Remembrance Day 2012: A bit of Canada in Djibouti
Publication date: 14 November 2012
By Major Patrick Bailey
Like many other Canadian Forces members, I observed Remembrance Day this year in a desert nation far from home. No, not Afghanistan. I am deployed in Djibouti, a tiny nation wedged between Somalia and Eritrea on the African shore of the Red Sea, where I am serving on the headquarters staff of the Combined Joint Task ForceHorn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), a formation of U.S. African Command.
Today, the Republic of Djibouti is a financial and services centre linked into the global economy. During the Second World War, Djibouti was a French colony located at the crossroads of four theatres of operations halfway between Europe and south-east Asia, on the eastern edge of Africa and the western edge of the Near East. The evidence of this rests in the Djibouti New European Cemetery: the graves of 13 airmen, casualties of two wartime aircraft crashes.
The first was a Bristol Blenheim light bomber from No 8 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Khormaksar in Aden. It was shot down on 15 July 1942 while reconnoitring the Djibouti aerodrome at the time, Djibouti was held by the Vichy French, the faction collaborating with the Nazi occupation. The second aircraft, also British, was a Lockheed Hudson bomber used for transporting passengers, a common practice at the time. It crashed on 11 July 1945 while attempting to land.
The pilot of the Blenheim, Pilot Officer Lawrence R. Maguire, was the first member of the Royal Canadian Air Force to lose his life in the African theatre of operations. His headstone records the bald facts: “American, Joined the RCAF 1940 age 21, Wounded over Europe 1941, Volunteer for Near East.” His journey to war began when he hitchhiked from New Jersey to Ottawa to join up, and ended here, in this foreign field.
While P/O Maguire of New Jersey lies under the RCAF badge, his flight mechanic, Aircraftman 1st Class Harold L. Sneath of Toronto, is identified on his tombstone as a member of the RAF. Canada has not forgotten him, though; his name appears in the 19421943 addendum to the Second World War Book of Remembrance, with the RCAF equivalent rank of Leading Aircraftman.
Dusty, crumbling and sun-drenched, the New European Cemetery is filled with individual graves covered with cement slabs in varying states of decay. The Commonwealth war graves lie on either side of a crushed gravel path leading to a white chapel. Clean and well-tended, they stand out from the others. The sun gleams off their marble tombstones, set into protective slabs of whitewashed concrete.
The five members of the Blenheim’s crew rest together a single concrete slab. The casualties of the Hudson lie in three groups: the three aircrew under one slab, four of the passengers under another and, a short distance away, the single grave of the lone survivor, who succumbed to his wounds. The fallen came from Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.
Remembrance Day always brings the various contingents of an international mission together, and 2012 at CJTF-HOA Headquarters is no exception. The local French garrison established in 1890 and now formally known as the Forces franaises stationnes Djibouti began the day at dawn with their Armistice Parade, which included contingents from Germany, Japan and the United States.
The Commonwealth Remembrance Sunday ceremony was organized by three British staff officers. Held at the traditional hour of 11:00 a.m., it attracted participants from Britain, Canada, France, New Zealand, Uganda and the United States to the New European Cemetery. Captain Gerry Hutchinson of the U.S. Navy, Command Chaplain of CJTF-HOA, presided, and the music was provided by Chief Petty Officer Ken Mills of the U.S Navy, who played the Last Post and Reveille on the trumpet, and Colonel James Clark of the U.S. Army, who played “The Flowers of the Forest” on the bagpipes. Poppy wreaths were placed on the sparkling white concrete of the Commonwealth gravesite, and the U.S. contingent provided a bouquet of flowers and a folded U.S. flag for P/O Maguire.
I put a little Canadian flag into the gravel for LAC Sneath. He has a personal epitaph, a poignant message from his family: “Those who loved you will never forget.”
Maj Patrick Bailey is a member of the 12e Rgiment blind du Canada posted to Canadian Joint Operations Command Headquarters. He has been deployed in Djibouti since September 2012.
This story comes from Operation ARTEMIS
Djibouti, 11 November 2012 The colour party of the 5e Régiment interarmés outre-mer marches on during the Armistice parade of the Forces françaises stationnées à Djibouti. (Image by Maj Patrick A. Bailey)
Djibouti, 11 November 2012 Maj Patrick Bailey poses at the grave of LAC Harold L. Sneath. (Image by Maj Patrick A. Bailey)
Djibouti, 11 November 2012 Participants in the CJTF-HOA Remembrance Sunday ceremony gather outside the chapel of the New European Cemetery. In the foreground lie the graves of four passengers who died in the crash of a Lockheed Hudson bomber in July 1945. (Image by Maj Patrick A. Bailey)
Djibouti, 11 November 2012 The tombstone of Pilot Officer Lawrence R. Maguire of the RCAF, killed in action when the Bristol Blenheim bomber he was flying was shot down during a reconnaissance mission. (Image by Maj Patrick A. Bailey)
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