Seeing A Lady in Halifax

AN-Sackville-wharfingIt’s an exciting couple of weeks for Iceberg Publishing. I can’t get into all the details of why –– certain announcements won’t be official until next week –– but by way of a hint, the beginning of May is usually when certain book awards are announced. It’s a time for publishers like us to crowd around monitors together to anxiously read lists, then either shrug… or do happy dances.

Fortunately, I’m not crowding anyone, so there is zero chance of others being subjected to the trauma of my happy dance. Why? Because I’m in Halifax, to see a particular lady.

Obviously, my perennial bachelordom means the lady in question isn’t human –– or, for that matter, a carbon-based life form. She does, however, possess a wonderful soul, and this week, in Halifax, she is celebrating the anniversary of her (and her many sisters’) greatest victory.

Along with her more than 1,000 trustees, and the whole of the Royal Canadian Navy, HMCS Sackville is marking the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

AN-SACKGalaInviteAnd like an absolute kid in a candy store, I get to be here for it. For these first five days of May, I’m in Halifax to take part in ceremonies and events marking this anniversary. People who know me will understand how much of an honor it is for me to simply be allowed to show up –– I hope by now it’s clear that the Royal Canadian Navy (both historical and modern) has been a huge inspiration for the Defense Command Navy.

Much more important than that, though, is the fact that my grandfather was in the Merchant Marine during the Second World War. I remember his stories of being sunk –– of surviving in a life raft on the North Atlantic, alone except for the dead man he had conversations with in order to maintain some hope as he drifted through the endless grey sea.

I don’t know if my grandfather and Sackville ever crossed paths, but whether he ever met that ship matters not at all: they shared that watery battlefield for six years, surviving in conditions that today are so often forgotten, or misunderstood. Imagine all the chaos of Grand Banks, repeated a dozen times a day, and inflicted upon civilian sailors with no Champions to save them. That was the Battle of the Atlantic –– a battle that Sackville and her sisters, at one time comprising the third-largest Allied navy in the world, were essential to winning.

That a relationship begun with HMCS Sackville thanks to her fictional descendant, DCNS Sackville, could lead to me being present for these events means more than I can say. And as I’ll talk about in future, the relationship between our fictional Defense Command Navy and the very real, and very important, Royal Canadian Navy, will continue in at least a small way going forward.

But more on that later; for now, I want to comment on the first event I was able to attend: the 15th Annual Battle of the Atlantic Musical Gala, featuring the Stadacona Band. Given my sentimentality so far, it’s probably no surprise that I very much enjoyed this event. I was seated with three Captains –– heady company –– but we were fourth row, behind the Battle of the Atlantic veterans who attended.

Realize this: you do not understand what Amazing Grace means until you’ve heard it in a room full of serving military and veterans. Or Hearts of Oak, for that matter. Pop songs too –– songs that my generation leaves to documentaries come to life when men who listened to them as teenagers, while fighting a world war at sea, sing along.

And full credit to the Stadacona Band. I’ve heard other big bands try to pull off music from the war era, without much success. The navy’s musicians understand these songs –– perhaps have a better understanding of where they come from –– and it shows. My favorite of the night was undoubtedly an Andrews Sisters tribute, which might have hit home because of those recent imaginings about music for Champions. Or maybe just because it was so awesome, and lovingly done.

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Be assured that Petty Officer 2nd Class Crowell, Petty Officer 2nd Class Allen, and Leading Seaman Alcorn did a much better job singing ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ than I did taking this terrible picture.

Oh, and when retired Vice Admiral Duncan ‘Dusty’ Miller appeared to sing a piece from HMS Pinafore (with lyrics revised to suit the room), I was quite relieved. Defense Command evidently isn’t the only navy to have brilliantly eccentric retired Admirals. Daragh Ryan surely couldn’t carry a tune as well as Miller, though our mad Irish Lord made up for that with his shotgun.

The Gala, anyway, was excellent –– and more important than any of its particular performances was its intent: to raise funds for Sackville. I’ll speak more of what Canada’s Naval Memorial has in store in later notes, but suffice to say that the efforts are most worthwhile, and I mean to support them wherever possible.

It’s fanciful to imagine that the Belt Squadron –– the finest formation of an entirely fictional navy from 200 years in the future –– could help a real ship like Sackville… but if the past decade has taught me anything, it’s that some of the best stories are the fanciful ones.

More to come.