While he had a childhood fascination with the First World War, the last thing on Len Gamble’s mind was writing a book about it.
Gamble, a retired Armstrong school teacher and administrator, is known as the author of two well received books about Armstrong and Spallumcheen soldiers who fought in both great wars: So Far From Home, the story of the city’s and township’s First World War veterans, and So Young They Were, the history of the Second World War local soldiers.
The City of Armstrong paid tribute to Gamble by presenting him with the latest centennial recognition of excellence award.
“I never intended to write a book,” said Gamble, who was supported by his wife of 54 years, Jessie Ann, and about 20 friends at the award presentation Monday.
“All I wanted was to visit the battlefields of World War One.”
Born in Brixham, Devon, England, Gamble’s father served in the First World War with the Royal Canadian navy, and his uncle was an officer in the merchant marine.
He said throughout the First World War his mom subscribed to a six-to-eight page magazine, Illustrated War Weekly.
After the war, his mom had the issues bound into four volumes of books which Gamble pored over, discovering later in life they were nothing more than propaganda.
“They were my comics,” said Gamble of the four-volume set. “Forget about Superman or Batman. I was fascinated by these men on horseback with spikes on their helmets and lances galloping across the fields, and the tales of atrocity against we, the good guys.
“They were so fascinating I wanted to see where the battles took place.”
Gamble came to B.C. in 1948 along with his parents. He studied at UBC, graduating with a Bachelor of Science and masters in mathematics education.
He married Jessie Ann in 1959 and the pair moved to her hometown of Armstrong in 1960.
Gamble’s teaching career – which included instructing students such as current city mayor Chris Pieper and Fred Fowler, husband of Coun. Shirley Fowler – took him to Armstrong, Clearwater, Enderby and Salmon Arm before retiring in 1995.
It was then that Gamble and Jessie Ann were able to go and visit the battlefields he had read about as a child, and the trip had quite the impact on him.
“I was so overcome with emotion. Each of those battlefields was like walking on hallowed grounds,” said Gamble. “I came back (to Armstrong) and wanted to do something.”
On a visit to the city cenotaph, Gamble noticed the names of the Armstrong and Spallumcheen fallen and realized he didn’t know anything about them.
He bet the community didn’t know much about the soldiers, either.
“So I set out to write their stories,” said Gamble. “Once I did one for World War One, the community wouldn’t let me rest until I did World War Two.”
Pieper presented Gamble with the award of excellence.
“For the past 15 years, Len has helped with the organization of the candlelight ceremony which, at Christmas, remembers the fallen of the World Wars,” said Pieper.
“Len has also been recognized by Heritage B.C. for his work on the books and our cenotaph has also received considerable improvements on accuracy as a result of Len’s and the Royal Canadian Legion’s research on our veterans.”