Private Alonzo J. Sampson

Private Alonzo J. Sampson was one of but a handful of Calgary Highlanders decorated for service above and beyond the normal course of their duties in the Second World War. His Mention in Despatches was published in the London Gazette on 4 April 1946. It is believed this recognition was for retrieving wounded soldiers while under fire during the Northwest Europe campaign.

Private Sampson enlisted in the Canadian Army on 13 October 1942 at Number 6 District Depot in Sydney, Nova Scotia. He was given Regimental Number F32491, which is consistent with the block of numbers allocated to No. 6 District Depot. He listed his birth date as 2 April 1923, though in actuality he was born a year later. During World War Two, 18 year olds were required to stay in Canada and so Private Sampson, presumably eager to see action, subtracted a year from his birth date.

A photo in possession of the family shows Private Sampson wearing the headdress of the Cape Breton Highlanders, which was one of the units stationed in Military District 6. He likely proceeded overseas as an infantry reinforcement, and was sent to the Calgary Highlanders. Late in the war, the Regiment accepted reinforcements from across Canada and were no longer an exclusively western Canadian outfit.

There is no record of Private Sampson having been wounded in action, and he survived the war. He was discharged on 3 December 1945.

As was often the case, the publication of his award took several months, and on 4 April 1946 – some four months after he left the service – his award was gazetted and notification sent to his family that he had been Mentioned in Despatches, and that a King’s Certificate would be forwarded. On 26 Mar 1947, nearly a year later, the certificate had still not materialized and Private Sampson’s mother wrote a letter to the Department of National Defence to enquire about the Certificate.

The family did receive the certificate in the end, and it is reproduced above. Below are two photos of Private Sampson, at left in the headdress of the Cape Breton Highlanders, and at right wearing the tam o’shanter and regimental cap badge of The Calgary Highlanders.

Notes on Mentions in Despatches

Mentions in Despatches were a traditional method of recognizing either bravery or devotion to service, and in centuries past, commanders in the field would write messages to the Monarch or to their superiors in government, to advise them of the conduct of military campaigns. These messages were known as “despatches,” and being mentioned in one indicated that an officer or soldier had performed a notable act.

By the end of the First World War, the Mention in Despatches had evolved into a method of recognizing these notable acts; actual “Despatches” were no longer written, but the officer or soldier so noted had his name gazetted, and was permitted to wear a bronze oak leaf device on his uniform, usually on the Victory Medal ribbon.

By the time of the Second World War, this method of recognition was still in place. However, as the war went on, Mentions in Despatches could be given out for a variety of reasons. If a soldier was nominated for a medal, but higher authority felt that the deeds he performed were not up to the standards expected for that medal, he might be granted a Mention in Despatches instead. Other situations arose where “periodic awards” were granted on a quota basis. Commanders would then put forward names of soldiers they felt worthy (again, perhaps those soldiers refused bravery medals from earlier dates may have been considered for Mentions in Despatches in this manner).

At war’s end, a cut-off date was put in place for awards, and many units polled their field officers for names of deserving recipients. For this reason, there are often no accompanying citations for Mentions in Despatches. Any soldier so Mentioned was permitted to wear a bronze oak leaf on the ribbon of his 1939-45 War Medal.

Photos and information courtesy his son, Brian Sampson

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