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Ode au Royal 22è Régiment Pour le 100è Anniversaire en 2014 # 2759 Sir Charles Forbes, RMWO

ED NOTE: As we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the founding of the R22eR this month, attached is an “Ode au R22eR” written by 2759 Sir Charles Forbes, who died in 2010. Also attached is an article written by 12570 Mike Kennedy about his life and wartime experiences, this was originally published in the print edition of Veritas in 2006. The photo was taken in Korea, where Forbes served with the R22eR as mortar officer and was a key figure in the battle for Hill 355.

xxx

Ode au Royal 22è Régiment Pour le 100è Anniversaire en 2014

# 2759 Sir Charles Forbes, RMWO

Gens du pays, à l’est le soleil se lève,

Aujourd’hui cent années de gloire saluent la relève,

Arras, Courcelette, Chérisie, Vimy, ils sont tous la !

Héros d’Italie, Casa Bernardi, braves d’Ortona.

Voyez défiler les tambours, écoutez sonner les Clairons !

Regardes, écrits en lettres d’or, les honneurs sur nos fanions,

Ceux de Corée, Bosnie, de partout pour les Nations Unies,

Géants de fer, pour la paix vous avez donné votre vie.

Fiers enfants d’une indomptable et courageuse race,

A l’épaule armes ! Sur vos poitrines bouclez vos cuirasses,

En avant mes Braves ! Allez, pour le pays, chevaucher la gloire,

Dans vos sang, vous seuls, savez en écrire la grande histoire.

En ce jour glorieux, sur les hauteurs du Cap Blanc,

Les Bastions de la Citadelle brillent comme les diamants,

Historique forteresse, berceau de tes fiers bataillons,

Pour marquer ce jour, fais entendre tonner tes canons.

Refrain :

Royal 22è Régiment Canadien Français

On ne t’oubliera jamais,

En ce grand jour solennel,

Tu es devenu Immortel.

 

Greatness Was His Destiny

 The story of 2759 Charly Forbes, RMWO

By 12570 Mike Kennedy

 

 “We were adventurers. We were go-getters. We were voyageurs. We were full of courage. I lift my hat to the guts of the Canadian soldier.”

– 2759 Charly Forbes, as quoted on the cover of the book Rare Courage

Over the many years that have passed since the Old Eighteen first arrived at RMC the College produced its fair share of heroes, but few have been as celebrated as the legendary 943 Billy Bishop and 1866 Cecil Merritt, both holders of the Victoria Cross. Bishop, the British Empire’s top scoring air ace during the Great War and the first Ex-Cadet to win the VC, earned his decoration for a daring raid on a German aerodrome in June 1917. Merritt’s VC was awarded for the heroic and steadfast leadership he showed amid the terrible carnage of the disastrous Dieppe raid in August, 1942.

What’s not widely known, however, is that RMC has actually produced not two but in fact three winners of the VC, one of whom still soldiers on at the remarkable age of 85. And on 4 November of last year, in a memorable and very moving ceremony that took place at Quebec City’s venerable Garrison Club, one of the College’s greatest sons was finally accorded the recognition that he richly deserves. At a gathering attended by numerous war veterans and military and civilian dignitaries, 2759 Charly Forbes, holder of the Ridder 4e Klasse der Militaire Willemsordre (RMWO), presented his decoration to the Garrison Club for permanent display within the institution’s Victoria Cross Salon.

The RMWO is the Dutch equivalent of the Victoria Cross, and it is a decoration first established in 1815 by King William I of the Netherlands. In 1855, at the express request of Queen Victoria herself, it was officially associated to the British Victoria Cross, which had been recently created to honour those who had exhibited “uncommon valour” in the Crimean War. Forbes, who served as a Lieutenant in the Régiment de Maisonneuve throughout some of the most ferocious campaigns of the Second World War, was one of ten Canadian soldiers who were chosen at the end of the war to receive the RMWO.

Forbes’ decoration was officially conferred by a royal decree issued by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in December 1945. The placement of his decoration in the Victoria Cross Salon of the Garrison Club, where nine other Quebec-born VC winners are honoured, marks the crowning achievement of a truly remarkable and unforgettable life. The decision to place his RMWO on permanent display was the result in large part of the tireless efforts of Forbes’ close friend 10838 Colonel (ret) Marc Grondin, who petitioned the board of the Garrison Club to admit Forbes to the select group of extraordinary soldiers among whom he had so clearly earned his place.

Charly Forbes’ life story is a testament to what one man can accomplish when he rises to face great challenges with a combination of integrity, courage, resourcefulness, and above all, unwavering loyalty and devotion to those for whom he is responsible. Born in Matane, Quebec in 1921, Forbes was the middle son of Peter Forbes, a successful lumber mill operator, and Bertha Stevenson, daughter of a local innkeeper who married her husband at the end of the Great War. From his father, Forbes acquired both a love of outdoor pursuits and an understanding of what leadership was all about.

Forbes’ mother, for her part, imbued her son with an appreciation of culture, especially music. At RMC, Forbes’ talent with the violin would earn him the nickname “Jacha”, inspired by Jacha Heifeizt, a noted German violinist of the day. In one celebrated misadventure shortly after he arrived at the College, Forbes had been charged with serenading one of his senior as he took his evening bath. His violin playing was abruptly cut short by his exasperated CSM, who yelled, “Forbes, you bastard ! Stop the f****** fiddle !”

Forbes was one of the 102 recruits who reported to RMC on 31 August 1940,  the last recruit entry class the College was destined to see until it reopened after the war in 1948. As a Francophone recruit in an institution which during that period was a bastion of Canada’s English-speaking elite, he didn’t always have an easy time. In one memorable incident, when Charly and a fellow Quebec recruit were directed by a senior to sing Canada’s national, they promptly replied with a rendition of O Canada.

The senior in question, undoubtedly a British subject even more loyal than Conrad Black (and, like Lord Black, probably a prime candidate for becoming the kind of officer who would have been shot in the back by his own men),  immediately cut them off and took great pains to remind them that the correct response was God Save the King. He then ordered them to sing the national anthem again, whereupon Charly and his buddy persisted with O Canada. Their reward for that one was 50 pushups in the furnace room, clad in greatcoats and mittens all the while.

But if anyone within the Battalion of Gentlemen Cadets had any doubts about Charly Forbes’ mettle, they needed only to step in the boxing ring with him and they would quickly discover what the French Canadian lad from Matane was made of. Forbes was taught to box by the legendary Pat O’Riordon, who affectionately called him ‘My Irish Frenchman”, something which obliged Forbes to respectfully point out that his ancestry was in fact Scottish. Nevertheless, Forbes proved himself to be a fierce competitor within the ring, demonstrating the same courage and determination as a boxer that would later make him a remarkably effective infantry platoon commander.

Of the Entry Class of 1940, 77 would eventually graduate from two years later from an abbreviated course, and regrettably, Charly Forbes would not be one of them. As a product of a French-speaking commercial college in Victoriaville, Gentleman Cadet Forbes waged an ongoing war with RMC’s English-language curriculum and was ultimately done in by a valiant but unsuccessful struggle with mathematics.

But as the events of the next four years were to show, Forbes’ academic setbacks at the College wouldn’t matter one bit. Having failed out of RMC over deficiencies in a subject that is useless in the real world, Forbes would prove himself to be a fighter, not a mathematician. In the spring of 1941 he and his best friend 2803 Phil Rousseau, both lacking the academic qualifications required to continue on at RMC, made a deal with the College Adjutant under which they would both attend the officers’ training school in Brockville, receive Second Lieutenant’s commissions, and proceed directly into active service.

Sadly, Phil was destined to be killed in a parachute jump on D-Day, making him one of the seventeen members of the Entry Class of 1940 who would not survive the war. His brother Maurice, another close friend of Forbes who like Phil served in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, would also die in combat at the hands of the Germans. Charly Forbes would live to see the Allied victory, but along the way he would have to endure the agony of seeing some of  Canada’s best and bravest soldiers, men he considered to be the closest friends he had ever had, lay down their lives for the cause that they served.

Forbes landed in France with his regiment in July 1944, and throughout the summer and fall of that year he fought through some of the heaviest action the Canadian Army would encounter in Normandy and later Holland. Details of some of his experiences in combat are provided in my article The Greatest Generation now available on the RMC Club website www.rmcclub.ca, and also in the book Rare Courage, recently published by McClelland and Stewart

As a young officer leading an infantry platoon composed of men the same age he was, Forbes had to learn about fighting a war in a hell of a hurry. But he also witnessed first hand the absurdities that combat soldiers inevitably encounter as part of military life, and at times, was capable of being brutally direct when dealing with incompetent or overbearing superiors. When these situations arose, Forbes showed that he wasn’t intimidated by anyone, and made it clear that he was prepared to do whatever he had to do to take proper care of his men.

One such occasion took place during Operation TOTALIZE in Normandy, when Forbes and his boys found themselves cut off in a forward position following a German counterattack. A friend and fellow officer with the Sherbrooke Regiment advised him to pull back with his men; as fate would have it, moments later an aerial bombardment missed its target and his the position with Forbes’ platoon had been, inflicting heavy casualties on the Polish Division and killing the unfortunate Good Samaritan with the Sherbrooke Regiment.

When Forbes and his men finally made it back to headquarters, hungry and exhausted, the first thing they found themselves confronted with the CO of the Regiment de Maisonneuve. Instead of expressing any concern about the men, this Colonel Blimp-like figure disdainfully surveyed Forbes and his platoon and remarked, “I don’t know where you have come from or where you are going, but I am not satisfied with D Company.”

Forbes’ reply was short and to the point. Calmly withdrawing his pistol from its holster, he looked at the offending CO and informed him with the utmost sincerity, “I come from where you sent me. My men and I have not eaten in 48 hours. We eat, or I kill.”

The CO promptly passed out and was evacuated, and was never heard from again.

Another of Forbes’ wartime experiences provided him with a visible and memorable reminder of the importance of small unit leadership in infantry combat, and the loyalty that soldiers will feel towards leaders they know they can count on.

In this particular episode, Forbes had been wounded and was about to be evacuated. As he recalls in his own words, “I had reached a breaking point, and I wanted out.”

What happened next changed forever Forbes’ perceptions of what leadership is all about. As he recalls, the stretcher bearer looked at him and said, “Sir please do not allow them to evacuate you. I can treat your wound and take care of you. If you are evacuated, we will never see you again, and we will have to start all over again with someone new.”

Looking back on this incident sixty years after the end of the war, Forbes recalls that, “When I heard those words from the stretcher bearer, they made me realize that somehow I had been successful in earning the respect and the loyalty of the men. I realized that given a choice, they would prefer to go to hell and back with me rather than take a chance with a new guy they didn’t know. It made me realize the significance of the responsibility I had for them, it made me appreciate for the first time the depth and the strength of the bond my boys had forged with me. They trusted me and they believed in me. I had wanted to get out, badly. But I knew I had to stay with them, and I did.”

Forbes was eventually wounded badly enough to be evacuated, and he returned to England in December 1944. After the war ended the following spring, he returned to Canada in the summer of 1945 and immediately signed on for further duty, this time with the Royal 22nd Regiment. His RMWO decoration was officially conferred by a royal decree issued by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in December 1945, and it was presented to him in 1946.

The awarding of the RMWO didn’t, however, signal the end of Forbes’ days in combat. When the Korean conflict erupted in 1950, Forbes, by then a Captain, soon found himself on the way back into battle with his comrades in the Vandoos. While in Korea Forbes served as mortar officer for another Second World War legend, Jacques Dextraze, and his Company Sergeant-Major was Jean Couture, who would later render many years of distinguished service as the highly respected and much-loved RSM of the College Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean. In Korea, once again, Forbes would demonstrate his remarkable leadership and courage under fire, and when he returned home to Canada he was awarded a Mention in Dispatches for his actions during the battle for Hill 355.

After the Korean War ended Forbes remained in uniform for another dozen years. He retired in 1965 as a Major, a decision which thankfully spared him from having to endure the precipitous erosion of the Canadian Army’s combat capabilities that were the legacy of unification. Following the end of his active service he embarked upon a career in the financial services industry. Now living in St. Ferreol-des-Neiges outside Quebec City, since 1980 Forbes has been a full time artist.

A public speaker of great renown, at the event at the Garrison Club in November Forbes made some remarks that the 130 guests who were there in attendance will undoubtedly remember for the rest of their lives. He remembered the men he had served alongside, men like Raymond Lambert of Ste. Camille, who joined the Army when he was 17 and was the man Charly Forbes describes as being “my bravest soldier”; men like Private Cayer of the Régiment de Maisonneuve, who saved the young Lieutenant’s life on his very first mission in Normandy: and men like Leo Donovan, his ever-loyal radio operator in Korea who decades later asked for Captain Charly as he lay dying of cancer.

And the most moving and memorable testimonial to these and other Canadian soldiers came from the great man himself, when he said to the audience at the Garrison Club, “I have only one regret this evening. That is that not one of my soldiers can be here to let me tell them that they were the bravest men I ever knew, and that it is only because of them that I became a Knight.”

Immortal words indeed from the tough and exuberant young lad from Matane who failed out of RMC, but rose to become one of his country’s greatest warriors. A distinguished soldier of extraordinary courage and integrity, a giant of a man who radiates passion and warmth, energy and imagination.  A proud and intensely patriotic Canadian who loves his country and his people, and who fought ferociously to ensure that others would enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that we do. And more than anything else, an always loyal and generous friend who would stand by his comrades to the end, exactly as the College trained him to do.

They called him a “f****** frog” when he arrived at RMC, I saw the same thing happen to other guys in 1976. But Charly Forbes went on to show that he was a better man than any of the arrogant, cowardly bastards who tormented him when he was a recruit. He was rejected by the system, supposedly because he wasn’t as good the other cadets, and was never offered a second chance. When his classmates in the Last War Class marched off the Square for the last time on June 20, 1942, Charly was denied the opportunity to march off with them.

But in combat, the ultimate test of any soldier’s real worth, Charly Forbes proved beyond any doubt that he had what it takes. He got the job done, and earned the greatest honour that any officer can ever hope to receive: the everlasting respect, loyalty, and affection of the men he was entrusted with leading.

I really do believe that there will never be another Sir Charles. He truly is one of a kind, and without a doubt, one of the greatest heroes RMC has ever produced. At 85 years of age, the time will inevitably come for him to depart this world in body. But his indomitable fighting spirit, his fierce pride in his ancestry, his love for his country, and above all, his love for his soldiers, will live on forever in the hearts of those who genuinely believe in the real meaning of “Truth, Duty, Valour” and “Je Me Souviens”.

As Forbes’ RMWO was placed in the VC salon on 4 November 2005, almost exactly six decades after it was officially awarded to him on 6 December 1945, its owner took his place alongside nine other Canadian heroes who distinguished themselves in locations such as the arid plains of South Africa, the sodden trenches of France and Belgium, and the sun-baked streets of Italy. But above all else, there is perhaps one reason, and one reason only, why the ceremony on 4 November will be remembered forevermore.

It was on that day, as his RMWO was laid in its rightful place in the Victoria Cross Salon of the Garrison Club, that 2759 Charly Forbes finally came home.

TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR

Respectfully submitted & dedicated to the memory of those of 2759 Charly Forbes’ men who made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada, and for the cause of freedom.

Mike Kennedy

No. 12570

Postscript

When 2759 Charly Forbes’ Ridder 4e Klasse der Militaire Willemsordre (RMWO) was placed in the Victoria Cross Salon of the Garrison Club on 4 November 2005, Forbes joined nine other Quebec-born VC winners whose valour is commemorated in this special room. The other winners, with their units and the dates and locations of the actions for which they won their decorations, are listed below. Ranks indicated are the ranks they held on the date of the action for which they were awarded the VC.

Lieutenant Colonel Campbell Mellis Douglas (1840 – 1909)

The South Wales Borderers

Little Andaman, Bengal

7 May 1867

***

Lieutenant Richard William Ernest Turner (1871 – 1961)

The Royal Canadian Dragoons

Komati River, South Africa

7 November 1900

***

Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger (1880 – 1937)

Canadian Army Medical Corps

St, Julien, Belgium

24 April 1915

***

Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell (1890 – 1960)

38th Battalion, CEF

Vimy Ridge, France

9 April 1917

***

Major Okill Massey Learmouth (1894 – 1917)

Eastern Ontario Regiment

Loos, France

18 August 1917

***

Private Thomas William Holmes (1898 – 1950)

4th Canadian Mounted Rifles

Passchendaele, Belgium

26 October 1917

***

Corporal Joseph Kaeble (1892 – 1918)

22nd Battalion, CEF

Neuville-Vitasse, France

8 – 9 June 1918

***

Lieutenant Jean Brillant (1890 – 1918)

22nd Battalion, CEF

Meharicourt, France

8 – 9 August 1918

***

Captain Paul Triquet (1910 – 1980)

Royal 22e Regiment

Casa Berardi, Italy

14 December 1943

3 Comments

  • M.B. Oliver

    October 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Mike, thanks for this interesting article. I was aware of Forbes’ story in general terms, but you’ve really brought it to life for me. Matt

  • 10838 Marc Grondin

    October 6, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Many thanks Mike,
    For sharing the Ode, specially during the centennial year. Even during his last months, Sir Charles ever kept loving his Regiment.
    Regards,

  • 4659 Georges Bernier

    October 6, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you for this touching tribute. I hâve had the privilège of seriving and commanding the 2R22eR and to serve with him in Valcartier in the 1960s….what à great and fun Man to be with. PS sorry for the french forced mistakes that m’y Ipad produices .