Sunday, May 11, 2008

John Babcock Regains Canadian Citizenship

The following was posted on the Canwst News Services on May 8, 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."

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