For the fourth year in a row, freelance writer and photographer Sonja Drinkwater is telling the stories of veterans from the Alberni Valley. She approached three different veterans and asked them to share a photo from when they served with their respective military branch.
She then took a photo of the veterans as they are now.
If you know of a Port Alberni veteran who deserves to be featured in a future edition of Then & Now, please contact Sonja Drinkwater at email@example.com.
Mike Archer was born and raised in the Alberni Valley. His parents were the late Charles Henry Archer and Barbara Elaine Archer. Archer is the second generation of family members to serve in a military capacity.
While in Port Alberni, Archer was a sea cadet and had the opportunity to attend summer training sessions at HMCS Quadra in Comox as well as deploy with the Canadian Navy to the Far East. After graduating from ADSS he went to the University of Victoria in 1982.
Archer’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Archer, was a farmer and First World War veteran who joined the army in 1915 and subsequently trained in Montreal before being shipped overseas. Following arrival in England, Samuel Archer was sent on to France where he was seriously injured on three separate occasions. Two of the occasions involved gunshot or shrapnel wounds requiring surgery (one was a gunshot wound to the upper jaw, the other was a wound to the hips), and the third injury was due to a gas attack (mustard gas). He was discharged in 1919 and returned to Port Alberni.
Mike Archer said that his father, born in 1930, didn’t sign up for any military service, but family members of his generation (two sisters, a cousin, and a brother-in-law) have all served in one capacity or another. After turning 19, Mike didn’t stay with the cadet program but instead joined the Army Reserve, as the pay was better; it helped with post-secondary tuition costs.
While attending UVic and Camosun College, Mike would typically spend two days a week and one or two weekends per month in military training with his reserve unit (then 11 Medical Company, now known as 11 Field Ambulance) at the Bay Street Armoury and later at Ashton Armoury in Saanich.
“I walked into the Unit Orderly Room at Bay Street, and told the two sergeants there that I wanted to join,” he recalled. “The next thing I said was that I wanted to be an officer; probably not the best way for a 19-year-old to start a conversation with two sergeants who had each been in the military as long as I had been on earth.”
Archer’s formal military training as a commissioned officer (health care administrator) involved learning to set up and run medical facilities in a field environment, as well as managing patient evacuation from place of injury to a location where they would receive the care that they needed. He explained it in terms of, “sort of like what large courier companies do with keeping track of packages when they are on the move, but with people—and of course, people are more important to keep track of than a package.”
This training tended to occur in the summer months, alongside members of the regular force. He moved up in rank as he gained experience, and eventually became commanding officer of the unit, holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
While serving with 11 Field Ambulance as well as afterwards, Archer was periodically employed at CFB Borden in Ontario as an instructor for medical branch courses. Following his time as a unit commanding officer (CO), he served at Canadian Forces Health Services Group Headquarters in Ottawa and was selected for Advanced Military Studies training in Toronto.
This last period included the time that the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan moved from Kabul to Kandahar province; the health service support component for that mission changed as a result of the move, from a relatively small group of about 30 people that looked after Canadians when they were in Kabul, to becoming the “go to” medical facility of Kandahar province with approximately 189 Canadians responsible for supporting all Canadian, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and allied Afghan forces in that province who required significant care.
After retiring from the military in 2011, Archer went back to school and is currently working towards becoming qualified as a pharmacy technician. Due to his military service, he qualified for a Veteran’s Affairs Canada initiative that provides funding for veterans who wish to pursue post-secondary education opportunities or gain qualifications to enhance their future endeavours, such as running their own business or getting their pilot’s licence.