Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering Veterans of the War of 1812

In the September 2010 issue of Esprit de Corps magazine, I was quite taken by Robert Smol's editorial in which he lamented the lack of a national memorial to the British and Canadian soldiers who died defending the Canadas in the War of 1812. It so surprised me when I realized that, like everyone else, I had not been aware of the need for a memorial to those men and women from that distant past who were no less heroic and patriotic than those of 2010. What a pity!

I certainly support everything Smol has written. In my book, Courage Rewarded, the first chapter had originally been about courage and reward in the War of 1812. But when historian Jack Granatstein reviewed the original manuscript, he recommended I remove that chapter because the contribution by the British army was so large that it did not seem to fit. He recommended I publish it elsewhere, and this was done when it appeared in the fall 2008 issue of The Canadian Army Journal. I was pleased that it was finally published because, in my research for that chapter, I was very impressed by the stories of exceptional courage exhibited in the fierce fighting that swept over so many parts of what are now the peaceful farmlands of Ontario and Quebec. Those courageous souls who readily flocked to the colours (not all the residents were so patriotic) have been forgotten, except for the rare books that are published but are read by only those most dedicated to that period of our military history.

The one oasis of memory which came to my attention recently is that of The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Regiment. Annually each February, the Regiment holds a banquet in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel "Red George" Macdonell who led the attack in 1813 across the ice of the St. Lawrence River against the American fortifications at Ogdensburg, New York. He certainly deserves to be remembered as one of the heroes of that era.

But we should not forget so many deserving others. One of these who immediately comes to my mind is Captain John Jenkins, from New Brunswick, who led the right column in that attack on Ogdensburg. He was wounded by terrible grape shot fired by the defenders and, despite this, he carried on until he collapsed from loss of blood. He survived his wounds, but lost one arm and was left with his other arm permanently disabled. Regrettably, he received no reward for his dedication to duty, and was even refused a pension despite a plea from Macdonell. It is men like Jenkins that deserve to be remembered even though almost 200 years have passed.