Saturday, September 13, 2008
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Babcock earns special distinction: Canada's last living First World War veteran named regimental patriarch.
Posted By IAN ELLIOT WHIG-STANDARD STAFF WRITER
Jack Babcock is last, and now he has been honoured with a rare Canadian first.
Babcock, who was born in Holleford north of Kingston, is Canada's lone surviving First World War veteran. He recently became not just a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment Association - the regiment with which he served - but has been made the regimental patriarch.
Retired Maj. Hugh Conway of Jasper, Alta., travelled to Babcock's home in Spokane, Wash., to make the presentation. He believed it was the first time that honorary title had been bestowed on someone, not just in the regiment but in Canada.
"Patriarch means an honoured elder male leader, and that's what he is to the regiment," said Conway, who was accompanied by RCMP Const. Peter Lavalee of Jasper when he visited Babcock's home.
"The title is unique - it's never been used before by anyone."
Officials with National Defence's History and Heritage Directorate in Ottawa, which oversees honours and awards in the Canadian Forces, confirm that they are not aware of anyone else being named a patriarch, although they point out it is a symbolic appointment with no official standing in the hierarchy of Canadian awards and titles.
Babcock, who enlisted at age 15 and whose true age was found out before he made it to the trenches, trained in the RCR's reserves in England for two years and was waiting to turn 19 when the war ended.
His regimental affiliations were only confirmed a couple of years ago after historians reviewed his military records, and while Babcock has always downplayed his military service - as he never saw combat - Conway said the regiment wanted to recognize him.
Babcock was thrilled by the honour, the latest in a series of Canadian accolades that include regaining his citizenship after the personal intervention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this year.
"When I got to his house, I said, 'It's an honour to meet you, sir,' and he immediately shot back, 'Don't call me sir, I work for a living,' " recalled Conway.
The ceremony was low-key and after the formal presentation, the two accompanied Babcock to his favourite restaurant, where a small circle of friends helped celebrate.
Still sprightly at 108, over lunch Babcock recited poems he learned during the war and in the parking lot afterwards he belted out a few verses of O Canada.
"I hope I'm that sharp when I'm 75, let alone 108,"Conway said.
The Royal Canadian Regiment is one of the most self-effacing of all Canadian military units and has been historically reluctant to play up its achievements, but one of the members who pushed for recognition for Babcock was Jack O'Brien.
The retired RCR sergeant-major runs a farm on Kingston Mills Road and pushed for Babcock to receive some regimental acknowledgement at the unit's recent 125th anniversary reunion here.
"Patriarch means an honoured elder male leader, and that's what he is to the regiment," Conway explained.
"The regiment can only do what the family will allow," he said.
"However, we do not forget a Royal -once a Royal, always a Royal."
Parliament has authorized a rare state funeral to be offered to Babcock's family when he dies, but publicly Babcock has always demurred, saying that honour should have gone to someone who fought. RCMP Const. Peter Lavalee (standing, left) and retired Maj. Hugh Conway (right) of Jasper, Alta. travelled all the way to Spokane, Wash., to present veteran Jack Babcock with an unusual award. Babcock, Canada's last living First World War veteran, is now the regimental patriarch of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
First World War vet regains Canadian Citizenship
Tobin Dalrymple , Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, May 08, 2008
OTTAWA - It all started with a hand-written note to the prime minister, scrawled on a sheet of paper decorated with cartoon Teddy Bears and American flags. But on Thursday, Canada's last remaining First World War veteran, John Babcock, received an important gift: the restoration of his Canadian citizenship.
Babcock, 107, is the only remaining Canadian to have served in the Great War. But until this week, he was only a Canuck by birth - after the war, he moved to the United States, where he was eventually naturalized as a U.S. citizen. At the time, the U.S. did not allow "dual citizens" and he had to renounce his Canadian status.
Last month, Veteran Affairs Minister Greg Thompson visited Babcock near his home in Spokane, Wash., to present him with a Minister's Commendation - a special award recognizing the sacrifice and achievements of veterans and commendable service to the veteran community.
Canada's last known World War I veteran John Babcock (R) toasts to his health with Greg Thompson, Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs, after receiving the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in Spokane, Washington, April 19, 2008.
During the minister's visit, Babcock told Thompson that he would like to be a bona fide Canadian citizen once more. Thompson suggested he write Prime Minister Stephen Harper a note. At the suggestion, Babcock's eyes "lit up," and he "grabbed a sheet of paper and penned the note right away," said Thompson.
"It was certainly something he was thinking about, that had been weighing on his mind," said Thompson of the soldier. "I think (Babcock) was thinking that it would be nice to leave this world the way he entered it."
The veteran, who served in 1917 in the Boys Battalion, a reserve brigade, kept his note to the prime minister short and simple:
"Dear PM," he wrote. "Could I have my Canadian citizenship restored? I would appreciate your help. Thank you, John Babcock."
After that, the Conservative MP delivered the letter to Harper personally during a cabinet meeting, he said. According to Thompson, the prime minister was "really taken" with it and acted on the request right away.
"I think everyone really focused on the fact that there was some level of urgency, given (Babcock's) age, and wanted to get it done as quickly as possible," said Thompson.
The vet became a Canadian again - officially - Thursday, after Governor General Michaelle Jean completed "all the necessary signatures," said Thompson, adding that officials will soon be flown down to meet Babcock near his home for a swearing in ceremony.
The newly minted Canadian started his life as an Ontario boy, growing up as one of 13 children on a farm in Kingston, Ont. Born on July 23, 1900, he was too young to join the forces in 1915, so he lied about his age to sign up with the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Two years later, Babcock landed in England with the Boys Battalion. The war ended before he could join the front lines - something he has said is a great disappointment.
Babcock moved to the United States after the war and served in the U.S. army from 1921 to 1924. It was these circumstances that led to the removal of Babcock's original citizenship. Today, however, dual citizens are allowed in Canada and the U.S.
"I wouldn't call it an accident of history," said Thompson, "but he was caught up in a set of circumstances, and today we corrected it."
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Canada's last WWI veteran, 107, gets award
Canada's minister of veterans affairs presented an award to the country's last surviving veteran of the First World War on Saturday.
John Babcock received a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation from Greg Thompson at a ceremony in Spokane, Wash., where he now lives.
Thompson called the 107-year-old an "ambassador for all those who served in the First World War," adding that veterans are critical to the remembrance and understanding of that period in history.
Babcock, a native of Kingston, Ont., joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 15.
He was soon deployed to England, but was too young to serve on the front lines and never saw active service.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation is presented to individuals who have contributed to the care and well-being of veterans and to the remembrance of their contributions.