Cpl Keith Warren Merrick, 10th Fd Sqn 25 May 1944

Cpl Keith Warren Merrick's Headstone in the Cassino Commonwealth Cemetery

Keith Warren Merrick was born in Malden, Washington, USA and came to northern British Columbia as a child. He was working on the family farm in Pouce Coupe BC when he went to Dawson Creek, BC to enlist in the army on 24 July 1940.

Keith was posted to the 10th Field Company and sent to their garrison in Lethbridge, AB. The company soon left Lethbridge and spent nearly a year in Camp Petawawa, Ontario during which time Keith was granted the trade qualification Pioneer ‘C’ in November. In March 1941, the company was converted to the 10th Field Squadron and assigned to the newly formed 5th Canadian Armoured Division.  They sailed for the UK in the fall, arriving in Scotland on 12 November 1941. On 10 April 1943, he married Grace Thompson in Dundee Scotland. In June he was promoted to Lance-Corporal and, that same month, broke his leg during panel training on a Bailey bridge.

The 10th Field Squadron sailed for Italy in November 1943.  On the way, the convoy was attacked from the air on 6 November, sinking one of the ships carrying Canadians. No lives were lost, but Keith’s ship was delayed for a day as it split from the convoy to help pick up the survivors.  It was unsuccessfully torpedoed the following day. They landed in Naples on 10 November 1943. Once ashore in Italy, the Squadron took over well-used equipment and vehicles from the British 7th Armoured Division who were returning to England. The Squadron was moved over 200 miles southeast to the Taranto area and attached the 1st New Zealand Division. Despite having to complete a great deal of vehicle and equipment maintenance, they immediately got to work on bridging and route repair and construction tasks. Sapper Merrick was promoted to acting corporal and later promoted to corporal in January 1944. Two months later his son John Edward was born in Scotland.

As the 5th Armoured Division gained strength in Italy, the Squadron moved closer and closer to the front relieving other Eighth Army formations. Their first action came on 17 January 1944 supporting the Perth Regiment in an attack during which four NCOs and two sappers were wounded. The Squadron then moved back towards Naples to the city of Caserta. Again, bridging and mine training, rest and maintenance, as well as planning for the Liri Valley operation occupied their time. In mid-May, the 5th Armoured Division started moving forward to the Hitler Line in anticipation of pushing forward to establish a crossing over the Melfa River.

At 0800 hours on 24 May, the leading troops of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division drove forward. With each of the three armoured regiments were parties of sappers from the 10th Field Squadron in “Honey” reconnaissance tanks— 18 parties in all. The rest of the Squadron followed up behind with the main body improving two fords across the Melfa under constant shelling. They built a 40-foot Single-Single Bailey bridge later that night. The next day was no less hectic.  The CO was wounded in shelling and Corporal Merrick was killed during a German air raid that evening.  Cpl Keith Warren Merrick was killed in action the following day, 25 May 1944. He is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery. He left his young wife Grace and son John. After the war, they moved to Pouce Coupe and lived with Keith’s parents. Grace died in Pouce Coupe in 2005. Mount Merrick and a street in the town of Tumbler Ridge, BC are named for Corporal Merrick.

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