Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

November 11, 2011

I hope everyone was able to set aside some time today to remember the many sacrifices made by our servicemen and servicewomen past and present. I made it out to the 26th Field Regiment's salute at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Quite something to picture the sights, sounds, and smells of the guns on a distant battlefield. Certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end.

To mark this Remembrance Day I decided I would talk about the men of the Veterans Guard of Canada. This unit has become one of my main interests and I believe these men have not received the recognition they deserved.

Recruiting Poster
When war broke out in 1939, Canadians across the country rushed to recruiting stations, eager to play their part. Among these thousands of men were those who were very familiar with the field of battle. Despite being an age usually seen as too old for overseas service (late forties/early fifties), World War One Veterans were enlisting in surprising numbers. These were the men that had faced some of the most brutal battles that man had every seen - they had fought in the trenches, survived gas attacks at Ypres, and stormed Vimy Ridge. Despite the horrors they had faced, they saw it as their duty to fight for King and Country in the next war.

Despite their devotion to the cause, these veterans were no longer the young and fit men they were some thirty years ago. Therefore, it was decided that these men be placed in a new unit, the Veterans Home Guard, which later became the Veterans Guard of Canada.

Formed after the example of the British Home Guard, the Veterans Guard of Canada took advantage of the previous military experience of these veterans and placed them in guarding military installations. This duty freed up the younger and more able-bodied men for overseas service while still allowing these veterans to play a role in the war effort. Included in these military installations were factories, coastal defenses, and prisoner of war camps.

The Veterans Guard of Canada was organized into companies, active and reserve, that were formed across the entire country. By June 1943, with the average age of 53, the Veterans Guard reached a peak strength of over 400 officers and 9,800 other ranks.

Veterans Guard of Canada Cap Badge
At the Riding Mountain Park Project, the Veterans Guard served as a supplementary guard force to assist civilian guards hired by the Department of Labour. The Veterans Guard complement arrived at Riding Mountain onboard the same train as the prisoners on October 26, 1943. Lieutenant Shewfeld was the first officer in charge and was in command of twenty-four other ranks. At the camp, these men were responsible for performing roll call of the PoWs twice daily, sorting incoming and outgoing mail, managing a detention cell, driving, escorting PoWs, and conducting patrols of the camp area. To prevent fraternization with the PoWs, Veteran Guard units were rotated regularly throughout PoW camps across the country so at Riding Mountain, these units spent only about four months before being replaced.

For those interested in learning more, I'd recommend checking out the Homefront Museum and Archives section in the link and tracking down some of Robert Henderson's publications as he is definitely the expert on the Veterans Guard!

Today, these among the many that I will be thinking about and thanking for their service...

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