Between the years 1942 and 1945, there were an estimated 15,000 members of a B.C. militia group tasked with protecting the west coast in the event of an invasion.
Yet, many people have not heard about these men — a fact that Victoria author David Clark hopes to change.
Clark, author of Pacific Coastal Militia Rangers, a pictoral history, is looking to add more information to his collection about Rangers units from the Saanich Peninsula, specifically from Sidney, Brentwood Bay and James Island. The problem is, he says, there is very little official information on the Rangers retained by the Department of National Defence (DND) following the Second World War.
These days, Clark says he’s relying on people’s collections and family histories to come up with photos and muster rolls for the various militia companies on Vancouver Island and across the province. For instance, Clark says he has worked with Jim White, a member of a Victoria-area rifle club that grew out of the Southern Vancouver Island Rangers Company No. 1. The club, Clark says, held onto the historical artifacts from their parent unit and were a wealth of information for his book. Details on other units, however, has been harder to come by.
“At this point, we don’t even know who was in the Sidney Rangers,” Clark says.
He does have some photos of the unit in his book — one is a black and white image of a training exercise showing a group of Rangers storming a Saanich Peninsula beach. Clark says he’s relying on the families of former Rangers to find material to round out his history of the organization.
Ranger units formed following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, Clark says. They were informal groups of men and boys age 13 to 87 were were unpaid volunteers. They were eventually placed under the control of the DND at the time. Armed with their personal rifles and outfitted in their own clothes and often their own scrounged equipment, the Rangers throughout B.C. guarded vital infrastructure and coastlines against an attack from Japan. While their equipment gradually improved, the Rangers were still considered a sort of home guard — local people who knew well their own backyards. Clark says there were four Rangers units between Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula and covered territory from there to the Malahat and as far as Jordan River. James Island, at the time an explosive manufacturing site, was protected by Company 133 due to its strategic importance.
After the war, the units were stood down and disbanded. Neither DND, says Clark, nor Library and Archives Canada retained any photographs or lists of the names of these men.
That’s why Clark is asking people for their help. If anyone has information about local Rangers, or who had family members in the units, they can contact Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Most people don’t realize these groups existed. But they were at one time acknowledged as a major contributor to the security of the west coast.”
Any remaining Rangers, Clark continues are either in their 80s or have since died. He hopes he can collect as much information as possible to keep their history alive.