Military: Keeping Us Safe

Military: Keeping Us Safe

Personal stories of Saskatchewan’s military men and women during the First and Second World Wars illustrate the fatal ironies of war, as well as close calls and lucky breaks.

Victoria Cross

Saskie recipients

The VC is the Commonwealth’s most prestigious award for valour in battle.

Harry Churchill Beet: (Boer War) British Army, died at Wakkerstroom, South Africa. He also served in the Canadian Army during WWI. He was from Glasylyn.

Hugh Cairns in In WWI army uniform
Sgt. Hugh Cairns VC, in his World War I uniform. Photo LH 3029 from Local History Room,
Saskatoon POublic Library

Hugh Cairns: (WW I) 46th Battalion, CEF, Saskatchewan Dragoons; died at Valienciennes, Belgium.  A statue of him graces a park in his home city, Saskatoon. 

Hampden Z.C. Cockburn: (Boer War) Royal Canadian Dragoons; Komati River, South Africa.  He retired to a ranch near Maple Creek.

Robert Combe: (WWI) 27th Battalion, CEF, Royal Winnipeg Rifles; Acheville, France. He ran a drugstore in Melville.

David Currie, VC.
Major David Currie and his wife, being honoured by the mayor of Sutherland, Florence McOrmond, in 1944. Photo B 1755 from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

David Vivian Currie: (WW II) 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (South Alberta Regiment). Born in Sutherland, he later lived in Moose Jaw.

Edmund de Wind (WWI) 31st Battalion CEF, Grugies, France. A mountain in Alberta is named for him. He worked as a bank clerk in Yorkton and Humboldt.

Gordon M. Flowerdew (World War I) Lord Strathcona’s Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade; Bois de Moreuil, France. He homesteaded near Duck Lake.

Arthur G. Knight: (World War I) 10th Battalion, Royal Winnipeg Rifles and Calgary Highlanders; Villiers de Agincourt, France. He immigrated to Regina in 1911.

Cecil Merritt, (World War II) though not from Saskatchewan, led the South Saskatchewan Regiment at Dieppe, France. He is recognized on a plaque at Estevan.

William J. Milne of Moosomin: (World War I) 16th Battalion, CEF, Canadian Scottish Regiment, Vimy, France. He worked on a farm near Carol before enlisting.

George H. Mullin (World War I) Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Passchendaele, Belgium. His hometown was Moosomin.

Michael O’Leary: (World War I) Irish Guards, Cuinichy, France. Served with RNWMP in Regina.

John Robert Osborn: (World War II) 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, WWII, Hong Kong. He farmed near Wapella.

George Randolph Pearkes (World War I) 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, Passchendaele, Belgium. Federal Minister of Defence 1957; Lt. Gov. of British Columbia 1960-1968. He trained at the RNWMP in Regina.

Arthur H. L. Richardson (Boer War) Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians; Wowlespruit, South Africa.  Trained with NWMP at Regina and was posted at Battleford until enlistment.

Raphael Zengel: (World War I), 5th Battalion, CEF, North Saskatchewan Regiment, Warvillers, France. Had lived at Burr, a small town near Humboldt.

[Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan; For Valour: Saskatchewan Victoria Cross Recipients, 1995.]

Saskie flying aces in World War I

Fighter pilots who shot down at least five enemy aircraft in World War I or II

Many of them received medals such as the Distinguished Flying Cross, Military Cross, and Distinguished Service Cross. In World War I, they flew with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC), or the Royal Air Force (RAF, formed 1 April 1918) or the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

Alfred Clayburn Atkey of Mineboro was a journalist with the Toronto Telegram when war broke out. He became a bomber pilot in Britain’s RAF (or RFC), and was dubbed the “most successful two-seater pilot” of the war. In two-seaters, the “observer” (gunner) flew in front of the pilot, and Atkey and various observers claimed thirty-eight aircraft shot down.

Fred Ernest Banbury was born in Regina and studied law at the University of Toronto. He learned to fly in the U.S., joined the RNAS and was sent to France. He flew with 9 Naval Squadron in 1917, was promoted to flight commander, and claimed eleven kills. He was killed 1 April 1918.

Conway McAlister Farrell, born in Regina, was a member of 24 Squadron in March 1918, just before the RFC became the RAF. He downed seven aircraft. 

Ernest Francis Hartley, from “somewhere in Saskatchewan,” flew with the 41 Squadron from 30 October 1917 until 2 July 1918. He was credited with seven hits.

Harold Evans Hartney, lawyer and air ace, first joined the Saskatoon Fusiliers. Billy Bishop enticed him to join the RFC in Britain, and Hartney was credited with seven “kills” before he was shot down by the Red Baron, but he survived. In June 1918 he transferred to the U.S. Army’s air service, and the Americans claimed him as theirs. In 1914 he published the book Up and At ‘Em.

Harold Waddell Joslyn of Sintaluta was in 20 Squadron of the RFC. Flying FE-2s with two gunners, he claimed seven Albatross Scouts. He died in August 2017 when his aircraft was shot down.  

Hugh Bingham Maund (from somewhere in Saskatchewan) flew with RNAS and RAF in WWI and is credited with shooting down eight craft – seven planes and one observer balloon.  He was also a flight lieutenant in World War II. He was probably related to Air Vice Marshal A.C. Maund of Cando.

Clifford McEwen (known as “Black Mike”) of Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, joined 28 Squadron of Britain’s RFC. He shot down twenty-seven enemy aircraft in Italy. He eventually became RCAF Air Vice Marshal in World War II, and upon retirement a director of Trans-Canada Airlines for two years. Moose Jaw air base was renamed after him in 2003.

William Ernest Shields, born in Lipton, joined the RFC and was posted to France in March 1918, where he scored twenty-four victories, including zapping some air balloons. Shields was killed in a Canadian Air Force flying accident in 1920. 

Merrill Samuel Taylor of Yellow Grass and Regina first joined the RNAS and later the RAF, and racked up seven hits. He claimed to have helped deliver the kiss of death to the illustrious Baron von Richthofen.  He was shot down himself in July 1918, and France honoured him with the Croix de Guerre. Britain apparently did not honour him.

Edmund Roger Tempest, though born in England, had farmed with his brother Wulstan in Saskatchewan. When war broke out, they returned to England and joined the RFC in which Edmund became a flight commander. He was credited with seventeen hits.

(Shores, Above the Trenches;; Drake: Regina: The Queen City, and other sources.]

Flying aces, World War II

Many trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and fought with the RCAF

Mark Henry (Hilly) Brown was credited with eight downed enemy planes and one shared, and even received French and Czech medals. At one point, despite having been shot down into the sea and burned severely, he went back flying after ten days. Although born in Manitoba, he did live in Saskatchewan for a while.  

E.F. Jack Charles, raised in Lashburn, was a pre-war RCAF officer who transferred to the RAF in 1939. He destroyed at least fifteen enemy fighters and damaged many more. 

James Francis (Stocky) Edwards of Nokomis scored more than twenty hits. He shot down Otto Schulz, a German air ace, took part in the D-Day landing, and served in Africa. He is the subject of the book The Desert Hawk: The True Story of J.F. (Stocky) Edwards, World War II Flying Ace.

Bruce Ian Maclennan of Gull Lake, was credited with downing seven enemy planes in the Battle of Malta, and damaging several others. 

Henry Wallace (Wally) McLeod, a teacher from Regina is acknowledged as the “highest-scoring ace in the RCAF.” In World War II he achieved a total of twenty-one enemy aircraft destroyed, three possibly destroyed, eleven damaged, and one shared damaged. McLeod scored thirteen kills during the Battle of Malta, earning the nickname “The Eagle of Malta.” Mcleod was killed in an aerial dogfight in September 1944.

WWII Flying ace Ernest McNab
WW II Flying ace Ernest McNab as a U of S hockey player. From composite photo
LH 9780, 1923 by Ralph Dill, from
Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library

Ernest Archibald McNab (son of Peter Archibald McNab, lieutenant governor) was a native of Rosthern. He commanded the RCAF’s Squadron No. 1 in 1940, and scored twelve “kills” in the Battle of Britain. In February 1942 he was back in Saskatoon, commanding No. 4 Service Flying Training School, but returned later that year to command a fighter station in England. Among his awards and honours were a Czech War Cross and an OBE. After all that excitement, he lived to be seventy-three.

Squadron Leader John D. Mitchner of Saskatoon was a double-ace pilot in World War II, according to fellow pilot Stocky Edwards. Mitchner led the RCAF “416” Unit and the “City of Oshawa” Unit.

Navigator James D. Wright, also from Rosthern and flying pilot Don McFadyen were credited with downing seven enemy aircraft, plus five V-1 rockets. 

[Bartlett: Coughlin, The Dangerous Sky, 174 ; Charles: Ralph, Aces, Warriors & Wingmen; Edwards: Hehner, Desert Hawk; Mitchner: Hehner, The Desert Hawk; Moore: Coughlin, 92-95, Others: Barry, Age Shall Not Weary Them; Bishop, True Canadian Heroes in the Air; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]

Other notable Saskie flyboys 

Other pilots who distinguished themselves, whose careers are chronicled in articles and books.

Pilot Dick Bartlett, raised at Fort Qu’Appelle, was a real POW at Stalag Luft III, depicted in The Great Escape movie. He looked after the clandestine medicine ball in which was stored “the canary” — the radio POWs used to listen to the BBC News. He also secretly received encrypted intelligence messages. When not in use the radio was hidden in an unused toilet.

Another pilot named Bartlett from Fort Qu’Appelle, initials C.S., might have been related to Dick. In World War II, C.S. flew transport planes escorting military bigwigs around the Middle East, and later did coastal bombing missions. His biggest coup was leading a secret mission to destroy a strategic bridge in Syria to thwart the Nazis. For technical reasons aerial bombing was impossible with his aging aircraft, so he they had to do the job on the ground. With thirteen sappers he landed his Valentia in a field. The sappers tumbled out, planted explosive charges around the bridge, and quickly scrambled aboard again. The plane took off as enemy guns blazed, but they escaped and the bridge exploded. Bartlett later became a wing commander. He was awarded a posthumous DFC after he was killed in a raid over France.

Gerald Keith Bouey (CC), Governor of the Bank of Canada from 1973 to 1987, was born in Axford, Sask.  In World War II he was a flight lieutenant in the RCAF. 

Malcolm Colquhun of Maple Creek was a navigator on a bombing mission in 1943 over Dusseldorf when his plane was shot down. He was eventually taken to Stalag Luft III (scene of The Great Escape movie in 1944). He helped with “Wooden Horse”, another tunnel escape plan. He had been transferred to another camp when the escape finally took place. 

Peter Dmytruk, born in Radisson, was an RCAF rear gunner when his Lancaster bomber was shot down over France. He survived the crash and worked with the French Resistance before being captured and executed by the Nazis. The French awarded him a posthumous Croix de Guerre.  A street in a French town was named for him, and a monument erected at the spot where he died. [EoS, 250)

Robert R. Ferguson of Fort Qu’Appelle became a squadron leader in the RCAF. He later distinguished himself in agriculture, and was on the boards of governors of both Saskatchewan’s universities.

William (Les) Kell of Canwood helped build the escape tunnels at Stalag II POW camp in Germany, southeast of Berlin. Because he didn’t speak German, he opted not to join those who attempted the escape. Most of them were captured and executed. 

Ernest Bigland Knight crash landed off the coast of Libya in a Sunderland. He distinguished himself for walking back to a military base leading 150 Italian prisoners. Unfortunately, he did not survive the war. 

Arthur Clinton Maund (CBE) homesteaded around 1908 near Cando, and ultimately became an air vice marshal (a lofty position) in Britain’s Royal Air Force. He joined the Saskatchewan Light Horse when World War I was declared, but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. Flying with the RAF in World War II, he was killed in 1942.

Flying Officer K.O. Moore of Rockhaven sank two submarines right after the other, with his nine crewmen aboard their Liberator, which flew transport as well as bombing missions in the English Channel.

Ian Tweddell of Lashburn was another Saskie flying officer interned at Stalag Luft during the Great Escape preparations. He is remembered as the one who ordered engineering textbooks from the U of S so he could get a head start on his career. 

[Barris, The Great Escape: the Canadian Story, 93-94; Barry, Age Shall Not Weary Them; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan;; Maple Creek community history; StarPhoenix 17 August 2017; Coughlin, The Dangerous Sky, 172-4]

Noteworthy Saskie soldiers

Remembered in the annals of Saskatchewan history

Our soldiers sometimes distinguished themselves abroad, others when they returned

Brian Dickson of Yorkton, a captain in the Royal Canadian Artillery in World War II, took part in the Battle of Normandy and the Falaise Gap. At home, he was a noted lawyer. On April 18, 1984 he became the 15th Chief Justice of Canada.  

For valour in the Italian campaigns during World War II, David Greyeyes was awarded the Order of Canada and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

George Lawrence Price of Moose Jaw was the last soldier killed at Mons, two minutes before the Armistice was declared November 11, 1918.

General Andrew McNaughton of Moosomin has been called “Canada’s most prominent soldier in the 20th century.” He led Canada’s First Division, which included Saskatoon Light Infantry and Princess Patricia Light Infantry. He received numerous awards for his service.

And no Birds Sang book cover
And No Birds Sang was Farley Mowat’s memoir
of his war years.

Farley Mowat, who lived in Saskatoon during the 1930s, served in Italy in World War II, later writing his book And No Birds Sang about his war experiences.

George Porteous was a well-known survivor of the Hong Kong POW camp. He was named a member of the Order of the British Empire for “giving strength” to fellow soldiers imprisoned in Hong Kong. Back home in Saskatchewan, he was lieutenant-governor 1976 to 1978, dying in office before completing his term.

George Tory has been called our province’s “most decorated” Indigenous veteran for his service in World War II and the Korean War.  He served as “medic and supply officer,” and advocate for his people.

Clifford Walker of Regina reached the military rank of Brigadier General. He has also been a high school and university teacher, a businessman, an advocate for First Nations people, a supporter of veterans, CEO and chairman in the Corps of Commissionaires, and a mentor for Indigenous youth.

[Walker: Protocol Office, Sask. Government; Greyeyes: StarPhoenix 31 March 2017; Porteous: StarPhoenix 7 Feb 1978]

Riding the waves

Notable prairie sailors on the high seas

In World War II, Saskatchewan contributed more than 6,500 men and almost 600 women to the Royal Canadian Navy or the RVNVR (volunteer reserves). Most Saskie sailors served on vessels escorting supply ships from Canada to Europe. Not all prairie mariners joined the navy though.

Prairie mariner
Captain Elijah Andrews once sailed the seven seas, before coming to live in Saskatoon. Photo LH 1077, taken between 1900 and 1905, by Ralph Dill, courtesy of
Local History Room Saskatoon Public Library

Elisha Shelton Andrews commanded Saskatoon’s Home Guards during the 1885 rebellion, crewed on the Northcote, and ferried troops across the river. A New Brunswick native, he had attended naval academy in Belfast, Ireland, and is said to have been a sea captain in the British Navy.

Author Max Braithwaite, born in Nokomis, joined the Canadian Navy but he didn’t get to sail the high seas in World War II. He probably had to be content with Lake Ontario, when he served with the Royal Canadian Volunteer Services in Toronto during World War II, but he gained enough nautical know-how to write The Commodore’s Barge is Alongside.

Navy dietician Margaret Brooke, born in Ardath, was aboard a ferry that was torpedoed and sunk by a Nazi sub off the Newfoundland coast in World War II. Clinging to a lifeboat, she tried to save the life of a colleague, who died in the frigid waters. After the war Brooke earned a PhD from the U of S.  A Navy ship was named for her in 2018.

Les Roberts of Saskatoon was a wireless operator with the Canadian Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. Interviewed in 1995, he recalled he had been on board the corvette HMCS Saskatoon involved in “wolf packs” attacking German U-Boats that destroyed some 250,000 tones of goods beig shipped to Europe on Allied ships that winter.

On the maiden voyage of the corvette HMCS Saskatoon, veteran signalman Ronald S. Vokins of Lashburn was aboard to check its signalling equipment. He had joined the British Navy in 1902, served in World War I, including the Battle of Jutland, and was on a mysterious “Q-boat” that targeted enemy subs. In 1939 he joined the Canadian Navy to help patrol the Atlantic.

Robert (Bob) Yanow of Saskatoon, graduated from the U of S in 1956, then served on RCN destroyers and frigates on both coasts. Rising to the rank of Rear Admiral, he concluded his career in 1987 as RCN commander in the Pacific.

[Balfour: StarPhoenix 16 May 1955; Brooke: CBC 9 Oct 2018, internet; Roberts: SP 3 May 1995. Saskatoon Free Press, 5 April 1998]. Vokins: SP 11 October 1941; Andrews: StarPhoenix news clippings; ms. by Alan Morton]

“They shall not grow old”

Saskatchewan’s war dead

Casualty figures are complex due to the chaos of war, organizational changes, trickiness of defining inclusion, and because many people switched services. These figures are mostly from the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial.

Nine members of the NWMP died in the North-West Rebellion.

The names of 4797 Saskie armed service people who perished in wars are emblazoned on the memorial at the Legislative grounds in Regina.

World War I claimed 6452 lives.

World War II took 5015 Saskie lives.

In all wars there have been 8,774 army casualties from Saskatchewan, plus 103 in the British army, and 25 in the U.S. army – not counting the USAAF, 10.

In all wars, the toll among naval personnel from Saskatchewan was 190 deaths.

There were eight Saskie casualties in the U.S. navy, and five in the British navy.

In all wars, 2192 Saskie RCAF personnel died, plus more than 180 in other air forces and flying services.

Three Saskies died in the French or Indian armies.

Ten civilians perished while taking part in operations such as air crew during WWII.

 [–service; Bill Barry, They Shall Not Grow Old, 11-16]

The big picture: All wars

Afghanistan: 18

South African (Boer): 13

Korean War: 39

Peacetime: 115

World War I: 6452

World War II: 5015

[Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial website]