an infantryman in 3 PPCLI while serving in Victoria BC in support of the Canadian Scottish Regiment I was awed by American Eastport Maine’s youth William Henry Metcalph who lied about his age, even telling recruiters that he was a Canadian from St David’s Parish. In heavy combat on the Somme he won a Military Medal and Bar for courage, it was during the Battle of Arras 2 September 1918 at the age of 23, while carrying a flag guiding a tank under a murderous machine gun fire saving the lives of many in WW1 that earned him the Victoria Cross. Later, as a paratrooper working with Airborne Engineers it was my honour to learn of Norman ‘Moose’ Caldwell from St Stephen who was revered by my ‘Airborne elders’ as it was he and his brothers mission with 23 rd Field Squadron to use wooden and canvas boats crossing a river to rescue over 2400 Airborne Soldiers from the death trap that was ‘Bridge too far’ Arnhem Holland the evening of 25/26 September1944. ‘Moose’ Caldwell made over 26 crossings under heavy machine gun and mortar fire.
Local heroe Sgt Harry Lovelace was recognized in Ottawa’s National War Museum in 2020 for his incredible RCEME contributions during WW2, joining when he was 35 years old, soon commanding 800 first line vehicle and weapon maintainers his actions and innovations earned him the British Empire Medal, keeping combat equipment in action assuring victory. Lt Col ‘Ike’ Norman Buchanan passing June 27, 2008 was the Counties most decorated veteran having earned 3 Military Cross awards, one in North Africa as a CANLOAN Officer, then in Italy with his hometown comrades of the Carleton and York Regiment, his third award hard won during the opening days of the Normandy Invasion. I was proud to learn of General Hardy Ganong a Boer War, Vimy Ridge veteran and WW2 Commanding Officer of our own Carleton and York Regiment, the first Canadian Unit arriving in England during the Second World War. The death of his son in Italys combat never deterred his mission, and he was so respected by Army Commanders that he was the General Officer chosen with commanding our WW2 Forces had the invasion of Japan been needed in 1945. After two World Wars tragically Hardy was killed here in his home town during a snow storm and passed on soon after his beloved wife from a vehicle accident on February 24 1963. To recognize these heroes and many more yet unknown, is a role our Legion takes great honour.
As a veteran myself my opportunity to continue service to town and nation is only possible thanks to the expertise and support of this diverse Branch’s membership. It takes community leaders willing to step up and keep the Legions mission a success, thankfully a common theme in our branch is that of family’s joining together at St Croix Branch #9, as does Charleen Bodley a Sergeant while serving in uniform and now our hard working Branch Secretary who handles the immense task of coordinating Branch activitys with community, Provincial and National Legion Command. ‘Charlee’, while still serving her nation and community through the Legion, does so proudly alongside her husband Earle Eastman, born and raised in St Stephen was an old RCEME Sergeant Major, a veteran of 5 NATO tours with Ace Mobile Force to Norway, 2 tours to Cyprus, Croatia with 1PPCLI, Yugoslavia with 1 Svc Bn, Eritrea/Ethiopia with 2RCR, Bosnia with 1GS Bn and Afghanistan’s combat with 1 PPCLI, a Past Branch #9 President and lifelong Legion member of broad experience now serving as New Brunswick Command RCL St Croix District Commander as well as a ‘Canadian Army Veterans Motorcycle Units’ past National President and Order of St George Knight Commander ‘Chevalier’ brother of mine, united in service to others this couple make a great team!
Speaking of teams, Past President Mel Walker and his lady Margo, both also veterans can always be found at the branch, both volunteering every opportunity and recently keeping our weekly Bingo games safe and efficient. Recent renovations lead by Mel our Branch maintenance rep provide our building and grounds a solid foundation for the years ahead! Gone but never forgotten from our hard working construction crews or bingo staff is Comrade James Kenney, a legacy member himself who joined the Legion honouring his father, an Italian Campaign combat veteran of the Carleton and York Regiment who was tragically killed soon after his war ended. Both gentleman’s memory’s now kept alive by his wife Comrade Dianne Kenney who is also our Junior Ladies Auxiliary President. The Ladies Junior Auxiliary are our Branchs ‘secret weapon’ in community support! They work nonstop in the background, never seeking praise but constantly supporting our Branch and community with incredible culinary delights that fuel our members and guests energy’s! Retired Policeman Roger Ruddock brings great thought and dignity to our efforts in fundraising through our ‘ways and means’ committee while teaming up with our hard working Junior Ladies Auxilliary, these folks hands and hearts make things happen! These are folks we can all be proud of for having a positive effect in St Stephen and area!
Another powerhouse team are Kent Caldwell and Darren McCabe both Past Branch Presidents, each legacy members with a military past that also includes deep research on the historic contributions made by locals. Each of these gentleman have made it their life’s mission to research and learn as much as possible of every Charlotte County sacrifice. An immense task !! I suspect that there is no sacrifice or service made by our heroes that veteran Darren McCabe is not fully aware of to its finest detail, recently he shared communications with a Devon England historian who has identified graffiti carved on walls by our Carleton and York troops taking Commando training for a coming Reconnaissance in Force raid in occupied France with #4 Commando lead by Lord Lovat. Comrade Caldwells focus is similar having spent countless hours investigating similar trails leading to understanding our heroes lives, and deaths from home to the battlefields in Europe, many resting now overseas but remembered always. At each monthly meeting Kent Caldwell our Sgt at Arms reads the names of every local sacrifice, we hear the names of those who gave everything that month, regardless the year or battlefield, never to return. These names are read aloud yearlong in addition to Remembrance Week keeping their memory’s as fresh as possible. Kents Legion pilgrimage trips to Italy and France in years past give him a crucial foundation to understand sacrifice recognizing all service, including that of his own father and uncle’s WW2 experience’s.
Wayne Spires, the son of an Italian Campaign combat veteran is also a Past President and our Branch Chaplain, solemnly cares for our branch’s spiritual needs while Jill Grimmer also a past President attends to our memberships physical support nonstop while visiting our Ill, injured or hospitalized, a duty she has steadfastly fulfilled for many years. Our branchs spiritual and physical lives always a priority, especially in the covid 19 ever changing world. Comrades Brian and Geraldine Leavitt are also cornerstones of our branch family, legacy members who for many years without fanfare steadily pay tribute to those who’ve gone before us. Geraldine is our crucial public relations expert and the ‘voice’ of our branch while husband Brian has taken on the sacred duty of watching over the final resting places of our comrades, including that the flags each served under, flying steadily above our cemetery dedication sites.
Comrade’s Don Koehler and Sandy Thomas have taken on a most important branch initiative, our own Military Museum focusing on Charlotte County’s unique military history. From the Fenian Raids when organized defense began gathering uniformed volunteers locally, until todays ongoing missions, the story’s told in our Museum will thrill all visitors. We are fortunate to have local expertise in our Branch for this complex project, thanks to our Museum Chair Don Koehlers military experience as a Naval Officer at sea, and on land including hands on experience building a world class display at Fleet Wests Maritime museum at CFB Naden in Victoria BC while Sandy Thomas a Past Branch President, is the heart and soul of this evolving museums ‘Branch # 9 History’ portion of the collection and story. This exhibit will detail the actual year to year, person to person contribution to our community by generations on ‘the home front’ who’ve answered the Legion call. Don Koehler who is also our Bursary and Audit Executive has created a comprehensive plan, to collect, identify and provide accession of artifacts, in our newly renovated full length basement thanks to hard working volunteers, a display / interpretation space soon telling the fantastic military and community contributions of local heroes. In addition, a special project spearheaded by Elaine Cook is long overdue, so she has taken on the task of creating biography’s that will accompany each photo of each of our branch’s Past Presidents, from 1917’s pre Legion veterans onward detailing as much information as possible from over 100 years of leadership begun by the Boer War and First World War founders, as their children and community stepped up and faced the coming horrors of World War 2 and Korea and every operation to follow.
These founders would take great pride in seeing “The Torch Passed” as they moved onward, soon followed by ever evolving elected terms of Veteran Ordinary members alongside Associate member’s manning executive committees representing every energy from those who’ve never served in uniform, to those who have given all in every mission possible. At Branch #9 we share time and success with RCMP members that have been veteran members at our branch alongside local firefighters and First responders, all of those who wear or have worn a uniform in the service of others forming a common bond with local civilians all finding respect and support.
Speaking of serving beside humbling family teams, our Branch Executives in St Stephens have always called on veterans as well as their family members united to further our outreach. Leon Savoie who was a regular army Warrant Officer tasked with heavy machinery and moving our army, now uses the same energy moving our branch forward especially as our annual Poppy Campaign Chair and youth Education exec who serves our branch alongside his hard working wife Gayle Savoie who is a key force with our Ladies Junior Auxiliary. Without the diligence and hard work accomplished in a fun but thorough way by folks like this, only then can our branch flourish as it always has.
Comrade Phil Crosby is a great example of branchs our spirit and soul, his wisdom and service in Canadas airforce while pioneering military helicopter operations continues to this day, his energy keeping us flying by never refusing a call for help, or a good joke when times require! Our branch parade’s at funerals comforting family’s of any veteran, conduct ongoing events such as fundraising yard sales, Happy Hour Fridays in our comfortable Branch lounge bar, Spaghetti and Stew dinner takeout with delicious meals during these covid times once a month, weekly Bingo, A1 Auctions, Seniors, and direct support to our local Cadet Corps. The Cadet program traces its roots to 1861 as our Nations oldest youth leadership energy, supported by not only the Royal Canadian Legion but administered by the Canadian Armed Forces introducing the next generation to uniformed service. I proudly hold the position as RCL District Cadet Liaison Officer for South West New Brunswick taking comfort in watching area youth supported by our branches, learning of direct support to their community’s. In St Stephen’s St Croix branch #9 we hold regular meetings every 2nd monday with daily planning and annual commemorations of sacrifice all year long with Remembrance Day being a primary focus..
One of the most crucial roles in our veteran support mission is ably filled by Comrade Dennis Fahey, our Service Officer and a two time Past President. The Branch Service Officer is trained in every aspect of securing a veterans lifelong pension, or tapping into the many local, Provincial or National initiatives provided by the Royal Canadian Legion or any other energy available to those who’ve served us and now have access to the tools enabling a fulfilling post service life for them and their familys. Comrade Dennis Fahey is available to support those in need, his volunteerism setting the highest standard always!
If you have access to the internet please search the Royal Canadian Legions website that details the historic and ongoing support of the RCL, and if time permits all are welcome to watch a local Charlotte County veterans efforts to interview our Nations Best on ‘Riding with Heroes’, at www.theveteranschannel.com. As host of programming on the Veterans Channel reaching over 40 countrys worldwide and its veterans its my role to create one on one programs where its my honour to introduce everyone to unknown heroes. Beginning with ‘The Dispatch Rider’ we meet World War 2 combat motorcyclist veteran the late Harry Watts who thrills us with his story’s of riding through Italy and Hollands war and liberation. Then our cameras take us to Waterloo Ontario and the iconic ‘Portraits of Honour’ with Dave Sopha the artist responsible for capturing in an oil painting on a 60 ft canvas the spirits and images of each of our Afghanistan combat missions fallen soldiers, sailors and aircrew. Most important to todays message is a powerful show detailing RC Legion support as we go to Ottawa and Dominion Command Headquarters with a program we call ‘Passing the Torch’ at times an emotional meeting where then Legion National Secretary Brad White opens his heart and National Director of Veteran Services Ray McInnis explains the benefits of the service officer program and its ongoing success! That show confirms the reality that ‘The doors here are open and this place is important’ !!
It is too easy to judge anything based on others viewpoints, to truly understand military service I found it crucial to join the Army, to fully understand ongoing service I then joined the Royal Canadian Legion after years of witnessing the organizations incredible outreach. it’s ongoing community service and never ending Remembrance focus commemorating heroes of old with those of today and tomorrow, I am and will always be a Proud Royal Canadian Legion member.
‘Heroes come from Charlotte County Canada, They Always Have and Always will!! ‘ Words I echo proudly here !!!
Our Veterans Channel salutes each and every hometown heroe that ‘takes up the torch’ to recognize heroism, I am surrounded by heroes everywhere I ride, but to call this region home is my greatest honour and pleasure!
Young or old, Veteran or not- if you have the time and strength to join us at your local branch, or any similar world wide organization mirroring the Legion, if you feel the same feeling of a ‘debt owed’ to those who’ve sacrificed their todays for ‘our tomorrows’, consider joining our membership and help us pay back that sacrifice with respect and ongoing service. I ask all to explore the many resources our Royal Canadian Legion has to offer Canada wide, our branches being historic Veteran and Associate members gathering place’s that will always provide our fellow citizens with ongoing support in tribute to past, present and future Service and Sacrifice !”
P.M. ‘Trapper’ Cane M.S.M., C.D. KCStG