Military convoy celebrates Veterans, Alaska Highway

Article / September 21, 2017 / Project number: 17-0250

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Dawson Creek, British Columbia — A collection of retired military vehicles has been given a new lease on life by a group of enthusiasts that has taken them on a journey of over 6,000 kilometres to salute veterans.

Members of the Western Command Military Vehicle Historical Society (WCMVHS) set off from British Columbia’s Lower Mainland area on July 8, 2017 in a convoy of vehicles dating from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Their nearly month-long journey ended in Delta Junction, Alaska, at the end of the Alaska Highway. Along the way, explained convoy co-ordinator and veteran Captain (Retired) John Hawthorne, the group made various stops and set up public displays.

This is the seventh WCMVHS “Freedom Route,” he added. The group, founded in the U.S. in the early 1980s, has a multi-national membership of approximately 10,000.

“We call them Freedom Routes because, when we started out, someone said it represents the freedoms we all receive through the sacrifices of soldiers,” Capt (Retd) Hawthorne said.

This year, the group was marking both Canada 150 and the 75th anniversary of the Alaska Highway, which connects Dawson Creek, B.C. to Delta Junction. Over 2,000 kilometres long, it began as a preliminary road built by U.S. Army engineers, with help from both Canadian and American civilians, in just eight months between 1942 and 1943. It became a permanent road a year later.

“It was a means of getting troops and supplies to Alaska to help defend Alaska which could have come under attack by Japan,” Capt (Retd)  Hawthorne explained.

Municipal officials in the city of Dawson Creek, B.C. eagerly received the group as part of a day-long celebration of the highway’s significant impact.

“Dawson Creek’s a little agricultural community,” said Mayor Dale Bumstead. “Grain farming, mixed farming – that’s the foundation of this community in the early 1900s. Talk about a boom: in a matter of a few short months, the community goes from 800 people to 10,000 with the infusion of U.S. Army engineers. And the population has stayed at 10,000 to 12,000 since then. It really kicked Dawson Creek up from being a small agricultural community to a city.”

Active wildfires in the B.C. interior meant a number of planned stops had to be cancelled, but the convoy has been received enthusiastically, Capt (Retd)  Hawthorne added.

“The big cities, there’s so much other stuff going on they don’t even notice. In Dawson Creek, they held a celebration and they’ve done a lot of work setting it up, and it shows how appreciative they are of the military constructing this highway.”

The vehicles in the convoy belong to private collectors like Capt (Retd)  Hawthorne, who have acquired them from several different countries.

“We have a variety of Canadian and American and British vehicles,” he said. “I bought a couple of vehicles out in Suffield in Alberta that the British Army disposed of. In fact we’re riding in one right now. It’s a Leyland DAF. The oldest vehicle here is a 1940 Chevrolet staff car.” The Leyland DAF is a cargo and logistics vehicle still used by the British Army.

Capt (Retd)  Hawthorne joined the Canadian Army as a Reservist in 1957 and joined the Regular Force in 1963. He retired in 1985 having served with the 2nd and 3rd Regiments of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, among others.

“I spent four years in Germany and that was probably the highlight of my whole career. It was a wonderful opportunity to get over there. They worked us pretty hard. We trained hard and visited all the European countries while we were there.”

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