After 75 years, things have a tendency to go missing.
But Harold Pattern, who recently turned 90, has one item left from his Second World War years with the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers.
It’s a copper cap badge that doesn’t shine much and which attests to the Maple Ridge resident’s service in a militia group, informally known as the home guard, largely composed of kids too young for the regular services or guys that were too old.
Beneath the name of the unit, is the word “vigilence.”
“That’s all I got left,” he says from his apartment in Legion Gardens. “And the memories.”
The idea was that the Rangers, formed in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, would keep watch, particularly along the coast, and give early warning of any Japanese attack.
Pattern joined in 1944 when he was 15 and remained in the unit until it was stood down at a ceremony in Brockton Oval in Stanley Park, in September 1945.
“We weren’t paid anything. We were given a uniform and a .303 rifle,” Pattern said Tuesday.
Members were trained and armed with the intent was they would fight and hold off any invaders until regular forces arrived.
According to a column by Looking Back columnist Fred Braches, their regular duties were to patrol their area, spot and report any findings of suspicious nature, and to prepare for guerrilla warfare.
“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,” Braches wrote.
Every member had a Lee-Enfield .303 rifle and they did many “sham battles” with neigbhouring units. Pattern belonged to 61st Company Haney which had mock battles with the Mission company with one exercise involving the mock defence and attack on the Ruskin Dam. Pattern’s Haney unit was the attacking force and approached the dam after hours of marching through heavy bush. “According to the referees, we won,” he said.
Another memory was sitting in on a scary, army film warning soldiers about catching syphilis.
The unit was composed of other kids from around Haney and they developed a strong bond and camaraderie.
Those friends are now gone, he says. When the unit was disbanded, each member had a chance to buy their rifle for $5.
“I eventually gave it away, but things were alot more lax in those days as a far as firearms,” Pattern said.
He remembers the group being ticked off though because while his group was issued used military .303 rifles, the Mission unit was issued brand, new Winchester carbine hunting rifles – which the Rangers also were allowed to buy for $5 after the war.
Pattern will be at Maple Ridge’s Remembrance Day ceremonies Monday at Memorial Peace Park. He’ll be reading out the names of Second World War veterans.
He knows that as kids, they thought themselves to be invincible and that everything about the war was exciting. “At the time, we didn’t realize how terrible war could be.
“Had a lot of fun as a kid. As I say – kids, teenagers – they look at the excitement. They don’t really realize the horrors of war and how hopefully, it should be eliminated.”