I hope that Legion members take a moment to read my views on the Royal Canadian Legion today. We have watched many changes over the years, some sensible changes some not so. I recall an event back in early 1964 whilst serving in the Royal Navy. I was stationed in Halifax with the 6th Submarine Squadron. I, along with two shipmates attempted to enter a Legion Branch in Dartmouth NS. Even in uniform we stopped at the door and informed we could only enter if invited by a member. We suggested we would join, as we would be in the Halifax region for the next two years. We were told we could not join because we had not served in a theatre of war. Move on to the 1980’s and we hear that Indian veterans wearing turbans are refused entry because one must remove head dress when entering a legion.. However, it seems today those once ever so rigid rules have done a complete about face. It would appear today almost anyone may apply and receive membership. There is a reasons for this, membership has been falling off drastically in the last decade and many branches are failing. One has to wonder at the reason for this lack of interest, there are as many veterans in Canada today as at the end of the Second World War. The problem is few of the newer veterans are showing an interest in the Legions. I can’t speak for all the branches, only those local ones to which I’m familiar. The feeling I have when entering a branch today is comparable to entering most local bars or watering holes. Along the walls are banks of gaming machines and tables filled with strangers, (not always filled) probably the gaming machines are essential to the survival of the business.
I have attempted to make changes and to hopefully attract the interest of those many veterans who stay away from the legions. Yet with every turn I run into road blocks from those in Command provincially. One item that I believe so important and needs to be changed is the law pertaining to who may wear medals. The section 419 of the criminal code states only the owner of a medal may wear it. Now sure, that sounds reasonable at first glance. However, should a mother-widow or family member chose to wear their late loved ones medals (on their right breast) to a Remembrance Day ceremony, as they do in most other Commonwealth Countries, that person is subject to arrest and prosecution. The maximum penalty is a fine of $5000 or six months in jail. I really struggle with the need for this law. Can anyone imagine a police officer (even if aware of this law) arresting an elderly widow at a Remembrance Day Service? I can’t, and indeed if it was to occur, I can only imagine the unpleasant media publicity the Legion would suffer. I see no harm in amending this section of the law to allow family members to show their pride and respect for their late loved ones. It does not mean relatives must wear these medals on Remembrance days, it merely allows those who chose to, can do so. Changes are desperately needed, the Legions must be more visible to the general public. We need to visit schools talk with our youth and not just on 11th November. Branches should be commemorating other events on a more visible scale, the Battle of the Atlantic, Battle of Britain, D Day and the more recent conflicts, the occasional church parade once in a while.. Think back to the last Remembrance Day ceremony you attended and ask yourself how many WW2 and Korean War medals you saw on parade compared to 20 years ago? Ask yourself how many 1st WW medals you saw? none! Some members will tell you there are lots on display in the Legion Branches while other members have them frame and hanging at home .. The question is how many citizens get to see them, indeed how many children get to see them. If we continue along this path most WW2, Korean and even later medals will be forgotten and disappear into draws and shoe boxes, sadly some will end up on Ebay. I have learned one important fact as a regular speaker at Remembrance services in island schools for the past 17 years. I enjoy telling the students of my experiences during the blitz, the air raid shelters, shortages, ration books and the blackouts etc.. Children show a great interest and ask many and varied questions, many are drawn to my own medals. They ask about them want to touch them and learn about them.
I hope that Legion members reading this article will consider what I have stated. If you agree with me then please let your branch know how you feel about this law. I have endeavoured to have the law amended through a resolution. It has was turned down last year by my Provincial Command. This year I re-worded it and asked it be forwarded to the Dominion Command Convention in June of this year in NFLD. Once again it was turned down at Provincial level. I find it difficult to understand how this could be sanctioned. As a member in good standing I believed I have the right to be heard at the next level in the command structure, apparently those at Provincial Command do not agree ?????? The most upsetting part of this issue is why my resolution should be blocked. It seems some members fear change and believe they must resist it. One would think to ask why, and believe me I have asked many times, but have yet to get a reasonable answer. One of the usual opposition answers cited is in regard to the phony sergeant, Frank Gervas. He paraded himself in an unauthorized military uniform with medals at the Ottawa service two years ago. He was charged under section 130 of the criminal code, impersonating a public officers, a secondary charge under section 419 was added, wearing an unauthorized uniform and medals.. None of that has any bearing on the amendment I have proposed.
F.Ben Rodgers Branch 17 Wellington PE
God Bless and keep reading