. . . It is surprising to me that so few people today have any real recollection of "The Rangers." I have had people look at me with disbelief when conversation brings up some remark associated with this apparently little-known group, and it is sometimes only with the support of someone who was familiar with "The Rangers" that this disbelief can be dispelled. I suppose I am getting old because it took me a little while to realize exactly why this should be. Thirty-one years have passed since the "Rangers" went out of being, so this alone would rule out a great number who would have had any opportunity of first-hand knowledge. Then, of course, the geographic area of service would preclude another great segment from any contact. So, in reflection, I suppose, although the subject is to me very real and living, it is indeed a very appropriate topic for an address to an Historical Society.
. . . On July 1, 1935, Capt. L. T. Stick, an officer in The Newfoundland Regiment during World War I, was appointed Chief Ranger, with the rank of Major. Another World War I officer, Lieut. R. D. Fraser, was appointed Inspector, with the rank of Lieutenant. Sergt. Major F. A. Anderton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was appointed as Training Officer. The first offices or Headquarters were located in the basement of the Colonial Building on Military Road. To give you some idea of the rapidity with which the Newfoundland Rangers became an active reality, I have only to say that the first recruit was taken on strength on July 9 and that before the end of July, a full authorized complement of thirty men had been sworn in. The first recruit, by the way, was Mr. Brian White, who died about two weeks ago in Ontario and was buried here in St. John's; Brian, whom you may have known through his service as a Magistrate and his involvement in politics. The recruits were housed under canvas at Whitbourne, where the Headquarters and Barracks were to be located. Training was commenced immediately and was both extensive and intensive.
For example: Foot Drill, Infantry Drill, Small Arms and Rifle Instruction, Motor Vehicle and Cycle Operation, and classroom instruction followed by written examinations.
It might be of interest at this point to digress a little and look at the requirements for acceptance into the Force and the conditions under which the recruits agreed to serve. Qualifications were high for the period. An applicant had to have a Grade XI certificate, be between the ages of 21 and 28 years, be single, physically fit in every respect, be a minimum of 5'9" in height and weigh not more than 185 pounds. The recruits were provided with full uniform, similar in most respects of design to that of the R.C.M.P., the colour, however, being khaki.
|Sergeant Nelson F.
Forward in 1950.
|Ex-Ranger Robert Tilley
in a recent photograph.
The rates of pay were as follows:
In addition to these princely sums, full maintenance was provided, either through board and lodgings, or separate quarters, with full provisions and fuel. These rates of pay remained in effect until 1943. All enlistments were for a five-year period.
The first group of recruits, after three months of training, were assigned to Detachment duty in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Those going to Labrador had the task of building their own Detachment Quarters, which would include their office space and living quarters. These buildings were constructed from materials which had been forwarded on ahead of their departure. Provisions for the winter were also sent. In spite of the lateness of the season in Labrador, five of the six detachments were completed that fall. The post at Hebron, however, could not be built until the following summer. From these five or six detachments, these members immediately assumed responsibility for the entire coast of Labrador from Cape Chidley in the North to the Quebec border in the South. Other detachments were also opened in Northern Newfoundland, but these did not involve the construction of buildings.
. . . It is obvious that the Rangers were to be a very busy group and that the Government was placing a great deal of confidence in them. It is also obvious that this confidence was not misplaced, because in the next year, 1936, during a period of extreme financial restraint, application was made to, and approved by, the Dominions Office for permission to expand the Force. The Rangers had already begun to make a name for themselves and this, of course, fostered some adverse public reaction from those who had no desire to see any venture of Commission of Government succeed. It was not long before newspaper articles and letters to the editor began to appear, condemning the extent of authority granted to the new organization. To the credit of the government, I must say that they did not bend to this pressure and later years proved their decision to be well justified.
We mentioned earlier that Whitbourne was chosen to be the site of the Headquarters for the Rangers.
The cornerstone for the building to house the administrative offices and provide barracks accommodation and training facilities was laid by Governor Sir David Murray Anderson on September 20, 1935, and the building was completed in February of 1936, at which time the canvas tents were vacated.
It was also in February 1936 that Major Stick resigned his position as Chief Ranger and returned to private life. Sergt. Major Anderton, who, you will recall, was on loan from the R.C.M.P., took his retirement from that force, on pension, and was appointed Chief Ranger with the rank of Major.
In June of 1936, recruitment commenced to fill the positions to expand the complement of Rangers by 22. This was completed by August and the second contingent went into training, which was completed by the end of November, when detachments were opened along the West and South coasts. In 1937, a further increase in strength was authorized and 12 members were added. New detachments were opened and some men were added to detachments where the workloads were heavy.
In March of 1938, the Force suffered its first casualty when Regimental No. 14, Danny Corcoran, became lost while on a foot patrol from Harbour Deep to Port Saunders. He had left Harbour Deep on March 12th and was not found and brought out of the country until March 28th. He died in hospital at St. Anthony a short while later.
A similar tragic happening occurred in March 1939, when No. 49, Mike Greene, lost his life. He was on patrol from Lories to Lamaline when ten horse and slide he was using for transportation went through the ice. His body was found some distance from the scene of the accident. Evidently, he managed to get out of the water and reach the shoreline, where he died of exposure.
There was no further expansion of the Force until 1941. However, during the intervening period, some administrative changes took place. In June of 1939, Major Anderton resigned as Chief Ranger and was succeeded in August 1939 by Sergt. Major E. W. Greenley, who took his retirement from the R.C.M.P. in order to accept appointment to the position of Chief Ranger. He resigned in March 1940, at which time Inspector R. D. Fraser was appointed Acting Chief Ranger. Inspector Fraser continued in that capacity until July 4, 1942, when he was appointed Chief Ranger, with the rank of Major. At the same time, Number 10, Staff Sergt. E. L. Martin, was commissioned with the rank of Lieutenant and appointed Inspector; Sergt. W. G. Rockwood, No. 36, was appointed Temporary Inspector and appointed to the post of Government Agent in the Northern Labrador Administration, which had been set up to administer the trading posts operated by the Hudson's Bay Company and to look after the needs of the Indians and Eskimos in Northern Labrador. Early in 1942, the Headquarters Offices and Barracks were moved from Whitbourne to Kilbride. This was because the functions of the Force were becoming increasingly important to Government and closer contact was desirable.
We are now into the War years, and shortly after the outbreak, it became very evident that the very existence of The Newfoundland Rangers was in jeopardy due to the mass resignations received for the purpose of enlistment in the armed forces.
The Dominion Office, however, was now fully convinced of the importance of the contribution being made by the Rangers in Newfoundland and were quick to have the Force designated as an essential service, and discharges for the purpose of enlistment were disallowed. This, however, did not stop the exodus entirely. To give you some idea of how seriously the powers viewed this situation, I quote a telegram that was sent to a Ranger who had enlisted without first obtaining a discharge from the Force.
"Direct your immediate attention circular three hundred fifty seven april nineteen hundred and forty. In light of content, consider your action without consulting here flagrant breach orders in commission say nothing discourtesy this office stop circular prohibits acceptance request and have communicated Colonel Renell and explained situation particularly provisions section twenty four subsection one ranger act stop transfer headquarters next connection each prior transfer Labrador.
-------(SGD) Acting Chief Ranger"
Section twenty-four, sub-section one, of The Ranger Act dealt with a member absenting himself from his detachment without permission and provided for his arrest and punishment by a fine and imprisonment. In spite of this, however, a number of members did obtain their discharges by purchase as did the Ranger in the situation I just described.
In the meantime, the Rangers had become accepted and trusted throughout the Island and Labrador. Without elected representation, the Rangers became the sole link between the people and Government and were called upon to solve many and complex problems. They had not recourse to higher authority because of the severe lack of communications, so they made decisions and lived with them. Surprisingly, in most cases, the decisions proved to be so profound and acceptable that rather than receiving reprimands for overstepping authority, they were often commended for their leadership and understanding. The people respected the Rangers and looked to them for guidance and got it. One amusing incident was related often in those days. It concerned a small boy who was walking through a settlement with his grandfather when he saw a Ranger approaching. He said, "Granddad, look at the strange man coming up from the wharf." His grandfather replied, "Son, that's not a man, that's a Ranger."
In 1940, because of the increased activities brought about by the War, pressure increased on the duties and services sought from the Rangers. They were required to issue National Registration Cards to all residents over the age of 16 years within their detachment areas and also to issue the necessary documentation required for food rationing. Their duties also included organizing and instructing the Aircraft Detection Corps and Submarine Watch.
In 1941, Gander was a major link in the war effort and it fell to the Rangers to provide security for the whole project. This, of course, necessitated additional men, for whom approval was immediately granted and a detachment consisting of ten members was established there. You can imagine the problems which existed there when you realize that there were servicemen from Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S.A. stationed there, and at any one time there could be another five or ten nationalities in transit -- all of whom considered themselves outside the jurisdiction of Newfoundland Law. You can also imagine the amount of call upon the services of the Rangers when the mix of nationalities clashed. Sometimes it appeared as if there were more battles fought in Gander than in the main theatre of war. This did not continue for long, as the authority of the Rangers was soon recognized and respected.
Also during the War years, the well-documented feat of Ranger John Hogan occurred. Hogan had parachuted from an aeroplane enroute from Goose Bay to Gander on May 8, 1943, and survived in the wilderness of the Great Northern Peninsula until rescued by a survey party on June 25th. No only did Hogan survive himself but he tended upon and kept alive an injured airman who had also bailed out of the same aircraft. Hogan himself could have reached habitation, but because of the condition of the airman, he chose to remain with him and care for him. Hogan was awarded the King's Police and Fire Services Medal for Gallantry.
Another member of the force was awarded this medal for a much less-publicized feat. It was awarded in October 1948 to Ranger Bruce Gillingham for disarming and arresting a gunman who had already murdered one person and who had fired several shots at Gillingham. The arrest was accomplished by Gillingham without his drawing his sidearm, at considerable danger to himself. The gunman was later tried and convicted for the offence.
The Rangers were also very actively involved with the rescue and recovery of bodies from the wrecks of the U.S. ships Truxton and Pollux, which went ashore near Lawn. They were also very much in the fore in the activities of recovering bodies following the sinking of enemy action of the S.S. Caribou in the early morning of October 14, 1942.
In January of 1944, Major R. R. Fraser resigned his position as Chief Ranger and Inspector E. L. Martin was appointed Acting Chief, having progressed up from the enlisted ranks. Martin was later made Chief Ranger and continued in that position until the Force was disbanded in 1950. At the same time, another up-from-the-ranks appointment was made when No. 28, Sergt. Ian Glendenning, was commissioned Inspector. Sometime earlier, Sergt. Harry Walters was also commissioned Inspector and he was seconded to the Dept. of Natural Resources to make a survey of game conditions through the Island. He never did make it back to the Force. He was appointed the permanent position of Chief Game Warden in 1946.
About the same time, because of the many and varied new duties, a series of Re-Training Courses were commenced for the senior ranks. Some of these were also enrolled in the Advanced Training School of the R.C.M.P. at Rockcliffe, Ontario. You can see that the force had no intention of resting upon its laurels but intended to keep up with new technology and maintain a modern approach in all areas of service.
I have already referred to the feat of Ranger John Hogan. Although this experience was widely publicized, and justly so, it was but one of many endeavours requiring extreme physical endurance and courage. Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the book written by Harold Horwood, entitled "White Eskimo." Part of this book is based upon a feat performed by Ranger Frank Mercer when he was stationed in Northern Labrador. The hero of the book, however, is not Mercer but so-called criminal, Esau Gillingham. The latter had been travelling throughout Northern Labrador for a number of years, trapping. His exploits and brushes with the law for game law infractions and breaches of the Alcoholic Liquors Act were numerous. It was an incident relative to Gillingham which led to a drunken spree in which a man was killed. Mercer travelled both ways over those formidable mountains of Northern Labrador known as The Kiglapait, in dead of winter, to arrest Gillingham. This did much to impress upon the population, Indian, Eskimo and Settler, that law and order had indeed come to Labrador.
On another occasion, Ranger Dean Bragg travelled over a hundred and forty miles into the wilds of Labrador, on foot, to confirm reports that an aeroplane had crashed there sometime before.
By today's standards, the equipment with which The Rangers had to operate was both minimal and, in most cases, inadequate. The Detachment offices ranged from the most elegant (being one or two rooms in a public building), to rented premises which could range from a converted milk house or one-car garage to a condemned public building which had deteriorated to such a degree that it could not be considered safe. This was dictated principally by lack of funds. Times were hard and although this may, to some, appear to be a degrading environment from which such a respected and prestigious force should operate, it was not so. Rather it built or contributed to a sincere relationship between the Ranger and the people. Had the Ranger been housed in posh quarters while the people lived in poverty, there undoubtedly would have been an animosity rather than empathy between the two.
There were few roads at the time, so vehicles for transportation throughout detachment Districts were minimal. The Force had a few motorcycles and perhaps two automobiles in places around the Burin Peninsula and St. Georges, Deer Lake and Badger. Around the coast, travel of course was by boat in summer and by dog team and by foot in the winter in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Advantage was taken of whatever mode of transportation that was available when needed. Rangers travelled many thousands of miles on railway speeders and handcars -- those pump-operated trolleys operated by sectionmen and Forest Fire Patrolmen who used to follow through on the tracks after the old coal-fired steam locomotives had pulled a train through. Of course, the Railway itself was used, as were the Coastal Boats. Routine patrols were undertaken every month through the detachment district and routine reports submitted. Each month, the Rangers were required to submit a "General Conditions Report." This would contain a complete résumé of the number of people on relief in the detachment area; the amount of money involved for this purpose; the activities taking place in the fisheries, logging construction, etc., and the number of people involved; the prospects for economic improvement or otherwise and any particular circumstance which would have an effect upon the population of the detachment district. These reports received the attention of the highest authorities in Government. Some copies still exist in the archives bearing the initials and comments of every Commissioner, indicating that great store was placed in those reports and that the recommendations and opinions expressed by the Rangers were respected.
The Force never exceeded 72 in number at any one time and there were only 204 enlisted from the beginning to the end. For the fifteen years of its existence, this relatively small force provided all the essential services assigned to it in an exemplary manner. When Confederation became a reality, those members who were service at the time were given the opportunity of transferring to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because members of the R.C.M.P. were paid on a higher scale than Rangers, one stipulation was that Rangers, upon transfer, would have to drop one rank. It was a purely economic transfer; no consideration was given to ability or service. To me this was one of the first acts of degradation perpetrated on Newfoundland. (This is not sour grapes on my part. I was not involved, having resigned in 1946.) This action was totally unwarranted as the Rangers were equally as capable, or more so, than their counterparts in the R.C.M.P. This later became evident by their progress and rapid promotions. All who transferred and remained achieved at least the rank of Sergeant. Most attained Staff Sergeant and some attained officer rank. Many Ex-Rangers have gone on to other successes and if asked individually, I venture to guess that each would attribute their success to the maturity and forced leadership qualities they developed whilst members of the Rangers.
The Force ceased to exist on July 31, 1950. The following is the final entry made in the Harbour Breton Detachment diary on that date.
"Wind South East, Foggy, with showers. At office all day re final Ranger Force Returns. This is the last day that the Ranger Force will be in existence and it is not without feelings of regret that this member puts away for all time the old khaki uniform. FINIS."
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