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Creston Valley Goes to War

The Militia and Home Guard

Vets Home Guard 19Jul1940.jpg

Recruiting call for the Veterans Home Guard, 19 July 1940

Air Raid patrol.jpg

Air Raid Patrol personnel outside the Commercial Hotel, Creston

PCMR - Currie Discharge.jpg

Discharge certificate for John Currie, who served with 34 Company PCMR at Bralorne, BC

ARP personnel.jpg

Nominal roll of Creston's Air Raid Patrol

Fears of invasion and sabotage led directly to the establishment of at least three quasi-military organisations in the Creston Valley. Perhaps the best known is the Veterans Home Guard, later renamed the Veterans Guard of Canada (VGC). This was a military unit, established by the Ministry of National Defence in May 1940 and under the jurisdiction, locally, of Col Philpot, who also recruited for the other branches of the armed forces. One of the required qualifications for the Home Guard was prior service in the First World War. Age under 50 was another, though plenty of recruits lied about that to ensure acceptance.

The VGC was a defence force in the event of an invasion, but its members also guarded military installations, transportation facilities (such as train trestles like the one over the Goat River at Canyon), and internment camps. Some of its companies were active, on duty full time; others were reserve units whose members could be called on when necessary or tasked for duties in their home communities.

VGC recruits were, in the eyes of the community, on a par with those in the army, navy, or air force. They were included with pride in lists the community’s heroes and their military activities were regularly reported in the local newspaper. From these sources, we know of ten local men who served in the VGC: Private Doug Butterfield; Sergeant Charles Fleck, stationed at Medicine Hat; Simpson Frank; Corporal Vic Johnson; Private Tony Kunst, who enlisted in September 1939 and so was likely either turned down for service in the regular armed forces or transferred to the VGC when it was established; Private John Nickolchuk; Private T. Rolfe who first enlisted with the Forestry Corps then transferred to the VGC; Sergeant James Sadler, stationed at Medicine Hat; and Corporal C. Simpson. William Grieg, who was stationed at Vancouver, may also have been a member of the VGC.

The VGC was established specifically to free up younger men for more active service on the front lines. The other two local units were formed directly in response to fears of a Japanese invasion of the west coast.

Despite Creston’s distance from the west coast, those fears were as high here as anywhere else. It certainly didn’t help matters any that there actually was a local resident who had first-hand knowledge of Japanese military strength: Reverend A.A. Fulton, of Trinity United Church, who had arrived in Canada after fleeing the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, where he had spent ten years as a missionary. He gave at least four lectures in which he outlined the probable progress of military take-over, industrial infiltration, and enslavement of the population should Japan invade British Columbia.

One such lecture was given in early April 1942, at a civil defense rally “stressing the need for precautionary measures against the enemy and the brutalities that an occupation force would have on this district if the enemy should happen to attack British Columbia.”

Both the Air Raid Patrol (ARP) and the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (PCMR) were formed within a few weeks of that lecture.

It was expected that the two groups would work closely together, and they certainly did in a mock air-raid held at the end of August, 1942. Nevertheless, they were separate entities: the ARP was a civilian unit, tasked with the emergency-evacuation of the town, as well as medical emergencies, fires, and any other situations that might occur in the event of an air raid on Creston. The PCMR was under military control and intended to serve alongside regular military units in home-defense combat should the need arise. No one could belong to both groups, as an emergency that called out one would probably require the services of the other, and each group, according to the newspapers, “must know exactly the resources upon which it has to draw.”

The PCMR was considered a guerilla force – that term is used frequently in the dozen and a half articles I found on the subject. The local Company was organised into groups of nine men, including a group leader, a formation which was well-suited to their “unorthodox” fighting strategies. Their training included the use of rifles and Sten guns, scouting, signalling, and map-reading. They were expected to have a thorough knowledge of the district, presumably to better intercept any enemy troops or saboteurs.

Beyond their training drills, in which they acquitted themselves quite creditably, the PCMR seem to have had a pretty quiet time of it. They participated in the mock air-raid in August 1942, marching “snappily” to sites where damage had been reported to guard against looting and keep civilians safe from potential dangers; these would have been among their duties had there been a real air-raid. They paraded in Armistice Day ceremonies, and of course in the VE Day celebrations in May 1945. But they don’t seem to have had to deal with any real threats. I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of Japanese incendiary balloons landing in the mountains along Kootenay Lake, but I haven’t been able to confirm that – if the PCMR were called out to deal with anything like that, it didn’t hit the newspaper headlines.

The members of the ARP and PCMR were never regarded as being part of the military in the way the VGC were. They were not listed amongst the Creston Valley’s recruits, and their activities and military ranks – which the PCMR at least certainly used – are rarely mentioned in the newspapers’ local and personal columns. Even the local army cadets got far more individual recognition in the newspapers than the PCMR and ARP; were it not for four typewritten pages in the Museum’s archival collection, we would not know more than a handful of the people involved. Nevertheless, both groups had an important role to play, one that was sincerely, if quietly, acknowledged by the community.