Armoury houses treasure of military memories
by Fred McGuiness ~ Sun Associate Editor

The successful museum curator is part magpie, part pack rat.

As it is their function to collect, there is no telling what they're apt to add to their collections.

I ponder this as I look through the oddment at the Brandon Armoury.

There's one -- a cheque, value of 1 pound, made out to Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery. It's signed by G.H.D. Crerar, a general in the Canadian army. "Monty" signed it on the reverse.

Where did Ross Neale find this treasure?

It was delivered by the late Mrs. Reg Mummery. She found it among the effects of her father, Maj. W.J. Creelman, of the 79th Battery.

The further I wander into the 26th Field Regiment Museum, the more of these little treasures I find. Ross Neale has been adding to the collection on a constant basis since opening the museum in 1979.

He credits Lt.-Col. D.L. Berry, commanding officer at that time as the inspiration for the museum.

"I was retired from the militia, and he asked me to get it going," Mr. Neale said.

The museum is located in what for many years was the suite of the caretaker. I can recall when Sgt. George Butler held the position and occupied the suite. His replacement preferred not to "live in," and the space became vacant. It consists of half a dozen small rooms on the third floor of the building toward Victoria Avenue.

I have always viewed the Brandon Armoury as a distinctive display of architecture; a building designed for one purpose.

Look at it form Tenth Street and you see a high-pitched copper-clad roof buttressed fore and aft by square chunks of masonry, each of them three storeys in height.

Since 1907 it has seen service on a continuing basis for the militia, but occasionally it has been used for other purposes, as dance hall and winter fair display building, to name only two.

For 50 years it has been the home of the 26th Field Regiment which celebrates its golden jubilee Sunday. The regiment has been a prominent fixture of the local social scene.

The 26th Field sprang form the loins of the First Battalion, the Manitoba Rangers. When the Rangers were disbanded in 1936, the 26th Field became the replacement. Many of the Ranger officers went on to positions of prominence in the regiment. From old photographs I copied down the names of Claude Snider Mac Shewan, G.R. Rowe, W.C. Whillier, H.E. Brown, Harry Edworthy, and P.P. Bucke, to mention only a sample.

A retired regimental sergeant major, Mr. Neale, and a retired sergeant, George Crowston, undertook to explain the intricacies of regimental life to a retired naval person.

But there was only one afternoon dedicated to the cause so there's a little more yet to be done.

Mr. Neale got to the point with a definition of a "field regiment."

"It's designed to go right into the field, its guns pulled by horses at one time, and trucks at a later date," he said.

The 26th Field, on paper at least, is comprised of four batteries, each of them with a complement of 300 men, each of them headed by a major. They report to the commanding officer who holds the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

In 1965 the regiment exceeded its rated strength when Lt.-Col. W. G. Ames added his enthusiasm to the local cause. "Shad," as he was better known, built it to a strength of 1,500 with batteries at Virden, Neepawa, Brandon, Dauphin and Portage la Prairie.

The 26th Field did not go to war as a unit, but rather served as the local army recruiting office. Mr. Crowston says there's no way of telling how many enlistments were recorded.

"They had to be in the tens of thousands."

Today, there are two batteries, No. 13 at Portage la Prairie and No. 71 at Brandon.

Hang around a military museum long enough and you pick up esoteric bits of lore; the 13th is the oldest-serving militia unit in western Canada.

It was raised in October of 1871 to protect part of the Postage Stamp Province from being turned into a republic by Thomas Spence. For more on this story stop at the Manitoba Inn at Portage la Prairie and read the restaurant's place mats.

The core of the museum at the outset was the files and artifacts of the 26th Field. It includes control books, day books, and order books.

Read the orders of the day for the opening ceremonies of the armoury and you'll see that the soldiers were instructed to "wear your longs today." "Longs" are long pants, something cavalry soldiers didn't always wear; their regular uniform included riding breeches.

At that point, volunteers stepped forward with donations. Mr. Neale donated his personal collection of badges, which had been assembled during two generations.

Garry Hyson added a display of badges from the artillery and the army service corps.

Gord Lidster added his complete collection: badges, uniforms, and other memorabilia. Mr. Lidster left with the 71st Battery and ended up with No. 5 Medium Regiment. I'm told that "medium" means heavy-duty; big guns on big trucks which require a 12-man gun crew.

A sleeping bag from the First World War was added to the museum by Jean Hawley. It bears the stencilled name of her father, Lt. Blackburn.

More uniforms came from Hughie Sinclair, commanding officer of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons. Bill Jones added chocolate bars and cigarettes that he saved from the Second World War. Included in his gift was his war-time binoculars.

A real oddment was delivered courtesy of Glen Lawson. On an island near Minaki he found a nine-pounder, muzzle-loading cannon, of a vintage suggesting it's left over from the Riel Rebellion. Cliff Russell donated a 105-mm German field gun.

In wall cases there are shells of all sizes. The smallest is from a 9 mm pistol. The largest is about 30 inches long, for a 105 mm French gun. There is a six-pound cannon ball from the 1885 uprising.

The records include scrapbooks of pictures replete with local names. One of them shows A.D. Rankin, J.L. Evans, J. Kirkcaldy, H.A. Croll, Brig-Gen. W.D. Otter, G. Clingan and J.S. Matheson. I assume that Croll was from Souris and I know that Clingan was a pioneer medical man from Virden. Brig-Gen. Otter led a brigade against Riel.

There are a few out-of-town pictures taken when duty called the faithful to the outposts. On the day of the unveiling of the Virden cenotaph someone snapped a picture which includes Rev. Telfer, MLA Bob Mooney, Mayor James Gardner, Rev. Finlay, Charles Kerr, T.B. Mitchell, Gen. Ketchen, Col Ivans and Maj. Brayfield.

After the death of former mayor Steve Magnaca his collection of documents was added tot he museum archives. They include an extensive file on the late Ernest C. Whitehead, who was awarded the Military Cross, with correspondence, discharge papers, marching orders, plus other military documents saved from his overseas tours.

Accept Medal
A telegram instructs Sgt. Harold Tackaberry, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, to report to the University of Manitoba to shake hands with the Prince of Wales and accept his medal. He was honored for "bravery under fire." The sergeant joined at the age of 17; went overseas at 18.

According to the museum documents, it was an investiture of particular local interest. Included in the guests of honour were Lance-Cpl.. W.G. Aberdeen, from three miles southeast of Brandon, Pte. E. Challis, Pte. J. Kram, Sapper P.A.R. Green and Pte. N.P.F. Kaer, all of Brandon, and all recipients of the Military Medal.

The 26th Field Regiment Museum is open to the public and Mr. Neale has missed only eight Sundays in seven years, which gives you an idea of the intensity of his application.

His interest in adding to his collection is never-ending. His interest now is biographies. He wants to learn more about the persons whose pictures or documents he has in his holdings. If someone in your family had a connection with a locally-raised outfit, Mr. Neale wants to know.

Prowling through the museum memorabilia is a great way to spend an afternoon. Listen to volunteers like Ross Neale and George Crowston long enough and you get an idea that they have one objective in life; to expand their collection to an extent that it outgrows its present location.

At the current rate of growth, that won't take long.

The 26th Field Regiment of Brandon, western Manitoba's only militia unit, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

To mark this historical milestone, the regiment will be marching in a special church parade Sunday morning from the Brandon Armoury to St. Matthew's Cathedral for the 11 a.m. service.

Two memorials to the fallen members of the regiment, which stand in front of the Armoury, will then be re-dedicated during tomorrow's ceremonies.

And, the regiment was to join the Freedom of the City parade today.

About 650 soldiers and nearly 300 artillery pieces were expected to be in the parade, scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. today. Canadian Forces Base Shilo was also participating.

The parade moved through the downtown area, to finish at the Keystone Centre at about 11:30 a.m.


Ross Neale, curator of the 26th Field Regiment Museum,
looks over a nine pounder muzzle-loading cannon.
The cannon, donated by Glen Lawson,
was found on an island near Minaki and is of a
vintage suggesting that it was left over from the Riel Rebellion.
Mr. Neale has been in charge of the museum since it opened in 1979,
and is continually on the lookout for new additions to it.
The museum is housed in the Brandon Armoury
at the corner of Eleventh Street and Victoria Avenue

Two dress blue uniforms of the regiment are
displayed in a prominent place at the museum.

A soldier's kit contains all that was used on the battlefield,
as well as cleaning supplies to keep a uniform tidy.

A Portrait: A photo of Brig-Gen. James Kirkcaldy (centre)
is featured with this medals at right, looking down at a
Second World War Bren gun in the foreground.



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