Calgary Highlanders in Foreign Service
First Special Service Force
John G. McQueen
In 1942, the United States and Canada collaborated on a unique composite formation known as the First Special Service Force. The Force was to later gain fame as “The Devil’s Brigade” and became be the subject of a 1968 movie by United Artists. The force was comprised, at first, of an equal mixture of Canadians and Americans.
The senior Canadian of the unit upon its inception was a Calgary Highlander named John G. McQueen, pictured at left in a photo taken in late 1939. The Force went on to great fame in Italy, highly trained in mountain and amphibious operations, they terrorized much larger German units in the Anzio bridgehead (including the crack Hermann Goering Division), and eventually were disbanded at the end of 1944.
Ernest Edgar Terry
Another member of the Devil’s Brigade was Ernest Edgar Terry, born 14 Aug 1914 in Lac Vert, Saskatchewan, the first born to father James Terry (1871-1942) and mother Sarah Matilda Quinn (1880-1977). In 1936 he married Mabel Ellen Govenlock (1919-1970). They bore two children; Doris and Bryden (Buck). In 1936, Ernie moved his family to Hines Creek, Alta., traveling by way of covered wagon with his brother John, and he tried his hand at trapping.
He enlisted in August 1941, in Military District 13, and was given Regimental Number M66361. Volunteering for the First Special Service Force, he broke his foot during parachute training in the United States, and was apparently repatriated to Canada when it was learned he was married. By 1945 he was a member of D Company of the Calgary Highlanders, and was badly wounded during the Hochwald fighting on 20 February 1945, being injured by a German mortar bomb.
After the war, Terry moved to Dawson’s Creek, separated from his wife, met Gail Churchill with whom he had two more sons, then separated from her as well, with the sons being put up for adoption. Ernie worked as a camp cook for oil exploration companies, but also worked at a variety of other jobs such as hunting guide, farmer and working on the Alaska-Canada highway. Terry passed away at Kamloops, British Columbia on 7 April 1995 at the age of 80.
CSM N.S. Lawson
In order to gain battle experience, men from throughout the Canadian Army were sent to North Africa. On 9 December 1942, the unit was advised to submit two names for attachment to the British First Army, then fighting in North Africa, one officer and one NCO. Major Cyril C.A. Nixon’s name was put forward, but he did not go to Africa. However, M10622 Company Sergeant Major N.S. Lawson did go, and a letter was received in the United Kingdom that was copied into the Calgary Highlanders War Diary.
“C.S.M. Lawson was attached to ‘C’ company of this Battalion. He was found a most excellent Warrant Officer by all officers of the company. His capabilities as a leader were extremely high. I should say that any of the men in the company would follow him anywhere. His ability on patrols was especially noteworthy. In fact, it is impossible to speak too highly of him, and his company were all sorry to see him go.”
S. J. Linden Kelly
Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers
Sergeant Emil Laloge, DCM, MM
Another soldier to serve in North Africa had been Sergeant Emil Laloge, a member of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada who would later be twice decorated while serving with the Calgary Highlanders. He served with the First Battalion Royal Lancashire Regiment and saw action at the tail end of the fighting in Tunisia in 1943. Sent back to the Seaforth Highlanders holding unit, he was soon tasked in England as an instructor. After D-Day, he went to the continent and in October transferred to the Calgary Highlanders. His experience must have served him well; he joined the battalion on the 22nd and ten days later won the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Walcheren Causeway, going on to also win a Military Medal at Wyler in February 1945.
By early 1944, the British Army found itself short of officers, especially for the infantry and ordnance corps. Canada, on the other hand, had a surplus, and through a scheme called CANLOAN, these young Canadian officers (mostly lieutenants) were assigned to duty with the British Army. In the end 623 infantry officers and 50 ordnance corps officers were so employed, the infantry officers being used as platoon commanders, company second-in-command, and in some cases as company commanders. An attempt was made to have these officers join their affiliated units. Four Calgary Highlanders were selected to participate in this program.
Of the 673 volunteers, 465 became casualties, 127 of them fatal, and over 100 decorations for bravery were made, including 41 awards of the Military Cross. Of the four Calgary Highlanders to volunteer, two were killed in action, the other two were captured at Arnhem.
Lieutenant Earl Harcourt was assigned to the 8th Reinforcement Holding Unit, and sent up to the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots, on 14 July 1944. He was killed in action only two days later. In the battle of Esquay, conducted by the 15th (Scottish) Division, no less than four CANLOAN officers were lost by the 8th Royal Scots alone.
ohn Robert Harrison lied about his age to join the Calgary Highlanders, and even though he was discovered, he eventually made it overseas and served in England with the battalion from 1940 to 1943. He returned to Canada to get his commission and then was made an instructor. He joined the CANLOAN scheme when it came about, and went back to England as part of the second flight of CANLOAN officers, being given number CDN/80.
By April 1945 he was a captain and commander of the carrier platoon of the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. This was part of the famous 51st Highland Division, and Harrison saw action from Normandy onwards. He was killed in action on the 17th of April, becoming the last CANLOAN officer to die in combat. He was twenty two years old.
Harrison was a good friend of Bill Lyster; one of Lyster’s grandsons was named Harrison in his honour. John Robert Harrison lies in Grave IV. H. 9. of the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Larry Kane was given CANLOAN Number CDN/482, and served with the 7th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers at Arnhem, where he was captured. Like James Taylor (see below) he had been an instructor in Canada.
Jim Taylor’s military career started when Sergeant Les Kemp of the Calgary Highlanders arrived in a wheat field west of Nanton early in September 1939. After annual threshing was completed, Jim reported to the regiment on 23 September. Number 10 platoon of “B” Company became his home for the next four years. Major Glenn Lockwood commanded the company, Herby Dann the platoon – a group of farmers, miners, ball players and several men who had just arrived in town via the local freight train. For a time Jim functioned as company clerk and assisted the physical training staff with their duties.
Taylor travelled with the Regiment to the United Kingdom in August 1940 (his name is found on the nominal roll of those who sailed on the SS Pasteur); training and moves throughout the south of England continued for Jim for the next three years. Battle drill courses, small arms course, support weapons courses, physical training course and pre-officer training and eventually a return to Canada for commissioning. He sailed on the Queen Mary with Sir Winston Churchill, the King of Norway and other high ranking officials on board. In the hold, four hundred fifty Afrika Korps prisoners of war. On arrival in New York nine prisoners escaped via a port hole with the aid of rope from their hammocks. As they climbed the dock an alert American naval sentry took them prisoner. Jim’s first experience with the phrase “for you the war is over” (but unfortunately not his last). A short time later nine naked men were standing at the gang plank.
New York, Montreal, Calgary, and Gordon Head, BC followed in quick order. In August 1943, Lieutenant Taylor was given a temporary commission and posted to Currie Barracks where he quickly became an instructor for a junior NCO course. In January 1944 Jim reported to Vernon Battle school where he was earmarked to become a battle drill instructor for the rest of the war.
Whilst in Vernon Jim heard of the CANLOAN program. Much to the annoyance of the senior staff at the school Jim volunteered, and travelled again to Calgary for processing and transfer to Sussex, New Brunswick for special officer training fitting he and others for British service. Jim and five others on his draft were quickly moved to the instructional staff of the school.
The Empress of Scotland sailed out of Halifax early in May 1944 with a very large draft of CANLOAN officers on board, and after arrival in Glasgow these men were moved to London in record time for posting to the various British regiments. Taylor was assigned to the 7th Galloway Battalion The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, an airlanding battalion with the first Airborne Division. Two flights in a Horsa glider qualified him as an airborne soldier, and tense months followed as fifteen planned operations in a row were cancelled because the drop zones were overrun by the Allies before the operations could be mounted.
Operation MARKET GARDEN was the sixteenth operation. Taylor landed with the first troops in Holland in his first operational role, the guarding of the drop zone for the two brigades of paratroopers scheduled to arrive a short time later. Two days later Taylor and his company, less two platoons (each rifle company had four platoons), arrived at their final battle area, the village of Oosterbeek. After seven days of close quarter fighting against a well-equipped, battle trained and determined enemy, Taylor was wounded and put out of action. Medical help consisted of field and shell dressings which he wore for the next six days, after which he was re-bandaged with German paper dressings and put in a box car on his way to a German prisoner of war camp.
Life in the camp was dreary and sometimes frightening although Taylor as usual had a role to play. He was instructed to train eight men in the use of machine guns to protect the camp against the local villagers who it was felt may try to overrun the camp. By 31 March 1945, the camp was evacuated when the British American advance in the west pushed ever closer. After a forced march east for 150 kilometers and 14 days, the guards deserted and the news that the American President had died was received. The prisoners were free, and three days later found themselves being flown to Brussels. On 18 April 1945 Taylor and thirty other ex-prisoners were loaded onto a Short Stirling bomber for the flight to England, coincidentally Taylor’s 25th birthday. On take-off the aircraft got a tail wobble and left the runway crashing into a German pill box. The right undercarriage came through the fuselage injuring five passengers.
Still on his birthday, Taylor was reunited with his wife Dorothy and met for the first time his two month old daughter. In June, Taylor returned to Canada and a hospital in Calgary. In 1947, after a short taste of civilian life he re-enlisted as a corporal in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at Currie Barrracks. In 1951 Taylor receives a permanent commission as a lieutenant in the Patricias, and went from the Third Battalion to the School of Infantry instructing junior officers, the first of many postings to the school for instructional duties.
Whilst still at the school Taylor was promoted captain and in September 1954 found himself on posting to Vietnam with the International Supervisory Commission. Whilst on staff for several weeks in Hanoi, he did duty as liaison officer flying the length and breadth of the country, as well as a trip to India as a diplomatic courier. Fixed and mobile team duty in several towns and cities in Vietnam followed, and in May 1955 Taylor was the Canadian representative on the mobile team turning the Hanoi/Haiphong enclave from French control to the Viet Minh. Following the handover, Taylor took a much needed rest in Hong Kong and in August 1955 returned to Camp Borden and the role of assistant chief instructor.
In 1956, because of his war time injuries, Taylor is not permitted to complete a parachute course and is forced to make a unit change. He selected a unit serving in Western Canada, the 2nd Queens Own Rifles of Canada. Arriving in Gordon Head on Vancouver Island, he was appointed adjutant. In November 1957 the battalion was posted to Germany for duty with NATO. Adjutant and company commander appointments, followed, with more courses in England and Canada and on return to Canada he was made General Staff Officer Grade III (operations) at Headquarters Western Command, Edmonton. Promotion to major and return to regimental duty soon followed with posting to Calgary. In 1963 another posting to the school, this time to command the officer training division, but because of an injury playing hockey for the officers mess team Taylor receives a category that will not permit him to continue in the role of instructor and was posted back to Alberta. Mewata Armoury became his base for the next four years where he served as SOLAM. (Staff Officer Logistics and Administration Militia). Finally after 29 years service Taylor retired to a role as a social worker in British Columbia.
In 1970 The British Columbia Dragoons approached Taylor and he was given command of an armoured squadron. In 1972 he assumed command of the regiment, with promotion to lieutenant colonel, finally retiring in 1974. He and Dorothy returned to Calgary in 1984 and later moved to Cochrane. During their long life together Taylor and Dorothy had four children one of which followed in his fathers footsteps and retired as a lieutenant colonel from the air force.