A routine stop for the HMCS Ville de Québec in the port of Haifa on Dec. 13 turned into an occasion to celebrate the unique contribution of a British Columbia native who fought with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War, then joined Machal, Israel’s overseas volunteer soldiers, for the War of Independence in 1948. He is one of only three Canadian vets still alive who served in both wars.
“I’m overcome with emotion to be among my own countrymen,” Morris Lobe, who now lives in Israel, told The CJN at a gala evening held on board the ship.
When Israel declared independence, foreign soldiers provided much-needed assistance fighting off hostile neighbouring nations. Two-thirds of Israel’s original air force were foreign volunteers, including Canadian fighter ace George “Buzz” Beurling, who died in a crash just days after Israel was born.
Lobe served in an artillery unit staffed entirely by English speakers from Australia, the United States, South Africa, and England. He speaks modestly about his decision to fight for Israel just when many other vets were resuming civilian life. “I needed Israel more than Israel needed me.”
“I arrived on Feb. 10, 1948. I identified myself with my people, I felt I was returning to my original home. I began a new life here; I began here when Israel did, we were shoulder to shoulder.”
After British Mandate authorities pulled out of Israel, Lobe said, there was no IDF – just a collection of ragtag militias. “They [the British] went to Cyprus, expecting us to call them back.” Instead, Israel stood its ground – and won. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion later called Machal forces “the Diaspora’s most important contribution to the survival of the State of Israel.”
Though Lobe returned to Canada in 1950, where he worked as a physiotherapist at Vancouver General Hospital, in 1967 he came back for good. “Just in time for the 1967 war,” he jokes, though he did not have to serve. He still has a sister living in Vancouver.
At the event in Haifa, Lobe was commended by Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who spoke at a reception on board the Ville de Québec. The ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Scott Robinson, also presented Lobe with a commemorative ball cap.
Also speaking at the event, attended by over a hundred military personnel from Canada, Israel, the U.K., and other countries, were Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, and Canada’s deputy Head of Mission Anthony Hinton.
Both Meinzinger and Lloyd used their brief visit as an opportunity to meet with their Israeli counterparts and tour military facilities in other parts of the country.
Lloyd visited Yad Vashem before meeting with Maj.-Gen Eli Sharvit, commander-in-chief of the Israeli navy.
Meinzinger met with Israeli air force Cmdr. Aluf Amikam Norkin. This was his second trip to Israel since being appointed commander in May 2018, having participated in an international air chiefs conference that same month. He called the joint visit, which he’d joined at Lloyd’s invitation, “a first… a great opportunity to come together.”
The Ville de Québec has been deployed in the Mediterranean since July as part of NATO’s Operation Reassurance. The ship arrived in Haifa after several days at port in Egypt, followed by exercises with the Egyptian navy. It has conducted similar exercises with Turkish, Spanish, and other nations’ naval vessels.
In a media briefing prior to the event, both commanders spoke about the importance of conducting operational exercises with Israel, and both militaries’ capitalizing on the opportunity to learn from one another. Meinzinger mentioned that Canada has received an invitation to Blue Flag, Israel’s biennial international military aviation exercise, and would consider participating in future, though it has not yet. “It’s a long way to send our fighter aircraft.”
However, discussing recent tensions following the discovery of Hezbollah terror tunnels in northern Israel, the commanders dodged a question regarding whether Canada is prepared to come to Israel’s aid should the nation be attacked.
Speaking on their behalf, Hinton affirmed the “continued long-standing strong relationship that Canada has with Israel.” He added that “we don’t have a formal military alliance with Israel… as we do with other countries, principally in the NATO alliance, but if there was a need that Israel demonstrated, and requested aid, I’m sure it would be considered most seriously by our government, by our prime minister, and by the military as well.”