The Canadian Provost Corps
LCol (Retired) James D. (Jim) Lumsden, CD
In September 1939, the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police(RCMP) recommended to the Minister Of Justice
that authority be granted to form a "Provost" company from RCMP
volunteers. Approval was granted for the organization of No. 1
Provost Company (RCMP). This Company would provide military
police support for 1 Canadian Infantry Division.
Some of the more significant engagements in which the Corps participated as an integral service within a formation include the detachment of 8 men (1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal and six Lance Corporals) that accompanied the Canadian Army Contingent (The Winnipeg Grenadiers and The Royal Rifles Of Canada) to Hong Kong on that ill-fated mission in late 1941. The members were taken prisoner on Christmas Day 1941 and faced four years of brutal treatment, horror and pain unequalled in modern warfare. Three of these Military Policemen died while prisoners of war.
On 18 August 1942, 41 members of the Corps participated in "Operation Jubilee", the raid on Dieppe. Their role was to provide for control on the beach and to secure prisoners of war. On the following day, after this tragic "Reconnaissance In Force", only 22 of the original 41 disembarked on return to the United Kingdom. Of the remaining nineteen, Lieutenant Peter Oliver was killed in action and eighteen were taken prisoner. Twenty -five sustained wounds.
Corporal Bob Prouse of the Corps was among those who went ashore at 0540 hours. He was taken prisoner. Bob, in his book, Ticket To Hell Via Dieppe relates that after a morning of hell "it was about half-past one on a sunny afternoon, and for us the war was over. In 1956 the late Captain Nick Pete presented the "Oliver Memorial trophy" to the Canadian Provost Corps School in memory of Lieutenant Peter Oliver who fell at Dieppe. The trophy is awarded annually to the "outstanding" level 3 (basic Military Police course) Military Police graduate at the School. The tradition of that trophy continues at today's Canadian Forces Military police And security Academy (CFMPSA).
The Corps played a significant role in the invasions of Sicily and Italy in 1943 - 1944. This campaign was fought over difficult mountainous terrian where roads were narrow, winding and often unpaved with many switchbacks. In spite of this the Corps ensured that road movement, so vital to the success of the campaign, was effectively coordinated and implemented. This earned a comment from Field Marshal Alexander that he was not once delayed on the roads in the Canadian area. The Italian campaign culminated in Goldflake, the transfer of all Canadians in Italy to Northwest Europe in Feburary and March 1945. The Corps played a significant role in this most remarkable of military moves.
On 6 June 1944 six sections of 4 Provost Company landed on the beaches of Normandy. They were followed by 13 Company on 29 June and many others in the ensuing days, weeks and months. The Corps provided police services and a multitude of duties throughout the many fierce battles as the Allies moved across Northwest Europe leading to the final unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945.
In 1946 the strength of the Corps was reduced to 117. The challenge in the immediate post war era was to provide a Provost service to an Army of 25,000 and secure innumerable military installations emptied of soldiers but remaining replete with attractive material items. The statement of one member indicating that "we did the best we could" encapsulates the dedicated efforts of all members of the Corps who served through this difficult period of passage from a war footing to one of a peacetime economy.
The Korean Conflict and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the early 50s precipitated military expansion and a consequent requirement for an increased military police capacity. The Corps was tasked to perform both the conventional field roles and a greatly expanded policing role on Defence Establishments across Canada. In the latter mandate members served in a municipal police role as well as carrying out security tasks. The operation of a military prison and Service Detention Barracks was also a function assigned to the Corps. Beyond their direct military duties, Corps members were called upon to provide aid to the civil power and assistance to Federal Penitentiaries in support of Government programs and policies. Members of the Corps also served in United Nations (UN) missions such as the Gaza Strip, the Congo and Lebanon among others. Some served in the military component Canadian Delegation in Indo-China.
The rapid expansion generated a requirement for a greatly enlarged training capability. The Canadian Provost School provided recruit, trades, specialty and leadership training. The Corps produced a series of Canadian Army Manuals Of Training (CAMT's) in the period 1957 - 1962 to codify Provost doctrine, methods and techniques. Much of their content as doctrine for military police operations remains valid to this day.
The School served as the focal point for all members of the Corps wherever they served throughout Canada and the world. It also engendered pride in the Corps and developed a sense of affiliation in a broader order by preparing members to participate in Army-wide sports and other competitions, such as first aid and small arms proficiency, and to participate in motorcycle and unarmed combat display teams which performed for the public throughout Canada. The School combined realistic training with service to the surrounding community by providing traffic control at events such as international ploughing matches. Its band, although not likely to be invited to the Aldershot Tattoo, is remembered fondly by all who passed through the School at Camp Shilo.
Throughout this post war period, reliance was placed upon the Reserve component of the Army. Militia Provost Units were formed in most major centers across Canada. These units served to support other militia units in their area as well as many events held in their respective communities. They were also the source of leaders who went on from their militia units to serve with distinction in the regular force.
An ever growing level of operating and maintenance costs, together with the cost of technological advancements in military equipment and weapons, made it imperative in the eyes of the Government of the day to seek to remedy the ever increasing defence budget. On 1 February 1968 theCanadian Forces Reorganization Act resulted in the unification of the Navy, Army and Air Force into a single service known as the Canadian Armed Forces(CAF). As a consequence of this Act all of the service support corps, including the Canadian Provost Corps, ceased to exist. Corps members became members of the Security Branch of the CAF.
It is not proposed to examine the advantages / disadvantages of unification which have accrued over the years. Suffice to say that as of that date (1 February 1968) the Canadian Provost Corps, together with many other Corps that had served and supported the Canadian Army, ceased to be an entity. The history of Military Police service in Canada would evolve no further in the embodiment of the Canadian Provost Corps.
Members of the Corps served with distinction in all theatres of the Second World War and subsequently in the Korean War. A number of members were recognized by the awards of decorations, honours and commendations, including 81 Decorations and Honours, 107 Mentions- In-Dispatches (MID) and 9 Chief Of General Staff Commendations. Decorations from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the United States Of America are among these. The distinguished service of two members of the Canadian Forces Security Branch whose military roots were in the Canadian Provost Corps resulted in their being awarded the Meritorious Service Cross in 1985. They are the first officer and non-commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces to receive this Decoration.
In the wake of war there is one predictable consequence -some will fight and die. One hundred and twenty-three members of the Corps died in the Service of Canada during the Second World War. A Roll Of Honour commemorating this sacrifice is displayed in Heritage Hall, CFMPSA at Canadian Forces Base Borden.
Members of the Corps supported and served the new military institutions that arose from unification. There was great concern over the inevitability of a proud history of service and sacrifice lapsing from conscious memory. To prevent this the history and tradition of the Corps have been preserved in the Canadian Provost Corps Association. The good fellowship, spirit and dedication to duty that made our Corps one to be envied continued in our association.
As our Association ceases its formal existence, preservation of the record of the contribution of the Canadian Provost Corps to Canadian military history will be perpetuated in Colonel Andy Ritchie's book"Watchdog" - A History Of The Canadian Provost Corps. As noted earlier, it is the most definitive Canadian history of the need for and the tasks assigned to the police components of Canadian military forces. It will foster and maintain the traditions of the Canadian Provost Corps and those who served in it, not only for historians for it will also recall the comradeship enjoyed by its members as they meet over the years in informal remembrance of the Corps and the comrades they served with.
- The End -
Click below to view an early photo of members of the Provost Corps,
Canadian Provost Corps Photo