By Cameron Park, The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) Public Affairs
Vancouver Island, British Columbia — A group of Canadian Army (CA) soldiers has returned from a five-day wilderness trek to honour the distinguished service of a Second World War Veteran.
Led by Lieutenant Evan Machin of The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) (C Scot R) and Sergeant Lance Beaven of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), the team moved through complex, mountainous terrain to Schjelderup Lake on Vancouver Island.
The purpose of the trip was to replace a weather-damaged marble plaque dedicated to the lake’s namesake: Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Schjelderup. The plaque had cracked due to many years of exposure to the elements.
The group, a mix of Reserve and Regular Force members, transported a 20-kilogram bronze replacement plaque and also carried the tools needed to mount it.
“The route was challenging on its own,” said Sgt Beaven.
Corporal Matthew Rees of 2 PPCLI, who carried the replacement plaque, agreed.
“I kind of underestimated what the mountain would look like,” he recalled. “I thought we would go up one steep embankment and ride a ridge all the way down into a valley and then see the mountain but that wasn’t the case. The ridge turned out to be a series of what I would call mountains, being from Manitoba.”
LCol Schjelderup was born in Smithers, British Columbia and grew up in Comox. In 1937, at the age of 15, he climbed the 2,200-metre Golden Hinde mountain, located near the lake which now bears his name.
While serving with the C Scot R, LCol Schjelderup landed with C Company on Juno Beach on D-Day – June 6, 1944. Wounded in the fighting, he was awarded the Military Cross for valour. Upon recovering from his wounds, he rejoined the regiment as it fought through Holland.
During the assault across the Leopold Canal in October of that year, he was wounded and captured during a German counterattack. Escaping from captivity, then-Captain Schjelderup and a small number of other soldiers were sheltered by members of the Dutch resistance.
After over three months behind enemy lines, and intermittent encounters with German forces, he managed to lead members of his group to link up with British forces.
“I think that we drew some inspiration from his story for sure,” said Lt Machin. “He was at that lake as a 15-year-old before there was a trail and with the hiking technology of the 1930s, which would have been a challenge in itself, but also of course his adventures in the Second World War. The escape from the Germans and slogging through the icy fields of Holland – it’s a really incredible story, so it’s something that’s neat to be a part of.”
Drawing on the technical expertise of Master Corporal Denis Byrne of the C Scot R, the group carefully removed the damaged plaque and mounted the new one. Having previously placed a plaque in a remote setting, MCpl Byrne was enthusiastic about joining the team. He pointed to the benefits found in a challenging trek.
“The tradition of mountaineering builds fighting skills, like teamwork,” he said. “It helps you on the battlefield. It’s very intimate, like you’re living together and enduring hardship.”
The shared challenge was valued by the team. “The best part was the camaraderie,” said Cpl Rees. “You’re going up a steep hill, and everybody gets to the top and everybody’s winded. But, you’re at the top and guys start cracking jokes about that hill and how to get up the next one.”
Lt Machin had similar thoughts.
“The bit that I enjoyed was just how well everybody came together. There were some very heavy loads, and people were tired, but any time we took a break, within thirty seconds of stopping the guys were laughing and cracking jokes,” he said.
The expedition was also an opportunity for the Regular and Reserve Force soldiers to learn about each other’s strengths
“I think it gives good perspective for both units to see what level each works at,” said Sgt Beaven. “We got a better perspective on how the Reservists work and they got knowledge of how we work. The two units came together to complete one mission.”
With the war over, LCol Schjelderup continued to serve with the CA in a variety of posts, including command of 2 PPCLI.
He passed away while still serving in 1974 due to illness related to his wartime injuries. He lies today in Sandwick Cemetery in Comox.
The remains of the damaged plaque were retrieved to be shared with the two units and LCol Schjelderup’s family. Lt Machin summarized the team’s participation in honouring the valour of one of Canada’s most decorated soldiers of the Second World War.
“It was a challenge, but because it was a challenge, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing it. I think everyone enjoyed the experience and in the end had a good time. It was something everyone was very proud to be a part of.”