Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Memories of a Veteran

This is an article which has appeared in our local newspaper – “The Agassiz and Harrison Observer” – as part of a tribute to Veterans for Remembrance Day, November 2006. Comments will be welcomed. The paper also published on the same page my BBC war series article on the “First Allied Audience with Pope Pius XII”, which might raise a few comments.

In our midst here in Agassiz are many men and women who fought in the Second World War, had family that fought and died in the first and many have family who fought and died in subsequent wars, including the Korean War and the latest, the war in Afghanistan.

Thomas Canning is one of those people, born July 1924 in Cowdenbeath, a small mining village in Fifeshire, Scotland and so by 1942 he was 18 and conscripted into the British Army as a recruit in primary training as an Infantryman. This lasted six weeks and so on passing various tests, he was then sent to be trained as a wireless operator in a Tank Regiment, the training consisted of learning to drive a tank – maintain it – and clean it! Firing and cleaning the guns – and the most important, learning all about the wireless and how to communicate with others in their tanks. The tanks at that time were the lighter, pursuit tanks like the Covenanter, Crusader, Valentines which were mainly being used in the desert campaigns at that time.

In 1943 he found himself on a Troopship heading for an “Unknown Destination”, which after two weeks bouncing up and down in Mid Atlantic – turned out to be Algiers in North Africa. Then after a week long very slow train journey to Bone (Annaba), joined the 145th Royal Armoured Corps which was a part of the 21st Army Tank Brigade. Typically of the British Army, he had been trained on the lighter pursuit Tanks – and now had to be introduced to the 40 Ton Heavy Churchill Assault Tanks!

Shortly after that they boarded another troopship landing at Naples and being welcomed to Italy by two ten year old street urchins singing Amapola and other Operatic Arias.

“ We then journeyed to Lucera and were introduced to the 1st Cdn division who had had a spat with the 5th Cdn Armoured division and so Monty had fired the 5th Div and we were volunteered to support the 1st Div – all the way through Italy until they finally left in the February ’45 for the NW Europe Campaign” says Canning.

“ My squadron of 19 tanks had the good fortune to support the Seaforths of Vancouver along with the PPCLI and the Loyal Eddies, mainly the Seaforths at the Gothic Line where my tank was knocked out at San Martino on the infamous Coriano Ridge, and I spent nearly five months in hospital. On recovery, my regiment had been disbanded and so I eventually ended up with the 16/5th Lancers of the 6th Armoured Division in Austria, until demobilisation in 1947.”

Following the war Thomas found that Britain was not the same country which he had left in 1943 and so by 1957, he and his wife Veronica, emigrated to Toronto where they started their family of two boys and a girl.

Their subsequent moves took them to additional locations, including Vancouver and Calgary but their path eventually ended up in Agassiz.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"You can't keep a good man down" as they say. It's good to see a story going into your local newspaper. It makes the whole thing about Remembrance more relevant to local communities, here and now.

Younger people can see that Remembrance is not just about what happened in far away places a long time ago when Granddad and Grandma were young. I notice there are also references to post WW2 times (Afghanistan etc). Next year (2007) Britain is apparently going to commemorate the Falklands War. It will be the 25th Anniversary: No doubt those who were involved n that conflict will wonder how the time has flown since then.

Wednesday, 15 November, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

It is good to see that Agassiz has finally made the World Press with its recognition of the part that the well known Trooper Tom Canning made to victory in WW2.

A photo of the article itself would make a welcome addition to this site, perhaps heading the story of Tom having words with the Pope!

As my late Sgt.Major used to so elequently put it "Well done that there man !"

Thursday, 16 November, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

I did notice this year we had men from the Suez Campaign marching to the Cenotaph. That though few know it was the turning point from the old to the new more modern army, it does not seem like fifty years ago and many forces people have been killed in action since then.
We keep hoping our children never see war but now our grandchildren are of an age to fight, it never ends.
Well done Tom, the more people of all ages who read those accounts from the veterans the more chance we have of them stopping further bloodshed.
We should all be making the local media aware of our thoughts and experiences.

Thursday, 16 November, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Tom! The BBC, The, er, world famous Blog, and now The Agassiz and Harrison Observer, ... when does the coast-to-coast TV series start?

Well done indeed, that man!

Thursday, 16 November, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Peter -
I was hoping that Hollywood would call but no luck so far... but then - It's early days and their fall programme is all set out already - maybe for the spring ?

Thursday, 16 November, 2006  

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