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Friends claim unique honour for 'a lifelong soldier'
Photo   Friends and family are convinced that Robert Metcalfe, who served throughout the Second World War, is the veteran depicted on the $10 bill. The Bank of Canada maintains the figure is a composite of several veterans.
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ROD MICKLEBURGH
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Three and a half years after Dunkirk veteran Robert Metcalfe passed away at the age of 90, the mystery lives on. Is that good old Bob on the back of Canada's $10 bill?

His onetime comrade-in-arms Tom Dick declares there's not a shred of doubt: “It's the spitting image of him.”

Mr. Dick, in fact, is so certain that the hunched, stolid veteran with the blue beret depicted on the bill is Mr. Metcalfe that he says it's become a bit of folklore down at their local Legion in Kanata, Ont.

“When a $10 bill passes across the bar, someone is bound to say: ‘Let's have a Bob,'” he said with a laugh Monday.

A large portrait of Mr. Metcalfe standing stiffly at a military cemetery hangs with honour inside the front hall of the Kanata Legion. Look at the picture and look at the veteran on the $10 bill. The resemblance is hard to miss, his old mates agree.

“I can tell you, that's Bob, all right [on the bill]. I knew him well, and I'd recognize him anywhere,” said air force veteran Bob Magee, fast friends with Mr. Metcalfe for more than 10 years.

So, why the mystery?

Officialdom, namely the Royal Canadian Legion and the Bank of Canada, insist that the figure on the right-hand side of the bill is not Mr. Metcalfe at all, but a composite image of as many as five veterans.

“Yes, it looks a little bit like Bob Metcalfe, but it's not entirely him,” said national Legion spokesman Bob Butt. “I've met a guy from Quebec who says it looks like him, and you get other people's friends saying it looks like them. We believe what we've been told [by the Bank of Canada], that it's a compilation.”

Bank spokeswoman Monica Lamoureux said the man on the back of the bill, designed to commemorate Remembrance Day and peacekeeping, is intended to represent all Canadian veterans.

She confirmed that Mr. Metcalfe was one of a handful of veterans chosen to pose for the bill, “but we were careful to make sure we did not depict any particular person. We have to stay generic, because the bills are used by everyone.”

The assertion brought a loud chuckle from Mr. Metcalfe's daughter, Sue. She recognized her father the moment she saw a large blowup of the new $10 bill in The Globe and Mail in January, 2001.

“I thought immediately, that's my dad. It's his image. That's exactly the way he looks,” Ms. Metcalfe said.

She said her father had received a phone call “out of the blue” about two years earlier to “come downtown” and have some pictures taken. He didn't think much more about it, until the $10 bill appeared.

Even then, Mr. Metcalfe didn't go around pumping his chest about the fact, she explained, in part because he had agreed to keep his participation confidential. “But he was really tickled about it, and proud,” she said.

Ms. Metcalfe said she's not perturbed by Legion and Bank of Canada assertions that the veteran on the bill is not her father. “It's quite irrelevant to me. They have their policies and I respect that. But I know it's my dad.”

Regardless, no one would deny that Mr. Metcalfe was a worthy choice to represent Canadian veterans, despite official reluctance and his service in the British army. He saw action right through the Second World War, from Dunkirk to North Africa to Italy, dodging death more than once.

Mr. Metcalfe married a Canadian nurse he met in Italy, came to Canada in 1948 and threw himself into the affairs of his new country with business vigour, spiced by plentiful community service. He was a long-time Legion member and never missed a Remembrance Day ceremony.

“He was a survivor in every sense of the word,” his daughter said. “You might say he was a lifelong soldier. He gave back to this country in so many ways.”

Those who knew him, meanwhile, are pleased to have their old friend's image preserved in wallets, purses and cash transactions across the country.

“I don't see many $10 bills these days, but when I do, I look at Bob and I think to myself, I knew him and there he is,” said Mr. Dick, also a veteran of the miraculous British escape at Dunkirk.

Added Mr. Magee: “Whenever I do get a $10 bill, I'm very, very pleased to see him. And I can tell you that Bob was thrilled, too. He told me that this was better than the Order of Canada. It was a grand honour.”

Sue Metcalfe said she never tires of seeing her father on the bill. “Every time I use one,” she said, “I think of him.”


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 •  Teddy's tale: An unlikely journey
 •  Margaret Wente: Down the memory hole
 •  Desmond Morton: Yes, think of Nov. 11 – but 1871, not 1918
 •  Judith Timson: Against or apathetic about war? Think about it
 •  Facts and Arguments essay: Shining a light on a painful loss
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