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History

The Okanagan's Very Own Regiment


Historical Summary
1908 - 1945

Origins: The British Columbia Dragoons started in 1908 as a cavalry squadron in Vernon. It was informally known as the Okanagan Mounted Rifles, the first of many names. The South African (Boer) War had just ended in 1900 and several men from the valley had gone to serve in mounted rifle regiments riding the African veldt fighting Boer Commandos. Major Perry, the officer commanding the OMR was one such veteran. Cavalry squadrons and troops were formed in Lumby, Armstrong, and Coldstream as well as in Kamloops and Meritt. On 1 April 1911 the Okanagan Squadrons and troops became the 1st Regiment, British Columbia Horse. This is the official start of the Regiment. The Vernon city council bought the land on which the present Brigadier Murphy Armoury stands and the armoury was completed in 1913.

The regiment went through a flurry of name changes from 1st Regiment, British Columbia Horse, to 30th BC Horse, and with the coming of the First World War in 1914 the overseas contingent of the Regiment became the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. In both World Wars the Regiment left a reserve unit behind. After each war the two units were recombined.

The 2nd CMR trained in Victoria at the exhibition grounds. The Regiment absorbed the Victoria Independent Squadron of Horse. Later the 11th Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, formed in Vernon at the Central Mobilization Camp, was also used to reinforce the 2nd CMR. Throughout the war the unit was primarily British Columbian despite massive reinforcements. Over 4,500 men served in the 2nd CMR, 732 were killed and 2,276 were wounded or injured. Only seven were captured by the enemy, one of them an officer who was fatally wounded. This very low ratio of prisoners to other casualties tells us that the Regiment was hard hitting and effective.

Three battles stand out as particularly significant: Mount Sorrel in May 1916, when the 2nd CMR plugged a gap in the trench line after the division commander was killed and the brigade commander captured; Vimy Ridge in April 1917 where the Regiment took the centre of the Corps objective; and Cambrai 1918, where the Regiment broke through the last prepared German trench system. Captain John "Jock" MacGregor VC, MC and Bar, DCM won his Victoria Cross at Cambrai taking a German machine gun position single handed and then taking command of the Canadian advance.

In December 1916 LCol G. Chalmers (Whizzbang) Johnston took command of the 2nd CMR. Our Regimental Association is named after him. He commanded the Regiment in battle for two years and brought the unit home. He remained in command of the Regiment, now called Th e British Columbia Mounted Rifles, until 1924. The Regiment underwent its last major name change in 1929 to become The British Columbia Dragoons. In 1935 an old elementary school in Kelowna was purchased; it is in use today as the Brigadier Angle Armoury. After the First World War the Regiment went back to being a cavalry unit and held exercises on horseback right up to the spring of 1939.

The Second World War was initially frustrating for the Regiment. It was not mobilized until July 1940, and then as the 5th Canadian Motorcycle Regiment (BCD). In October 1940, they went off to train in Victoria with their motorcycles. In February 1941, they were designated a tank regiment, the 9th Canadian Armoured Regiment (BCD). They started training in the armoured school in Camp Borden (established by MGen Frank Worthington, the father of the Canadian Armoured Corps).

The Regiment sailed to England in November 1941 but did not receive any tanks until 1942, when they trained on Lee and Stuart tanks . In 1943 they were equipped with Canadian Ram tanks. The Regiment sailed for Italy in November 1943. Finally, in 1944 they got th e Shermans that they would use in battle. They fought as one of three tank regiments in the 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division.

The three battles that stand out are Liri Valley and Melfa Crossing in May 1944, where the regiment helped clear the final approaches to Rome, and the Gothic Line, where on 31 August 1944 the BCD's spearheaded the 5th Canadian Armoured Division's assault taking and holding Point 204 in the centre of the German defensive line. The Gothic Line cost the Regiment 32 out of 50 tanks and the life of Colonel Vokes along with the lives of many others.

The three battles that stand out are Liri Valley and Melfa Crossing in May 1944, where the regiment helped clear the final approaches to Rome, and the Gothic Line, where on 31 August 1944 the BCD's spearheaded the 5th Canadian Armoured Division's assault taking and holding Point 204 in the centre of the German defensive line. The Gothic Line cost the Regiment 32 out of 50 tanks and the life of Colonel Vokes along with the lives of many others.

Author: Lt. Hisdal

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