It seems that for some families, military service is a given. It’s an attitude that runs through the generations. Such is the case for Millbrook’s Ridge family, as evidenced by the multiple Veteran Banners flying from lampposts around town.
John Ridge served in the 136th Battalion in Belgium in WWI. Upon his return, he married Elizabeth, who was twenty years his junior, and the couple lived in Sarnia before they returned to his home town of Millbrook. They had five children, three sons and two daughters. Their youngest daughter Carol still lives in town, and last Saturday a celebration of life was held in the Millbrook Legion in recognition of their eldest daughter Mary who remained in the area all her life and passed away during the Covid pandemic.
John passed away at an early age, leaving his wife a widow at the age of 47. At that time, all three of their sons had followed his lead and were serving overseas in WWII.
Overseas combat service was voluntary for Canadians in this war. The defeat of France in June, 1940 prompted the Canadian government to pass a conscription law, called the National Resources Mobilization Act, which introduced conscription for service in Canada only. A few of the Canadian conscripts went to Europe in November 1944 after heavy Allied losses, but few actually entered combat.
Like many of their neighbours in Millbrook, all three Ridge boys volunteered to serve in combat. The eldest son William became one of the youngest Majors in the Canadian Armed Forces of the day. Nicknamed “Sammy”, he was a member of the Perth Regiment during WWII. During his years overseas, he served in many embattled European countries including Holland where he was named Honourary Mayor in a town his troops liberated.
Robert followed his brother, joining the Scottish battalion. He was one of the 14,000 Canadian troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. He was injured by a land mine on his second day in action, and his quick-thinking saved his life. While not a doctor, Robert served with the Canadian medical corp. When he returned to Canada, he brought with him a Dutch war bride and went on to have a family and found ways to serve his community as a Councillor and volunteer Firefighter in Millbrook.
Fred tried to join his brothers early, but was turned back because he was under age. When his time came, he joined the Essex Scottish Brigade and spent time in combat in Germany, France, Holland and Belgium. He returned from the war settling eventually in Bewdley with his wife and four children and spent most of his working life driving for Buckham Transport.
During the war, Mary Ridge worked at Westclox in Peterborough, which like many manufacturers had a War Service area providing items to support the war effort.
Carol Donaldson is the youngest daughter of John and Elizabeth Ridge and was a babe-in-arms during WWII. Her partner Gary Snelgrove also has a family history of serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, and a Veteran Banner of his father-in-law Buck Raper flies on King St. today. Buck served in WWII in England where he trained soldiers. His brother Gerald also served in WWII.
The Ridge and Raper family members celebrated on the Veteran Banners flying in town today did something most of us cannot imagine: they offered their young lives in defense of freedom. These two families were lucky- their sons came home while others did not.
When these young men responded to the call, our country was not in imminent danger; the foe was across the ocean, a concept at the time rather than a physical threat. The Veteran Banner program offers us the opportunity to recognize them as young, vibrant individuals rather than an unknown soldier. Over the next few years, the faces of more young heroes will join their comrades on these banners, helping drive home the magnitude of their gift to us. They will help us to keep our promise to never forget. KG