When Robert Cockram visited the recruiting post on a whim in 1966, he didn’t expect him to lead a life in the military.
Fifty-five years later, Cockram retired from the Canadian Armed Forces – with four bars and the distinction of being one of the oldest members of the Canadian Ranger Patrol. He had been a member of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.
“It was interesting. It never got boring,” said Cockram, 71. “I retired as captain, long in the tooth.”
His military journey began at age 18, and an officer at a recruiting station in southern Saskatchewan suggested he join a military college. He chose the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, where he graduated with honors and a major in history.
As a member of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, he held positions with the Fourth Canadian Artillery Regiment, the Second Canadian Artillery Regiment and a volunteer position with the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Edmonton, where Cockram said that he was able to “jump planes and enter strange places.”
He remembers a training operation in Churchill, Manitoba. where they “lived in the snow banks” for several days to acclimatize to the cold. Cockram was then redeployed overseas to Germany for two years, working with self-propelled artillery pieces. Thanks to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, his unit was redeployed to southern Germany, far from the border.
“In Germany, when you had free time, you just jumped in the vehicle and went on tours. I’ve been to Switzerland a few times and skied there, it was just down the road where we were based, ”said Cockram. “We took a great trip to London and got to see other parts of Europe.”
Over the following decades, Cockram worked across the country as an administrator and instructor before finally being posted to Royal Roads University in Victoria, when it was still a military college. . As he neared retirement age, Cockram decided to move to Lone Butte, where he had owned a property for several years.
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It turns out, however, that retirement was not in the cards: a year and a half later, a call was made to form a Canadian Ranger patrol.
“I thought I would go see what it is and now I’m one of the old guys from the Ranger Patrol,” Cockram said. “I’ve been in the Ranger Patrol for 27 years now and people look at you and say ‘what? “Are you in the army ?!” And I say “yes, the Canadian Rangers do not have a mandatory retirement age. “
At first, the Rangers only had three pieces of equipment: a baseball cap, an armband, and a rifle. For additional gear, he said they had to search military surplus stores for raincoats and other gear. They were also largely on their own and established their own training and patrolling schedules. Cockram said they used to meet for shooting practice at the 100 Mile High School shooting range, where they used to “get by”.
Rangers needed to know their area and provide support in a crisis. Before the South Cariboo Search and Rescue Society was formed, Cockram said the Rangers would search for the missing. Cockram recalled “beating the bush” near 108 Mile Ranch looking for a missing eight-year-old, only to have the child show up safe and sound away from where they were looking.
Eventually the decision was made to tie the Rangers to the Canadian military reserves and is now run more like the military. With it came a lot more equipment and organization. By then, Cockram was already well on his way to becoming one of the force’s oldest serving officers.
“They give you a medal for 12 years of service, then a bar every 10 years thereafter. I’ve held on so far because I said, ‘I want that fourth bar, no one else is going to wear it because no one else has been there for so long,’ Cockram said, but added: “I look forward to my free time.”
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