Novemver 2000, By Crystal Sawyer Echo Staff
While students may struggle to appreciate the significance of Remembrance Day in terms of historical wars, the school board’s announcement to rename Courtenay Junior after Canadian peacekeeper Mark Isfeld sheds new light on a current global situation.
The Comox Valley Board of School Trustees announced Wednesday that the new secondary school, located in the current Courtenay Junior facility will be named Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School.
Master Corporal Mark Isfeld was killed by a landmine in 1994 during his third peacekeeping mission as a landmine -clearing specialist in Croatia. He was just 31 years old, leaving behind his wife Kelly, two young children, his parents and two brothers.
Brian and Carol Isfeld, Mark’s parents, have called the Comox Valley home for 18 years and are active in the global campaign for the elimination of landmines.
Brian Isfeld commented after the announcement was made, “I was at a loss for words. . .it is an emotional thing. It was a tragic situation but it is also a historical situation - Mark has become a part of the history of Canada.” “We are honoured that the school will be named after our son,” he says. “We hope that the spirit and ideals of youth that were so clear to Mark are present for all the students that will attend there.”
Andrew Holota, editor of the Surrey Leader, became close to Mark during several missions in war-torn countries and was pleased with the announcement. “I think it is a very appropriate and touching gesture,” says Holota. “Mark represented the best of Canadian soldiers and the country’s peace keeping efforts.”
“It is particularly fitting that this announcement comes around remembrance day , because it will help people to realize that there are young people like Mark working in dangerous situations like this all over the world right now, every day,” he says. “The peacekeepers are incredible in that they offer so much compassion and reach out to people in a really humanistic way.”
Holota shared a letter that Mark had written to him in 1992 from Camp Polom in Croatia. In it, Mark wrote:
From my eyes Croatia is a terrible scar on a once beautiful face. Devils of war have made this treasure of history a worthless eyesore. My heart was torn from my chest today. I saw a helpless old lady on the porch of an apartment. She was the only resident. People with larger interests than the life of a pathetic old woman stormed through her town and tore her life away. They ruined all her possessions, forcing her to scrounge for utensils. I wonder if she will survive the winter? I feel compelled to say that the support of the loved ones and wives who miss us all so much is unparalleled. It takes a special person to weather the storm alone at home while their husbands are worlds away and in dangerous situations constantly. While we may laugh at being shot at or finding mines, our loved ones get sick from 6 months of constant worry. I love my wife, but I am very confident in my knowledge and ability to keep myself from danger. I understand this. How can she? She cannot understand why I would want to touch a bomb that is set to go off with very little pressure, or that may have a booby trap on it. The only answer I can give is, I know what this stuff can do. Civilians, small children don't. My skills are to protect them. Engineers think of how many lives they are saving, not of the one they risk.
Holota says Mark was intensely serious about his job. “He had studied every piece of know ordinance in Croatia, could recognize it from 100 paces away and take it apart blindfolded. He was supremely confident in his skills; not cocky, but purely professional.” In cruel irony, Mark’s skills were irrelevant in the way he died.
He happened to be outside an armoured personnel Carrier when it ran
over the trip wire to an anti-personnel mine. Wrong place, wrong time.
Mark’s level of compassion became clear when he found remnants of child’s
play where bombs had been dropped.
A plastic doll lay atop the rubble, inspiring Mark to provide dolls to children in war-torn countries .“With the help of his mother, Carol, the “Izzy Dolls” were born. Carol made the dolls, and Mark distributed them to children throughout Croatia. Since then, with the Izzy pattern available on the Internet, dolls are being handmade across Canada for distribution by other peacekeepers.
“I can never forget the looks on the faces of the children around Koretiza when we gave them one of the Izzy dolls,” Craig Grant with the first Battalion PPCLI wrote to Carol.
“So far I have received well over 500 dolls from people ranging from Halifax to Victoria. Peace doesn’t always happen with soldiers and guns. Sometimes it happens with kids , dolls, and grins.”
The renamed school will open in the fall of 2001 as a Grades 8-10 school.
The following year Mark R Isfeld Secondary School will house grades 9-11,
and by 2003 it will add Grade 12, accommodating approx. 750 students.
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Two years ago, Carleton Place High School teacher Gloria Gray made a suggestion to husband Larry Gray: Write short profiles on some of the names on the cenotaph in the town's Memorial Park.
"I got a little carried away," he says. Somebody should get equally carried away about every cenotaph in the country.
When he finished the volunteer assignment, Mr. Gray had 147,000 words to pack into a book titled We Are The Dead. It tells anybody interested in those names on the town monument who they belonged to and how they died. There isn't another town in the country in which residents can so easily know so much about former residents given the promise: "We will remember."
It's a labour of love, and Mr. Gray had to remortgage his home to self-publish the 350-page book. He's half-finished. He has profiled the 51 names from the First World War. There are another 51 dead from the Second World War on the Carleton Place Cenotaph, and he has started working on them.
While serving as a post-war air force navigator in Europe, Mr. Gray and his family often toured the first war's Western Front and, like most, were awed at being surrounded by so many grave markers in such a small area. When the Northern Ontario native settled in Carleton Place, he became aware of that town's unusually high commitment to Canada's wars, and the resulting heavy casualty lists carved into monuments.
Although the book will be officially launched Friday at a party at the town hall at 7 p.m., it has already achieved some of what Mr. Gray set out to do. His wife had access to his manuscript and used some of the details last Remembrance Day, and found many students awed at discovering they were related to names they passed every day, but never read.
Many noticed for the first time that the name McDiarmid appears three times on the list of First World War dead. Now, they have the added detail that they were brothers, and all died at Vimy Ridge.
The name that caught my attention was William Fraser. When he was killed in 1917 he was 44, and the father of six. One automatically asks: What was he doing Sept. 1 at Rouen that was worth dying for?
He was a builder, not a fighter. He was a member of the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps. Carleton Place was a major railway terminal and he was needed for his special skills.
By the end of the war, there were 8,000 men on active railway construction work, and 4,000 on repairs. In one six-month period, they built more than 4,200 kilometres of track to facilitate the transport of men and material to the front. Breaking up those lines of communications was an enemy priority.
Sapper Fraser was killed in an artillery barrage.
On learning of his death, his family moved to Frank Street in Ottawa. His wife, Laura, was at the new home when she received his medals, and cheques to compensate her for the loss of her husband. They totalled $180.
We Are The Dead is published by General Store Publishing House ($29.95, ISBN 1894263243).
Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor.
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Thanks to the innovative spirit of researchers at Defence Research and Development Canada, military engineering in Canada is currently playing a leading role on the international stage.
The product of two years of intensive research and development, the ILDP, the multi-sensor robotic vehicle capable of detecting low-metal-content anti-vehicle landmines on roads and tracks, drew envious glances at the 31st International Symposium on Robotics (ISR 2000) held at the Palais des Congrès in Montréal earlier this year.
"What set us apart from the rest was our ability to incorporate sensors and achieve data fusion," said Major Alain Goudreau, the outgoing project director. "This fusion process is the pivotal aspect of the system in that it allows us to control the sequence of detection operations. In other words, we can simultaneously detect a mine, confirm its presence and mark its location. Our procedure brings together nuclear technology, cameras, and hydraulics, marking, climate control and electronic systems-not to mention the entire robotics aspect of the vehicle. The sensors we use, however, are quite ordinary and can be purchased off the shelf. The same is true for the axles, transmissions and motor."
The outstanding performance of the ILDP is due to the combined action of four detectors that react simultaneously to various stimuli.
The first sensor, placed at the front of the vehicle, is 3-m wide and capable of seeing to a depth of 30 cm. It detects metal by gliding along at ground level. The second sensor, which uses ground-penetrating radar, detects a mine's electrical properties. Mines are warm bodies, and the third detector, an infrared camera calibrated to point toward the ground, seeks out thermal gradients. The fourth detector, a neutron probe capable of detecting the nitrogen found in explosives, is used in cases where the analysis performed by the three preceding sensors remains inconclusive.
Each sensor is carefully positioned to prevent interference from the others. Once these operations are complete, the robotic vehicle, whose average speed is 3 km/h, marks the location of the mines, which are subsequently defused by hand. The vehicle has a 95 percent probability of detection, which is remarkable when compared with existing systems.
From conception to production
The experimental vehicle presented at ISR 2000 in Montréal, with technology developed by CRDS, was so advanced that the developers were able to skip certain phases and transfer its technology directly to industry.
A Calgary-based firm, Computing Devices Canada (CDC), has obtained the manufacturing contract by tender and is currently busy constructing the ILDS (Improved Landmine Detection System). The first ILDS is slated for delivery in August 2001. CDC, which will procure a licence of intellectual property, will be given free rein in marketing its product. The company is getting ready to bid on the British Minder program and also plans to try its luck with the Americans.
Since the right to profit from the existing system will pass from the public to the private sector, DND will realize some benefits, including royalties.
The platform for the detection vehicle has now been assembled and the project is currently at the stage of confirming the engineering design.
The overall design will include three separate systems: a modified protection vehicle, the robotic detection vehicle, and a control station to be installed on a personnel carrier.
During operations, the detection vehicle is preceded by a protection vehicle that clears the route and eliminates and neutralizes surface mines (anti-personnel and tilt-rod mines, booby-traps). The vehicle is equipped with a plough fitted with a device that can duplicate magnetic signatures. This device simulates the presence of a vehicle in front of the plough so that any magnetic influence mines on the route will "think" that the vehicle is located in front and activate themselves before the actual vehicle arrives. Magnetic influence mines are neutralized in this manner.
The protection vehicle is also equipped with an infrared camera identical to the one on the detection vehicle. This alerts the operator, situated in the control station, to the presence of mines in front of the protection vehicle. A marking system identifies the centre of the track and accordingly guides the detection vehicle.
At least 1 km from there, three more operators are installed in a third vehicle, a personnel carrier housing the control station. The first, basing his route on the central line left by the protection vehicle, uses a video camera to guide the detection vehicle, which delimits the outer edge of the track and marks the mines as it advances. The second operator controls the operation of the probes and the data analysis. The third operates the protection vehicle.
Originators and designers
We owe this creation to the combined efforts of a scientific research team from the Defence Research Establishment (DRE) Suffield, directed by Maj Al Carruthers and Dr. John McFee, as well as researchers from DRE Ottawa and DRE Valcartier-all of whom were placed under the supervision of Maj Alain Goudreau.
"We were given an extremely clear mandate: design a system capable of detecting low-metal-content anti-tank mines placed on major routes and access roads with good load-bearing capacity," said Maj Goudreau. "A myriad of factors comes into play in such an exercise: the type of terrain, the particular mines involved, the accessibility, the seasons, the state of disturbance of the terrain. We examined a number of options, including employing an operator-controlled system, an idea we abandoned owing to the risks involved. We also considered robotizing everything. But here again, we ran up against other problems relating both to time constraints and to the fact that robotics is not sufficiently advanced. We therefore opted to blend the two approaches in order to combine effectiveness with safety," he said.
"The concept we selected employs robotics to protect the operator and uses a passive approach to protect the system itself. The detection vehicle is somewhat heavy but, thanks to massive tires that disperse the weight, the vehicle exerts little pressure on the ground."
Looking to the future
Defence R and D Canada is already pondering the construction of the next generation of the ISR 2000, a project that should see completion in roughly 5 years. Another system, even more advanced, is planned for the decade following 2010.
"New technologies will appear and we will continue to adapt to them," said Maj Goudreau. "For example, we are considering improving the probes, integrating target recognition heads that operate digitally, and adopting a source of electronic neutrons source that would replace the current 'active' source. We are also thinking of improving data fusion and telemetry. But, you would be wrong to conclude from this that our objective is to correct problems in the existing system. The omponents used in the current system are state-of-the-art."
Maj Goudreau said other avenues will also be explored in the struggle
against land mines, including the elimination of human intervention through
explosive, electro-optical and mechanical techniques "ILDS is the very
first integrated system to reach the acquisition phase. Hence, we continue
to face certain risks associated with the integration of technologies.
The real success of the entire operation can only be gauged by the operator
within an operational environment. The allied countries, with national
interest groups looking on, are pursuing similar ventures. Canada, the
leader in this field, may reap significant profits from this project."
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By BRIAN MORTON, Vancouver Sun 13 Sep 00
A Courtenay couple who lost a son to a landmine in Croatia in 1994 were
honoured at an international convention in Switzerland this week for their
work in helping victims of war.
"Proud? I was so proud I started bawling," Carol Isfeld said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Geneva. "We hope to make the rest of Canada aware of what's going on."
Carol and Brian Isfeld have been campaigning to halt the proliferation of landmines since 1994, when their 31-year-old son, Master Corporal Mark "Izzy" Isfeld, was killed by a landmine while serving with the Canadian combat engineers.
Before her son's death – and the Isfelds' subsequent campaign against landmines - Carol Isfeld sewed together small, pliable dolls for her son to hand out to children he encountered in the field. Since then, she has sewn together hundreds of the “Izzy” dolls, which Canadian soldiers routinely hand out to children in war-torn countries in honour of their son
On Monday, the Isfelds and 18 land mine survivors received special awards at a meeting of the 107 countries that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines.
The awards were handed out by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his partner Heather Mills, who became a. amputee her- self after a c" accident. Both McCartney and Mills are active in opposing the spread of land- mines.
"We had " informal meeting with [McCartneyl," said Brian Isfeld. 'And then he introduced us to the [gathering]. "We then gave a brief outline of our stories."
Isfeld said he and his wife were very moved by meeting the others in, the group, which included people injured by mines since the Second World War.
"The impact of seeing some- one, who is legless and armless, and watch them function is moving. And it's important for the dignitaries to see firsthand why they're there."
Brian Isfeld said it's also important that so many countries, including Canada, have signed, the Mine Ban Treaty.
However, he notes that the only two countries in the Western Hemisphere
that have refused to sign are two bitter enemies - the United States and
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So, what does it take to clear a country of approximately one million mines? If you ask Master Corporal Ryan Mitchell, it takes infinite patience and teams of dedicated engineers-teams like those he works with in Bihac, Bosnia.
MCpl Mitchell, 25, a Reservist from 8th Field Engineer Regiment in Edmonton is in Bosnia as part of Op Palladium. His job as Mine Monitor is to supervise two Entity Armed Forces (EAF) demining teams as they make the area around Bihac a little safer.
The manual team (the other team is mechanical and uses a machine called a Bozena) works in groups of three for 30-minute shifts. In utter silence, they clear three lanes, inch by inch. They are so attuned to their surroundings; they instinctively know when the time is up.
Wearing helmets with visors and Kevlar vests, the team clears an average of 100 m2 per day. It is a daunting task considering that the minefield is roughly 57,000 m2. Many manual teams use metal detectors in order to identify mines, but because of the large quantity of shrapnel in the Bihac pocket, the team must rely mostly on prodding. The team only works in good weather-one needs steady hands and clear visors when looking for explosives.
This summer was extremely productive for the team: due to the lack of rain they were able to work 123 out of 126 scheduled days. They've been at the minefield for about three months and so far they've found a number of unexploded rifle grenades, hand grenades and anti-personnel mines.
Team leader EAF Sergeant Edin Muric knows what he does is important. He wants to make the country safer for its citizens, especially the children. He's seen what mines can do to kids.
Team members are between the ages of 23 and 34, and most of them have been working together for a number of years. They're part of the 5 Corps Engineer Battalion and they specialize in demining operations.
Starting in mid-November, they begin the winter routine of equipment maintenance, training in building clearance and unexploded ordnance disposal and school awareness programs.
MCpl Mitchell is proud to be working with Sgt Muric and his team. "These are some of the most professional soldiers I've worked with," said MCpl Mitchell. "Without a doubt, they are the true heroes in the demining process," he said.
This is MCpl Mitchell's second tour in Bosnia. In 1997, he was part of the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment's Field Engineer Section with the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) Battle Group.
Capt Golbeck is Task Force PAffO, Bosnia-Herzegovina
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By Terry Copp
One of the most moving ceremonies associated with WW II takes place every September at the Arnhem-Oosterbeek war cemetery in Holland. That is when Dutch schoolchildren stand quietly next to each grave and then on a signal place bouquets of flowers. Three quarters of the 1,760 graves are for men who served with the 1st British Airborne Division, 43 Wessex Div. Or the Polish Parachute Brigade. These men died in the struggle to liberate Arnhem and to win control of a bridge across the lower Rhine River in September 1944.
The poignant ceremony is part of a program that includes a parachute drop and the annual Airborne Walk. More than 30,000 people participate in the 25-kilometre trek that includes a stop at a simple memorial located on the south bank of the river opposite Oosterbeek. Erected in 1989 by veterans of the airborne division, the memorial features an inscription that begins with the following words: "They Were Just Shadows and Whispers in the Night." The inscription also records the gratitude of the 2,400 airborne troops who were evacuated to safety by Canadian and British engineers while under heavy German fire.
Few people on the Airborne Walk know the full story behind the memorial and even fewer know that almost all of those who were saved owe it to the men of the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers.
The 20th and 23rd field companies had been attached to 43 Wessex Div. in an attempt to bolster the division’s river crossing capacity. The Canadians were equipped with stormboats powered by Evinrude motors. Each boat could carry 36 men. The British made do with smaller assault boats that had to be paddled.
The original intent was to use the Canadian boats to bring reinforcements across the Rhine and expand the airborne bridgehead, but no one in the British army seems to have understood the urgency of the situation in Arnhem. The army’s slow progress meant that the Wessex division arrived too late to do more than sacrifice a battalion of the Dorset Regiment which crossed the river just hours before the withdrawal order was issued.
On the morning of Sept. 25, 1944, the confusion and uncertainty that had marked the operations of the ground forces throughout Operation Market Garden were still evident. When Major M.L. Tucker–the commanding officer of 23 Field Co.–arrived at an orders group he was assigned a sector and told to bring out as many survivors as he could. No one could say how many there might be and there was no information available on the enemy or the crossing sites. 20th Field Co.’s sector proved to be opposite an area already held by the enemy.
Tucker and Lieutenant R.J. Kennedy immediately went forward to recce
marshalling area for the boats and found one a few kilometres west of Arnhem at Valburg. Kennedy, who had already scouted the south bank of the river in preparation for the proposed assault crossing, was able to report that there was a site northeast of Driel where stormboats could be launched. The convoy carrying the boats–crews and mechanics from the RCE’s 10 Field Park Co.–reached Valburg by mid-afternoon.
Tucker attended a second meeting at 5:15 p.m. and was told that at last light an artillery barrage would begin and that it would drown out the noise of the stormboats. Simultaneously, the Wessex division would stage a feint attack to distract the enemy. There was still no information about the airborne troops or the fate of the Dorset Regiment that had crossed the river. The Dorsets had in fact landed inside enemy lines and most of the 300 men who crossed were taken prisoner.
It is possible to argue that the Canadian engineers were better off not knowing more about their challenge. The village of Driel was the headquarters of Major-General S.F. Sobowski’s Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. Sobowski and his men did not lack courage, but after landing near Driel they had been unable to get more than a handful of men across the river to join 1st Airborne Div.
Sobowski was furious over orders to stage a drop south of the river and then cross it under fire. With nothing more than six small rubber boats provided by the airborne division there was little chance of carrying out these orders. Unfortunately, the actions of the Poles and Dorsets had drawn attention to the crossing point at Driel and so it wasn’t long before German artillery and mortar fire was ranged in on the area.
Plans for the withdrawal were left to Major-General R.E. Urquhart, the airborne commander. He decided to try and evacuate everyone that night. Urquhart’s staff produced and coded a complex artillery plan that required the gunners, south of the river, to fire timed concentrations as the perimeter shrank and the troops withdrew. Medical officers and men of the field ambulance stayed with the wounded, many of whom were in serious condition. The Dutch civilians, who had done everything they could to help, were also left behind to face the wrath of the enemy. The troops were told to blacken their faces, wrap their boots in blanket strips to muffle sounds and then move off in groups, holding "the tail of the smock or the hand of the man in front."
While Urquhart and his staff relayed their orders and marked routes, Tucker organized his company by placing a bridge-building section in the lead so that boats could be brought across a drainage ditch and off-loaded just 500 yards from the river. The boats were delivered, but it was difficult to haul them to the launching site because rain had softened the ground. In his report on the operation, Tucker recalled that the "men’s churning feet soon created a slippery mess which lent no footing whatsoever."
There was a lot of silent cursing, but by 9:30 p.m. the boats were in place.
On the north bank of the Rhine, the Germans had intensified their attacks by employing the newly arrived Tigers of the 106 Heavy Tank Battalion against the northern edge of the perimeter. The Tigers broke through to the airborne artillery position and their attached infantry swung south, a move that threatened the entire bridgehead. A sort of "snowball fight with grenades" ensued until the advance was stopped by close-range light artillery fire from the airborne. Continuous rain and the coming of darkness brought an end to the attacks by German battlegroups, but there was no relief from the shelling. Martin Middlebrook’s book Arnhem: 1944 is one of the best accounts of the battle. It records the words of a glider pilot making his way to freedom: "We passed several of our lads dead, laid out in open on their back, the rain pouring down on their faces.... There seemed to be quite a lot of them and having to leave them really upset me.... On top of that we were abandoning the Dutch.... I would have preferred to stay and fight it out."
Those who made it to the riverbank were organized into a queue with the walking wounded given priority. Men fell into an exhausted sleep or hunkered down to wait. The first boat to arrive was one of the small assault craft of 260 Wessex Field Co. The current in the flooded river was very strong and so the British sappers had to approach diagonally while paddling furiously. On the return trip the passengers had to help out or risk being swept away. The rescue of large numbers of men depended upon the Canadians, but the first boat they launched sank after being badly holed. The second boat, captained by Lieutenant J.R. Martin, set off across the river to determine the situation and start the evacuation. Two witnesses reported that a direct mortar hit caused it to break apart in mid-river. None of the crew survived.
The third boat, commanded by a Corporal McLachlan, followed the same route. It reached the far bank without incident and wounded men were quickly loaded and rushed to safety. The fourth boat was swamped when a mortar bomb fell close by. Just four passengers survived. These setbacks might have led Tucker to question the point of the operation, but there really was no choice. Everything that could be done had to be tried. Fortunately, McLachlan and his crew seemed to lead a charmed life. They made 15 consecutive trips and evacuated nearly 500 men before they were relieved by a fresh crew. Other boats were launched at intervals of 20 minutes and by 3:30 a.m., 14 boats were at work.
It is impossible to improve upon Tucker’s official report on the operation: "The night was intensely dark, but fires started by our bombers in the afternoon and the numerous flares sent up by the enemy must have revealed a great deal of our movement to him. These fires helped us greatly too, since they provided beacons by which our boat crews could direct their craft....Heavy rain was accompanied by a bitter wind which made things most unpleasant, but the bad weather was probably less to the liking of the enemy than it was to us and most surely have resulted in our having had less casualties than we would have done had the night been clear and fine."
Tucker reported that rain caused boat motors to fail. He noted that electrical and mechanical personnel and the company’s own fitters worked ceaselessly, but could not prevent a series of engine breakdowns. "There was a great deal of enemy fire during the night. Machine-guns set on fixed lines swept the river and beaches on both sides.... Mortar and 88-mm fire fell everywhere. Many casualties were reported from the bridgehead, but on the river and on the south bank they were light. Three men were wounded in the off-loading area and one between there and the beach. Enemy snipers were also active and it was reported that some of the airborne troops spotted the positions of two of them in crossing the river and proceeded to liquidate them when they reached the south shore.
"It was impossible to regulate the number of passengers carried in boats at times. Men panicked and stormed onto the boats, in some cases capsizing them. In many cases they had to be beaten off or threatened with shooting to avoid having the boats swamped. With the approach of dawn this condition became worse. They were afraid that daylight would force us to cease our ferrying before they could be rescued. A corporal operating a boat which was leaking badly decided he could make one more trip and bring off a few men before it went down. It sunk as it approached the south shore, but fortunately the water was shallow and they were able to wade ashore safely. It is estimated that approximately 150 boatloads were brought back by the stormboat crews and the average load carried was 16 passengers. Thus, approximately 2,400 to 2,500 troops were brought off."
Tucker reported that there were very few forward facilities for the care of wounded. "Many of the rescued men were wounded and our own RAP (regimental aid post) dressed 69 stretcher cases as well as attending to over 100 walking wounded. Greatcoats and other clothing were used to improvise stretchers and were given to men who were in desperate need of cover from the elements."
He reported that caring for the casualties proved a great drain on the company’s manpower and prevented adequate reliefs for the boat-carrying parties and boat crews.
"The work all personnel employed in this operation was of a very high standard, but there were those who rose beyond that level. Lieutenant Kennedy, in addition to making a recce, planning the operation and supervising the off-loading and delivering the stormboats to the launching sites, took command of a boat when these tasks were completed and brought off 125 men from the bridgehead under very trying conditions which prevailed with the advent of daylight. Cpl. Robinson did a tremendous night’s work.... On delivering the last boat, he took command of it and completed six trips before the boat was put out of commission. All of the boat crews were magnificent, and only gave up their ferrying when their boats were no longer operable or else when they were exhausted and had to be ordered from the beach.
"Of these, lance-corporals Albright and Gunness and sappers LeBouthillier and McCready were outstanding." Tucker also singled out the Roman Catholic padre–a captain by the name of Mongeon–who came under fire for the first time in his career and acquitted himself nobly. "In addition to the normal duties of attending wounded and bringing courage and cheer to the exhausted men, he helped with the carrying of stormboats, carried petrol to the beach and seemed to always be present where he was most needed. The E&M (electrical and mechanical) personnel attached from the Field Park Coy rendered excellent service in keeping the Evinrude motors running."
Next spring my wife and I will lead the annual Canadian Battle of Normandy
Foundation Study Tour to France, Belgium and Holland. We will visit the
memorial near Driel and at Groesbeek place flowers on the graves of the
Canadians who played an important role in the liberation of the Netherlands.
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The last major engineering project for our unit in northern Italy was the bridging of the muddy Lamone River in January 1945. I was a lieutenant attached to the 14th Field Squadron of the Royal Canadian Engineers. We were part of 5th Cdn. Armored Division as it moved slowly up the Adriatic coast, past an endless succession of swollen rivers, frosty sloughs, blown bridges, cratered culverts and muddy, often impassable roads.
The damage and the difficult terrain meant that sappers had to work hard and fast to keep the traffic moving against freezing rain, occasional snow, and a stubborn slowly retreating enemy force that included the elite Kesselring Machine-Gun Battalion.
Our squadron's transport included cargo trucks, radio vehicles, motorcycles, a trailer for explosives, a few armored half-tracks, water tank trailers, an armored scout car, cook's trucks, jeeps and a command vehicle that was used as an office. In addition to our other clothes, we wore black leather sleeveless jackets, high black leather boots and a new pattern steel helmet. Some of us hoped that this outfit would complement the 5th division's aggressive armored role.
I was assigned to command the troop that had earned the best reputation in the squadron. No. 1 Troop, which supported the 8th Princess Louise's New Brunswick Hussars, was blessed with well-trained men and reliable non-commissioned officers and an excellent officer, Lieutenant Amby Douglas who had been promoted to captain and then moved up to division headquarters.
Our technical staff sergeant, Mike Sokoloski, was another outstanding soldier who was well regarded by all ranks. He was a competent and very considerate man who could take charge if he had to.
The nights in northern Italy during that time of year were quite cold, but we were always lucky enough to find billets just behind the forward troops and in front of the reserves. We were usually within artillery range and could often hear small arms fire coming from somewhere up ahead. Our main responsibility was road maintenance, but we also located and neutralized mines and built bridges using the versatile Bailey bridge which was invented by the British and first deployed operationally during the North Africa campaign in 1942.
I also remember that our squadron was required to prepare for demolition all of the bridges in our area because a major counter-attack was threatened. On another occasion I was instructed to send a corporal to lay out and record field graves.
Getting around was always a challenge, partly because the Germans used explosives, booby-traps and mines to delay our advance. Just about every bridge and culvert on Italy's north/south roads was either blown up or mined.
Shortly after being posted to 14th Field Sqdn. I served as reconnaissance officer. My corporal and I used an armored scout car that had 10 speeds forward and, despite its weight, was capable of riding smooth and fast on good roads. I preferred to drive, letting my corporal use the radio and read the map. I valued his experience and he preferred this division of duties. Only later did I learn that the weak spot on the armored car was the bottom armor. If the vehicle ran over and detonated a mine, the driver usually lost a leg and sometimes his life. My corporal helped us avoid this misfortune.
On Jan. 3, our troop was ordered to move into position on the south shore of the Lamone River, approximately 10 kilometres northwest of Ravenna. The forward line, which had established a muddy and bloody bridgehead across the Lamone on Dec. 10-11, 1944, had moved north of Ravenna and was working its way cast toward the Adriatic. This area of Italy was part of the huge delta of Lombardy that drained several rivers, including the Po, Senio, Montone and Lamone.
The Lamone, which was contained on both sides by eight-foot-high dikes, was low at that time of year. The water was 100 feet across where we were, but there were wide, muddy flats between the sides of the river and the dikes that added about A 00 more feet. The mud flats that we saw from our position were more or less level with the surrounding countryside.
When we arrived on the scene, the tactical situation was not completely secure, but it was a lot safer than it was on Dec. 5, 1944, when members of the Royal Canadian and Hastings and Prince Edward regiments tried without success to establish a bridgehead on the Lamone. The RCRs war diary is painfully clear on the price that was paid there, but these are details that I became aware of years later. The diary states that “the apparent success of 0630 hrs had turned into a ghastly failure before 1200 hrs.”
"In less than 12 hours, the two assault battalions suffered 164 casualties. The RCR lost 106 men, including 31 taken prisoner; almost all of the losses suffered by the Hasty Ps came at the hands of their own artillery before the attack started," notes Daniel G. Dancocks in his book The D-Day Dodgers: The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945.
The success that was achieved by the 5th and 1st divisions five days later created a much-needed bridgehead on the Lamone and forced the Germans to withdraw in behind Canale Naviglio, approximately 700 yards west of Fosso Veechio.
Still, my troop took the precaution of digging slit trenches at our position. We also situated our Bren gunner on the dike approximately 75 feet downstream from the work site. Immediately in front of us was an old wooden trestle bridge that sat on groups of pile bents. These are groups of six wooden posts that are driven into the riverbed and positioned every 16 feet for structural support. The trestle bridge's deck – the part you drive on – was level with the dikes on either side of the river, however, a bomb had destroyed the end of the bridge closest to us and ripped out approximately 20 feet of the bridge's decking.
During the day before our arrival on the work site I was able to interview – in my meagre Italian – a group of partisans and armed irregulars who told me they had crossed the river the night before on the debris under the trestle bridge. I specifically asked them about the condition of the pile bents and they explained that all of the posts were structurally sound.
However, when I checked under the bridge I discovered that every pile bent had been damaged or cut by demolition. It was also obvious that not all of the explosive charges, which had been put in place by the Germans, had fired. And so it was very clear to me that the trestle bridge was not serviceable. The solution was to erect a Bailey bridge upstream from the trestle bridge.
I ordered 140 feet of Bailey bridging, plus the material we would need to attach the new bridge to the banks on either side of the river. This was a calculated risk because it meant bridging the water only and not the entire riverbed. The danger, of course, was that more rain could fall and create a flood that could rush down the river and cover the entire area.
It would have been safer to build the bridge from the top of one dike- to the top of the other, but we did not have time to, do that because the campaign was being directed further north into the Po valley. Every member of our troop was convinced that speed was absolutely essential. We also understood that the Bailey bridge was not going to be a major crossing point, but used primarily as a line of communication route, particularly for returning traffic.
I remember using an armored bulldozer to cut a 30-foot section out of the dike on the south side of the river upstream from the trestle bridge. Sokoloski and his crews worked steadily on the bridge assembly area and made their usual smooth and fast progress. The Bailey bridge girders were built from a series of matching steel panels held together by pins. These girders could be doubled – even tripled – for added strength and length. The bridge's roadway was supported by large beams or transoms.
The men labored in teams of six, man-handling the Bailey bridge's 500-pound, 10-foot-long steel panels and 16-foot-long-transfoms. While this was going on, other men hammered in the panel pins, clamped transoms, bolted on bracing frames, secured sway braces and placed the steel stringers.
Speed was always important because although we worked as quietly as we could, some clanking and thumping was inevitable and we were sure that sooner or later we would attract mortar or field gun attention from somewhere.
After several hours of hard work, the skeleton of the bridge was ready to be pushed into place. The structure was built and later launched on steel rollers that were between 8 and 10 inches in diameter. I remember watching from approximately 75 feet downstream as the bridge was being pushed out over the icy water. My main concern was to see if the bridge was properly counter- balanced as it moved toward the far shore.
When the bridge was approximately 15 feet from the other side, I realized that the entire structure was not stable. I noticed that the leading end of the bridge was beginning to tilt down toward the water. I immediately called off the launch until more weight could be added to correct the balance. This was achieved by adding steel stringers on our end of the bridge.
If the structure had collapsed into the river it would have caused an unacceptable delay to an important bridge-building operation, not to mention the fact that it would have also seriously damaged the troop's good reputation.
However, by the end of the day our bridge was in place and open to traffic. I remember how relieved we all were when we packed up our tools and equipment and returned to our billets for a meal and a well-earned rest.
The next day I was sent back with about 12 men to lay more decking on the bridge. The problem was that the Bailey bridge's loose wooden decking made a lot of noise whenever a vehicle drove over it. The fear was that the noise from the rattling deck could attract enemy mortar fire. We were busy nailing down the extra decking when I noticed a Sherman recovery tank approaching the bridge from the north.
The recovery vehicle was towing a disabled tank and I quickly calculated that the tandem load probably weighed at least 60 tons. I immediately ran to the tank and managed to get the driver to stop before the Fumbling heavy weight bit the bridge. The message that I delivered to the driver was that the bridge was rated at 40 tons. However, before this problem could be resolved the work site came under mortar fire and I was forced to find shelter in my slit trench. I remember jumping into my trench and then feeling the sudden crushing weight of two other men jumping in on top of me. When things quieted down, all three of us got up and wiped the mud off our clothes.
None of us was injured during the attack, but I noticed that the recovery tank and its tow had disappeared. The driver had chosen to take a chance and roar over the bridge and head further south. He was very lucky because the bridge had taken the overload without collapsing into the river.
A couple of weeks after the bridge was secure, a South African line of communications company arrived at the Lamone to repair the wooden trestle bridge and then salvage the Bailey bridge. The plan was to use the Bailey bridge material elsewhere. I visited the site just as the work was being completed. I remember standing beside the officer who commanded a whole company that took four days to do the job. He told me that the person who had built the Bailey bridge should have spent his time better by repairing the wooden trestle bridge.
I explained to him that I was the officer who had supervised the bridge
construction. I also pointed out that my work crew had built the Bailey
with one third of the crew he had, and that we had taken roughly 10 hours
under threat of enemy fire to complete the job. Naturally, we had a different
approach to our work; one that involved a greater sense of urgency.
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Canada's airfield engineering team was more than ready for Readiness Challenge VII (RC VII), an international Air Force competition held in Florida.
The CF team, co-ordinated by 14 Airfield Engineering Squadron (14 AES) Bridgewater, N.S. and made up of personnel from across the Air Force, tested wartime skills, procedures and equipment used in real-world operations.
Hosted by the Headquarters Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA) at Tyndall Air Force Base, the competition was the culmination of four months of individual and team training. "Considering that our personnel were learning new equipment and procedures, sometimes with very little practical experience, they performed extremely well," said Captain George Pankiw, commanding officer of 143 Airfield Engineering Flight (143 AEF) and officer in charge of the Canadian contingent. "There was a significant benefit for the team as a whole and the competition was well worth the effort involved in participation."
Preparation for the competition started in January with increased physical strength and endurance training, a search for reference material and some limited event training. A week of composite training at Camp Aldershot, N.S., increased the team's cohesiveness.
In mid-March, similar to any foreign mission, the team deployed by Hercules airlift to the Air National Guard Regional Equipment Operator Training Site (REOTS) at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Along with a team of Royal Engineers from the United Kingdom, the Tennessee Air National Guard (ANG) team and an EOD team from Norway, Canada spent 10 days on intensive pre-competition training.
Realistically scripted to incorporate skills and contingency procedures, the events tested skill sets that are often utilized in austere deployments to places like the former Yugoslavia or Kosovo. Scoring focussed on the expedient completion of tasks, teamwork and leadership. Safety remained paramount throughout the competition with infractions resulting in the addition of time penalties to the scores.
Canada finished the week with a score just short of 92 percent of the total points available, tying with Team U.K. In the final standings, scoring was very close, with all but 3 of the 16 teams scoring between 91 and 95 percent.
Overall, Canada brought home the trophy for the Canadian-sponsored CF-188 Decoy Assembly event while placing second to the team from the U.K. in the British-sponsored Harrier Hide event.
Capt Linda Thompson is the Squadron Information Officer at 14 AES Bridgewater.
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The first Royal Canadian Engineers band in British Columbia, the 8th in all of Canada, was formed and stationed at Camp Chilliwack in 1953 and lasted until 1968.
The 35-piece band consisted of 17 reeds, 15 brass, and 2 percussion, directed by Lt. Brown of Edmonton.
The members of the band were recruited mostly from Canada but some came from the United Kingdom and Netherlands and almost all members could play at least two instruments as well as sing in a choir.
The members started arriving at Camp Chilliwack as early as June 1953. By January 1954 they were up to 35.
Before reaching full capacity the band started off with some small local concerts – one notable one being a Christmas performance at the Coqualeetza Hospital, entertaining the patients
July of 1954 saw them off to Europe for six months accompanying the First Canadian Infantry Brigade for a recruitment tour.
While overseas they recruited 13 members, bringing their members to 48, leaving 7 vacancies.
The versatility and talent of the band members can be easily demonstrated by any of their numerous performances.
By November 1955 they were dusting off their string instruments and creating an orchestra, a few “Jazz Men” also formed a Dixieland group. Throughout their musical career in Chilliwack the RCE band supplied the public with an excellent concert/parade band, 2)- piece string orchestra, a male voice choir, dance orchestras and chamber ensembles. They had facilities at Chilliwack to house all of their endeavors as the base provided them with a large acoustically treated practice studio, smaller individual studios, a recording booth, a music library, repair and store rooms as well as administration offices.
In 1964 a newspaper in Vernon described the RCE band as the most active yet least publicised musical organization in BC.
They were active in over 50 parades a year, often partook in the annual cadet show in Vernon, the PNE opening as well as always being at the opening of Parliament in Victoria.
Everywhere they went their praises were sung and they were always enthusiastically welcomed back. In 1964 they were invited to perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre by the Vancouver Kiwanis club to assist with raising money for charity. The band received standing ovations in the middle of their performances from people who just could not wait to demonstrate their appreciation. Some of the other highlights included performing in Germany, travelling to Cyprus to entertain the UN troops, and they were featured at Expo ’67 in Montreal. One of their last high-profile bookings was at the opening on Simon Fraser University in 1968.
Cutbacks from the Department of National Defence in 1968 silenced the
Royal Canadian Engineers band of Camp Chilliwack. Some members joined the
Royal Canadian Navy band in Esquimalt while others chose to retire in Chilliwack.
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