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November 2002 Edition

1999 ~ 2000 ~ 2001

Scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe. The destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century, transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers.

In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as the First World War raged through Europe's heart.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts.

by John McCrae
Outside a dressing station near Ypres in 1915, John McCrae, a surgeon in the Canadian Army, wrote of the scenes around him. Dissatisfied, he tore the poem from his notebook and returned to his duties. A fellow officer discovered the poem in the mud and sent a copy to the press. Recited in Remembrance services throughout the world, this is one of the most memorable and moving poems of the Great War. John McCrae died in 1918.
   In Flanders fields the poppies blow
   Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
   Scarce heard amid the guns below.

   We are the Dead. Short days ago
   We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
   In Flanders fields.

   Take up our quarrel with the foe:
   To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
   We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
   In Flanders fields

'Yet the birds kept singing'
The letter that presaged In Flanders Fields: Newly found letter
contains McCrae's vivid description of 2nd Battle of Ypres
Ypres, Christmas, 1917 by Gilbert Holliday ~ From the  WWI Collection at Swedish University
Michael Bliss
National Post
Monday, November 11, 2002

Major John McCrae's letter of May 13, 1915, to doctor Charles Martin, published today in the National Post for the first time, is the soldier-poet's best and most concise account of the ghastly battle that gave rise to his immortal poem, In Flanders Fields.

I found a typescript of the letter this summer as part of a packet of war letters to and from McGill University medical men in Yale University's collection of the papers of Harvey Cushing, the pioneering American neurosurgeon. The McGill doctors seem to have been circulating the letters to keep some of their American friends and supporters abreast of the fighting and medical conditions in France.

Neither McCrae's most recent biographer, Dianne Graves, nor the curator of the Guelph Museums (which include McCrae House), Bev Dietrich, had known of this letter, the original of which may not survive. McCrae's other accounts of the second Battle of Ypres are notes in his war diaries and several longer letters to his family.

Although McCrae describes 17 days in which "it was fight all the time," there was in fact a brief lull on May 2 during which one of McCrae's fallen comrades, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was buried. That night or the next morning McCrae was seen to be jotting down the lines that he later reworked into his most famous poem. His remark in the Martin letter that despite the endless shelling "the birds kept singing in the trees" obliquely echoes in his lines, "The larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below."

In Flanders Fields was published anonymously in the Dec. 8, 1915, edition of Punch, and immediately became famous.

After Second Ypres, McCrae served for more than three years with No. 3 Canadian General Hospital, a medical unit staffed by McGill University personnel. He died in France of pneumonia and meningitis on Jan. 28, 1918.

Harvey Cushing was a friend of the McCrae brothers, Tom and John, who came from Guelph, Ont., and both studied medicine at the University of Toronto and then worked as residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Cushing met them at Hopkins -- he lived with Tom for several years -- where they were all protegés and friends of the great Canadian physician William Osler. As well as the letter published here, Cushing's papers and war diaries shed more light on John McCrae and his war.

The younger McCrae -- "Jack" to his friends - spent a few months at Hopkins during his medical training, mostly in Toronto, in the late 1890s. He broke off his hospital work to enlist for service in the South African War in 1900 where he saw action as part of the Canadian volunteer contingent. He settled into practice and teaching in Montreal, published some of his verse, but immediately re-enlisted in a
Canadian artillery unit on the outbreak of war in 1914. He went overseas with the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and by April of 1915 had seen his first action as second in command of the First Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, at the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

Although the United States remained neutral in the conflict until 1917, Harvey Cushing served briefly in France that spring as head of a Harvard University medical unit at a volunteer American hospital in Paris. His papers contain another new McCrae letter, written directly to him on April 17, 1915:

My dear Harvey: Just a note to wish you the time of day. Tom wrote me that you were coming over.... I suppose Mrs. Cushing is not with you this time.

Things are quiet here.... We got over here the 14th of Febr. And for the six weeks on from Feb. 19 we were constantly in action, getting in on the flank of the big affair at Neuve Chapelle.

This is verily an awful affair. Did you see Irwin's statement that the fighting which ended in Nov near Ypres cost more casualties than the Civil War? I think nothing can bring home to one's mind so well the big scale as that statement.

... I hope to go where I am most needed. Up to the present I have been a kind of ass't adjutant as well as looking after the relatively few sick. Men & horses have kept in very good shape.

If you have time drop me a note.

A few days later the Americans in Paris began to hear rumours of a big German push in the Ypres salient. They could not believe the stories that the Germans were using some kind of asphyxiating gas -- and then the first coughing, gassed wounded started arriving. "There's devil's work going on around Ypres," Cushing wrote in his diary.

He pasted in a clipping about the gallant conduct of the Canadian artillery in the early days of the fighting, and noted, hopefully, "Trusting Jack McCrae was not in it." When he had the opportunity to observe the battle from a distant hill on May 5, Cushing still did not know of McCrae's involvement. Cushing's party of Americans was appalled at the condition of the gas victims and other casualties of the fighting: "we do not care to examine them in any detail -- it's too harrowing." Second Ypres was still raging as Cushing sailed for home in mid-May, his own ship zigzagging through water still littered with corpses from the torpedoing of the Lusitania.

Canada suffered 6,000 casualties at Second Ypres, our country's introduction to a war that Robert Borden, the prime minister, privately labelled "the suicide of civilization."

Although Jack McCrae survived with only other people's blood on his uniform (his horse, Bonfire, also made it through, despite shrapnel wounds), his close friends, including the Oslers, with whom he would stay in England on leave, noticed a shocking change of character. McCrae was nearly broken. When Cushing, back in France serving with the American forces, saw him in December, 1917, he noted that McCrae "does not appear to me at all like the 'In Flanders Fields' person of former days. Silent, asthmatic, and moody."

A month later, in his war diary, Cushing described "The Death of a Soldier-Poet":

Jan. 28, 1918: I saw poor Jack McCrae ... last night -- the last time. A bright flame rapidly burning out. He died early this morning.... Never strong, he gave his all with the Canadian Artillery during the prolonged second battle of Ypres and after at which time he wrote his imperishable verses. Since those frightful days he has never been  his old gay and companionable self, but has rather sought solitude. A soldier from top to toe -- how he would have hated to die in bed....

They will bury him tomorrow. Some of the older members of the McGill Unit who still remain here were scouring the fields this afternoon to try and find some chance winter poppies to put on his grave -- to remind him of Flanders, where he would have preferred to lie....

Jan. 29: We saw him buried this afternoon at the cemetery on the hillside at Wimereux with military honors -- a tribute to Canada as well as to him.... A company of North Staffords and many Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies and Canadian sisters headed the procession -- then 'Bonfire' ... with his master's boots reversed over the saddle -- then the rest of us.... the Staffords, from their reversed arms, fix bayonets, and instead of firing over the grave, as in time of peace, stand at salute during the Last Post with its final wailing note which brings a lump to our throats -- and so we leave him.

The best book about McCrae is A Crown of Life: The World of John McCrae, by Dianne Graves, published in the United Kingdom and Canada in 1997. An edited edition of Harvey Cushing's war diaries, From a Surgeon's Journal: 1915-1918, was published in 1936. The Cushing papers are available to researchers at Yale and on microfilm.

The letter from Major John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, is written to Dr. Charles Martin. It was found in a packet labelled "some McGill letters."

N. France, May 13, 1915
My dear Charley:

Thank you for your kind and interesting letter which reached me a few days ago. We have just got through the terrible battle of Ypres, which was not the brief affair you might judge from the papers. 

We were going in on April 22, and were 3 miles behind the French line at the spot where and the time when it broke. We stood by in the mele-and confusion all night from 6 p.m. and at 3.30 a.m. were sent in on the gallop to a spot on the canal north of the town, and there we stayed 17 days and nights: all the time we never even had our boots off; it was fight all the time. We were far up to the front, and to that we owe our effectiveness, as well as our losses which could not but be heavy.

The artillery fire was constant, heavy and from all sorts of guns. We were said to have 2 army corps reinforcements on our front - and it felt like it. The men behaved magnificently: and the labor was terribly hard. In one 30 hours we fired 3600 rounds: and at one time our brigade had only seven guns able to fire; two of these smoked at every joint and were too hot to touch with the unprotected hand. Throughout three nights they shelled us continuously: and the firing never ceased one consecutive minute, night or day; and yet the birds kept singing in the trees - what trees were not cut down by shells. 

We were so close up to the trenches (for guns) that the rifle bullets came over us in clouds. We got the gas again and again. Of the 17 days the first 8 we were with the French army, - and all the time had French troops on our front: the anxiety was terrible, for we never knew if the French would hold on or give. Our part of the battle was to hold the German lines and allow the subsequent French and British advance to the south. And day after day it was firing to support French attack, or repel German attack. And we sometimes had 3 of these latter in a day. We got into them well again and again.

We lost very heavily (for artillery) but we have justified our existence. Of the 'horrors of war' we saw them an 'undred fold - at close quarters. From some of my uniform I can't get the bloodstains clear yet. 

My good old friend 'Bonfire' got two light shrapnel wounds, but is quite fit again. It has been a terrible time, but we have been very mercifully preserved so far. My love to your family - 

Yours very truly.

Michael Bliss, Professor of History/History of Medicine at the University of Toronto
and author of William Osler: A Life in Medicine, is writing a new biography of Harvey Cushing.
 © Copyright  2002 National Post

by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
   Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
   Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
   Can patter out their hasty orisons.
   No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
   Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
   The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
   And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

   What candles may be held to speed them all?
   Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
   Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
   The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
   Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
   And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds

Perhaps the most famous of the war poets, Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire in 1893, and began writing  poetry as a boy. After teaching English in France for a while he joined the Manchester Regiment and fought at the Somme where he contracted trench fever. While recuperating in Scotland, Owen met Siegfried Sassoon who encouraged his writing. Owen returned to the fighting and was decorated for his actions, but was tragically killed in the last week of the war. 

by Siegfried Sassoon
Poems written by Sassoon at the start of the First World War contrast greatly in style to his later work. Driven by anger and frustration at the conduct of the war, Sassoon developed a beautiful style in which to describe the horror and appalling nature of the ongoing conflict. Sassoon continued to stir the emotions and consciences of his countrymen long after the guns fell silent.
   HAVE you forgotten yet?...
   For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
   Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
   And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
   Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
   Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
   But the past is just the same-and War's a bloody game...
   Have you forgotten yet?...
   Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

   Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
   The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
   Do you remember the rats; and the stench
   Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
   And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
   Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

   Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
   And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
   As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
   Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
   With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
   Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

   Have you forgotten yet?...
   Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.

by Charlottel Mew 1919

   Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
   Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
   There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
   Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
   But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an
   inward sword have more slowly bled,
   We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column's head.
   And over the stairway, at the foot -- oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
   Violets, roses, and laurel, with the small, sweet, tinkling country things
   Speaking so wistfully of other Springs,
   From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
   In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
   To lovers - to mothers
   Here, too, lies he: Under the purple, the green, the red,
   It is all young life: it must break some women's hearts to see
   Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
   Only, when all is done and said,
   God is not mocked and neither are the dead
   For this will stand in our Market-place -
   Who'll sell, who'll buy?
   (Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace?)
   While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's face
   As they drive their bargains, is the Face
   Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

Ref: BBC Website

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting, The Great War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.

The first Remembrance Day was conducted in 1919 throughout Britain and the Commonwealth. Originally
called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of hostilities the previous year. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide an opportunity to remember those who had died.

After the end of the Second World War in 1945 Armistice Day became Remembrance Day to include all those who had fallen in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

In a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919, an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the First World War. This was brought to the attention of King George V and on 7 November 1919, the King issued a proclamation which called for a two minute silence:

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

The second Sunday of November is Remembrance Sunday. At 11am a two minute silence is observed at war memorials, cenotaphs, religious services and shopping centres throughout the country. The Royal Family, along with leading politicians and religious leaders gather at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London for a service and all branches of the civilian and military services are represented in ceremonies throughout Britain and the Commonwealth.

 'Say your prayers. Make peace with your maker'
Remembering Charley Gibson's war

Rod McDonald
Knight-Ridder ~ The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, November 10, 2002

(As told to me by Uncle Charley, a British soldier during the First World War who married my aunt and settled in Alexandria, Ont. after the Second World War)

FRANCE - I was lying in the water, counting the dead rats floating by me. They looked like little dinghies that had gone belly up after hitting a reef. But these weren't boats, they were bloated, stinking trench rats with the most piercing looks I had ever set eyes upon. The blood which had skimmed onto the mud had caught onto the rats, and they were encrusted with it ... the blood of my friends I'd seen blown to hell by the mortars and artillery. Some had been shot through the head because they made the mistake of not poking their helmet up first, with a broken branch.

The dead were all around me. The casualties were mounting so fast that the officers told us to simply poke the guy's rifle with the bayonet deep into the mud, just near the feet, to mark the place where he had fallen. The commanding officer promised that we would return to drag back our boys as soon as we went over the top again, and gained some ground. What sort of war doesn't allow me to bury my best pals who are lying face down in the puddles?

My sergeant hollered to us, from around the bend in the trench, that we'd be going over in one hour.

"Look to it now! Say your prayers. Make peace with your maker."

 I could hear the lone piper practising, blowing his hot breath into the damp bag of his set of pipes. They made a groaning sound, a kind of squawk, and then the drones cut in and the sombre sound flew up over the hill of the trench and out over the foxholes to no-man's land. It sounded as if a group of ghosts had just gone over the top. I wondered what the enemy thought about the pipes. We had heard that they had named the pipes "the music from hell" and that they hated the sound more than the fighting itself.

Perhaps this was all an old woman's tale. Maybe the men on the other side of the divide couldn't give a damn what we played, as long as they could get us into the sights of their rifles as we went over the top, charging into the flying lead and splintering bones like a bunch of fools on furlough.

When I got back to praying, I found it tough to find the words to anything because I was shaking so bad.

"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to die in trenches  ... he leadeth beside the muddy water ... "

How was a man to pray in this hell-hole? The minutes ticked on, relentless, as they marched toward the appointed time. When I knew the hour was finally up, I was curled up in a tiny ball like a baby in a womb. The piper was standing at the bottom of the trench, crouched over his set of pipes to avoid the bullets ripping by just inches away from his helmet. His white legs shook like sticks in the wind just under the edge of his kilt. His boots were covered in muddy water, a soldier's true spit and polish.

I could see my whole life pass before me on the dripping wall face of the trench. There I was as a kid, fetching a can of stout for my father, down a dark alleyway in the slums of London. There I was the first time I learned how to read a whole line of writing. I followed the words with my finger like an old miser checking the numbers in his bankbook. I remembered the first war story  I had read and how it had both excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Over the top!"

The piper was playing Cock o' the North as he scrambled up the bank. Some guys slid back down into the water, with holes in their helmets, and blank stares on their faces. We ran into the smoke and debris like wild men. Friends fell by my side screaming for their mothers, as the sergeant roared his commands. There was no time to even jab the dead men's bayonets into the bloody mud as a temporary grave marker, as the officers had ordered us to do. I wondered whether we would be able to find them later, as we crawled around like insects with those gas masks on, trying to avoid the snipers' potshots. The night sky was lit up by ordnance and the flight of men's souls as we entered the gates of hell.

I don't know how I managed to survive because the bullets were whizzing by so closely that I could feel the wind, what a friend of mine called "the wind of death." He never made it back to the trench. I'll never forget the sound of the bullets hitting the steel helmets, as if someone were hitting people on the head with a hammer. Then we were told to retreat, and somehow, with the help of the God who was watching the slaughter from somewhere on high, I made it to within 50 yards of the trench.

Later, as the sun peeked over the carnage, I was lying face up at the bottom of a foxhole, watching the blown-out branches of the shelled trees bend in the wind. I could still hear the cries of my comrades, and I could still taste the fear in my mouth.

Later that morning, when there seemed to be a lull in the shooting from the German side, we slithered back like snakes, and tumbled into our trenches. It was an orange autumn day, and the sun warmed our shivering bodies.

Then we all got our bayonets ready for the dead, ready for the command to crawl back onto the killing ground to mark the graves of our fallen comrades, who awaited us with blank stares that seemed to be searching the heavens for a God who had left them behind.

Writer Rod McDonald lives in Alexandria.
 © Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen

Ref: BBC Website

1. Creative Writing / Poetry

Students watch a video clip of war footage, look at a picture of a war scene, hear sounds of war, or listen to a war story. The students imagine they are present at the scene either as one of the people in the frame or a bystander to the event.

Using the framework of the senses, students write about: what they can see, what they can hear, what they can smell, what they can taste and what they can touch. In addition to this, they should write about how they feel or make any comments they wish. This basic framework can be adapted according to the ability of pupils (for example: write one line on what you can see, one line on what you can hear etc.), or objectives of the teacher(for example: what three things can you hear, what two things can you see).

Using this framework offers students a vehicle to respond to a stimulus on a very personal level, secure in the knowledge that they know exactly what is required of them. This strategy is suitable for any age or ability level and can be set as an individual, pair, group or whole class task.

2. Creative art / craft

In groups, students create 'Mood boards' for 'war', 'peace' and 'remembrance'. To create a mood board students will need to collect various materials, which may include drawings, pictures, newspaper cuttings, computer images, cartoons, words and phrases etc. They have to pay particular attention to the use of colour and shape in creating the 'mood' they feel is most appropriate for their given title. The purpose of a mood board here is to convey emotion as well as fact and/or opinion.

Students should be given the opportunity to view the work of their peers and to comment on what the mood boards make them think and feel. Students may present their mood boards to their peers to express their thinking and feeling behind their work.

Teachers may feel it is appropriate that no comments are made on the work, but that students are left to reflect individually on their own work and that of their peers.

3. Reality Game

This is played in groups of 4-6. Students will need to think carefully about weapons, their production and their use in order to argue their point of view. Environmental issues, possible hazards to workers and the local community, moral attitudes and local opinion need to be considered. Research tools and skills will be necessary for this.

The Scene
Your town has high levels of unemployment. As a town councillor on the Planning Committee, you have received a request for permission to build an arms factory. This will bring employment for up to 200 people to the town. The planning committee is divided on its views to allow the factory to be built and ask for more time to consider the planning application.

The Task
Decide in your group who will argue for the application to be approved and who will argue against. Research into the issues and prepare a presentation for your group - the planning committee - that will last no less than 3minutes and no more than 5 minutes (this can be done individually or in pairs). Present your argument and vote on either for or against the factory being built.
(This can be adapted and presented to the whole class).

4. Drama / Improvisation

The following scenarios could end in violence. Act out and complete the scene but in your improvisation you must avoid violence and seek a peaceful solution.

· John is driving his car along the main road. As he approaches a junction he has to break suddenly as someone drives out of the minor road in front of him. Peter, who was driving behind John collides into the back of John's car. They blame each other for the crash.
· Jane and Lisa are best friends. Lisa has been dating Karl for three months. Jane likes Karl too, and when Lisa is on holiday she persuades Karl to go out with her. When Lisa returns from holiday she visits Karl but Jane answers the door.
· David left his bike outside the newsagents while he bought a magazine. Although he had chained it to a railing, the chain had been cut. Two hours later he saw his bike being ridden by a boy from his class on a playfield. David approached the boy.

5. For Discussion

· Men find war and weapons fascinating. Women find them abhorrent.
· War should always be avoided.
· There is such a thing as a 'just' war.
· 'Turn the other cheek' is good advice.
· 'Let's remember, lest we forget'

6. For Assembly

Develop a Remembrance Day Service for a KS3 assembly. You will need to consider:
· What messages do you want to get across?
· What do you want pupils to reflect on?
· What should be the focus of prayer for those with religious beliefs?
· Suitable readings or poetry, possibly that you or your class peers have composed
· Music which is appropriate. This may reflect mood, be celebratory, carry a message, be traditional or contemporary. It may reflect the nature or significance of war or peace or both.

7. Quotations

Look up some quotations on war and peace and remembrance. (for example: )

Select five quotes which reflect your views.
In groups, identify the quotes you have chosen and say why they appealed to you.
As a group discuss the meanings of the quotations and select the five which in the consensus of the group are the most significant. Display these around the classroom.
As a class, compare the quotations selected by the groups. How are they similar / different.
As a group / class compose your own statement which reflects your views on war, peace and rememberance.

8. For Research and Reflection

· Why should we remember?
· What lessons have been learnt by / through war?
· Has humanity been served by war?
· What would make you fight in a war?
· What would prevent you from fighting in a war?
· Can victims of war forgive their aggressors?
· Do the perpetrators of war seek forgiveness?

CATP Museum Remembrance 2002 Day Open House

Stephen Hayter Museum Director: Greeting AttendeesAirman in Training by Helen Granger YoungSome of the Open House crowd

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50th (Calgary) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force
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World War I: Trenches on the Web
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