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”

Foreword

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

signed

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

 

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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

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.

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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

http://www.chilliwackremembers.com/history/veteransstories_02a.html

All_Sappers_April_46

All Sappers Cenotaph April 1946

Welcome

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Welcome to the CME History blog. This blog is a collection of articles/news items I have found as I wander the internet, read a magazine/newspaper. It may be a brief sentence or paragraph, it may be a larger article. This blog is like the post-it notes we use to remind us about an interesting idea, a reminder.

The focus of the blog is anything that is related to military engineering in Canada, from the Royal Engineers to today’s Canadian Military Engineers (CME). But it’s not what the their doing today, but what they did twenty – twenty five years ago.