Cloverdale veteran Reginald Wise has passed away.
The former Royal Marine fought for Britain in WWII as a sniper in No. 40 Commando. The commandos were elite forces who conducted special operations and missions ahead of battles and behind enemy lines.
Born Sept. 30, 1924, Wise signed up at 15 with the Home Guard, an armed citizen militia, when the force was activated in May 1940. Wise joined the Royal Marines at 17, in June, 1942. In August that year, Wise hoped to land with his fellow Royal Marines and more than 6,000 Allied infantry on the beaches at Dieppe, France. But his request was denied.
“I applied to go, but I was only 17. At that time you could only fight when you were 18,” Wise told the Cloverdale Reporter earlier this year in August.
At 18, after completing commando training, Wise was promoted to corporal and assigned to lead a 10-man squad.
Wise lost his brother Leonard in 1943 when Leonard’s plane went down over the Irish Sea. His body was never found.
Wise was involved in many battles in WWII. He saw action in Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. He fought in a major battle in Albania, the Battle for Sarande, and he helped liberate the Greek Island of Corfu.
In Legion Magazine in 2018, Stephen J. Thorne called Wise the “Saviour of Easter Sunday” in a piece detailing his commando’s assault operation in and around Argenta, Italy, during the lead up to the Battle of the Argenta Gap—one of the last major battles of WWII. It also detailed Wise’s last fight in the war, as a German machine gunner tore up Wise’s arm with several bullets. Wise spent the rest of war recovering.
After the war, Wise returned to England and got married. He settled into a job as a sheet metal worker. Then in 1951, he and his wife Phyllis, and their six-month old daughter Janice, moved to Canada. Toronto at first, then to B.C. after one year as both Reg and Phyllis found the summer to be too hot and the winter to be too cold.
The family settled in Surrey and the couple would have two more sons, Kevin and Ian. Wise built his first house on 108th Avenue, hammering every nail and putting up every beam. Later he bought five acres in Aldergrove and built another house, this time the two boys pitched in to give their dad a hand.
When Wise first arrived in B.C. he worked for Dominion Bridge Company, and helped build the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in 1958. After Dominion, he worked for Kenworth in Burnaby as a maintenance supervisor. When Kenworth closed their Canadian operations, Wise went to work as a plant engineer for Freightliner Trucks. Before he retired, Wise taught inmates at Matsqui prison how to work with sheet metal.
Through it all, Wise carried with him the burden of PTSD. At times, he suffered from bouts of depression and was unable to work. And for years Wise never talked about the war or dealt with the mental trauma he suffered because of the war.
When he was discharged from the commandos in 1946, his mind purged the names of “all the chaps” from his unit—both those that died in the war and those that survived. He also couldn’t remember any names of school friends back home. He’d lost them all.
“I didn’t know why,” Wise told the Reporter in 2019. “But one day, I just couldn’t remember anyone’s names anymore.” Decades later his psychiatrist told him his brain repressed the names at the same time it repressed his traumatic memories.
Wise coped in his own way, forgot his comrades’ names, and didn’t attend Remembrance Day ceremonies for decades. Instead, he turned to painting. Wise used painting to brush away his trauma from the war—therapy with a brush and an artist’s palette.
“When you’re painting, you have to concentrate. You can’t think about anything else.”
Eventually, in 1995, men from 40 Commando contacted him. The men had planned to visit the graves of their fallen brothers from WWII. Hesitant at first, Wise decided to join them and found himself back in Italy for the first time in 50 years.
Since that year, Wise had always found time to commemorate Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He was also very active in talking to high school students across Surrey and the Lower Mainland about the war and veterans causes as he endeavoured to bring more awareness about the sacrifices soldiers made for freedom—something he said was needed more than ever today.
In his last public appearance, Wise laid a wreath at the Cloverdale Cenotaph Aug. 19 on the 79th anniversary of the Dieppe raid, to pay his respects to his comrades that fell that morning and to the nearly 1,000 Canadians from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division who also died on the French coast that day.
Wise told the Reporter in August, his commemoration of Dieppe was twofold: he wanted to remember the sacrifice “those boys made” and he wanted to raise awareness about Dieppe to lift it’s profile with the public.
“When I talk to people about Dieppe, none of them are aware of it,” he said in August. “I think that’s wrong. I think it’s important to remember.”
Wise passed away at his home in Cloverdale Oct. 29. He was 97.
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