This year marks the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the First World War. It was called the “Great War” and the “War to End All Wars”. (If only the latter were true. No one thought to call it the First World War, until there was a Second.) Many historians are of the view that the Great War was a defining moment in the history of Canada marking the birth of a truly independent nation.
This month, is the month that we traditionally pause to reflect and honour ALL those who sacrificed life, limb, youth and opportunity in both World Wars, and all the many other engagements in which Canada has participated, to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy today.
But as this is the 100th anniversary of the Great War, it seems fitting to look to our annals of 1914. Here we find recorded: “On August 4th, 1914, the date of declaration of war, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club possessed between two and three hundred ‘active sailors’ manning thirty cutters, schooners, sloops and yawls, and equally strong auxiliary and power fleet, besides racing skiffs and dinghies… The season was at its height…with Britain’s ultimatum, sport activities faded like breath on the pane…crews of every other yacht in the club were thronging recruiting stations and scrambling into khaki or blue serge like men pulling on oilskins for a heavy squall…The fleet was laid up from the first week of the war. For four years club topsails disappeared from Toronto Harbour…Nearly 500 members, or more than double the active sailing strength of the club, were overseas with the colours, or in the ranks of troops preparing to go overseas. Fifty-nine gave their lives; a very high percentage of casualties, proving that yachtsmen were in the thick of the fighting. Indeed from the battle of St.Julien onwards, every Canadian list of killed or wounded contained the name of one or more members of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club…Yet throughout the war the club carried on…By 1915 wounded men were coming back from overseas…The club lawns…were devoted to convalescents from the hospitals every morning. Twice a week the club steamer Hiawatha took the patients out for a sail on the lake, serving refreshments, and returning them to the fleet of automobiles provided by club members and awaiting them at the foot of Yonge Street.”
In last year’s November 2013 Kwasind, there is a very comprehensive account of the RCYC’s recruitment endeavours and support of the Royal Canadian Navy, and pages 11 to 17 of Volume 1 of the Annals, give a detailed account of the Great War years. There is a paragraph on page 16 that is very moving in the way it connects sacrifice, fortitude, heritage and peace.
“Nothing connected with that great elemental force, the sea, can properly be considered trivial. But when the time that tests the souls of men and institutions meets with response fromo not only the whole sailing strength of an organization, but double the sailing strength, not only is the existence of that organization vindicated but the reasons underlying it become of historic interest. It is with this in mind that the short and simple annals of the RCYC, recording largely the pleasures…of peace, are offered for the reader’s consideration.”
Let us remember those who sacrificed so we could enjoy the pleasures of peace.
Story courtesy of RCYC’s Kwasind publication.
Author Beverley Darville