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From cadet to colonel during 55 years of service

Published in the Burlington Post
9 May 2007
Hamilton Reservist Calls It A Day After 50 Years Service

Recently, Colonel James Forsyth, CStJ, CD, CA, relinquished the appointment of Honorary Colonel for The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, bringing to a close over 50 years of continuous service in the Canadian Army Militia, in addition to 5 years in the cadets, a milestone that few Canadians have achieved.  Jim is one of a select few who has truly made serving his country and community his life’s work.

Forsyth was born in Hamilton in June 1938, the son of Maurice & Lillian Forsyth. He began his military career in 1952 with 2401 Central Secondary School Cadet Corps in Hamilton.

In 1955, Forsyth qualified as a Master Cadet and attended the National Cadet Camp in Banff, Alberta that summer.

Colonel Forsyth excelled so well as an Army Cadet that in March 1957, at the age of 18, he was asked to join 19 Transport Company, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC), which was 2401 Corps’ affiliated reserve unit.

He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1959 and promoted to Captain in 1963.  He was promoted Major in 1966 and appointed Officer Commanding 133 Company RCASC (as 19 Transport Company had been re-designated), by then part of the newly formed 23 (Hamilton) Service Battalion.

Over his many years, he would faithfully attended summer training camps at the Meaford Tank Range, Camp Borden, Camp Petawawa & Camp Niagara. This was in addition to juggling a challenging 5 year course of study to be a Chartered Accountant and then a career with the Ontario Ministry of Revenue in Hamilton and Mississauga.

In 1972, he successfully completed the Militia Command and Staff Course at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario.

“With the heavy work and study load for 5 years with my CA course, I am surprised that I was able to actually to be successful in both,’ Forsyth says.  ‘In later years, I looked on my Militia service as part of my civic and volunteer responsibility to the community and Canada.”

In 1970, Forsyth transferred to The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) as its Deputy Commanding Officer. In 1972, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and appointed Commanding Officer of the RHLI, a position he held until relinquishing it in 1974.

From there, Forsyth served as Senior Staff Officer – Operations and Training (SSO Ops & Trg) at Central Militia Headquarters (CMA) in Toronto from 1974-1977, and then the same position with Hamilton Militia District from 1977-1979.

In 1979, Forsyth returned to 23 (Hamilton) Service Battalion to take command, relinquishing the position in 1982.

In 1983, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and appointed the Commander of Hamilton Militia District from 1983-1987, after having spent the previous year as Senior Staff Officer -Administration at Central Militia Area Headquarters (1982-1983).

In 1987, Forsyth was appointed Senior Staff Officer – Land on the staff of the Chief of Reserves and Cadets at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa.

In 1989, he was appointed the first Senior Staff Officer – Militia at NDHQ.

In 1992, Colonel Forsyth was appointed the Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of
the RHLI, and in 1993, the Honorary Colonel.

Career highlights from his Militia service include being appointed Commanding Officer of the RHLI in 1972, one of the best infantry units in Canada, and when he was called out in 1977, along with other militia soldiers, to assist civil authorities during a major snowstorm that stuck Southern Ontario.  Forsyth and the men under his command assisted in the situation under police direction in maintaining civil order and conducting rescue operations for people stranded in their cars and houses.  For his exceptional leadership, Colonel Forsyth was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal.

Probably the most memorable highlight for Colonel Forsyth was when he was invited to have dinner at Buckingham Palace with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Colonel-in-Chief of the RHLI (more about that below).

His volunteer and community service work has been and is with St. John Ambulance (Burlington Branch), the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires (Hamilton Division), the Army Cadet League of Canada (Ontario), the Hospitaller Order of St. John (Hamilton Commandery), the XIIIth Regiment Foundation and Reserves 2000, a reserve forces lobby group.

Forsyth was also an organizing member of the Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial Park committee, a monument that pays a long overdue tribute to veterans of The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and other Hamilton area veterans who participated in the raid on Dieppe, France in August 1942.

As Honorary Colonel, Colonel Forsyth’s motivations have been for the betterment of the RHLI.  He has been a tireless campaigner for the RHLI, both in Canada and overseas on numerous regimental trips to France, Holland and Belgium for World War II memorial functions.

For his military and community services, Jim has been awarded several medals including the Commander of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (CStJ), the St.John Ambulance Long Service Medal, the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Long Service Medal, the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Distinguished Service Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration (CD) with 3 bars.  The Canadian Forces Decoration is awarded for 12 years service in the Canadian Forces. For each additional 10 years of service, the member is given a bar to be worn with the medal.

Although Colonel Forsyth’s military career in now over, he remains active with the RHLI as a member of the Regimental Senate and Chairman of the XIIIth Regiment Foundation.

Colonel Forsyth recently served as the coordinator and host of the 2008 annual RHLI Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial service held at the Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial Park on the Hamilton beach strip.  Special guest for the ceremony was Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

As for his civilian career, Colonel Forsyth retired from his job in with the Ontario Ministry of Revenue in 1995 after 33 years service. He and his wife Gwen have lived in Burlington for 41 years, where they raised their two sons, Bruce, a police officer and former 13-year member of the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve, and David, an Assistant Film Director in Toronto.

An interesting anecdote from when Colonel Forsyth attended a dinner at Buckingham Palace for all Honorary Colonels of the 50 regiments in the Commonwealth for which His Royal Highness, The Prince Philip was Colonel-in-Chief:

“This dinner was unique as the invitation specified that it was to be black tie only with no uniforms, medals, nor other insignia being worn.  HRH later explained that we were all equal that night. I was seated across the table and two seats to his left, between two former British Generals. He greeted all of us at the door to the dining room individually with no aides beside him. We gave our invitation card to the PMC (President of the Mess Committee), who announced us. Several months before, I had notified him that (Brigadier Dennis) Deny Whitaker (a veteran of the World War II and the Dieppe Campaign in 1942, along with being a friend of Prince Phillip) had died. When he greeted me he thanked me for the letter and said “You didn’t tell me how he died”.  When I told him he thanked me.

During the cocktail hour, the staff handed out cigars and boxes of matches. As I don’t smoke, I just held on to them. A few minutes later there was a tap on my shoulder, and Prince Philip said “You can smoke in here; it’s a smoking area.” I replied that I didn’t smoke and that I was keeping them as souvenirs. He laughed and said “That’s the answer I get from most people.”  It was a proper dinner, but informal and no speeches, except for a few words from the prince thanking us for our service to our regiments. It was a most pleasant evening.”

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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