Gord Sherritt during deployment in Cyprus in 1965. (Special to The News)
Gordon Sherritt of Maple Ridge had a 31-year career that took him from Cyprus to Alert
Drivers passing by will notice that the sign in front of the Maple Ridge legion on 224th Street always looks good, and that’s thanks to a fresh coat of paint regularly applied by an old soldier.
Gordon Sherritt is a 78-year-old who had a 31-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces. It saw him serve in all three branches of the forces – army, navy and air force.
Sherritt joined the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and served with them from 1963 until 1966.
He was deployed with the first rotation of Canadians to the UN Peacekeeping Security Force in Cyprus, and was there from April to October, 1965. Hundreds of people had been killed in fighting, and the government had collapsed in a crisis that erupted in 1963 and 1964.
The UN peacekeeper’s role, and Sherritt’s job, was to prevent further fighting between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. It’s a mission that continues to this day, as the UN has kept the conflict from turning into war. Thousands of Canadian troops have served on Cyprus over the decades.
Sherritt was part of a battalion-sized contingent, and he was on patrol in a 180 km buffer, or demilitarised zone, between the two factions. It’s known as the Green Line.
They were armed, and between two hostile forces, but also neutral and with strict rules of engagement regarding when they should use force. Fortunately, he was never in a situation that demanded shooting.
The Canadian troops lived in tents in rural areas for their six-month deployment, which was a departure from troops from other countries that stayed in the comfort of cities.
“Canadians were always well respected, and we did our job,” Sherritt said.
Cyprus is part of a peacekeeping tradition Canada has maintained since the end of the Second World War, and there are recent and ongoing Canadian deployments in Uganda, Mali, and Ghana.
With the march of time, there have become fewer Second World War veterans at the cenotaph in Maple Ridge on Remembrance Day, and Sherritt said Canadians should also honour the thousands of soldiers who have served their country since, including those who have participated in peacekeeping missions.
“It’s really important to remember the past,” he said. “But it’s also really important to focus on the present generation, and the people who served their country in Afghanistan, and other places.”
At the end of his tenure with the Queen’s Own Rifles in 1966, Sherritt enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a mobile support equipment operator. He was employed in a variety of tasks, from long haul to special purpose vehicles for airfield maintenance and aircraft refueling. He can drive anything.
He was chosen as Prince Bernhard’s driver when the consort to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands visited CFB Moose Jaw in 1972. He remembers how the prince side-stepped the security officer holding the back door, and jumped into the front seat next to Sherritt. The driver passed him a clip board with a visitor’s pass, saying “Your majesty,” and he still has the signed document, as a keepsake from his career.
Sherritt’s service made him one of the “Chosen Frozen” during a six-month posting at Canadian Forces Station Alert, which is the northernmost continuously inhabited place in the world. It is on on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.
At that time in 1980, CFS Alert was one of the last places on the planet with no radio, television, or phones. He would get a weekly call to his wife of 56 years, Alice, via a ham radio. He recalls the messages like: “I love you – over.” With the whole world able to listen in.
Everything – all food, supplies, and the mail – arrived at Alert on a weekly resupply plane. Sometimes, an ice fog would roll in, and the plane would divert to Greenland until it could safely land.
In this place, Sherritt’s critical jobs were maintaining the runways and unloading planes.
He later joined the navy, was stationed in Halifax, and worked to load and unload ships.
He and Alice had two sons, Eric and Andrew. Last month, on Oct. 29, they celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary. The couple lived between Maple Ridge and Comox, but for the last 10 years have been in Maple Ridge full-time.
Sherritt has always considered the legions in Canada and the U.S. a home away from home, and this year was honoured with a 30-year service pin.
Lesley Nantel, the Maple Ridge legion manager appreciates his efforts on behalf of the legion, whether it’s working the poppy campaign or doing a hauling job with his truck and trailer.
“He’s always willing. He takes it upon himself to fix our sign. He sands it down and paints it every year.”
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Gord Sherritt has received his 30-year service pin from the legion. (Special to The News)
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