Casualties of War

Posted by Daniel on Nov 11, 2010 - 1 comment











Today, in honour of Remembrance Day, we are posting this essay by Andrew Scott from his Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names (see here). It explains how BC's war dead are commemorated in place names on the coast.

Since the early 1950s more than 1,000 British Columbian casualties of war have been commemorated on the province’s maps and charts. War fatalities are, in fact, one of the few sources of new names that BC’s Geographical Names Office will consider.

The practice began after World War II, when aerial surveying really came into its own. The legendary Gerry Andrews—teacher, engineer, forester, surveyor, writer and artist—had been the first to introduce aerial photography in BC, in 1931. During the war, Andrews served in air photo intelligence and learned the latest photogrammetric techniques, which he used to help chart Normandy’s beaches for the invasion of 1944. In peacetime, as BC’s chief air survey engineer, he applied the latest science to the mapping of the province’s hinterlands, work that he continued from 1951 to 1968 in his roles of surveyor general and provincial boundary commissioner.

Andrews, who died in 2005 at the age of 101, was able to hire numerous ex-RCAF flyers to work on the post-war surveys. He bought used military cameras, and the province purchased a pair of Avro Anson aircraft to provide solid camera platforms. The demand for maps increased, especially from the mining, forestry, oil and power industries. And hundreds of place names were needed to make sense of the new maps. Commemorating a few of the more than 3,700 men and women from BC who had died in action in World War II alone seemed like an obvious solution.

At first it was fairly easy to track down family members and ask to use a name. Rarely was permission refused; people were honoured—thrilled, even—that next of kin might be remembered this way. But as the years went by it became more difficult to locate the relatives of war casualties. And the demand for names declined as mapping became more complete. At some point the government decided that the names of the war dead would only be used at the express request of their families. The procedure was made more ceremonial. Beginning in 1989, the previous year’s commemorations were recognized each Remembrance Day with a press release and a message from the relevant provincial minister.

Eventually, even this formality fell by the wayside. In 1997, for instance, 14 geographical features were named for those who died in the two world wars. In 1998 that number had fallen to nine, and the following year it was down to three. Cook Point on the north side of Nelson Island, at the entrance to Jervis Inlet, was one of the names granted in 1999. It recalled the sacrifice of Flying Officer Ray James Cook of Victoria, who was 21 when his plane crashed near Bezancourt, France, on January 28, 1944.

The names of war fatalities continue to be applied to BC’s geographical features, though it can take much time and community consultation to find an appropriate site, which may not actually be associated with the deceased person. After all, most war fatalities hail from urban areas in southern BC, which are all “named out.”

One of the most recent names to be adopted is Millerd Point on the north side of Redonda Bay, northeast of Campbell River. It keeps alive the memory of 24-year-old Flight Sergeant William Francis Millerd, from Vancouver, a wireless operator and air gunner with the RAF’s 408 Squadron, whose Hampden aircraft was shot down on May 16, 1942, while attacking a German warship. He is buried at Aarhus West Cemetery in Denmark. Millerd’s family used to operate a cannery at Redonda Bay, so the location is fortuitous. The name was adopted on Remembrance Day, 2006.