Merv Loucks, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

Biography

Mervin “Merv” Loucks was born on 15 July 1925. He grew up on the Hiawatha First Nation Reserve (Ojibway) on the north shore of Rice Lake, south of Peterborough, Ontario. There was very little work for boys on the reserve so Merv and his brother Walter “Wally” Malcolm Loucks worked at a local farm in the summer.

When war broke out Wally managed to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Merv wanted to follow his brother and become a fighter pilot but his education did not meet the standard. He joined the army at 17, deciding to volunteer rather than await conscription. Merv hoped this would give him a choice as to what role he would play in the army.

Private Loucks took basic training at Simcoe, Ontario. While he was there recruiters were looking for volunteers to join the new Canadian parachute troops. Loucks signed up and became one of 11 men from the camp at Simcoe put on the train to Shilo, Manitoba.

At Shilo, Loucks joined other members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. He qualified as a parachutist before the unit shipped out to Greenock, Scotland in mid-1943. Here Loucks and his battalion underwent further training, especially with regards to infantry tactics and fighting as a unit.

Loucks was held back as a reinforcement on D-Day and he did not see action during the Battle of Normandy. He experienced the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last gasp offensive through Belgium and Luxembourg, and the surrender of Nazi Germany.

After the war, Merv became a Game Warden with the Department of Lands and Forests. He held this post at a series of Provincial Parks in Northern Ontario. Then Merv became an Economic Development Officer with the Department of Indian Affairs.

Merv Loucks passed away at the Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia, on 14 June 2005. He was 80 years old.

War Context

Aboriginal Veterans

Merv Loucks and his brother were indigenous servicemen. Both were Ojibwa, an Anishinaabeg people whose traditional territory extends through Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and across the border into the United States.

Officially, some 3,000 First Nations served in Canada’s armed forces during the Second World War. The actual figure was much higher. First Nations veterans like Merv and his brother served even though their country and Canadian society neglected them. During the war, indigenous veterans received the right to vote at the federal level, but indigenous suffrage took decades to straighten out. The experience of the Second World War helped to bring this and other indigenous issues to light.

Conscription

In the interview, Merv Loucks mentions that the reason he enlisted when he did was to preempt conscription and get his choice of assignment. Conscription (known as the draft in the United States) is the mandatory enlistment of a country’s citizens for service in the armed forces. In the First World War, Canada’s federal government passed the Military Service Act, which made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 eligible for compulsory military service. Conscription nearly tore Canada apart, especially on French-English lines. Francophones tended to oppose conscription while anglophones tended to support it, although there were exceptions.

In the Second World War Prime Minister Mackenzie King took a cautious approach to conscription. The defeat of France in June 1940 prompted the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), which brought in conscription for home defence only. Approximately 60,000 men entered the military under the NRMA banner. Canadians commonly referred to these conscripts as “zombies”, the soulless living dead who refused to volunteer for overseas service. The Canadian Army took heavy casualties on D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy. In response, the government invoked Bill 80, which gave them the power to conscript for overseas service. Only 12,908 conscripts went abroad, and just 2,463 reached the front lines near the end of the war with Nazi Germany.

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion After Normandy

Merv Loucks did not serve in Normandy. Although he trained and prepared extensively for the operation, Merv was held back as a reinforcement on D-Day. Later in Normandy, when the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion required replacements for its depleted ranks, they received men from a standard infantry pool. Higher authorities withheld Canadian parachute reinforcements in the United Kingdom for a future airborne drop.

Merv’s first combat experience came during the Battle of the Bulge, a German offensive through Belgium and Luxembourg in December 1944 and January 1945. In early 1945, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion held positions near Roermond, Netherlands, on the Maas River. On 24 March 1945, the battalion made its second and final combat jump of the war. The Canadians joined 16,000 British and American paratroopers in Operation Varsity to support the Allied offensive across the Rhine River into northern Germany. After this success, the battalion advanced further into Germany than any other Canadian Army unit, making it to Wismar on the Baltic Sea by 2 May 1945.

Additional Resources

Newsreels

Canada Jumps
Men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion undergo stiff obstacle course training, practice indoor jumps; prepare for the real thing. Shots of them boarding aircraft and jumping. Various shots of them floating down and landing as others watch. Shots of the new paratroops getting their wings.

Rhine Crossing
Soldiers of The Highland Light Infantry move equipment across the Rhine on amphibious tanks; the 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment fly to Germany and jump, joining U.S. and British forces; a medic at work;
planes land in the field; fighting; dead Germans and prisoners; the Royal Scots and the paratroopers greet one another.

Corporal Fred Topham ,V.C.
In Toronto, Corporal Fred Topham is honoured as World War One veteran Captain O’Leary gives him the ribbon from his own Victoria Cross, presented as a token until Topham receives his own medal; interview with Topham. Topham won the Victoria Cross for bravery in action with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion on March 24, 1945.