Heroes on postcards - military gems

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Postcards Heroes: Military Men
By Mike Smith
In the 1965 Hollywood epic The Agony and the Ecstasy, there are some classic lines of dialogue between Michelangelo, played by Charlton Heston, and Pope Julius II, played by Rex Harrison.
After commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508, the pope becomes impatient with the artist’s progress and repeatedly asks: “When will you make an end?”
Michelangelo’s continuous and somewhat impertinent reply was: “When I'm finished.”
I only mention this great exchange because I'm reminded of it every time a fellow collector asks me when the second edition of my patriotic postcard handbook is going to be ready.
You see, I've been working on it for almost nine years now and this happens to be five years longer than Michelangelo took to paint his famous ceiling.
What’s taking me so long? Well, there's a seemingly endless supply of Canadian patriotic postcards to record and more and more keep turning up every day.
For collectors, as you can imagine, this is great news, but for cataloguers - yikes.
For example, just when I thought I could wrap up the section on Second World War cards, my postcard buddy Wayne Curtis introduced me to an absolutely outstanding series of postcards showing Canadian army generals. And what’s more, they were issued free at gas stations.
Sometime after the D-Day invasion in 1944, the Union Oil Company of Canada, which at the time was a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California (Union 76), introduced a patriotic postcard series called Photo-Biographies of Canada’s Generals. For those eager to collect them all, the cards in this scarce series include:
The military exploits of Lieutenant-General E.L.M (Tommy) Burns, from Westmount, Quebec, actually go back to the First World War.
In 1916, as a young signaller, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for laying and repairing communication wires while under enemy fire, during which he was twice wounded.
In the spring of 1944, Burns took command of the Canadian Corps in Italy where his leadership during the Italian campaign earned him the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), the Croix de Guerre and French Legion of Honour.
His military exploits continued well after World War Two. When the Suez Crisis resulted in war in the Middle East in 1956, Burns was given command of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). On the Juno Beach Centre website, it states: “Tommy Burns was a brilliant man, one of the brightest Canadian officers of his generation . . .”
Need I write anything more.
Major-General Rodney (Rod) Keller was a native of Kelowna, B.C.
At the outbreak of World War Two, Keller was given command of the famous Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). In 1941, he was promoted to brigadier, and in September 1942 he was promoted to major-general and given command of the 3rd Canadian Division.
Keller was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by King George VI in June 1944 for his part in the planning of the D-Day invasion. This famous invasion eventually led to the defeat of the Nazis and liberation of Europe.
On D-Day, Keller led the charge of the 3rd Division on the beaches of Normandy.
Major-General Christopher (Chris) Vokes was six years old when his family brought him to Canada from Armagh, Ireland in 1910.
Joining the Royal Canadian Engineers after graduating from McGill University, he sailed for England in 1939 as a major and three years into the war was promoted to brigadier-general.
Leading the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade during the Sicily Campaign, Vokes was awarded the DSO. In 1944, promoted to major-general and given command of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division during the Italian Campaign, he was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE).
Vokes was also awarded the Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre from the French that same year.
After the war ended in 1945, he was given command of the Canadian Army Occupation Force (CAOF).
Vokes published his memoirs in 1985 under the title: Vokes, My Story.
Of all the Canadian generals portrayed in the Union Oil Company of Canada series, Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds was the most familiar to me because of the amount of exposure he received in my high school history texts.
Simonds was born in England in 1903 and immigrated with his family to British Columbia when he was nine.
From 1921 to 1925, he attended the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, where he placed second academically and graduated as a junior officer in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
Promotions came quickly to this highly intelligent officer. In 1943, at age 40, he was a major-general commanding the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division during the Invasion of Sicily.
By 1944 he was a lieutenant-general leading the First Canadian Army to victory at the Battle of the Scheldt, where the strategic port of Antwerp, Belgium was taken from the Germans.
Simonds' good looks, intelligence and leadership skills made him one of Canada’s most popular Second World War commanders.
During the war King George VI awarded him the Order Commander of the Bath (CB) and CBE. After the war, Simonds spent a term as commandant of the Royal Military College of Canada, and in 1951 he moved to Ottawa as a result of his well-deserved promotion to chief of the general staff (CGS).
Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds was nicknamed “Admiral Simonds” because of the amphibious landings he commanded during the taking of Antwerp, Belgium.
It must have rankled the Germans when Canadian officers of German descent kicked their behinds all over Europe, but that’s just what Major-General Bertram (Bert) Hoffmeister did.
Hoffmeister was born in Vancouver in 1907 and after joining the Seaforth Cadets at age 12, he stayed active in the Canadian Army Reserves right up until the start of the war.
He was sent to England in 1939 as a major commanding a company of his beloved Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. By 1942, he was a lieutenant-colonel and won a DSO during the Sicily Campaign.
In 1943, Hoffmeister was promoted to brigadier-general and led the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Italian Campaign, where he was awarded a bar (additional decoration) to his DSO.
In 1944, he was promoted to major-general and put in command of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, which stormed and overran the vaunted Hitler Line in Italy. For this he received a second bar to his DSO.
After the defeat of Germany he was made a Grand Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau with swords (an important Dutch decoration), as well as a CBE and CB.
In 1947, the Vancouver-born soldier was made a Commander of the Legion of Merit (a U.S. decoration).
To think he accomplished all this by age 40 - no wonder they call this our greatest generation.
Michael J. (Mike) Smith is an RMC graduate (Class of '77) and ex-naval officer who has been an avid collector of Canadiana for most of his life. His current passion is collecting and writing about Canadian antique postcards. He is currently working on his eighth postcard handbook. Visit postcard-directory.com/mikesmithbooks
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