• Elderly North Van brothers donate their rare WWII-era cadet uniforms to armoury museum

    By Justin Beddall - North Shore Outlook
    Published: November 04, 2013 10:00 AM
    Updated: November 04, 2013 10:20 AM

    As a director of the 6th Field Engineer Squadron Museum, Major Bob Irvine keeps his eyes peeled for long-forgotten military treasures.

    But he admits that private donations of medals, uniforms and other war-era paraphernalia to the North Van armoury museum don't happen as often these days.

    One reason for that is the rise in popularity of "militaria" — the term for collecting war artifacts. It has become a thriving industry in recent years, and relics once destined for a museum case or thrift shop now routinely fetch dollars on eBay and at auction instead.

    So, when 80-something North Vancouver brothers Archie and Gerry Steacy told him they wanted to donate their Second World War-era cadet uniforms to the museum, Irvine was justifiably excited.

    He'd first spied Archie Steacy's cadet jacket a few years prior when he was reading a book by Lloyd Schopp entitled While Her Loyal Sons Are Marching - The Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps of North Vancouver - A History.

    In it, there was a photograph of Archie's woolen cadet coat on display inside a glass case at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives.

    "That's where I first saw this jacket," Irvine remembers.

    A former cadet himself, Irvine is currently writing a book about the history of cadets on the North Shore so he was interested in examining the badges on Archie's coat.

    He contacted the museum to see if he could see the jacket, but was told they no longer possessed it. He knew Archie, so the next time he saw him he asked about the coat.

    "No, no, I have it, I just loaned it to them," Archie explained.

    The jacket, along with one worn by his younger brother Gerry, was actually safely stowed away in a trunk in the basement of his North Vancouver house.

    He said he'd dig them out and later, after talking to his brother, offered the jackets to the museum at the J.P. Fell Armoury. After all, the cadet corps that they had belonged to as teenagers was affiliated with 6th Field Engineer Squadron.

    "Wow, this is kind of cool," Irvine thought. "I'd seen lots of jackets — but these were worn by the Steacy brothers and were connected to the 6th Field Engineer Squadron."

    There used to be piles of these uniforms around but over the decades they've been destroyed by moths, discarded or recycled as movie props.

    And even if you did happen to come across one of the uniforms, chances are the badges and insignias would be gone, stripped as keepsakes by those who wore them or salvaged as trophies by souvenir hunters.

    The Steacy brothers' uniforms are of a particularly rare vintage. As Irvine notes, cadet training became compulsory for all boys in Grades 7-13 in B.C. at the beginning of the Second World War and the Steacys' uniforms were part of an initial run of standardized uniforms issued across Canada in 1943. Six or so years later, the cadet uniform was changed to the "battledress"-style worn by Canadian soldiers in the Second World War and in Korea.

    Even more exciting was the fact that the brothers' uniforms still have all the badges sewn on, including one with the junior high school corps shoulder flashes, something Irvine hasn't seen anywhere else.

    "[The uniforms] were not in use that long," he explains. "To have these in the museum means a lot."

    Recently the Steacy brothers visited with Irvine at the North Van armoury prior to a 6 Field Engineer Squadron event that included the official presentation of the uniforms to the museum.

    The brothers still vividly remember the start of the war and their time spent in cadets.

    "As clear as I'm standing here," says Gerry, 81, a veteran of the Korean War who now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

    Archie became a cadet while at North Vancouver High School and Gerry started at Ridgeway Junior High.

    And what teenaged boy could forget being issued a 22-calibre Cooey rifle?

    It turns out Gerry was a crack shot. In 1949, he had his name published in the local newspaper after he had the winning target in a rifle competition held at Jericho Beach.

    "Yeah, Gerry did well," says Archie, who turns 84 this month.

    In those days, the young cadets used to practise their marksmanship at a rock quarry at 23rd and Lonsdale Avenue.

    "[We] learned a heck of a lot," says Archie of his time as a cadet. "The training was good for young boys."

    Along with practical skills like marksmanship, marching and camping, they also learned about leadership, respect and accountability.

    "It taught you how to be an individual and be part of a team," says Archie, whose father Newton P. Steacy was part of North Vancouver's first cadet corps that was started at Ridgeway school in 1914.

    After cadets, Archie and Gerry joined older brother Newton as members of the 6 Field Squadron Royal Canadian Engineers.

    All three brothers continued their army careers, with Newton and Gerry serving in the Regular Force and Archie in the Reserves-British Columbia Regiment, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer.

    Archie, who also held the post of fire chief in North Vancouver, is pleased that the cadet uniforms will soon be on permanent display for others to see.

    "[We're] a North Vancouver family…and this is the right place."

    Irvine, meanwhile, is searching for a pair of torso mannequins to display the coveted cadet jackets and plans to consult with the North Vancouver Museum and Archives on the best way to properly clean and preserve the museum's newest treasures.

    Story and Photo Credits - Justin Beddall, Northshore Lookout

    For more on the history of Army Cadets, visit ArmyCadetHistory.com