On September 30, 1945 the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers #74 “stood down,” and in memory of their selfless volunteerism for our Valley a display has been installed at the Hagensborg Legion in appreciation.
The “Number 74 Company Bella Coola” (“Home Guard” – Bella Coola, Hagensborg, Anahim Lake) was formed in August 1942 as part of a Pacific Coast Defence system following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The skills and resources available in the local region constituted the entire company, no regular armed forces resources were to be returned home for this effort. After all it was these individuals in their work as loggers, fishermen, farmers, prospectors and trappers that knew the terrain, climate and survival skills.
To quote an article from the Oliver Chronicle, “the young lads….in outlying areas were extremely valuable. Boys of 15 years and up proved to be good shots, could handle an axe and were valuable as guides to city bred men. Even those considered too old to join the war effort were able to contribute to the protection of BC.”
Veterans of WWI were selected as Captains to oversee the administration of the Company. Their familiarity with the ‘ways’ of the Armed Forces was vital to training the local people to the best use of available resources. Ingvald Urseth and Ted Levelton, veterans from the last war volunteered as Company #74 Captains, a non-commissioned posting.
In his memoir, Bella Coola Man, Clayton Mack describes the training regimen he, his brother Samson, and four “white guys” went through at Sardis military training base in order to fulfill the requirements to become Sergeants. The four white guys were Alger Brynildsen, Eric Hammer, Norman Saugstad and Casey Vestvik. Everybody passed.
These six men were responsible for instructing the volunteers of #74 Company in six sections of the region. At this point I can only speculate that the sections were Alger Brynildsen – Atnarko region, Eric Hammer – Nusatsum, Norman Saugstad- Hagensborg, Casey Vestvik –Lower Bella Coola, Samson Mack –Bella Coola Reserve and Clayton Mack – North and South Bentinck Arms and Dean Channel.
In the Central Coast there was also #33 Company at Oceans Falls, Link Lake and Cousins Inlet, Company #75 at Bella Bella, Namu and part of North Bentinck Arm, and finally #132 Company at Rivers Inlet, Goose Bay and Draney Inlet (Cpt. G.H Gildersleve).
Each man was issued a rifle (which they could purchase for $5 after the war) plus a jacket and hat. Regular training and exercises were carried out to reinforce that everyone knew what was expected in case of defence. It was reported that flour bombs were launched with amazing frequency at Ratcliff’s field and surrounding woods in Lower Bella Coola, now the site of the SDA School.
I am still searching for the names of all of the Rangers as many have yet to be identified. If you have any information to offer, please feel free to contact me (Rene Morton) or Peter Solhjell.