Rocky Mountain Rangers
The Rocky Mountain Rangers, part of the Canadian Active Service Force, had been established in Nelson and many local men had joined up with it during the First World War; that legacy, combined with its headquarters in Kamloops – much closer than many regimental headquarters – made it an obvious starting point for at least ten local soldiers.
The Rangers were, first and foremost, a home defence regiment tasked with local protection duties. This essentially meant coastal protection; in this role, for example, Sapper Wilfred Bainbridge was stationed on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) in January 1941.
The Rangers became part of the 6th Canadian Division in March 1942 in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and subsequent fears of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. In June 1942, when Japan invaded the Aleutian Islands, the Rangers suddenly found themselves a lot closer to the potential front lines of the war than they had, perhaps, ever anticipated.
The Aleutians are American territory, and, still reeling from the attack on Pearly Harbour, it took the US military nearly a year to mobilize efforts to reclaim Attu and Kiska, the two islands occupied by the Japanese. The Rangers, along with the rest of the 6th Canadian Division, were sent to Kiska in August 1943 to support the American counterattack there.
The battle for Attu Island, the previous May, had been a hard-fought slog in tough terrain by poorly equipped US soldiers against the fierce, well positioned – and desperate – Japanese defenders. Expecting similar conditions at Kiska, the combined US and Canadian divisions landed 35,000 soldiers on Kiska and spent several days scouring the island, only to discover that the Japanese had evacuated it several weeks earlier under cover of dense fog. The 313 casualties that the allied forces suffered were the result of vehicle accidents, booby traps left by the Japanese, and a friendly-fire incident in which American and Canadian troops, moving inland from opposite sides of the island, mistook each other for Japanese. Sergeant Lloyd Cummings, Captain Denis Huscroft, Captain Bill Mackie, and Warrant Officer First Class Godfrey Vigne all took part in the attack on Kiska, though it is doubtful that campaign at all prepared them for the combat they were to experience later in the war.
Service in the Rocky Mountain Rangers was a jumping off point for the local soldiers. Sergeant Kirk Beard initially joined up with the Rangers, but quickly transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders and fought with Montgomery’s 8th Army in Sicily and Italy until he was taken prisoner in February 1945. Lieutenant John Corner served in the Northern Pacific, which probably means Kiska, and then joined the BC Dragoons, where he rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Order of the British Empire medal for gallantry. Godfrey Vigne eventually wound up as a mechanical instructor for the Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps.
It is probable that the other seven local recruits to the Rangers also all saw service in Europe when the regiment was transferred there in May 1944, but we only have details for two of them: Denis Huscroft and Lloyd Cummings both saw service in Northwest Europe in the weeks and months following D-Day. Cummings earned the Military Medal for his exploits in capturing a German pillbox; and Huscroft, serving with the 1st Canadian Scottish, was killed in action just two weeks before the war ended.
Other local men who served in the Rocky Mountain Rangers include:
- Bainbridge, Eric N: Private
- Bainbridge, Norman E
- Bevan, Raymond: Private