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Publication: Globe and Mail, The add link
Issue: 29 August 2007, page R5
Web Link: link


Commander of Calgary tank regiment 'was unique in army'


Special to The Globe and Mail

August 29, 2007

CALGARY -- Stoney Richardson was a war hero, a leader and a commander who rose through the ranks of the Canadian Army and played a role in some of the Second World War's most hotly contested battles.

By all accounts, he was beloved by all his soldiers, Canadian, British and Indian. "He was unique in the army," said Fred Ritchie, his second-in-command. "He was the ideal colonel; spit and polish didn't impress him. He rolled dice with his boys, and still had their respect."

Mr. Richardson was born on a an Alberta farm. His father, Silas Richardson, became the justice of the peace in Vegreville, where he passed on to his son a passion for curling. He played it for the next 80 years.

As a young man, Mr. Richardson became the self-described "Playboy of Vegreville," having bought a yellow Buick convertible, which he would later claim was the first ever seen in that part of the province.

"He liked to brag that it was a great magnet to pick up girls, and he had many girlfriends," said Frank Luce, a Montreal friend. "At least, that's what he often told me."

The Buick may or may not have been a factor when he met a court stenographer named Frances Lalor. In any event, he fell in love and on Nov. 4, 1935, they married.

For a time, Mr. Richardson worked as a grocery clerk and then joined the army reserves. On March 4, 1941, he joined the King's Own Calgary Regiment as a temporary lieutenant, went into training and somewhere along the way acquired the nickname Stoney. The regiment was shipped out to England as part of a large Canadian contingent intended to bolster British defences against an expected German invasion.

After more training, he took part in the regiment's major raid on German defences at Dieppe, France, on Aug. 19, 1942. But the operation was a disaster, and it's uncertain whether Mr. Richardson made it to shore. Although official war records indicate that his unit did not land, he claimed later in life that he made it ashore and was rescued by a British ship. Mr. Ritchie said their unit boarded boats but were recalled before landing.

In any event, his unit returned to Britain and, after further training, was sent to the Mediterranean and the invasion of Italy in July, 1943. Mr. Richardson spent the next 18 months in Italy, fighting all way from Messina in Sicily to Lombardy in the north.

He quickly earned a reputation for always having his wits about him. Mr. Ritchie credits "Stoney's brain" for having saved his life. Mr. Ritchie had been ordered to take two tanks and go forward as part of an advance. The Germans counterattacked and drove the Canadians back, all except Mr. Ritchie and his two tanks. Mr. Richardson got on the radio and "told us to get the hell out of there." The order was remarkable, said Mr. Ritchie, because his friend was at that time serving as quartermaster without responsibility to give commands, or even to monitor a radio. "He was the only guy using his head."

This and other actions saw Mr. Richardson receive rapid advancement. He was promoted to major, then given command of the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment. In September of 1944 he was made a lieutenant-colonel -- although not before his regiment was thrown into the Battle of Monte Cassino, a large monastery atop a high mountain that guarded the road to Rome.

At Monte Cassino, his unit crossed the Garigliano River, which is noted as a turning point in both the battle and the wider struggle for Italy. The Garigliano was tenaciously defended by the Germans. Tony Kingsmill, one of the young engineers under Mr. Richardson's command, began assembling a Bailey bridge - a pre-fabricated truss bridge - 500 metres from the riverbank. The Germans caught wind of the plan and threw "everything but the kitchen sink at us," said Mr. Ritchie, who recalled that the Indian soldiers and engineers wanted to stop for regular tea breaks, and would listen only to Mr. Richardson.

Meanwhile, work went on under heavy mortar fire. Mr. Kingsmill's idea was to fix the bridge onto a tank which was then driven into the river. Under heavy fire, the crew bailed out at the last moment and swam back to shore. A second tank entered the river and pushed the first tank, along with the bridge, into place.

The regiment crossed the river that day and routed the shocked Germans on the other side. To this day, the bridge crossing the Garigliano is called the Kingsmill Bridge, and the manoeuvre is taught at Britain's Royal Military Academy.

Mr. Richardson also had a bridge named after him, although for more ignominious reasons. Supporting British infantry in July, 1944, his tanks were prevented from advancing by a deep gully that was crossed by an unsafe old brick bridge. Told by his engineers that a replacement would take 12 hours to construct, he would have none of it.

"The infantry were ... working their way across ... and shouting for much-needed tank support," Mr. Richardson later wrote. "It was evident we must move immediately."

He ordered his first tank across the bridge, only to see it fall through, nose down, into the river below. At headquarters, Mr. Richardson received a reprimand but discovered that his commanding officer "was quite in agreement with my hasty decision."

Upon his return, he found a Bailey bridge in place. It had been christened "Stoney Bridge" and was emblazoned with a handmade sign depicting a tank crashing through.

Mr. Richardson was given the Distinguished Service Order -- an award second only to the Victoria Cross -- for his actions in Italy and went home to Calgary with the rest of his regiment in December, 1945. He chose to remain with the military, and in 1950, was promoted to brigadier-general in command of the Vancouver militia.

His new part-time role allowed him to enter private enterprise. He joined the International Paint Company and was soon appointed director and sales manager. The job took him to Montreal, where he spent the next 52 years of his life. In 1966, he became president and managing director, and helped build the company. Today, International Paint has operations in 54 countries and employs more than 3,500 people. He retired in 1973 and devoted himself to volunteering. In 1992, he was awarded the 125th Anniversary of Confederation Medal for community service.

In April, 2001, his wife broke her hip, and died soon afterward. Mr. Richardson was never the same, and sought help from Mr. Luce. As Mr. Richardson had no children, Mr. Luce said their relationship became like father and son - finally giving the veteran someone to pass on his war stories to.

To a man, the men who served under Mr. Richardson remember him as brave and emotional. "On the day before we left [for home after the war], Stoney hugged me," Mr. Ritchie recalled. "As a rule, men didn't hug back then. But Stoney never cared for rules."


Clinton Argue (Stoney) Richardson was born in Vegreville, Alta., on Oct. 12, 1908. He died of natural causes at home in Montreal on June 4, 2007. He was 98.