The Story of 2 Bn R.C.E. 1940-1945

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The following are extracts from the book “The Story of 2 Bn RCE 1940 – 1945”


In May 1945 on instruction from the Commanding Officer a committee representing all Coys in the Battalion assembled to discuss the question of a Battalion souvenir.

After much discussion it was decided to publish a book covering the unit’s activities since its formation.

It was agreed that the qualifying period to be eligible for a copy should be three months service with the Battalion between “our” D Day and V.E. Day. It is realized that this arbitrary decision will leave out many well deserving original members and additional copies are being printed- and may be obtained by them on writing to “Executive Officer RCE” N.D.H.Q. Ottawa, stating when and how long they served with the unit.

In the short time available it has not been possible to assemble a complete story of the Battalion but it is hoped this will form a basis for your “Scrap-Book” of World War II.

Chairman – Ma]. S. Slater

Members – Cap. A. W. Lees, M.B.E.

H 39235 RSM Lockwood, A. M.B.E.

H 39222 Sgt Bell, W.

The gradual withdrawal of personnel under the present plan for demobilization has prevented me saying goodbye – as I had wished – to the Battalion as a whole – and to all of you who served in North West Europe.

This booklet, prepared at your wish and by your committee, will serve us as a visual memento of the many memories which will out last these pages. Made up in haste, in the last days of the Battalion, I hope that it, and this message, reach you all.

The Battalion has served as a unit during five years and in six countries. In that time the individual efforts of sapper, NCO and officer have combined to create for the Unit an enviable record and a status in the Corps of which you must all be as proud as I am. Supporting many formations, our role has been varied, airfields, mine clearance, roadmaking, bridge-building. We have worked from rear areas to forward lines.

In all places our record stands – no allotted task has failed of successful completion.

My personal thanks to you all for your fine work, and cheerful support during the period of my command. Wherever you go – to new ventures or the joys of home – my best wishes go with each of you. May we meet again. Till then goodbye – good luck – and God Bless.

G.L. MacDonald

Lt Col


Zwolle, Holland

1 July 45

Over the upcoming weeks, I will republish more extracts from the book.

The book was:

Printed by N.V. Nauta & Co, Zutphen, Holland

The Binding was done by  C. H. F. Wohrmann & Zonen, Zutphen, Holland



Bridging the Vedder Canal Nov 1986

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CME Newsletter, No. 42, April 1987

As part of a major project to upgrade the Fraser Valley portion of the Trans Canada (Hwy 1) to true freeway standards, a secondary crossing of the Vedder Canal was needed. This service route would eliminate slow-moving farm traffic from Hwy 1 and would permit the closing of some uncontrolled access points. Keith Wilson Road, which bisects CFB Chilliwack, was chosen. It would be extended across the Vedder Canal some 8.5 km west of the Base. Acrow panel bridge, supported on six piers, was selected to span the gap.

Note – Acrow panel is the modern successor to Bailey. For a 6.7% increase in panel weight and up-dated methods for connecting transoms and sway bracing, shear and bending moment capacities are greatly increased. This and other technical aspects of Acrow, as well as engineering lessons learned in the erection of this bridge, will be discussed in a separate article.

The fortunate location of the B.C. Acrow representatives down the hall for our own Colonel Commandant’s Vancouver office served to form the “bridge” between the B.C. Ministry of Transport and Canadian Military Engineers. While approval was being sought from NDHQ for 1 CER participation, civilian contractors emplaced the abutments and the concrete-capped tubular steel piles (concrete filled) to form the piers. MOT built the access route and prepared the approaches.

Shortly after project approval was received, some 80 members of 1 CER, in less than twelve working hours, erected two hundred tonnes of steel over the 600 foot gap. Here is an account of the task as written by WO Scotty Nicholson, 1 Tp WO, who looked after PR and recording the event:

In peacetime we, the Engineers, are rarely given the opportunity to demonstrate our engineering skills and professionalism to the public. 1 CER was fortunate enough to get such an opportunity during the period 25 – 28 Nov 86 by constructing a 600 ft/183 m seven span Acrow bridge over the Vedder Canal. The Acrow is a civilian bridge similar to the Bailey. The Acrow retains many of the basic Bailey principles incorporating some strengthening features of the heavy guider bridge. The Acrow is capable of supporting MLC 60 over a 200 ft/61 m clear span using a normal configuration, Quadruple Double Reinforced (QDR), and is normally constructed by hand.

At 0800 hrs on the 25 Nov 86, MWO Dave Fowler (Bridge Commander) gave the order to prepare the site for construction during which time the roller layout was progressing and small stores were being unloaded.

At 1215, MWO Fowler gave the order, “panels up,” which initiated a beehive of activity. Normal construction continued up to 1630 hrs with the nose touching down on pier #1 at 1500 hrs. Prior to the bridge reaching Pier #2, rumblings could be heard, “it will never line up on the rollers on pier #2”. As the bridge inched forward, all held their breath as the nose touched down exactly as planned, perfectly aligned, a job well done by Sgt Mears and his roller layout crew. And so day one came to a close.

Day 2 construction started at 0800 hrs with MWO Fowler giving the all familiar order “panels up”. Normal construction continued throughout the day and reasonably smoothly. The nose touched down on the piers at the following times:

Pier # 3          0900 hrs

Pier # 4         1040 hrs

Pier # 5         1340 hrs

Pier # 6         1430 hrs

Far landing Rollers                       1517 hrs

Jacked down home side           1601 hrs

Nose dismantled                          1610 hrs

A few days of anxiety did come when the bridge reached Pier # 4 and it started to react like a snake. The panel metal appeared to compress and as the tension/compression released, a wave like action passed throughout its length. This was an unfamiliar occurrence which was later confirmed to be a normal reaction of long bridges as they are being pushed forward. Once the bridge proper reached the far side, the home side was jacked down and the nose removed. Work for day 2 came to a close and all members left with a feeling of a job well done.

During the 27 and 28 Nov, MWO Fowler, with a skeleton crew, jacked the bridge down and cleaned up the site.

The actual construction time was equal to 9.5 hrs to span the canal and have the home side jacked down. A considerable feat considering the length and number of spans.

During the construction, civilian spectators were heard to say: “Unbelievable, why did we not get the Army engineers to put a bridge in years prior?” all comments were of a positive nature, 1 CER earning the respect of the local populace.

Although the Acrow bridge construction occupied elements of the unit for the better part of a week, it was a truly satisfying project. The bridge has opened up a much needed secondary route across the Vedder Canal and will remain in use for years to come. Members of three squadrons, and even RHQ, were heavily involved in all aspects of the construction. It was the type of project that is rarely available and, as the sappers will agree, was very rewarding.

Is this the longest Bailey-type bridge built by Military Engineers in Canada? Vince Clark remembers building 600 feet of Bailey over the Peace in the 1950’s; however Acrow end panels are somewhat wider than Bailey which would give the 1 CER bridge over the Vedder Canal some eight inches more than that built by our predecessors’.

Footnote – this bridge was replaced in 1998, with it’s opening taking place in Dec 98. This time construction was by civilian contract.

Note to cross the Vedder River/Canal, there are only three places this can be done. The two bridges (two lanes each) side by side, on the Trans-Canada Highway. The Keith Wilson bridge and finally the bridge in Vedder Crossing. This third bridge will be replace over the next couple of years.

Bridge co-ordinates – 49°6’10″N   122°4’39″W

Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d)

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The following article is courtesy of the CMEA News Brief, 10 Oct 14..

Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d) WW II Veteran
Awarded French Legion of Honour

Ken Holmes

The Canadian Military Engineers are pleased to advise that the Government of France has announced the awarding of the Rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour to Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d), a WW II Royal Canadian Engineer veteran and a participant in the Battle of the Liberation of France who also went on to serve a full post-war career. Some background on this honour is found at:

Sergeant John Mitges was a 22-year old Reconnaissance Sergeant for his troop that was part of 18 Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. He landed with the Nova Scotia Highlanders at Bernieres sur Mer before noon on 6 June. The squadron was with the 9th Brigade that pushed through the beachhead that had been created by the 7th and 8th Brigades. The beachhead was extremely congested at that time and the rally point was Beny-sur-Mer. Once the brigade started pushing out of the beachhead, the tasks for John’s platoon were to destroy obstacles and clear mines along the route of advance. His role as the Recce Sergeant was to move out with the lead troops and send information back to his troop about the engineer tasks they would have to work on.

There was heavy fighting all into that first night when the advance was halted north of Caen. When the advance continued over the next several days Sergeant Mitges continued with his recce tasks in support of the lead elements of the battalion. On 11 June he was wounded in the head, chest and leg and was evacuated to a field hospital on the beach where he was treated for ten days. Recovering, he “hitch-hiked” back to his unit instead of going back through the normal channel as he did not want to get hung up in an infantry unit on the way back.

Sgt Mitges stayed with 18 Field Company as they advanced across the Rhine and all the way up to the Baltic Coast where the unit became primarily involved in mine clearance. The Germans had resorted to laying sea mines in the ground as that was all they had left towards the end of the war. It was during the clearing of one such mine – on the last day of the war – that he was again wounded in the leg after the mine detonated while his team was too close to it. He was evacuated to hospital and later re-joined his unit before it returned to England.

John Mitges returned to Canada in December 1945. He was transferred to the small Permanent Force and posted to the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering at Chilliwack. In 1947, he was one of three RCE personnel seconded to the United Kingdom where he qualified as a Glider Pilot. With this new qualification under his belt, John was posted to the Canadian Joint Airborne Training Centre at Rivers, MB where he did a considerable amount of glider training and indoctrination flights for parachute training students.

John had a full post-war career with the Royal Canadian Engineers. During the Korean War John was seconded to the British Army and had two trips to Korea to erect Nissan Huts. His career was marked by appointment as Sergeant Major of 1 Airborne Troop RCE and as Squadron Sergeant Major of 4 Field Squadron. He was selected for a two-year attachment with Plant Roads and Airfields at the Royal School of Military Engineering, UK his last appointment was as the senior RCE CWO at Mobile Command Headquarters before taking his release in 1976
John currently lives in South Surrey, BC and is eagerly looking forward to arrangements for the formal presentation of this honour.


Sept 2014



A Bridge in the Yukon – 1971


A memoir by a Kingstonian, Major-General (ret) Don Gray, RMC’56, Queen’s ’57, over 42 years after the fact.

“There are strange things done in the land of the midnight sun but the strangest I ever did see was a long truss bridge, heading north, yet still very far from the sea…….!”

My apologies to poet Robert Service and Sam McGee from Tennessee.


The Canadian government was committed to the construction of a highway in the Yukon from Dawson City to Inuvik NWT on the Mackenzie River delta, very close to the Arctic Ocean. The highway (later named the Dempster Hwy after a Mounted Policeman) was well under construction and several hundred miles of a gravel road had been completed on both sides of the river to be crossed by this bridge. About 122 miles north of Dawson City (of Gold Rush fame 1898) the proposed highway intersected the Ogilvie River. It was over 360 feet wide at the crossing point.

One of the fascinating points about this bridge site is that it almost straddles the Arctic Circle (Lat. 66° 33¢ 44² N) and it is located at 66° 12¢ 18.33² N with an elevation 638 feet above sea level.

The federal department of public works (DPW) had already designed the bridge and a contract had been awarded to a Vancouver firm to manufacture the bridge components. It would be composed of three identical spans of 120 feet configured as pony trusses. Surprisingly, it was fabricated of high strength steel which was to be galvanized and, when one considers the cold Yukon climate, should keep the rusting of this bridge to an absolute minimum and it should last for at least a hundred years and probably much more.

As I understand it, some questions by politicians in Ottawa, raised the idea that military engineers might be employed to build this structure. To cut to the quick it eventually became a project assigned to 3 Field Squadron (3 Fd Sqn) RMC located in Chilliwack, B.C.

It would be my job as the Commanding Officer 3 Fd Sqn, Canadian Military Engineers to make the plan to accept the bridge, organize the shipment of the components to the bridge site and build it. Easier said than done I later found out. While my unit had a complement of over 325 personnel at the time, the project would only need about 30 personnel at any time. It would be a pretty big collateral duty for the squadron in a remote location with a very long supply tail.

I should interject here that when I was at 1 CEU (Winnipeg), a military technical unit, as Chief Engineer I had actually been to the bridge site, as a consultant to 3 Fd Sqn, and had I traveled with Major Ian Ballantyne (my predecessor as CO 3 Fd Sqn) and Major Gerry Zypchen who was an engineer staff officer at Mobile Command HQ in Montreal. The trip to, and the return from, the site was in itself exciting and turned out to be quite an adventure.

We three engineer majors actually met in Vancouver to fly CP to Whitehorse and on to Dawson where we would meet with the senior DPW engineer working on the Dempster. He drove us up the highway to a flat area where a helicopter could land a take us up to look at the selected crossing. Here is where it gets interesting. The contracted civilian chopper could only carry one passenger at a time and for some forgotten reason I was selected to go in first. The flight over the Ogilvie mountains was worth the price of admission by itself. We were flying very close to the mountainside and I asked the young pilot why we were so close to it? He explained that the chopper really didn’t have enough power to get over the very high crest without using the wind up-draught, caused by the mountain, to literally blow us over the top. Sorry I asked! We were thousands of feet up. When we actually crested the top of the mountain the view was breathtaking. There was Canada’s Yukon spread out in front of me in all of her majesty. I’ll never forget that feeling or that stunning view of Canada.

When we got to the crossing site, I jumped out of the chopper and it took off to get the next passenger. I suddenly realized that all of my Boy Scout training had been forgotten.
Ogilvie River Bridge, Highway 5 (once Hwy 11) Near the Arctic Circle, Yukon 1971
The finished product!
Here I was, all alone, literally hundreds of miles from anywhere, I was not armed, was in summer combat clothing and I had no food. If anything happened to that chopper I’d probably end up as a footnote in some boring report!

When I stood at the crossing there was a steady breeze, but as I nosed about checking for a tree I could climb if a hungry bear saw me, I realized that in the woods the breeze was light and almost still, but the mosquitoes surely weren’t. I was attacked by hundreds of them. Bears be damned I went back out on the beach where the brisk wind kept the mosquitoes at bay. Incidentally the trees were very old and short as we were almost above the tree line, so they offered little protection anyway.

It seemed an eternity before the chopper got back with my two companions, one-by-one. We did our reconnaissance, kicked the sand, made our notes and reversed the process to get out of there. This time I went out first!

While we were in the Yukon doing our reconnaissance there were forest fires all over the Yukon. We had taken little notice of this fact, but when we got back to our DPW vehicle we were advised that the road to Dawson had been closed because of the fire danger and we were unable to get back to the Dawson airport. Since our DPW engineer guide lived in Whitehorse and was heading home we decided to hitch a ride with him and fly south from Whitehorse. It was an 8 hour drive I recall. At one point the Mounties waved us down to advise us of the danger of going on because a shift in the wind might cause the fire to jump over the road and we’d be “cooked” as it were. Well we, three military engineer majors, thought that were we invincible so we pressed on. The term ‘impetuous’ would not be out of place here.

Back to the bridge. I had seen the site. I had seen the plans. The bridge was to be a three span pony truss, each span 120 feet for a total length of 360 feet, that would require two abutments on each side of the river and two piers at the third points in the river. My plan was to assemble one side of the span at the bridge manufacturers plant so that our soldiers could see how it went together. I requested that each span be colour-coded and all of the bolts, nuts, and members be colour-marked to ensure that everything got to site. The closest Canadian Tire or military supply depot was hundreds of miles away and there were no quick remedies for mistakes.

The plan was to have the bridge components shipped to Skagway, in Alaska, and loaded on the White Pass and Yukon (a narrow gauge railway) and transported to Dawson, where it would be shipped up the Dempster Highway, by trucks, and off loaded at the bridge site.

Since Lt. Barr (later Major), who had been working with me, was being posted to the squadron, at the same time I was, and was up-to-speed on the bridge plans, I intended to make him site commander when the time arrived. He was clearly the right choice.

I had the planning pretty well sketched out, I thought that we would deploy our sappers by air, our equipment by road from Chilliwack as soon after 1 May as we could to firstly build our camp, prepare the site and get ready. I figured that we would finish this bridge about Labour Day (1971) or after about 4 months of work. I was shocked when the senior engineer of DPW in Vancouver opined that, based on his experience, it was likely that a bridge of this size, in that location, would be finished in the summer of 1972. Nevertheless I still went ahead with my plan.

The construction method that we used probably would not be acceptable today in light of environmental concerns. We actually built a dyke out into the river so that we could install two cofferdams, for the mid-stream piers and erect the first two spans, from dry land. When that was completed we opened the dykes to accommodate the river flow then put a dyke under the third span so that it could be erected from dry land too. I’m sure we may have temporarily bothered the spawning of some fish species and I, now, regret that possibility. Of course the two abutments were slightly easier to handle from the river banks with no environmental concerns.

Any bridge that I have ever been involved with, whether expedient or permanent, usually has technical problems. In this one, I was astonished to discover that the soil investigation was misleading. It indicated that bedrock was about eight feet below the river bed. In fact it was merely inches below the bottom. The need for piling was therefore obviated so we improvised and used heavy dowels concreted into drilled holes to anchor the piers to bottom of the river working in the cofferdams. Another huge problem was the fact that all of the aggregate, within miles of the site, which was needed for the designed concrete bridge deck was deleterious and could not used. The easy way out of this “pickle” was to order up an expanded-metal-lattice deck. Surprisingly we were able to get this designed, purchased and shipped to the site just as we needed it. A miracle? Perhaps.

I have extracted the bridge portion of my memoir of 3 Fd Sqn because it would have greatly complicated my “real” (perhaps normal is more appropriate) duty commanding this marvellous unit. I only want to add that while the bridge was under construction, I periodically flew north to the site from Vancouver or Calgary (depending where my squadron was deployed) on Fridays and returned on Monday. The squadron was well-trained for this job and once they got going I think I was just a nuisance. But I loved it. Almost every engineer wants to build a permanent bridge.

As it turned out I was posted out of 3 Fd Sqn in August 1971, just as the bridge was finishing, to attend Staff College in Toronto, a one year course, but the “powers that be” actually sent me plane tickets (Toronto to the Dawson return) to attend the ribbon cutting at the bridge site just around Labour Day as I had predicted. At the “Opening Ceremony” I restrained myself from smugly smiling at the DPW Chief Engineer who told me months before that it would take us a year or more to build a bridge of this size in the far north. He was almost right!

I understand that this bridge has been heavily used since 1971. I’ve been retired for over 25 years and I have only met one couple who has crossed this bridge. About 15 years ago my wife and I were on a cruise in the Baltic and we shared a lunch table with an adventurous American couple who loved travelling in northern Canada. I nearly fell off my seat when he told me he had crossed this bridge several times while vacationing.


The finished product!

Ogilvie River Bridge, Highway 5 (once Hwy 11) Near the Arctic Circle, Yukon 1971

This article was re-published with the permission of e-Veritas, the electronic newsletter of RMC Club

All Sappers Memorial Park

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All Sappers’ Cenotaph, which may be so named since on its south face are inscribed the words “In memory of all Sappers of the Empire who have given their lives in the service of the Empire,” stands where the public may have access to it, on the main Chilliwack-Cultus Lake road before the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering.

It was unveiled on 14th July, 1946, by the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief, His Excellency, Field-Marshal the Right Honourable the Viscount Alexander of Tunis, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., C.S.I., D.S.O., M.C.

Seen against its background of nearby hills and mountains, and set in a great circle of lawn, it is a column of much beauty and dignified simplicity.

Unlike most monuments, which are built by public subscriptions, this one was raised by the labour of many hands. Lieut-Colonel C. N. Mitchell, in September, 1944, conceived the idea of “a cenotaph to all sappers, designed, made and erected by sappers”. A resolution of the A6 C.E.T.C. Officers’ Mess that a stone plaque should be erected and carved with the names of the Centre’s dead had been sent to him for approval. But for the R.C.S.M.E. of the future, as he saw it, this would not do. It was not a unit memorial that was wanted but the memorial of a Corps. Artists and architects began to sketch and into the hills Mitchell sent a geologist to find suitable rock to quarry. This was found at Harrison Lake, 22 miles from the camp. The choice was monzonite, an igneous rock of plagioclase, feldspar and horneblende resembling a grey granite.

The 42-ton block for the shaft of the column, a lesser block for its base and numerous other blocks, that when split would become a broad three-step surround, were all quarried by the end of March, 1945. An obsolete Valentine tank was converted to a carrier for the biggest block of stone. On 16th May the loaded Valentine chassis trundled onto a five-pontoon Bailey raft and the journey down the Harrison and Fraser Rivers began. The long trip was not without incident. A few miles from the off-loading point the raft grounded on a gravel bar in midstream. The Fraser boiled around it and forced it hard on the bar. The services of a powerful tug were required to free the raft against the sweep of a current that threatened to swamp the pontoons. However, on the 18th the tank was relieved of its load in the centre of the future Memorial Park and the masons began the long work of dressing and carving the stone.

Almost a year later, after unsuspected faults in the rock forced more than one design change, all was ready for the final operation. On 13th April 1946, the delicate job of raising the shaft from the horizontal and setting it accurately on its base block was successfully accomplished.

The mounting of four bronze swords above the inscriptions on the cardinal faces of the octagonal column and four bronze grenades on stone corner posts, together with the landscaping of the park completed the task.

While the inscription on the south face is for all fallen sappers, there are other inscriptions. The east face is devoted to the Canadian Engineers of the Great War of 1914-1918, the north to Canadian Sappers everywhere who gave their lives while serving with other Corps and the west is inscribed in memory of those who died during the Second World War.
Major Williams designed the Cenotaph.
Major J. W. Davies selected the site and prepared a memorial park.
Major N.B. Gillies, a geologist, selected the site from the rock would be quarried in one piece.
Major T. A. V. Tremblay, set out the quarry camp and transported the rock to Vedder Crossing.
Lt T.H.E. Copps, an experienced miner and prospector started the quarrying.
SSgt Crowe, Cpl Bloomfield, Cpl Thatcher and Sapper Forster, stone masons, would cut and shape the rock.
Mr Booth, a landscape gardener from New Westminster, (whose son was a Sapper), gave trees, shrubs, and much time to the landscaping.

The original design called for a twelve-sided shaft set on a square base, with a grenade at each of the four corners. The monument was to be 16 feet, 6 inches high and the base, 4 feet, 10 inches square. However the faults in the stone changed the design to an eight sided shaft.

When CFB Chilliwack was closed in 1998, the Canada Lands Company (CLC) became responsible for disposing of the DND property. But DND still retained ownership of All Sappers Memorial Park and the Cenotaph. The cenotaph continued to be the focus of local memorial activities, whether Remembrance Day or special occasions.

Concerns were raised about DND’s ability to maintain the Cenotaph in a condition that would ensure that it properly honoured the sacrifices of all Canadian and British Commonwealth Sappers. Local retired engineers kept a close watch on ‘their cenotaph.’

In 2004, as the local real estate market quickly grew, proposals were considered to expand the intersection, where the Cenotaph was located. The suggestion was for a turning lane which would widen the roadway, using some of the Park land.

A CFB Chilliwack Historical Society committee advised Canada Lands Company that the option of taking land away from the cenotaph was unacceptable! Canada Lands responded with an offer to beautify the grounds, and would not disturb the cenotaph. Concerns were also raised, as over time the ashes of many former military engineers were spread around the Cenotaph and the committee wanted to ensure CLC would respect the soil where ashes were spread.

Initially spurred on by LCol Paul Corcoran (Ret’d) representing the CFB Chilliwack Historical Society until his untimely death in Nov 2007, numerous Retired Sapper watchdogs kept a close eye on proceedings.

LCol Al Dempsey (CME Ret’d) from Canada Lands provided strong leadership and ensured the support of the local community with informative meetings and securing advice from Retired Sappers. After the retirement of Al Dempsey, Mr. Randy Fasan and Mr. Larry Morgan of Canada Lands Company, worked tirelessly to revitalize and refurbish the All Sappers Memorial site, returning it to its former glory, to properly respect the proud Sappers around the world who have given their lives in the Service of their Country.

Mr. Greg Smallenberg, renowned for his work at the Vimy Monument among his other high profile works, was selected as the designer. He quickly won the hearts and minds of the senior sappers with artist renditions and a presentation that could not be dismissed.

Ground was broken in June 2009. Work included a major re-design and comprehensive landscaping of the surrounding Park in order to vastly improve the visibility and focus on the Cenotaph itself. They stripped away the concealing hedge, elevated the centre island, beautified the landscape, inserted soft lighting and signage, redirected sidewalks into the site and added numerous seats to invite visitors to sit and reflect.

The construction company GEMCO, came through with flying colours and consistent high quality workmanship, ensuring the glory and integrity of the site well into the future.

On 7 November 2009, Military Engineers gathered on a rainy day to re-dedicate the Cenotaph. Members of the Canadian Military Engineers Branch Council were in attendance as the Chief Engineer MGen Daniel Benjamin served as Reviewing Officer.

Members of Lt-Col Mitchell’s were present to witness the re-dedication of the Cenotaph. His daugther, Mrs. Frances Bailie, her son Philip Beck and his son (Mitchell’s great grandson), Liam Gleeson in his cadet uniform. Mrs Bailies poignant speech held the spectators spellbound and the silence was maintained as the family laid a wreath in memory of their renowned relative.

The Canadian Military Engineers Branch also awarded CME Commendations that day to Canada Lands for preserving the heritage of Military Engineers in the community, as well as the late Col Roger St. John and Jim Harris for their efforts on the refurbishing project.

All Sappers Memorial Park is located at the intersection of Vedder and Keith Wilson roads in Chilliwack BC.

Coordinates:   49°6’12″N   121°57’47″W


All Sappers Cenotaph April 1946

The Corps of Canadian Firefighters Overseas

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by Fred Collins

There is a group of Canadian Firefighters who are worthy of special recognition. Their exploits are largely forgotten and most members of the Canadian Fire Service today have probably never heard of them. However, they wrote a special chapter in courage and service during the Second World War and in the annals of the Fire Services of Canada.

In 1941 the Right Honourable MacKenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada visited England. During this visit the United Kingdom requested that Canada form a contingent of Firefighters to serve in Great Britain. This request was agreed to and shortly thereafter recruiting began for the Corps of Canadian Firefighters Overseas. Enlistment was voluntary and Firefighters from all across Canada answered the call. The original Corps, consisting of 422 members, was made up of men from 107 municipalities representing all provinces of the Dominion.

Their presence in the United Kingdom did not go unnoticed. The Manchester Evening News edition of Saturday, 15 May, 1943 referred to them as “a blood transfusion for a sorely wounded warrior.” After a four week course following arrival in England, mainly of blitz firefighting, rescue work and drill, the contingent was assigned to 2 fire stations in Southampton, 2 in Portsmouth, 1 in Plymouth and 1 in Bristol. Corps headquarters was established in London. After a brief familiarization period the Canadians became solely responsible for their districts.

The Corps was commanded by Gordon E. Huff, a former Fire Chief of the Brantford, Ont. Fire Department. He was largely responsible for organizing and recruiting the unit. He was, at that time, a 23 year veteran of the Ontario Fire Service. He was chosen, in the words of MacKenzie King, because “He was a crack Firefighter, he knew the English well having been over in the last war and he had proved his worth as a fire organizer”. During this period the cities where the Corps was stationed were subjected to heavy air raids. The fires started by the bombs had to be dealt with and those buildings which were destroyed but where no fires occurred made for unique rescue situations. Also, the number of alarms to be dealt with was far beyond those experienced in more peaceful times. There were numerous injuries to Corps members, but few were serious. Only three members lost their lives; one in a traffic accident In the course of training and the third due to a robot bomb. In addition, only three other members were seriously injured during their tour. Commander Huff puts this down to “good luck” but I suspect it was more a case of good training and professionalism. However, as is always the case, some luck does come into play. On one occasion, a bomb destroyed the hostel of one of the crews. They were away fighting a fire at the time the bomb hit.

The Corps served with distinction until the war ended. Corps members were awarded: 1 Order of the British Empire (Commanding Officer Huff), 1 Member of the British Empire, 2 British Empire Medals, 1 Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Parchment and 2 Royal Humane Society Testimonials on Vellum. As well, all who served were awarded special badges signifying their service.

When they got back to Canada many of them joined various Fire Departments across the country, bringing with them their unique experiences, training and knowledge from their war service.

I was privileged to serve on a fire department with one of these individuals. Captain Duncan Doan of the Welland Fire Department related many stories of his exploits while he was serving in Plymouth and London. Like all heroes, he said nothing of the bad times but only related the good and the humorous. Two other members of the Corps I met later. These two individuals are likely known to many of the older Firefighters still serving. They are Martin S. Hurst, who later became the third Fire Marshal of Ontario and Ralph Leonard, who became the first Chief Instructor of the Ontario Fire College.

The Author: Fred Collins has passed away since writing this article. His son Rob Collins is a volunteer interpreter with the Friends of the Canadian War Museum.

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of The Friends of the Canadian War Museum. It was originally published in their newsletter The Torch, Volume 23 No 4, November 2012

If you are interested in the history of the Fire Service, look for the book Standing against Fire, by Lt Col (Ret’d) Lorne MacLean. It is available from the publisher General Store Publishing House

We Are The Dead

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 In November 1998 Gloria Gray, an English and drama teacher at Carleton Place High School asked her husband, Larry to assist with a project. Gloria was responsible for the school’s Remembrance Day services and she was looking for more than a just a reading of names from the local cenotaph. Gloria wanted to put faces to the names. Larry thought this was a terrific idea and started to work.

What started as a simple list of biographical information became the book “We Are The Dead”, published by General Store Publishing House in 2000. Over the course of thirty one chapters, Larry Gray tells the story of the war and the forty-six young men and one woman who are commemorated on the cenotaph in Carleton Place Ontario. Using their own words, from letters, poems, newspaper articles and military files, Larry provides the setting of the war years.

One of those thirty one chapters tells about Railroaders and William Fraser. With the author’s permission, that chapter is reproduced here.

We are the Dead
Larry Gray
Chapter twenty-one

In 1914, Canada, foreseeing problems in the transport of supplies over a broad front, offered to raise railway units for service in France. The offer was rebuffed by the Imperial General Staff. However, when they learned, slowly, that their motor transport was not capable of the job, they condescended to let Canada raise two railway battalions complete with rails for service in France.

The Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps was composed of 540 selected volunteers from the Canadian Pacific Railway. Recruiting was completed by May 15, 1915. All the men were experienced construction workers. Each had to pass a test as to his technical ability. This nucleus was to grow to thirteen battalions of Canadian Railway Troops, three battalions of Skilled Railway Employees, Railway Bridging Companies and Railway Company drafts and depots. In the last year of the war, there were 8,000 men in active construction work and another 4,000 on repair duties. These soldiers were responsible for the construction and maintenance of railways of all gauges, including light railways, in France and Belgium. Some were formed as Royal Engineer units but after the formation of the Corps of Canadian Railway, they became the responsibility of the Officer Commanding the Royal Canadian Engineers, although there never part of the Canadian Engineers military structure.

The equipment these troops brought with them had never been seen in Europe. Steam shovels, graders, cement mixers and thousands of specialized construction implements helped the corps lay 1,169 miles of heavy track and 1,404 miles of light track during one six-month period. They also built cement gun emplacements that could not have been constructed with manual labour. The expedited the delivery of supplies and manpower and eventually controlled all railway marshalling yards in France and Flanders. [1]

One of these railroaders, a man from Carleton Place, was Sapper William Fraser. The railroad troops adopted the rank structure of the Canadian Engineers, hence the rank of sapper.


William Fraser joined No. 1 Section of skilled Railway Employees (SRE) in Ottawa on January 4, 1917. This was a railway construction battalion. He gave his trade as “roundhouseman” and his qualifications as a machinist’s helper. On enlistment he gave his address as Pakenham and his next of kin his wife, Laura Elizabeth. He was assigned the regimental number of 2124809.

William was born in Dundee, Scotland, on September 2, 1872. At age forty-four, like most of the SRE, he was considerably older than the infantry enlistees. Being Scottish, he was also a staunch Presbyterian. At his enrollment medical examination he was found to weigh 121 lbs, stand 5’6” tall with a dark complexion, light brown eyes and dark hair. He wore a full mustache.

These specialized troops needed no trades training. Nor was there a requirement for them to practise or perform rifle drill. They needed only to endure some military foot drill. They were paid their normal civilian working pay plus military pay of one dollar a day for engineers and yardmasters, 80 cents for firemen, 90 cents for conductors and mechanics and 70 cents for brakemen. The men of No. 1 Section SRE were transferred to No. 2 Section and on March 1, 1917, Spr William Fraser was given a credit balance of $10 as a uniform allowance for the months of January and February.

No. 2 Section of the SRE, along with No. 13 Light Railway Operating Company which had been mobilized in Montreal on January 27, 1917, boarded His Majesty’s Troopship, the S.S. Grampian in Halifax on April 16, 1917. They sailed two days later, and arrived in Liverpool on April 29. They were sent to Burfleet but, by May 7, 1917, were residents in camp at Aldershot. The entire unit was sent on leave from 4:00 p.m. on May 11, 1917, to 9:00 p.m. on May 17. When they returned for duty with the Royal Engineers of the British Expeditionary Force, there were credited with six days allowance of one shilling, nine pence, in lieu of rations.

At home, William’s wife moved. On June 1, he officially changed her address to Carleton Place. On June 9, the Operating company went to France aboard the S.S. Viper, but William was transferred to the Railway Troops Depot to take instruction in the operation, maintenance and repair of petrol-electric locomotives and petrol tractors. These courses were conducted at the school in Apple Pie Camp, Longmoor, Hants. Fraser went to France on July 9 and caught up with his unit on the 10th.

To follow William’s activities in Flanders, reference is made to the War Diary of the No. 13 Light Railway Operating Company. They were at Coxyde, Belgium at the time of writing in August 1917:

23.8.17 – Things running smooth. A game of baseball was played today between our boys and the 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station and we lost to the tune of 15 to 3. The first game of amusements since landing in France.
25.8 – track blown up
26.8 – Engine 1276 derailed. Track in bad condition … shelled very badly this date. 14 cars ammunition moved up to Coxyde for safety.
27.8 – heavy shelling at Coxyde. Track blown up.
29.8 – Enemy shelling Coxyde very badly at 10 p.m.
30.8 – Everything very quiet.
31.8 – Still no broad gauge train in. engine 1214 over on its side near aerodrome … shelled. Derailed one repair car and engine 1300 – one shell dropped in front of the tents.
1.9.17 – 1:30 a.m. Month started very badly for this unit. A shell struck a dug-out at Oost Dunkirk where there was four of our men in. killing three and the fourth was badly shell shocked … Rained during the day. The three men were buried in the afternoon at Coxyde.
2.9 – Fine day. Quiet as regards work.
9.9 – 125 men sent to XV Corps rest station and they need it for there wasn’t much sleep to be had in the last camp owing to the continual bombardment each night.
10.9 – men ordered back from rest camp owing to us having orders to move out to another area.

The Almonte Gazette of September 21 noted that, “Mrs. J.A. McIntosh received word last week that her brother, Pte. Wm. Fraser, had been killed in action. Pte Fraser was living at Packenham [sic] previous to enlistment.”

Spr. William Fraser was listed as killed in action on Saturday, September 1, 1917, at Rouen. The official commemoration has him belong to the 13th Canadian Light Railway Operating Company, Canadian Railway Troops. He would not have recognized the name since the unit was reorganized in September, after his death, and the word “Canadian” was added only in November 1917. Fraser died while asleep in a dugout at Oost Dunkirk. He and two comrades were instantly killed when an enemy shell made a direct hit on the dugout.

Coxyde was about ten kilometres behind the front line. The cemetery had already been begun by French troops when they were relieved by the British in June 1917. The village was used for rest billets and was occasionally shelled, but the cemetery was found to reasonably safe. It was used at night for the burial of the dead from the front line. There were over 1,500 1914-1918 war dead commemorated at this site.

After his death, William’s widow and five of their six children moved to 171 Frank Street in Ottawa and it was so that address his medals were sent. By then the oldest boy, Lawrence, was in England with a signals regiment training for action at the front. Laura received a special pension bonus of $80 and a gratuity of $100 for the loss of her husband.

[1] Stewart, Charles H. “Overseas” The Lineages and Insignia of the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919.  Toronto: Little & Stewart, 1970. p. 149

Larry Gray served twenty four years in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a navigator. During that time he had an interest in Military History and has had the opportunity to tour World War I battlefields, including the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

The book “We are the Dead” is still available from the publisher General Store Publishing House

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