Bert Vere now lives on a boat in Campbell River but 50 years ago he was part of a protest at 19 Wing Comox. In the course of putting some information together for the 50th anniversary of the “Ban the Bomb “protest, he came across our website and found the link to our photo collection. On our SmugMug page he saw photos that had been taken at the time of the protest and asked if he could come down and get copies. His hope is to identify the people in them and contact them with news of a reunion.
I was happy to help and in return I was able to learn a little more about this episode of the history of 19 Wing Comox.
Bert Vere was a Regimental Sergeant Major of his New Westminster Army Cadet Corps and the IC of their Bren Gun team. He believed in the forces and was proud that he was part of what his leaders told him was “the last line of defense” for Canada. He didn’t realize that in the next few years he would be caught up in a cultural revolution that would challenge his beliefs and change the course of his life.
In 1961 U.S President Eisenhower’s farewell address, introduced the term “Military Industrial Complex” and his questions led to further research including the book “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, outlining the relationship between policy makers, the armed forces and the arms industry. He was deeply shocked by the notion that corporations and governments perpetuated war by continuous development and sales of arms. A few years later, he was working for CPR City Delivery in Victoria, driving a truck and warehousing when news of U.S President John F. Kennedy’s assassination broke. He was affected by the confusion and chaos surrounding the event and the theories about who was responsible for assassination and started to question his trust in the people running the governments of the world. If an American President could be assassinated by his own people because they didn’t like his policies, was it truly a democratic system?In 1965, with the war in Vietnam raging and the protests in full swing, Bert was eager to be involved.
He listened to people speaking out against the war in Vietnam and in 1965, met a man named Peter Light who was organizing a protest against nuclear warheads being stored at Comox. Bert joined the group and marched from Victoria to Comox to protest. Although the Canadian government refused to confirm that the “nukes” were being stored on Canadian Military bases, including RCAF Station Comox, it was known to many that the arms were there.
In an email Bert recounted his experience.
“I met up with the (Ban the Bomb) marchers at Beacon Hill Park where they held a rally. They impressed me as a very sincere bunch and I decided to participate.”
The 15 to 20 protesters stopped in towns along the way and held demonstrations before arriving in Comox. According to Bert the goal was to “symbolically shut down the base” and about 40 protesters gathered and blocked the gates.
At this point in our discussion that one of our volunteers, Mike Hendren came into the Library and hearing the conversation mentioned that he had been on duty that day. He had been posted to Comox as an LAC that March. His father had been a Supply Officer during the war, joining in 1939 as an AC2, he had worked his way through the ranks and received his commission in 1948. His father had been stationed both in Canada and abroad and Mike remembers the “Duck and Cover” drills the school aged children had to do in the base schools the 5o’s. “It certainly brought awareness of the dangers of nuclear war. It was very much in the forefront of our minds back then.” Mike returned from abroad to finish his Grade 12 year in Summerside, PEI. “It was a bit of a culture shock” to come from Metz, France to tiny Summerside, and he was relieved when he entered University. After playing a lot of cards, ” and getting an education” he decided that it was time to get a “real job.”
The Forces were a “natural option” for him and he joined as an AC2 Electronics Technician after disappointingly being disqualified for the Air Crew because of his nearsightedness. As the top student in his class that year he was able to choose where his first posting would be. To the dismay of the only student from BC, Mike chose Comox.
In June, 1965 he was assigned guard duty at one of the base’s entry points on Knight road.
“I wasn’t necessarily sympathetic to them but I understood why they were doing it.” The protest was an interesting event but didn’t make much of an impact on Mike. He doesn’t remember much about that day, just that it was hot and the protesters were “obviously students, they were dressed well, and were peaceful.”
After 50 years the two men that had been on opposite sides of the fence, shook hands and laughed about playing “cat and mouse” during the protest.
The Museum has more photographs of the protest in our collection and online on our SmugMug page.