Today marks the 100th anniversary of Canada's navy, which fought with distinction in two World Wars and the Korean War, and is now, alas, known as the Canadian Forces Maritime Command, a bulky and obscure label that communicates little of what it is and what it has done.
What better way to mark the centennial than to restore its rightful name, the Royal Canadian Navy, which it carried from 1911 to 1968, when defence minister Paul Hellyer unified the navy, army and air force under one command. (At one time, each service reported to its own cabinet minister.) The unification does not need to be undone. The navy does not need to go back to having its own command structure. Just the name will do.
The Royal Canadian Navy conjures up images of the Battle of the Atlantic, which has been described as the longest battle of the war – from September, 1939, to May, 1945. From a tiny force of just 3,000, with just 13 warships, in 1939, the navy grew to encompass 99,688 men and 6,500 women, and 471 fighting vessels. By the time the Allies defeated Nazi Germany, Canada, with a population of just 10 million people, had the world's third-biggest navy.
When Britain stood alone in Europe against the Nazis, before the United States and the Soviet Union entered the war, Canada helped provide a lifeline to its imperilled ally by protecting supply ships across the Atlantic. The Royal Canadian Navy sank or shared in sinking 33 enemy submarines, says the Canadian Encyclopedia, and lost 24 warships (including the armed yacht Raccoon, sunk by a U-boat in the St. Lawrence River in 1942) and 2,024 people. And Canada's own Rear-Admiral Leonard Warren Murray, the only Canadian to head an Allied theatre of operations, was commander-in-chief of what was known as the Canadian Northwest Atlantic.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has honoured the service and sacrifice of the navy by announcing on the weekend that the executive curl, a distinctive loop on the upper stripe of naval officers' uniforms that disappeared after unification, will make a comeback. He should take the next step and bring the name back.
No child dreams of joining a maritime command. No one ever says Canada's glory was, or is, its Maritime Command. Maritime Command sets no spines a-tingling. But the Royal Canadian Navy, with its proud history and its still useful role in many conflicts, linking past fights for democracy to present ones, whether in peacekeeping, peacemaking or war, should once again be a name to be reckoned with.