Saturday, September 13, 2008

John Babcock, Patriarch of the RCR Association

CEFSG Member Al Lloyd has just made us aware of the appointment of John Babcock as the "Regimental Patriarch" of the Royal Canadian Regiment Association. Apparently, this is the first time this appointment has been made in Canada. The appointment is symbolic and does not reflect any official standing.

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The article text:

Babcock earns special distinction: Canada's last living First World War veteran named regimental patriarch.


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.