They don’t use horses anymore, but a first glimpse of aide-de-camp Jack Patten in his crisp, freshly pressed uniform tells you that he is just the man for the job.
His jacket is a living history book, with its row of medals, gorget patches, and aiguillette (an ornamental braided cord), which Patten says was used by aides-de-camp of yesteryear to tether horses.
“In the old days, the generals and kings would have an aide in the field when they went into battle, and he always had a spare horse,” he said. “So if the battle was going awry, the king or general would turn to his aide and say ‘we’d better get out of here’, so he’d get on a fresh horse and away they’d go.”
Over the last 23 years as aide-de-camp, Patten has served five different lieutenant-governors.
In recognition of his years and quality of service, Patten was recently awarded a commendation from outgoing Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point. It was presented Nov. 1 in Victoria.
“It came right out of the blue and it’s a great honour,” Patten said.
In B.C., aides-de-camp are in service to the Queen, who is represented by the lieutenant- governor. Much of the volunteer, unpaid role requires them to ensure protocol is followed, traveling to official occasions and engagements to make sure the governor’s appearance runs smoothly.
“We’re just a little cog in the wheel, but we try to make them look good,” Patten said. “Whatever happens, the lieutenant- governor always follows the aide, the aide is in front and always knows what’s going on, if he’s good.”
Some of the duties an aide-de-camp might take on during an event include setting up the microphone and stage for a speech, while making sure the lieutenant governor enters and exits the on time.
Aides-de-camp are also required to be present in parliament when a lieutenant-governor signs a bill, making it law. They may also, by special permission, represent the lieutenant-governor at a military funeral if he or she is unable to attend.
Born in South Hampton, England, in 1937, Patten joined St. John Ambulance at the age of seven.
He came to Canada in 1956, and after returning to England to marry his high school sweetheart, settled in Nanaimo and started up Bastion Trophies. He is now retired but remains a member of the Canadian Scottish Regiment, and serves as provincial administrative officer for St. John Ambulance.
During his 23 years as aide-de-camp, he has had many memorable moments, such as having lunch with the Queen in the Palace of Whitehall, and dancing with Princess Alexandria. Patten, a First World War historian, has even taken a couple of former lieutenant-governors on battlefield tours of Europe.
“Sometimes I stand there and I look around and think, ‘oh Mum, if you could only see me now, your scruffy little boy,” he said.
There are approximately 25 aides-de-camp in B.C., said Patten, and three are from Nanaimo. Nanaimo RCMP Officer In Charge Norm McPhail was appointed to the position earlier this year, and former Nanaimo RCMP OIC Jeff Lott, who retired in 2011, has been an aide- de-camp since 1999.
He recalls that he had just been transferred to Victoria with the RCMP at the time.
“I’d never been involved in anything at that level at the time and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity for me and a good opportunity to represent the force as an aide-de-camp,” Lott said.
He said some of his more memorable moments have included traveling through the province delivering books to First Nations communities alongside Point, and a First Nations cadet ceremony in Duncan, where, as a surprise, Point announced he had designated the cadets as his own official cadet group.
“That was very exciting, the entire group was First Nations youth, and he saw that this would be something that would have a profound effect on them, to be taken under the wing of the office of the lieutenant-governor,” said Lott.
To learn more, please visit http://www.ltgov.bc.ca