Coal Mine to Combat
Cpl. Robert Hunter Thomson – Second World War
We often forget how important Coal and Coal Mining was to the
development of British Columbia's mining history. Miners sweating in the
dark dangerous depths of Coal Mines, chipping out the dirty black fuel for smelters
and steam locomotives are unsung heroes of a bygone era.
One underground coal miner who contributed significantly to the history of both Canada and British Columbia was Robert Hunter Thomson. Robert
Underground Coal Mine
Hunter Thomson was born in Glencraig, Fifeshire, Scotland on
March 9th, 1919. He was the third eldest of 5 boys in the Thomson family. John
and Alex were his older brothers and Angus and Charles his two younger siblings.
The Thomson family immigrated to Canada, settling in Edmonton Alberta, when
Robert was still in his formative pre-school years. Robert attended the Bennett
school in Edmonton from 1926 to 1934. Following completion of Grade 8, which was
the standard education for the time period, he found employment with the Mareus
Coal Company of Edmonton.
At the tender age of 15, Robert Thomson started working at one of the most dangerous job in mining, underground coal miner. Within a short period of time he had advanced himself with the coal company, first by becoming an electricians assistant, followed by Underground Rescue and First Aid Certification.
Robert Thomson, like so many other brave young men and women, answered Canada's call to arms at the outbreak of the Second World War, enlisting in the Canadian Army at Drumheller, Alberta on September 11th, 1939.
Robert Thomson's military service record is slightly more unusual than average. At 5'7” and weighing only 133 lbs at the time of his enlistment, this slightly built man was on the front lines in every theater of operations the Allied Forces were involved in. He spent 60 month overseas serving with the R.C.A [Royal Canadian Artillery] , R.C.E. [Royal Canadian Engineers], and R.C.C.S. [Royal Canadian Corps of Signals]. Amazingly Thomson saw combat in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. At the time of his enlistment Robert was assigned to No.8 Field Ambulance,
Canadians Fighting In Italy
R.C.A.M.C. However, prior to being transferred overseas, he was re-assigned to
the R.C.A., as a Gunner and Wireless Operator, achieving the rank of Lance
Corporal. Corporal Thomson was also a trained Parachutist and Qualified Pioneer,
Cpl. Thomson appears to have frequently parachuted behind enemy lines which would explain his deployment in all theaters of operation. In all probability, he was assigned to co-ordinate artillery and bombing strikes behind enemy lines, although military records do not specifically state this assumption. As an example of his extraordinary deployment activities, Cpl. Thomson is listed as being deployed in Italy on February 26th 1945 and then in France on February 28th 1945 moving on to Holland a few days later.
For his service in the Canadian Army, Cpl. Thomson was awarded; the 1939–45 Star, War Medal 1939-45, Defense Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal – with Clasp, Italy Star, France & Germany Star, and the North-West Europe Medal.
When he returned to Canada Robert married Madeline Johns. Robert and Madeline had two children, Bonnie and David. After receiving his discharge from the Canadian Army, the Thomson family moved to Westbank, B.C.
Tragically, Robert Hunter Thomson, was the first fatality on the Okanagan Floating Bridge in Kelowna, B.C. In May 1959, Cpl. Hunter's car plunged into Okanagan Lake as the span was being opened to allow the passage of a C.P.R. Tugboat. Despite an intensive search at the time his remains were not recovered until the late 1980's.
Roberts' son David has lived in the Kelowna area since the Thomson family moved to the Okanagan Valley. David is a prospecting enthusiast who spends as much time as possible exploring the creeks in the Okanagan and Boundary areas. David is also a staunch and unwavering advocate for human rights and social justice for all Canadians. He is widely known for his honest, courageous, and often tenacious stance regarding all forms of injustice - Like Father Like Son.
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