Preserving Military History Single-handedly
By Rick Crawley
My interest in Canadian Army cap badges goes back to 1966 when I attended a seven-week Royal Canadian Army Cadet basic training at Camp Ipperwash (Ontario). There I bought 4 or 5 cap badges from other cadets along with a Wilkinson pattern 1906 bayonet. Over the years from 1966 to about the 1980’s I added to my badge collection with no real rhyme or reason.
At one time I seriously considered selling what I had but my wife talked me out of that idea so instead, I started work on mounting the badges for display. I still did not have any focus other than a general interest. I did very little research and so ended up with a conglomeration of British and Canadian badges of both the Queen’s and King’s crown varieties.
When my father died in the mid 1990’s, I felt it would be a good idea to at least research and mount his military medals and regimental cap badge. It was during the research that some confusion about my father’s role in the war started surfacing; he was with the Algonquin Regiment, an infantry regiment, but his stories to me were about his time with the tanks. He always said he was a tank commander, his rank was corporal and thus had the rank to be a tank commander BUT where does the Algonquin Regiment come in?
It was in 2000, when I met up with a retired Regimental Sergeant Major of the Algonquin Regiment who told me exactly when my father joined the regiment and explained the notations in my father’s Soldier’s Service and Pay Book, that the story of my father’s war activities became clear.
My father had enlisted along with his four other brothers in 1943. His brothers went off in different directions, one going with the First Canadian Division to Italy, the others going to England to train for the big invasion. My father excelled in Bren gun and was asked to join the instructor cadre at Base Borden. There he instructed in Bren gun and later in Armoured training.
It wasn’t until 1944 when the Canadian Army was so under manned due to heavy casualties in Europe and the shortage of trained volunteer replacements that the Canadian Army asked for volunteers from various training groups to help fill the voids and my father was transferred to Europe and joined the Algonquins.
So now I have a somewhat complete history of my father’s war activities and am now able to put together his stuff with some definitive order – easy. But the Algonquin Regiment was part of a larger group, the Fourth Canadian Armoured Division. This fact awoke another story my father told me about. Somewhere in Europe, they came across a pool table or similar table that had green felt the same colour as the division patch so they proceeded to cut it up and make themselves new division patches.
I decided that to tell a story about my father’s war experience I could not limit myself to the Algonquin Regiment, but had to include the whole division. From there one thing led to another, until about 30 months later, I had all the badges and titles for the First through Fifth Divisions, the Corps and Supporting Services and the First and Second Independent Tank Brigades. Along the way I also started accumulating various other bits and pieces of kit, uniform, equipment, etc. until now, I have over 320 pieces mounted, and catalogued.
I was told by my wife that I should have been a teacher because of my passion for the history of the Canadian Soldier, I thought I would like to talk about it but felt I needed a collaborative to help and so in my naiveté tried to approach one of the larger local Legions. That met with a stone wall, they didn’t even deign to respond to my calls or emails. I then approached the Strathcona County Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and had a good talk with a lady there; however, at the end of our conversation, she said to me: “I’m a baby-boomer and I don’t have a clue as to what you are talking about.”
It was shortly after that conversation that I realized we were missing the point about Remembrance Day and Lest We Forget.
One might say I had an epiphany. Lest We Forget is based on the premise that we “know”, for one cannot forget that which he has not learned. It was this conversation, probably more than anything else, that convinced me to do more than just look at my stuff.
Strathcona Heritage Museum (Alberta, Canada) was thrilled to put my collection on display. They made posters and contacted our local newspaper to promote a private collection display for Remembrance Day. My collection was on display there from mid October to the end of November 2005.
On Remembrance Day 2005 we had over 80 persons visit the museum and the exhibit. Since then, I have presented a talk and display for the Grade 12 history classes at a local high school and through, the museum, presented talks for a Cub Scout group. My goal is to add to my collection for the purpose of conserving our history and to use the collection to teach.
The adage “the proof is in the pudding” applies here. I know from feedback that the best teaching tool is interactive. My collection is meant to be “hands on”. I encourage people to touch, lift or try my pieces because then they might be able to sense what it was like for our veterans.
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(Editor's Note: Rick Crawley lives in Sherwood Park, Alberta. He is currently in the process of collecting vintage Canadian military communications equipment for his static display and would welcome any assistance in that regard. . He is also working on his Amateur Radio basic qualification and recently became a member of The Wireless Set No. 19 Group. Watch for more updates to this article as Rick accumulates vintage wireless equipment )
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