Commissionaire low key about remarkable milestone

Security Commissionaire and Royal Canadian Navy veteran Gerry Ratchford at his post at the Fleet Maintenance Facility security booth. The 90-year-old recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Security Commissionaire and Royal Canadian Navy veteran Gerry Ratchford at his post at the Fleet Maintenance Facility security booth. The 90-year-old recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

If you are passing by the Fleet Maintenance Cape Breton security gate don’t forget to wish Commissionaire Gerry Ratchford a Happy Birthday.

Major (Retired) Gerard Lawrence Ratchford celebrated his 90th birthday last Thursday. Instead of opting for retirement Ratchford still works his regular full-time Monday to Friday security job. 

“I love the interaction. Going to work gives me something to look forward to and keeps me busy,” said Ratchford.

He and his security booth co-worker Corporal (Retired) Austin Henneberry, 81, have been working together for six years. The two are kept busy checking identifications and monitoring the comings and goings at CFB Esquimalt’s industrial complex in HMC Dockyard. Henneberry enjoyed a 13-year career in Canada’s army and marvels at Ratchford’s health and level of fitness.

“When I first met Gerry he took me for a tour around the base, and I was panting,” said Henneberry. “As I was busy catching my breath after my third set of stairs he joked to me and said ‘We don’t take elevators’.”

While his longevity may seem remarkable to most and a cause for celebration, ahead of his birthday Ratchford said he really wasn’t expecting much of a fuss over milestone marker Number 90.

“No special plans, it’s just another day to me because I don’t make a big deal about birthdays,” he said. “If someone gives me a card or a slice of cake I would be pleasantly surprised.”

His humble, down-to-earth outlook may have something to do with his military career that spanned more than 40 years and included service to Canada’s Merchant Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Army Cadets.

Born on May 24, 1928, in New Westminster, Ratchford says he developed a keen interest in all things military early in life. At the age of 12, during the Second World War, he sold newspapers and magazines on the corner of Tenth Avenue and Eighth Street to the soldiers stationed at the army barracks located there.

He became so enamored with the soldiers and their way of life, he had a local tailor design a replica army uniform that he would wear while he marched alongside his heroes from the various regiments. The Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles were so impressed with his interest they had a service book made for him and adopted him as their mascot.

He joined the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets in 1942 and was one of the originals of RCSC Fraser. He served in the Canadian Merchant Navy from September 1946 to July 1949 and his service aboard seven different vessels took him to such faraway places as England, Japan, Jamaica, South Africa, Singapore and Zanzibar.

Ratchford had a brief spell in the Royal Canadian Navy from July 1949 to November 1950. He then joined the Canadian Army in 1952 until his release in 1993. During that time his tours of duty included being a member of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and serving in Korea in the years after the truce was signed between North and South, and being part of Canada’s United Nation’s Peacekeeping mission in Cyprus in 1970 and 1971.

“They were just great years, I loved them,” he said. “One of the best posts I ever had was in Cyprus, and we were lucky enough to be there when it was peaceful and quiet.”

After his release from the army, he became an instructor with the Canadian Scottish (Princess Mary’s) Cadet Corps in 1972 and stayed in the organization, eventually rising to the rank of Major before his retirement in 1993. In a military career spanning more than 40 years he was awarded 10 medals including a Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Korea), and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Shortly after retiring from the military he returned to B.C. and started working as a security commissionaire, a job he has worked ever since.

Ratchford says he has no plans to retire any time soon.


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About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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