The Advisory Board

The Advisory Board has been a significant asset in the battle to preserve the regimental system and badging in the Militia and the maintenance of Highland regimental traditions.

Formation of the Board

The independent voice to champion the regiment.

The Cameron advisory board as it functions today was constituted (perhaps reconstituted, for those who have 70-year memories) by the incoming Commanding Officer of 1965. That was Douglas Ludlow, the regiment’s recently retired honourary lieutenant-colonel, succeeded by HLCol Robert Vandewater.

He saw formation of the board as a pressing need (remember, military reorganization diminishing the reserves was being implemented at the time) and, importantly, as a useful military tradition which had lapsed in vigor.

“In the immediate post-war years, the [traditional] Cameron regiment had never really functioned as a formal body… Some of the regimental family used to meet once a year or so at the mess dinners. And there would be a special gathering called when the time came for command changes,” he said.

Ludlow saw potential to be tapped to the unit’s advantage and called interested parties together to formalize monthly meetings (10 times a year), with a set of bylaws, elected officers (chair, secretary, treasurer, subcommittees), and distributed minutes of the gathering’s deliberations.

“With that we started to get things done,” Ludlow recalled.

Bylaws were written. Meetings were carefully (sometimes outrageously) minuted. Advice was dispensed sensitively. Financial help was secured. Function planning was contributed. In all circumstances, the commanding officer understood that board function is strictly advisory.

High on the early agenda was the appointment of honouraries – an honourary colonel and an honourary lieutenant colonel.

“We were very fortunate to secure John A. MacAulay as our honourary in my years, and Orville Kay (BGen O.M.M. Kay) as honourary lieutenant colonel.” Ludlow said. Kay, of course, was of the old school, having commanded the Winnipeg Grenadiers to assignment in Jamaica before they headed to Asia in 1941 and the tragedy of Hong Kong. He was Honourary Colonel of the Grenadiers when they were disbanded after the war.

“Things choked up a bit when I announced in 1966 that the Camerons would be Trooping the Colour for the country’s centenary in 1967.” It was a lot to ask and a surprise. But with the right people to do the appropriate communication and deliver the goods, the regiment pulled it off very successfully, thanks in large part to underwriting of new kit by the Honourary.

The Camerons were kitted with their new green coatees and paraded in full dress (three guards of 50 each) for the first time, with the Ogre of the Military at the time, Minister of Defence, The Hon Paul Hellyer, taking the salute.

It was an occasion that fortified the regiment’s already strong roots in the community — serendipitous circumstance an advisory board is structured and committed to advance.

Growth and Achievements

In the years that followed, strength and interest by board members fluctuated. All commanding Officers become board members for life.

Strength of numbers is partly the result of input by 12 CO’s since the mid-sixties. We lost one to death and the participation by some others who don’t attend for a variety of reasons, distance and heath being primary. Invitees numbered approximately 18.

“I remember occasions when only five or six of us would meet of a roster of about a dozen,” LCol. Reg Churchward said. In many years the board was comprised of former serving officers. Early on, many of these had seen war service. This changed in the 1970s. Members were encouraged to introduce suitable friends who would be interested to serve and who were acceptable to the Regimental Family. Automatic board membership is conferred on the president and vice-president of the St. Andrew’s Society, usually a one-year term. Many of these presidents enjoyed the board’s work and contributed richly and latterly chose to accept invitations to stay on as members after their society duties had expired.

In late 2005 and early 2006, the board looked at its constitution, which had undergone no formal change since it adoption in Ludlow’s time. The language seemed to have missed out on a few latter-day sensitivities. It was no long right to regard all troops as men (or officers as gentlemen), so that was changed. Some complications about committees, long found redundant were axed. Membership was more sensitively expresses and defined. But the major change was the addition of a Senate, a body independent of the board to advise the CO on matters of succession – on issues of command and honourifics. This displaced the rather loosely defined CO’s committee of the old constitution. The Secretary drew up 10 drafts before tinkering changed for Bob Vandewater’s committee and the matter went to vote at the June 2006, annual general meeting.

The fact that the advisory board was a civilian body, made it comfortably independent of military control or direction. It could convey messages to government in terms and ways that would have risked charges of insubordination if done by a CO or any other officer. As a result, the board has had occasion to activate its shocked-and-appalled committee to frame messages to points of power in Ottawa to affect change or register disagreement with policies that impact on the best interests of the unit. The same “poison pen team” has been used to frame interventions at Defence White Paper hearings and petitions to governments.

Board growth in the 1990s and since has established a roster of about 35 dues-paying members, of which 25 are regular attendees, assuring monthly gatherings of 15 to 18. Motivation for board interest is primarily to secure the continual viability of the Camerons as a unit but there is frequent serious debate about unit health, and policies relating to Canada’s forces and the bureaucratic teletubbies who pronounce on it.

Much of the spirit of the regiment derives from the influence and generosity of a superb cadre of honouraries since the advisory board was formally constituted — HCol John MacAulay and HLCol O.M.M. Kay; HLCol Jim Burns succeeding, on Kay’s death; HCol Mac Runciman taking over after MacAulay’s death, Burns having stated his preference to defer succession. Burns took over as Honourary Colonel after Runciman’s death, and Ludlow was invited to become Honourary Lieutenant Colonel.

The advisory board has been a significant activist in the battle to preserve the regimental system and badging in the Militia. It has been instrumental, publicly and behind the scenes, in turning back more than one effort that would have seen legendary prairie units merged. It has also lent its voice to Reserves 2000, a body with similar preservation objectives. Militia financing, recruiting and disposition have also been hot buttons of concern for the west’s senior highland regiment.

The Board has been instrumental, too, in securing fiscal strength and health to ensure maintenance of Highland regimental color and character.

Often considered, but not acted upon until 1988, was formation of a regimental foundation as a source of non-government funding. Registered in 1991 as a public foundation with support of the Cameron regimental family and friends, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada Regimental Foundation has become a substantial provider of non-public funds to the regiment. By 2005 assets hurdled the $200,000 barrier and earnings thereof financed the wherewithal the ensured the regiment’s Scottish distinction.

Shankland’s Victoria Cross

Advisory Board helps secure Shankland’s Victoria Cross in Canada.

It was the best result in the worst of times.

The Shankland suite of nine medals, but particularly the priceless Victoria Cross which Robert Shankland was awarded for valour in 1917, are secure in Canada, available for public viewing, and more important, for generational learning.

The regiment’s honour is secure.

The best result was that the medals’ auction in Toronto on the evening of May 25 led to the best bid coming from the Canada War Museum in Ottawa. The price, $240,000, plus commission, $288,000. That was a mid-range expectation of anticipated bidding.

The result is a delight for the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.

It also afforded warm and fuzzies for those worried how about we could pull off a deal — raising money, encouraging philanthropy, in the worst of financial times — when the Regimental Family was already hugely committed to the celebration of its 100th anniversary next year and publication of its centenary history, Winnipeg’s Ladies from Hell.

But obviously, this momentous (some say outrageous) sale was something that could not be ignored.

A check of the e-mail diary showed a first stirring of the pot came April 20 with a question from Ottawa. Then Hughie Mcdonnell chimed in with a website item about the May 25 auction of the whole suite of Shankland medals.

On April 23, board members shared the news with an e-mail

The CO fired a rocket then. Takeuchi’s chain-choker on April 24, made it clear, with supporting phone calls, we needed a plan and, most particularly, points of inquiry and information clearance. The medals must stay in Canada, was the order. He volunteered Maj Paddy Douglass for the Regiment, and Murray Burt of the board to do poison pen duties. HLCol Bob Vandewater was in there by osmosis immediately. Plan A was established.

On April 29 Vandewater and Burt sounded out sympathetic philanthropists. The word back was: they would help in a crisis, but that this was a bad time. On May 3 committee plotters shared some thinking. Two days later it was an issue before the Advisory Board monthly meeting.

Everyone wanted to “secure” the medals. The public was not being told who was selling. A “leak” to a board member established it was “family.” Board members’ thoughts were wide-ranging:

  1. Buy them for the Camerons museum. Simple, but what of wherewithal?
  2. Start a fund-raiser, organize an expensive gala for screening Passchendaele, the hit movie the covers the Shankland days.
  3. Frame a another plan to save them.
  4. Yikes! Three hundred grand you say?
  5. What about our centenary year plan costs and the price of publishing and distributing our history?

The conclusion: go easy. The reality seemed that philanthropy might get us $50,000. Three galas might raise $30,000. That left $200,000 to come from fowl suppers and bake sales (200 x $1,000), individual goodwill and the Foundation. What’s more there were 19 days to do it. The big downer was going to be returning the money if we were unsuccessful.

Time to frame a Plan B.

  1. Feed the media and raise the profile of the VC sale.
  2. Play the politicians card
  3. If a foreign buyer takes it offshore, use the 60 days grace before granting the export permit to raise a matching big. We would be working with a certainty there.
  4. Hope the province or feds would be blushed into moving.

Plan B was embraced. Now the medals are in good, safe hands. Our heritage jewel is intact. The publicity we got was fantastic. (I had minutes with CBC Winnipeg, Toronto and Regina (including TV); The Winnipeg Free Press, The Globe & Mail, Global TV (2x) and the National Post.

Hey, we could do worse.

— Murray Burt