My Military Family Tree

This is my opportunity to talk about the impact that the Canadian military has had on my life, and, I suppose, a chance to brag a bit about the heritage. So, a couple of points to raise: First, to the best of my knowledge, no other family can lay claim to 3 generations of military engineers (sappers) in Canada. I was a sapper, my father was a sapper and both of my grandfathers were sappers.

Canadian Military Engineer Flag and Hat Badge

Second, I have started with the most impressive story in the family and ended with my own. So, if you happen to read through the entire thing, I have a quirky little thing about the day after I resigned at the end.

Finally, I have tried to be as factual as possible. However, the fog of time has clouded recollections and many of the documents necessary to verify my statements have been lost. Any exaggerations or inaccuracies are not intended.

Merrick Rennie McCracken, MC, MM

Merrick Rennie McCracken, my grandfather, was born on 27 June 1892 in Danville, Québec. In 1914 he was a forestry engineering student at McGill University in Montreal. He heard the call to arms and on 26 February 1915, at the age of 22, enlisted in the 2nd Division Signal Company, Canadian Engineers. His regimental number: 1026. His initial training was carried out in Valcartier.

Capt. M.R. McCracken, MC, MM
Paris, 1918
Captain M.R. McCracken, MC, MM
Paris, 1918

Sapper McCracken embarked for England on 14 May 1915 for continued training before proceeding to France on 14 September 1915. He was promoted to Sergeant on 1 October 1915. While engaged with the enemy at the St. Elois craters in April 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal (MM). The citation read:

During the period of heavy bombardment from April 6th to 10th, 1916, for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty under shell fire repairing broken wires.
For 6-8 hours on each of three successive nights he remained in the heavily shelled area, repairing wires and it was due to his coolness and untiring energies that communications to the Battalions were maintained. 
A.F.W. 3121.  Auth. London Gazette 29805 27 October 1916.

On 15 June 1916, Merrick McCracken was commissioned and promoted to Temporary Lieutenant. With a promotion to Acting Captain while employed as Officer in Charge of 2nd Division Artillery Signals from 15 March 1917 to 12 July 1917, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Captain McCracken was honoured with the Military Cross (MC) on the King’s 1918 New Years Honour lIst (Auth. London Gazette 30450 1 January 1918). Unfortunately, the circumstances around which he earned the MiD have been lost. He was awarded a Bar to his MC as a result of his actions during the Battle of Passchendaele. The citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He supervised the maintenance of communications throughout the operations in a most efficient and capable manner, personally visiting the captured area to reconnoitre positions for visual stations.  His efforts met with marked success, and the energetic and indefatigable manner in which he carried out his duties for four days without rest or sleep, and many times under heavy shell fire, materially contributed to the success of operations.
Auth.  London Gazette 25 April 1918.

By the end of the war, in the span of 3 ½ years, my grandfather had earned the Military Cross twice, the Military Medal and had progressed from Sapper to Captain. In addition, at some point during the war he was Mentioned in Despatches and earned an oak leaf for his eventual Victory Medal. Ostensibly, the MC and the MM were the same decoration. The MC was awarded to commissioned officers, while the MM was awarded to the enlisted ranks. In reviewing this arrangement of awards through the Canadian War Museum, I found that the MC with 2 bars (MC awarded 3 times) was awarded to 17 Canadians, while there are 33 Canadians who were awarded MM with 2 Bars. The museum staff could identify only one situation in which an MC and an MM were awarded. They were not able to find any record of another Canadian who had been awarded and MC and Bar plus an MM and an MiD. This is a unique array of decorations.

My grandfather fought through France and Belgium for 3 ½ years. Throughout this time, and as the citations for his decorations declares, he was always at or close to the forward edge. Through all of this, he was never physically wounded. He was, however, tormented by the demons of those who died around him and of the terror that he saw, felt, smelled and tasted. He suffered greatly from the Operational Stress Injuries related to the trauma that he witnessed, he had what we refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or what was referred to then as Shell Shock. Unfortunately, in 1918 there was no readily available treatment for it. My grandfather, like so many of his returning comrades, found solace in a bottle.

Following the war, he began working in the forestry industry in Québec. When war came again, he re-enlisted as a Major with the Forestry Corps of the Royal Canadian Engineers. His Regiment was sent to the highlands of Scotland to harvest timber for the war effort. As I said earlier, my grandfather self-medicated to alleviate the suffering he endured as a result of the events of WW1. The highlands of Scotland is the wrong place to send an alcoholic with mental disorders. Shortly after arriving he was invalided and was repatriated to Canada in April 1943. He died in Montreal in January 1945.

Ole Martin Enger

My maternal grandfather, Ole Martin Enger, was born in Oslo, Norway on 16 September 1901. The family, Martin and Mina and 4 children, initially emigrated to the United States, but the next year they moved to Cluffield, Saskatchewan. Originally, the family name was Kristiansen, but that changed to Enger when they arrived in the US. Enger was apparently the name of a stream that ran close to their home in Norway,

Sapper Enger, OM
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 1941

During WW1, Ole’s older brothers, Magnus and Gunder, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Gunder served with the 5th Battalion in France. In May, 1918, he was buried when a German shell exploded adjacent to his trench. He was dug out by his comrades, but suffered from resulting stress related issues. Magnus was also initially assigned to the 5th Battalion, but soon was reassigned to the 1st Machine Gun Battalion. On 13 August, 1918, he received a gunshot wound to the left thigh. Both brothers survived their injuries and returned to Canada.

Privates Gunder and Magnus Enger

On 9 April 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Norway. On 10 June, 1940 Norway surrendered to the Nazis. Nine days later, Ole Enger, not yet a Canadian citizen, enlisted in the Canadian Army as a Sapper in the Royal Canadian Engineers.

Rather than being sent to fight in Europe, Sapper Ole Enger was dispatched to Chilliwack, BC to help in constructing the new A6 Canadian Engineering Training Centre. Originally, the school was established in Camp Dundurn in Saskatchewan before the new camp was completed on the shores of the Vedder River. The training centre was established to train field engineers for the Canadian Army for WW2.

George Angus McCracken, CD

Better known as Angus or simply Mac, my father was born in Chicoutimi, Québec, on 8 August 1926, although his home was in Danbury, Québec.

Sergeant McCracken , G.A.
Boarding the train en route to the first UN Peacekeeping mission in Egypt, 1956.

Towards the end of WW2, as he reached enlistment age, he decided that it was time to join up. He briefly enrolled as an infantry soldier with the Pictou Highlanders, but soon saw the error in his way. He re-enlisted as a military engineer and was sent to Chilliwack for his training.

During his 28 year career in the Canadian, Mac saw frequent postings throughout Canada and Europe. While I was growing up, he was posted to Germany as part of the NATO force from 1954-56 and later to the Royal School of Military Engineering in GIllingham, England from 1964-66. In Canada, apart from several repeat trips to Chilliwack, he also saw postings to Valcartier, Ottawa and Noranda, Québec.

One of the highlights of his career, as he would frequently repeat, was his 12 month attachment to the initial contingent of the United Nations Emergency Force in 1956. There, his role, as a staff sergeant, was primarily in clearing minefields in the Sinai. The other highlight for him (not so much for me) was his term as School Sergeant Major at the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering. Highlight for him was as a very influential Non-Commissioned Officers within the military engineers. The lowlight aspect from my perspective was that it intersected with my term at the “School” as an Officer Cadet and later as a Junior Commissioned Officer.

Garry McCracken, CD

Well, this is me.  I was born on 21 May, 1951 in Chilliwack, BC.  By now you will have noticed a long standing family connection to Chilliwack.  From the time that my grandfather, Ole Enger, started to build the A6 Training Centre until shortly after my retirement from the military, Chilliwack was known as the Home of the Canadian Military Engineers.  I think that as an Army Brat and later as a sapper myself, I lived in Chilliwack 7 times and was sent there another 6 times for training. 

I signed up in 1969 to attend military college, first at le collège militaire royal in St-Jean, Québec, then at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.  Academics were, frankly, a necessary evil for me while there.  Sports were my go-to throughout, culminating with being presented with the Outstanding Athlete Award in 1973.

Captain G.A. McCracken
as Aide de Camp to Force Commander,
United Nations Emergency Force II, 1977

While my father and both grandfathers initially enrolled in the midst of world wars, I had signed up during peace time. However, I was committed to follow orders whatever happened. Fortunately, peace reigned throughout my career – sort of (but, more about that later). During my career I was fortunate enough to work within the United Nations in several theatres and several different jobs. First in Cyprus , 1975-76, as the guy who was responsible for keeping track of the minefields on the island. Then as a UN Military Observer (UNMO) with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in Jerusalem and Cairo. During this time I was attached to the UN Emergency Force II in Ismailia, Egypt as the Aide de Camp for the Force Commander. As an UNMO, on duty at a checkpoint by the Mitla Pass in the Sinai on 19 November 1977, I was invited to the United States Sinai Field Mission for dinner. Then, while literally sitting between the Israeli and Egyptian front lines, we adjourned to the TV room and watched, on a very small black and white TV, as Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt landed in Tel Aviv to start the peace process. My return to Cairo was a very Orwellian experience.

Returning to Canada, I held several staff positions in Toronto and Chilliwack before deciding that I needed to make amends for my poor academic performance at RMC and enrolled in a military post-graduate program and attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After completing my studies, I was transferred to Headquarters, Canadian Forces Europe in Lahr, Germany for what stretched out to be a 5 year posting from 1985 to 1990. While there I again witnessed history first hand. In Germany, I watched as the Berlin Wall tumbled, the so-called Evil Empire collapse and the two Germany’s take their initial steps towards re-unification.

I had committed to retiring from the military when I reached the age of 40, so upon returning to Canada – Chilliwack, specifically – I started hunting for a civilian position in the lower mainland of BC. Then, Iraq invaded Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm came along. While Canada’s commitment was small, retirement was not seen as an option. In fact, I was named to the second Canadian contingent to our commitment to the operation. I was on 4-hours notice to move! My bag was packed and in the back of the car. As it turned out the Iraqis were promptly chased out of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm was terminated. Within a couple of days I had 3 job offers in hand and had submitted my resignation. The day after submitting the paperwork, I was advised that the Combat Engineer Regiment on base had been tasked to clear minefields in Kuwait and, because I was the only serving officer in the Engineers at the time, I would be going to Kuwait. At least I would have been had I not resigned the day before.

Retired! And so ended the McCracken dynasty in the Canadian Military Engineers.

A Footnote

Several times I have mentioned that this ride is very personal to me. While I have visited many of the battlefields that will be visited during BBR22, this will give me another opportunity to visit the battlefields where my grandfather fought over 100 years ago.

All of this brings me to my connection to Wounded Warriors Canada (if that is not already obvious). My grandfather suffered from what we now know as PTSD and, in the absence of assistance from trained professionals to deal with and potentially overcome the effects of this disorder, he passed it on to his children. The old adage that the sins of the father are visited upon the son would apply here. As with current veterans or the first responders who go home and try to compartmentalize the tragedies that they have seen, their children are affected. My father and his brothers all suffered from mental disorders as a result of their involvement with their father. In turn, I have been burdened with these disorders for as long as I can remember.

In spite of the clearly demonstrated courage of my grandfather, my father repeatedly, until he passed away in 2005, refused to accept that his father was anything more than an alcoholic who drank himself to death. He would comment that the Silver Cross, that was given to my grandmother, was not valid. It was awarded merely to quiet her pleadings. When I asked for my grandfather’s medals, my father commented that he hadn’t really earned them and, pointing to the Kings’s New Year’s List, said that it was like finding them in a Cracker Jack box. Although he was stationed in Europe for almost 5 years, he never visited Vimy Ridge or any of the other battlefields on which his father fought.

WWC has developed Wounded Warrior Kids Camps to help the children of our veterans and first responders who develop mental disorders as a result of the work that they do to serve and protect us. I can only imagine what my father’s life, or mine for that matter, would have been like had these programs been available him and to me.

Honour the Fallen; Help the Living

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