Regular readers will know that I have a fondness for military stamp issues, particularly the proof bloody infantry, aka cannon fodder. The three infantry stamps issued this year are, therefore, close to my heart, and two of them even connect to my personal life. My former father-in-law was a Riley, and as a former Hamilton resident, I have taken refreshment at their home, James Street Armoury, on a few occasions. More recently, I worked on a committee to honour the efforts of two St. Catharines Victoria Cross recipients.
One of them, (Lance Corporal?) Fred Fisher, was born here, but enlisted in the Black Watch after his family moved to Montreal. They have his Victoria Cross in the museum, and were kind enough to allow it to be displayed in Fisher’s home town for the better part of a month. Even though the Royal Regiment of Canada is currently brigaded with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment and 56 Field Artillery Regiment, units I have a connection with, I haven’t met a lot of members of the RRC, but I am sure they are very nice people. What makes the honouring of these regiments is that while the Canadian army did maintain two regular force Black Watch battalions for a few years, today these regiments are made up of citizen soldiers. Sometimes – and not always affectionately – referred to as weekend warriors, these young men and women train evenings and weekends.
For them the army is a part-time job or hobby. It is a tradition that goes back a long time. Canada had an active militia even before the War of 1812. In fact, one of the Canadian myths of that war is that it was a total victory by Canadian citizen soldiers against American regulars. Since then, in every crisis, the part-time soldier has been called on time and time again. Sometimes, such as in the Second World War, entire units have been activated; other times, such as Afghanistan, much smaller units, or even individuals, have been called upon. In the small world of the military, pecking order and precedence are important.
It is what a CSN contributor once called the “Cap Badge Hierarchy.” Infantry regiments jealously guard their seniority, or the ability to be called royal, just as much as they guard their battle honours and traditions. Today, Canadian regiments date their seniority from an organization of the 1860s. However, many lay claim to perpetuate units of the War of 1812 and some loyalist regiments claim a tradition of more than two centuries. What matters isn’t whose march past gets played first, what matters is that all three of these stamps honour Canada’s long tradition of citizen soldiers. In doing so, they honour not just these three infantry regiments, but every Canadian who at the very least gave up a weekend with their family in order to serve their country.