RCAF Buildings, Resolute Bay, NT, 14 June 1950.
NAC (PA-066238).

RCAF Buildings, Resolute Bay, NT, 14 June 1950.

Until the Soviet Union developed intercontinental ballistic missile capability, air bases in the North (such as this Royal Canadian Air Force [RCAF] base) were an essential part of the North American defence strategy during the Cold War.

It was clear to Canadian military planners as early as 1944 that the only serious potential threat to Canada once Germany and Japan were defeated was the Soviet Union. (10) But even after the revelations of the enormous Soviet spying operation in Canada and the US by the defector Igor Gouzenko began to give substance to that threat in 1946, the implications were not obvious. The thousands of tanks the USSR maintained in eastern Europe were a clear and present danger to the countries Canada had fought to liberate from the Nazis, but the atomic bombs that the United States alone possessed effectively checkmated any number of conventional divisions. The possibility of an invasion of North America was almost as remote as it had been in the 1920s. Aviation technology was developing so rapidly in the late 1940s, however, that bombing attacks over the Arctic would soon be a realistic possibility. Inevitably the Air Force would be at the head of the line for the rapidly shrinking pool of defence dollars.

While Ottawa pondered the great questions of policy, it was business more or less as usual for The Loyal Edmonton Regiment. Lieutenant-Colonel Kinnaird retired on 6 December 1946. His place as commanding officer was taken by Lieutenant-Colonel W.T. Cromb, who had served as a company commander in Sicily and Italy before commanding the Lincoln and Welland Regiment. Unlike the situation in the early 1920s, the regiment managed to maintain substantial numbers in the immediate post-war years. More than 200 turned out for the summer camp at Winterburn in 1946, and in 1948 total strength was over 500 with headquarters, support company and band in Edmonton as well as active companies in, Vegreville Vermillion, and Grande Prairie and platoons in Stony Plain and Valhalla. (11) Numbers increased to more than 600 in 1949, and the following year the LER had the highest strength of any reserve unit in Canada. (12)

What role the regiment was training for remained something of a mystery. By 1948, there was a vague plan for using the regular force units (three infantry battalions, two armoured regiments, and one field regiment of artillery) as a Mobile Striking Force to deal with a possible direct attack by Soviet forces in the Canadian north. (13) In August of 1949, the PPCLI, under strength because of cutbacks, used 40 men from the LER for Exercise EAGLE with the RCAF and some American forces to test the concept. (14) The Edmonton soldiers did their part with their usual competence, but the exercise as a whole revealed that the RCAF did not have the capacity to move men and equipment on the scale necessary. On 1 January 1950, Lieutenant-Colonel Alan F. Macdonald took over the leadership of the battalion, the first CO born in Edmonton. He and his successors in the decade of the 1950s would face a time of change and uncertainty.

PPCLI Troops, Korea, ca. Feb. 1951.
NAC (PA-115034, photo by Bill Olson).

PPCLI Troops, Korea, ca. Feb. 1951.

Troops of "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) cross a log bridge.

Just as the Mobile Force concept was fading quietly away in the summer of 1950, war suddenly and unexpectedly broke out in Korea. The United Nations condemned the North Korean attack and asked Canada to contribute to a UN military force led by the United States. The Secretary-General specifically requested ground forces, which was embarrassing. The existing regular army was now committed to supplying troops for NATO in Europe as well as training the reserves and defending North America. The fact was, however, that the Active Force lacked the resources to do any one of those tasks adequately, much less provide a combat force for Korea in addition. The government concluded that the only possible way to meet the commitment was to recruit a new force consisting mainly of Second World War veterans. A Brigade Group of three infantry battalions with supporting arms, a total of 7-8,000 soldiers, would be recruited under the command of Brigadier J.M. Rockingham, a militia officer from British Columbia who had been one of the most successful brigade commanders in the Canadian Army in the Second World War.

Rockingham was given a completely free hand in choosing his staff and his battalion commanders for the Canadian Army Special Force (soon renamed 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group) (15). He quickly selected Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Stone to command the infantry battalion based in western Canada, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Battalion commanders, in turn, were allowed to pick their company commanders, thus ensuring that The Loyal Edmonton Regiment would be well represented in the Korean conflict. In addition to Colonel Stone, former LER officers in 2PPCLI included Major H.D.P. Tighe, who took over command of the battalion for a time when Stone came down with smallpox, and Captain O.R. Browne. (16)

Just as Canada was called upon to respond to the Korean crisis, plans were well advanced to station ground forces in Europe. The attempt by the Soviet Union to block access to the city of Berlin in 1948, coupled with the revelation that the Soviets, too, had nuclear weapons, increased the threat of war there to the point that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was organized to meet it. Canada was one of the founders and strongest backers of NATO and could not very well decline to support the new organization. NATO planners requested two Canadian divisions but had to be satisfied with a brigade group and an air division. (17) 27 Canadian Infantry Brigade was roughly similar in size and structure to 25 CIB in Korea, but, instead of recruiting directly from the civilian population, it was decided that the better organized militia units across the country would be asked to supply a company each. The LER sent one of the five companies that made up the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion. This was an interesting experiment. The militia companies retained their regimental uniforms and insignia. The battalions at home were supposed to supply trained replacements, much as they had done in wartime. In the fall of 1953, as the first two-year enlistments for service in Germany were about to run out, the government decided that the system was too complex to administer. 27 CIB became part of the regular army (renamed 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Group), and the reservists were given the choice of signing on to the regulars or going home. (18)

Holding at Kapyong, by Edward Fenwick Zuber.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 90041).

Holding at Kapyong, by Edward Fenwick Zuber.

Canadian troops performed admirably during the Korean War. Perhaps their greatest moment occurred during the Battle of Kapyong (24-25 April 1951) at which the Canadians managed to hold off the enemy until supplies and reinforcements arrived. Their valiant effort ensured the success of an important U.N. operation.

By the time the Korean War dragged to an end in 1953, Canada's regular army had reached its highest ever peacetime numbers, 49,000 in total. Defence spending had jumped from less than $400 million in 1949 to just under $2 billion in 1953. This was more than 40% of the total budget and could not be sustained in time of peace. Cuts were inevitable, and the militia was an easy target. Still, when Lieutenant-Colonel J.G. Rowlatt took over command from Colonel Macdonald on 1 January 1953, no one knew what the implications would be for the regiment. On the surface, things appeared very positive. The new Griesbach base near Namao was under construction to house 2PPCLI who would be moved from Calgary to Edmonton. A new armory building to house one of the LER's outlying companies was under construction at Vegreville. (19) That same year a team from the LER won the Sherwood Cup rifle competition. The Forty-Niner reported in January of 1953 that a reorganization of the Reserve Army was in the works, but that it represented no threat to the future of the LER. (20)

It therefore came as a shock when in January of 1954 the Department of National Defence released a report recommending the disbandment of many militia regiments and the re-designation of the surviving ones as affiliates of regular force units. It was not much consolation that the LER fell into the second category or that it would be affiliated with the Princess Patricias, whom they had fought alongside in the two great wars of the 20th century. There were letters and protests to Ottawa but to no avail. On 19 October 1954, the regiment became The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (Third Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry). Perhaps because of the demonstrated strength of support for the unit, the regiment retained its badges and colours and its strong ties with Edmonton and northern Alberta.

 

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