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Maple Leaf (Canadian Army newspaper re-released after 50 years).

Bright, bilingual, and lavishly illustrated, The Maple Leaf hit the news-stands recently, more than fifty years after the demise of its famous namesake. Its editors at DND Headquarters in Ottawa, a sinister, ferro-concrete pile looming over the Rideau Canal, lack nothing in the way of amenities -- except bedrooms and bidets.


In Naples in the winter of 1944, LCol Dick Malone, a veteran journalist and future publisher of the Globe and Mail, desperately needed bedrooms. The invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland had created the greatest concentration of war correspondents ever and Malone, appointed to provide press facilities and authorized to establish a daily newspaper for the Canadian Forces, figured he would need bedrooms aplenty for his staff and visiting firemen. A large, elegant house overlooking the harbour seemed ideal and the local Carabiniere helpfully ordered the occupants out. Malone was pleased with the premises, but puzzled as to why each of its twenty or more bedrooms came equipped with a bidet. Neighbourhood enquiries confirmed his suspicions -- he had unwittingly requisitioned the largest whorehouse in the city.


Undaunted, Malone, managing editor J.D. MacFarlane and a bevy of newsmen ferreted out of army records set to work with a vengeance. Paper had to be begged, borrowed or stolen and a delivery system set up to cope with impassible roads and blown bridges. Constant power failures shut down the presses and it seemed unlikely that the paper would be able to carry pictures as there was no lead available to make engravings. "This was quickly remedied by emergency measures," MacFarlane recalled. "A visit to several Naples undertaking establishments and the removal of the metal lining of all available coffins." The first edition of The Maple Leaf made its way into the lines on 14 January 1944 along with the rations. It was also distributed to hospitals, reinforcement depots, leave hostels and embarkation camps. Montgomery carried copies with him to hand out to Canadians in his command. With a daily circulation of 10,000, it was an instant hit with the troops. As one private later put it: "There are three M's in a soldier's life - Meals, Mail and The Maple Leaf.


The paper sometimes carried dispatches by CP or Reuters correspondents such as Ross Munro or Wallace Reyburn, but mostly relied on its own uniformed staff. It ran news items from Canada and the U.K. as well as special features, sports news and a MacFarlane editorial always signed "J.D.M." The headlines were snappy. "Japs Caught With Kimonos Up" was typical. The day Germany surrendered the entire front page consisted of a single word: "KAPUT!"

"Home Brew" featured short news items from across Canada, to wit: "St. Jovite - Four Nazi prisoners were captured soon after they escaped in sub-zero weather from a lumber camp. They surrendered, saying it was too cold to be out." "Mild and Bitter" carried the same sort of stuff from Britain. There was a poet's corner of sorts, "Rhyme and Reason," and the letters to the editor usually contained gripes about the Service. "I want to know why we have to be inflicted with the same motion pictures over and over again," the "Little Corporal" wrote from Italy on a pretty average day. "I am sure that the number of Canadians who have had occasion to see, at least six times, such old standby films as I Take This Woman and Hellzapoppin would be amazingly high."


And then there were the cartoons. The Maple Leaf provided favorite American strips like "Blondie" and "Li'l Abner," but the most popular were homegrown. Les Callan, formerly of the Toronto Star, drew "Monty and Johnny." Johnny was the representative Canadian soldier. A typical cartoon had Johnny in a slit trench telling a buddy: "Then they threw everything at us. I'm sitting in the hole, see, when suddenly the major lands smack in my lap. Yep. They threw everything at us including the major." "Herbie," by Sgt Bing Coughlin, captured the men's hearts. Graced with Doug MacFarlane's much-despised middle-name, the chinless wonder was in fact the Canadian Army's ambassador-at-large. "He almost missed the troop train for Halifax, got lost in London and drunk in the Queen's at Aldershot," MacFarlane said. "He was first in the bully-beef barter queue in Sicily, thrown for a loss by vino rosso ...He stubbed his toe on a Normandy beach and became D-Day's first casualty thereby. He fought and franc'd his way through France and Belgium and fell into an Amsterdam canal. He was strictly an army guy. He beefed, moaned, cursed and groaned. To him, all brass was tarnished, particularly any associated with hats. Anybody with hooks on his sleeve was a public menace and shoulder adornment was something to be shunned."


The Maple Leaf followed the troops into France in June 1944, taking over La Presse Caennaise in badly-bombed Caen. The roof was blasted away, the presses damaged and cases of type lay scattered over the floor. Some of the press crews were rumoured to be buried in the rubble. An SOS was sent out to all units to locate qualified pressmen and linotype operators. The Engineers installed portable generators and REME helped out. Three rolls of newsprint were liberated and tins of scrounged jobbing ink was thinned down with petrol siphoned from jeeps. Within days, all Canadian troops within the beachhead received Number One, Volume One of The Maple Leaf (France Edition). Throughout the war, the paper would be published in Naples, Rome, Normandy, Belgium, Germany and London.


The troops considered The Maple Leaf to be their paper and not just an official handout by the brass. It had complete editorial freedom; the only restrictions being that it was not allowed to express opinions on domestic political issues or internal military problems that might effect morale. Complaints to the editor became must reading for Chiefs of Pay, Medical Service and Ordnance Corps to head off problems and legitimate gripes which otherwise might get lost in red tape and fester for weeks. To war's end, it was a paper that everyone was happy with.

Relations with the brass unfortunately cooled with the coming of peace and the announcement of new repatriation plans. "For nearly two years, the Canadian Army's daily newspaper The Maple Leaf has marched nervously between editorial freedom and brass-hat control," Time magazine reported in its inimitable style. "In Amsterdam, Holland, its No.1 editor, big, hard-driving Maj Doug MacFarlane, decided he had had enough ...He laid down a two-day editorial barrage on Canada's repatriation policy ... Charged MacFarlane: the `zombies' who had refused to volunteer for combat duty were going home ahead of soldiers who had imposed no conditions on their services ... Next day he printed a second blast: Ottawa had changed its policy before, could change it again. The crackdown came like an echo. Canada's commander in the Netherlands, LGen Guy Granville Simonds, called in MacFarlane, read the riot act for `biased and most unfair comment.' Then the General suggested that the Major write a third editorial giving the other (i.e.Government) side of the picture. MacFarlane refused, was fired pronto...Doug MacFarlane at least solved his own repat problem. The Army would pack him off without delay."

No Managing Editor was listed on the masthead of subsequent editions of The Maple Leaf. MacFarlane had become a non-person. In one of his last editorials he wrote: The Maple Leaf was established in Naples, in Italy, back in January, 1944, for Canadian forces IN ACTION. The Maple Leaf is a paper for the soldiers and has always done everything in its power to help the fighting man gets a break. It's not stopping now..." Words that the editors of the new The Maple Leaf would be wise to live by.
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Author:Twatio, Bill
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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