A Former Provost's Service During WWII
As A Non-Commissioned Member In Combat Arms
As a Provost With Occupational Forces
Former senior officer in the Canadian Provost Corps, WP (Bill) Stoker served his Country during WWII as a non-commissioned member with several combat arms units and at the end of the war he decided to join the C Pro C. In the following article he outlines his wartime experiences, leading up to some rather interesting deployments as a young Provost Lance Corporal in Europe during the period of occupation immediately following the end of the war. His wartime antics, coupled with his frontline experiences and post war travels is a first hand account of a soldier's life in an operational theatre.
Following his repatriation to Canada in 1946 he was discharged from the Canadian Army but this was not the last the Canadian Army was to see of Bill Stoker. Upon his subsequent graduation from university he was accepted into the COTC, graduating in 51 and receiving his promotion to lieutenant, he became an officer in the C Pro C. At the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1952 he once again went off to war to Seoul, Korea where he was the Second In Command of 25 Field Detention Barracks (FDB) and was subsequently appointed as the Area Provost Marshal and Detachment Commander, BRITCOM in Tokyo, Japan.
Major Stoker's extensive contribution to the Canadian Provost Corps throughout his career, both at war and at peace, help lay the foundation of the post war C Pro C, the base from which modern military policing operational training is built upon to this day.
In July 1943 just before my seventeenth birthday I left the Matheson Brothers ranch at Soda Creek, Caribou District, BC for Vancouver to enroll in the Canadian Army active Force. On 22 .July 1943 I was Trooper WP Stoker, allegedly age 18 and assigned to the Armoured Corps.
By August 43 basic training began in Brampton, ON which, at that time, was a nice typical Ontario small town. The Green Lantern Cafe' was a favourite hang-out for milk shakes etc. The town people were friendly and the curling rink had big-band events for our entertainment. After six weeks or so our group were considered qualified, presented with our ( Armoured Corps) black berets and sent to Camp Borden for advanced training.
I wanted to be a dispatch rider and Harley-Davidson motorcycle operator. However, that was refused on the basis that I was too uneducated for such an important role. Vehicle maintenance and operation became my trade and by the end of 1943 our group was ready for an overseas assignment. Policy dictated that soldiers less than 19 years of age could not be sent overseas and so I bade a reluctant farewell to my older friends on their way to Europe.
Still In Camp Borden I joined Boy's Squadron to wait out the needed six months and was occupied In the Demonstration Troop which was deployed as enemy on maneuvers for newly commissioned officers. We also formed a 50 man competition drill troop and were quite successful. In the Fall of 1943, at the allegedly mature age of 19 and rank of A/Cpl, I boarded a ship at Halifax bound for tile UK.
Inkerman Barracks, Woking, England was the next but relatively short stop. The demand for Infantry replacements due to heavy losses In both the NW Europe and Italian Theatres of Operation, caused our group to be re-assigned to Camp Aldershot for Infantry training. By this time I was Private Stoker having lost my A/Cpl rank because of a minor Infraction.
To my surprise and delight, at Aldershot, one of my instructors was my mentor, the former herdsman at Fairbridge; now, Sgt Don Morton of the Rocky Mountain Rangers. Before long we headed for Greenock, Scotland and a ship to sunny Italy.
While aboard ship I studied the Italian phrase book and, while at the reinforcement centre In Avallino ( near Naples), I met a young Italian family and spent a few pleasant evenings with them In their home. By this time I had become a member of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.
In early 1945 It had already been decided to re-assign the Italian Theatre Canadians to NW Europe and we moved to a British transit camp near Mount Vesuvius awaiting transfer. My group, which Included a number of older Seaforths who had recovered from wounds and were now in the reinforcement stream, spent the time playing card games and listening to our older comrades tales of action. My ability to scale the triple concertina barbed wire enclosure, my few Italian phrases and; undoubtedly, my naivety, got me elected to get the wine supplies from the nearby village. Each night I would do the procurement and enjoy the vino and stories at our camp fire ( a large sand-filled biscuit tin drenched In gasoline). The night before departure I accidentally fell onto the fire and severely burned my right hand. The following day, burdened with kit, my injured hand in a sling and a souvenir puppy In my backpack I marched with the group to the port of Naples. On the way we amused ourselves chorusing responses to the braying of donkeys in the surrounding hills. We then boarded an American Troopship destined for Marseilles, France.
An uncomfortable boxcar train ride over a couple of days took us from Marseilles to northern Belgium and the Regiment. By then I was the Bren ( a light machine gun) gunner in a ten man section of 12 Platoon, B company. Large troop trucks took us from Belgium and Into Germany, crossing the Rhine River on an improvised pontoon bridge for deployment In a forested area before moving on to Western Holland.
In early April 1945, under Operation Cannonshot, the Seaforths attacked in Western Holland, crossing the rain swollen IjsseI River in tracked vehicles called Buffaloes ( to my amusement I read the plate saying that ours had been manufactured by the Chicago Tin Can Company) to liberate the town of Zutphen. My Platoon was in one of the first of these vehicles to make the crossing. Rather than exiting from a dropped ramp we had to scramble over the forward part of the vehicle which had nudged Into the bank. In this, adrenalin driven rush, the anti-tank fellow and his heavy anti-tank rocket launcher was nearly lost when he mis-stepped and fell into the river.
Despite fairly light opposition we did suffer a couple of casualties the following morning in the ambush of a reconnaissance patrol. The next day we cleared, after flame- thrower treatment, a German zig-zag defensive trench system. I still find It hard to believe that, without a second thought, we simply just jumped down into the end of the trench and ran through it. Stopping only to disarm wounded enemy. By the end of the next day the Germans had retreated and we were racing towards Apeldoorn and Amsterdam. This was an exhausting time of rapid movement and early evening carrier mounted reconnaissance patrols. Sleep was a luxury, when you could get it, and rain and rough conditions didn't matter.
When hostilities ceased, on 8 May 1945, the battalion entered Amsterdam to provide security and to help co-ordinate the removal of the German forces. Operation Eclipse Dump was Initiated and, with other Seaforths, I was employed for some time, at the Amsterdam Colonial Museum, receiving surrendered weapons vehicles and equipment. The regiment was then relocated to a small village east of the city to prepare for return to Canada. Lacking the required point score to accompany the Regiment home I elected to transfer to the Canadian Provost Corps. Service with No 1 Provost Company in Hilversum, Nijmegen and then No.11 Company in Apeldoorn followed. Finally, I now had access, as a member of the Traffic Section, to the coveted Harley- Davidson motorcycle! This was a short-lived success as an accident, while on patrol, resulted In my medical evacuation to the UK.
After recuperation from my injury I was assigned to No. 6 Provost Company in London. This was an interesting assignment which included travelling, solo, to Swansea, Liverpool, Nottingham and Dartmoor Prison to take custody of Canadian soldiers who had committed various civilian crimes. Other duties included patrols In the heart of London and a stint at an information centre in Trafalgar Square helping our servicemen find entertainment and providing free tickets to theatres and shows. Then, about April 1946, came the prize assignment. Four of us were sent to Paris to take into custody a Canadian deserter, William Wilding, of Montreal. He had deserted during the battle for Caen and had been involved In a gang of Allied Forces deserters stealing supplies and equipment for sale in the black market. He was also charged with causing a death while escaping custody. Our accommodation was the Hotel du Quai Voltaire on the Seine across from the Louvre and in the centre of Paris. The lock-up was a British Forces Jail in a vacant department store located in the Pigalle, a notorious sex district.
With the court martial group we travelled extensively throughout France ( Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Biarritz, Toulouse and a La Novel on the Mediterranean) to complete a summary of evidence and recover some vehicles the accused had stolen. At a courts marshal in Paris in August 1946 William Wilding was found guilty on several of the charges, including manslaughter, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Now it was back to England and some last days in London before taking him onto the troopship for return to Canada. At Halifax he was handed over the side of the ship to a military police launch for onward transfer to some penitentiary. A five day train ride to Vancouver, some leave and discharge put closure, on 18 October 1946, to 40 months of service.
WP (Bill) Stoker