THE BLOG
02/27/2012 12:56 EST | Updated 04/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Coronation Leads to Explosive Reaction

To mark the occasion of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, someone in high command in the Commonwealth Division ordered all divisional artillery to fire celebratory red, white and blue smoke shells on Chinese positions across the front in Korea. The Chinese thought it was deadly gas, and responded with actual artillery.

Getty

In his column for the Huffington Post, Conrad Black notes that this year is the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne, and he thinks the world is a much better place now than it was then.

This latter observation can be debated, but it's a provocative assumption.

When King George VI died, and his daughter Elizabeth took the throne -- a year before her coronation -- I was in the army and was instantly transformed from being a "soldier of the King" to a "soldier of the Queen."

I was a lieutenant with the Third Battalion of the Princess Pats. We were stationed in Ipperwash, about to go to Camp Wainwright in Alberta, on our way to the Korean war. The battalion paraded to mark the death of the king, and the accession of the new Queen.

One of my fond memories is screwing up, and leading the battalion in a march past, much to the consternation of the second-in-command, whose job it was. Not often do lieutenants lead battalions in a ceremonial march past.

The CO, Lt. Col. Herb Wood, had appointed me adjutant of the battalion -- an administrative job that required more knowledge of military details than I possessed. I inherited an inbox piled with papers, and a pending-box that was overflowing and needed decisions.

My technique was to send the stuff to various departments -- Ordnance, paymaster, engineers, company commanders, medical. Anywhere to get the stuff moving. The material soon was on its way back to me, with snarky notes that so-and-so should be handling this matter, and what sort of a dolt didn't know that.

I would then forward it to the appropriate person.

It worked, clearing back files, but was no way for an adjutant to perform.

On the day of the parade, CBC and newsreel cameras were set up on the parade square. All 800 soldiers of the battalion wore black armbands for the dead King. As adjutant, I marched directly behind the CO who led the parade around the square, then broke off to head to the reviewing stand to take the salute next time around.

As adjutant, I was supposed to break off with him -- but forgot, and kept marching. Then it was too late. I had no option but to continue leading the parade. Civilians and the media were watching.

Behind me the 2IC (Second in Command), Maj. McNeil, was fuming: "What the hell you doing Worthington. . . Get the hell out of my way. . . it's my parade. . . Godammit you're ruining the parade. . . I should be leading."

And so it went around the parade square. I paid no attention. As we passed the reviewing stand I could see the colonel, cheeks puffed out, trying not to laugh. Maj. McNeil gave the "Eyes right" order and saluted, whereupon I broke off and marched to the reviewing stand, hoping that everyone thought that was what I was supposed to do.

Other junior officers in the battalion relished the major being upstaged. The colonel, ever after, roared with amusement at the major's discomfort. But he quickly replaced me as adjutant and sent me to "Dog" Company where I commanded 12 platoon and took it to Korea.

I don't think Maj. McNeil ever spoke to me again.

The following year, when the coronation was held in London, the battalion had been well-blooded by the Chinese and was holding a trench line overlooking the Samichon Valley.

To mark the occasion, someone in high command in the Commonwealth Division ordered all divisional artillery to fire celebratory red, white and blue smoke shells on Chinese positions across the front.

It was a spectacular display, but it alarmed the Chinese, who apparently thought this was some deadly gas to incapacitate them. They responded with all their own artillery lambasting the Commonwealth front.

To a man, Canadians had difficulty forgiving the red, white and blue smoke that drew such an unwelcome retaliation. My inadvertent leading the parade was harmless compared to whoever thought the coloured smoke was appropriate.

A nice gesture would be if all surviving veterans of the Korean war were to be awarded the anniversary medal that will likely be authorized to mark Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne. But don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, somewhere, deep in CBC archives, there's probably an old newsreel of me leading the 3rd Patricia's to honour the accession of the Queen.