Each year, a candlelight ceremony is held to mark the beginning of veterans’ week. This year the event took place on the evening of November 4 at the LeBreton Gallery in the Canadian War Museum. Veterans and youth came together to light candles in honour of the soldiers who fought for our country. The candles illuminated a peaceful ambiance that instilled a sense of remembrance and caring for the brave youth who will never be forgotten.
The following is a piece written by John P. Maclean and published by Esprit de Corps in our March 2011 issue. It illustrates the accomplishments of Canadian born Ralph L. Hennessy throughout his military service. Born to a family with a history of service to the Canadian Army on September 5 1918, Hennessy eventually broke the family tradition and pursued his love for the sea by enrolling in the navy. His hard work and achievements earned him prestigious awards and titles that he carried with him until his recent passing on June 13 2014.
In a previous candlelight ceremony, a street was named in his honour, as Ralph Hennessy Avenue in Riverside South. Hennessy’s efforts and courage will always be remembered.
View photos of this year's candlelight ceremony in our gallery.
A Lifetime of Service
From midshipman in the Spanish Civil War to vice admiral in the Cold War
By John P. Maclean
The shells from the Spanish navy’s cruiser class Canares were being lobbed at the bigger British battleship HMS Resolution as close as 100 yards to its upper deck. A 19-year-old Canadian midshipman was standing on the deck. It was his first experience under fire.
It was 1938, during the Spanish civil war and HMS Resolution won. Young Ralph L. Hennessy was concluding his British training. He had joined the Canadian navy despite an army father, an army grandfather and an army great-grandfather. “It was just something I wanted to do,” he emphasizes today.
He’d graduated from University of Toronto Schools. Not then going on to a degree-granting university was another tradition he broke.
He would scandalize his father at least once more. He appeared at home on leave still as a midshipman in an expensive full dress blue and gold uniform despite his father’s accurate prediction in 1937 of serious war and some family penury ahead. “He was really upset,” Hennessy remembers. “I explained when he paused for breath that the uniform was borrowed from the photographer and the full lieutenant’s rank wasn’t showing.”
Just three years later, now in World War II, again at sea, Hennessy would have his own full lieutenant (navy captain) rank and be second-in-command of the destroyer HMCS Assiniboine. In the Jamaican waters, partnering another British cruiser, his ship boldly captured a German merchantman without incident.
But a real battle raged in August 1942 against still another German submarine. The Assiniboine rammed the U-boat. The submarine set the Assiniboine’s superstructure on fire – gas from containers stored on deck. With a crew, Hennessy raced to put out the fire and save the ship. One seaman died. For his heroics, Hennessy won a Distinguished Service Cross. The captain got a DSO and 17 ratings earned five other medals and 14 mentions-in-despatches. The war continued, its ebbs and flows sailing Hennessy’s upward career along with it.
First posting was convoy duty in the Battle of the Atlantic for months guarding shipping lanes and protecting merchant ships from other enemy submarines. Next came a brief shore leave as commander of the RCNVR officers` training school at Halifax, where he put his salty experience to use. He finished the war as commanding officer of HMCS Micmac, the first Canadian-built Tribal Class destroyer.
Two noteworthy commands followed: executive officer of HMCS Quebec and commander of HMCS Algonquin along with the command of First Canadian Escort Squadron. For another two years, 1956-1958, he was chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Military Agency, which laymen translate as trying to make sure everyone was on the same page. In 1963, Hennessy was named honorary aide-de-camp to Governor General Georges Vanier.
His final promotion, to vice admiral, came in 1966, along with his appointment as the first Forces comptroller general and then as chief of personnel.
After his naval career, he busied himself with a long-term association with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires and as an advisor to the Canadian War Museum. He even lent his expertise to the TV production of No Price Too High.
At the age of 78, he went back to school, to the University of Toronto to earn a degree in history.
At present, having just celebrated his 95th birthday in the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre retirement home in Ottawa, he is an inveterate fan of crossword puzzles. "There's another blank book of them in the drawer," he offers hopefully.