Like many veterans, Randell Smith Crocker didn’t talk a lot about his war action.
Crocker, who served as a carpenter at the Vernon Army Camp upon his return from Europe after the Second World War, was wounded during his five-year term, taking a bullet to the buttocks.
Crocker’s children possess a black-and-white photo of their father holding a young girl in his arms while stationed in Italy. The story of the picture is one of the few that Crocker’s son Bruce was able to coax out of his father prior to his death.
“He found the girl in a shelled house in Sicily. Her leg was broken and her arm had pretty much been blown off. He carried around painkillers and gave her some,” said Bruce, of Vernon.
“I used to ask him questions about the war. He said it was something he didn’t want to talk about and that I didn’t want to hear about.”
“It had to do with all of the loss,” added Crocker’s daughter, Linda Brown, from Smithers, one of Crocker’s seven children.
Crocker was one of 13 children born to James and Georgena Crocker. He was born Aug. 25, 1904, in Minnedosa, Man. before the family made their way west, settling in the Shuswap community of Chase.
Six Crocker brothers wanted to do their part for the Second World War effort.
The six, including the second-oldest of the brothers, Randell, enlisted in Kamloops in 1941. Problem was, it seemed, Randell and his oldest brother may have been, well, too old.
So they lied about their age.
Crocker was assigned to the Royal Canadian Army Corps, trained and went overseas with his 31-member regiment, serving in France, Germany, Italy, and northern Africa.
“He was volunteered a lot for front-line duty,” chuckled Bruce.
During their time in Europe and Africa, the Crocker brothers never knew if any of the siblings were alive or had been killed in action. Only once did they even see each other, and that was by chance when Randell caught a glimpse of his brother, Richard, in a service truck going the other direction. Richard nodded to his brother. That was it.
The Crockers all survived the war and returned to Chase. During their service, they’d send their mother money, about $28 per month (according to Crocker’s soldier service pay books, which Bruce has, soldiers made between $35 and $50 a month), and she put it aside in order to buy land for the brothers and family at Chase Creek, off the Chase-Falkland Road, when they returned.
Crocker was discharged in July 1946 and joined his war bride, Flora, and oldest daughter Dorothy — the only one of Crocker’s seven kids born overseas, the rest were born in Vernon — at the family property in the Shuswap.
Flora and Dorothy arrived in Canada before Randell, taking 14 days to sail across the Atlantic and “God knows how many days to get out west,” but Bruce said his mom talked fondly about how war brides were treated.
“She said never once was there a war bride left standing at a railway station. They were all picked up, very well looked after and everyone had a place to go. She talked highly about that,” said Bruce.
Crocker sold the property, and he, Flora and Dorothy made their way to Vernon where Randell took the job at the army camp as a carpenter. He helped build some of the barracks still in operation today and built many of the houses along Westside Road.
The property he and Flora bought in Vernon was on 27th Street, where the Canadian Tire service station sits today. They remained there until moving back to the Shuswap community of Canoe, near Salmon Arm, in 1972. Randell died in Salmon Arm in 1991, receiving a military burial. Flora passed in 2004.
Crocker earned the 1939-45 Star, France Star, Germany Star, Italy Star, Defence of Britain Medal and Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for his efforts.
He never took part in Remembrance Day ceremonies, but his daughter Linda does.
“I attend every year if I’m home; I do it for my dad, his brothers,” said Linda. “My husband and I each had relatives who are veterans. It’s important to remember the contributions they made for all of us.”