Remembering those vigilant rangers

The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers should be remembered for their service during the Second World War.

  • Nov. 9, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Members of 60th Company Whonnock at the Ruskin Store on their way to a training exercise at Silverdale. The two young men up front are Glen Elwood (left) and Christopher ‘Kit’ Benson

In 1919, King George V dedicated Remembrance Day to honour, specifically, members of the armed forces who were killed during the First World War.

Today, Veterans Affairs Canada considers Remembrance Day a tribute to “the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.”

Among the many men and women who served our country during the Second World War were the members of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (PCMR). They had military status.

After the war, although proud of their service, the men serving as rangers never boasted about their support to the war effort since they felt that their efforts paled in comparison with the sacrifices made by our armed forces overseas.

Still, their dedication and hard work should not be forgotten.

The PCMR was formed early in 1942 to assist in the protection of B.C. and to calm public anxiety after Pearl Harbour over Japanese attacks on the B.C. coast.

The PCMR was an unpaid force outside the main cities. Its volunteer members, commonly known as rangers, were men who were not eligible to serve overseas because of their age, a disability, or their work. Some were of retirement age and others as young as 15.

They offered a great variety of capabilities, expertise and experience. All were familiar with their local environment and that knowledge could be used to guide military personnel, if needed.

Their regular duties: to patrol their area, spot and report any findings of suspicious nature, and to prepare for guerrilla warfare against a Japanese invasion.

By the spring of 1943, some 15,000 men had been organized in 126 companies.

Two of those companies were in Maple Ride: the 60th Company Whonnock, and the 61st Company Haney.

The territory of the Whonnock Company included Whonnock, Ruskin, and Silverdale, across Stave River.

The Haney Company covered the remainder of Maple Ridge, as well as Pitt Meadows. Reporting to Haney Company were “Detachments” formed in neighbourhoods under their surveillance.

A ranger’s main requirement was to perfect his knowledge of the country about him as quickly as possible.

Until the PCMR was disbanded in 1945, intensive training, executing duties, and “practical, realistic group manoeuvres” left little leisure for these men, most of whom had full-time jobs.

The Ranger was a  training guide publication. Its first issue in September 1942 contains an illustrated report on a training manoeuvre of the Whonnock Company at Silverdale: “Every man must be given the indispensable minimum of a ‘general idea,’ so that each man can act on his own initiative if needs be, for a period, when isolated from command.”

The Ranger was filled with useful information a well-rounded ranger should know, such as: “Know were to shoot”; “Edible plants”; “Dig or die”; and “What can you do with a tarp.”

If you want answers to those questions, the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives has a full set of The Ranger to research.

The activities of the local rangers, military and socially, were sometimes mentioned in the Gazette, and occasionally the Maple Ridge PCMR companies even caught the eye of a Vancouver newspaper.

The Whonnock Company came to the attention of the Vancouver Province in 1943, when its members constructed an aircraft detection post. The story did not tell that the base of the structure was an outhouse the girls of Whonnock School did no longer need; by then the school had inside plumbing. Crowning the former outhouse was the belfry of St. Paul’s, the former Anglican Church, providing an excellent lookout for spotting aircraft. The old belfry was glazed-in, providing shelter from the elements for the women and men on duty.

Earlier that same year, the Province reported about the Haney Company’s activities in Webster’s Corners: “Fifty Pacific Coast Rangers armed with rifles, Sunday, were called out to kill off a pack of wolf-dogs in the Webster’s Corners district near Haney.” That hunt may have been an exciting diversion from the routine work, but it also provided an excellent training exercise and an assurance to the public that the rangers would defend them.

As the end of the war approached, in January 1945, the Japanese started launching bomb-carrying balloons designed to fall on North America.  The rangers played an important part in visually detecting and reporting the balloons with their deadly loads and ensuring that they were disarmed or destroyed.

At last, the Rangers had a chance to show their operational skills in reality and show the value of the PCMR in the defense of B.C.

 

Fred Braches is a local historian who lives in Whonnock.

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