Dan Speed of Port Alberni, vice-president of the Commandos Pacific Motorcycle Club, cleans up the cross of Wilma Tull in the Field of Honour at Greenwood Cemetery in Port Alberni on Nov. 6, 2021. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)

Dan Speed of Port Alberni, vice-president of the Commandos Pacific Motorcycle Club, cleans up the cross of Wilma Tull in the Field of Honour at Greenwood Cemetery in Port Alberni on Nov. 6, 2021. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)

Commandos Motorcycle Club steps up to help veterans in Port Alberni

Club members tidy up Field of Honour prior to Remembrance Day ceremonies

BY SONJA DRINKWATER

Special to the AV News

When Dan Speed heard that there was no one available to clean the crosses in the Field of Honour at Port Alberni’s Greenwood Cemetery in time for Remembrance Day ceremonies, he called on some comrades for help.

Speed is the vice-president of Commandos Pacific Motorcycles, a non-profit club made up of active and retired Canadian Armed Forces and Allied military members.

“Our club is a charitable society that has groups all over Canada and this year we donated to the local (Port Alberni) Toy Run,” Speed said. “Our club has members all over the Island.”

A dozen members from the Commandos, including one who came from the Fraser Valley, spent the morning of Saturday, Nov. 6 washing the crosses, blowing leaves away from the cenotaph and tidying up the grass around the base of the crosses and headstones in the Field of Honour.

“We are extremely community based.”

The cleaning of the Field of Honour crosses was traditionally done by army and sea cadets but as the numbers have waned in the Alberni Valley their participation was not a possibility this year.

The motorcycle club was formed in 2015 by former members of the Veteran Paratroopers Motorcycle Club (MC) under a different name: the Veteran Commandos Veteran Motorcycle Club. In 2018 they became a Canadian club and now have branches in almost every province.

The name “commando,” according to the club’s website, originated in the Boer War where light, mobile commando units were found to be better suited to fight in their environment in small groups. The term was used to describe an actual arm of military command and in 1942 the Commando Basic Training Centre for Allied Forces was established in Lochaber, Scotland.

The present-day club’s premise is simple: veterans helping veterans. They support veterans’ associations and they appreciate engaging with people when they are out in public.

One member of the Pacific chapter, Willy Williams, came from Chilliwack in order to help clean up the crosses. Speed said the group has also made a recent trip to Lethbridge, Alta., to repatriate grave stones.

Other members that came to Port Alberni on Saturday included Steve Last (Comox), Russ Fahie (Qualicum Beach), Karl Holdsworth (Fanny Bay), Mike Wheldon (Nanaimo), Dave Spiers (Qualicum) and Mike (Hootch) Brown (Qualicum). The Pacific chapter has a clubhouse on Hilliers Road, just off of Highway 4 between Qualicum Beach and Hilliers.

The Commandos have another Port Alberni connection: Roy Buchanan from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 293 served with Speed in the military. Bill Groeneveld from Branch 293 was at the Field of Honour too, ensuring each cross has a poppy in time for Nov. 11 ceremonies.

Some of the Commandos said that they would love to see plaques on each of the graves that tell where these veterans served and in what capacity.

The Legion will host a small outdoor Remembrance Day service beginning at 10:45 a.m. at the cenotaph. Parking and space are limited.

— With files from Susan Quinn, Alberni Valley News

*EDITEDIncorrect information about the late Robert Oldale’s service appeared in a cutline in the original version of this article and has since been corrected.

Remembrance Day

 

Willy Williams of the Commandos Pacific Motorcycles cleans the cross of George Gaynor. Williams came all the way from Chilliwack to help with the special pre-Remembrance Day task. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)

Willy Williams of the Commandos Pacific Motorcycles cleans the cross of George Gaynor. Williams came all the way from Chilliwack to help with the special pre-Remembrance Day task. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)

Karl Holdsworth of Commandos Pacific Motorcycles cleans the cross of Robert Oldale, a Navy veteran that was on the HMCS Bonaventure, the last aircraft carrier to serve in Canada’s Armed Forces. The Commandos stepped up to clean off the crosses in Port Alberni’s Field of Honour prior to Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)

Karl Holdsworth of Commandos Pacific Motorcycles cleans the cross of Robert Oldale, a Navy veteran that was on the HMCS Bonaventure, the last aircraft carrier to serve in Canada’s Armed Forces. The Commandos stepped up to clean off the crosses in Port Alberni’s Field of Honour prior to Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)