Current and past Legion president, war veteran, and long-time member Eric Devlin recently mused about his early days growing up in Perth, revealing that he had been a proficient roller skater at the height of that sport’s popularity. He was one of the few local skaters to own booted skates, rather than clip-ons and he recalls skating on the wooden floor of the old hockey rink, which was near the existing Perth & District Community Centre. He went on to skate in Toronto, and other large cities in North America and overseas, and mastered a total of 17 dance moves.
We have seen that Devlin resigned from positions in the Perth Justice system to serve his country following the invasion of South Korea in 1950. He volunteered for service with 25th Special Force Brigade of the Canadian Army, and was enrolled in the Canadian Army Special Force in Kingston, followed by training at Camp Petawawa for 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (2RCR). He served in Fort Lewis, Washington and Wainwright, Alberta, with 2RCR and 3RCR.
His transfer to the Canadian Army (Regular) came in early 1951, and he was posted to Yokohama, Japan in June of that year. He was then posted to Korea, landing at Inchon, on Sept. 1, 1951, and proceeded to join 2RCR as a Platoon Commander.
During ‘Operation Ortona,’ in October 1951, Devlin’s platoon was involved in the capture of five enemy prisoners, who were sent back to the rear echelon. The fate of those prisoners was uncertain at the time, and one of the POW camps was under the command of the United Nations on Koje-do Island. The camp commander at one point was taken prisoner by POWs, and by early 1952 the POW camps were in chaos and the prisoners in full uproar. Many were reported to have been summarily executed.
After being appointed 2RCR Battalion Transport Officer, Devlin was transferred back to Canada in July, 1952, and subsequently served in various positions, moving with the Battalion to London, Ontario, Wolseley Barracks in January, 1953. He attended a two-month career course in Camp Borden, and in June was posted for parachute qualification in Rivers, Manitoba; then appointed Battalion Intelligence Officer on his return to the unit.
In October 1953, he proceeded with 2RCR to Germany as member of the Advance Party and trained at various places in Germany during the next two years. Military historian Bernd Horn describes this period in great detail in his book From Cold War to New Millennium: The History of The Royal Canadian Regiment. “In November 1953, the 2nd Battalion, The RCR, was deployed to Germany as part of Canada’s continuing NATO commitment. They were part of the newly established 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group (1 CIBG), which was replacing 27 Canadian Infantry Brigade (CIB), Canada’s initial overseas formation that was deployed to Hanover, Germany, in November 1951.”
Devlin was promoted to Captain in June 1954, and appointed Acting Company Commander for Headquarters Company. In March 1955, he was appointed Transport Officer when the new Headquarters Company commander reported for duty from Canada, and he returned to Canada in October 1955, with 2RCR.
The Vietnam War era soon followed, and in January 1956, Devlin was posted to Indo-china as part of the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC) following the departure of the French from Vietnam. He arrived in February, and served in various places in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos until his return to Canada in February 1957.
Devlin’s memories of that time include patrols of the Lào Cai Chinese border. “Our group included two Polish and two Indian officers, and we were given bicycles and an interpreter. I had done lots of training on bicycles, and was very fit, so it wasn’t long before the other team members complained to our superiors that they couldn’t keep up. The result was that they took away the bikes and issued us some scruffy and headstrong ponies instead,” he says.
In 1957 Devlin was posted to a staff position in Ottawa with Instructional Staff for Militia and then to Army Headquarters (AHQ) in June 1960. The Perth Courier of May 23, 1957 noted, “Ideal weather conditions prevailed for the annual Cadet inspection of the Perth Collegiate Cadet Corps and girls, on Thursday afternoon of last week. About 300 were on parade and again they were complimented for their splendid display by the inspecting officer Capt. Eric H. Devlin.”
Service in AHQ included personnel and training staff positions with a five-week posting in Germany for the Brigade Rotation to Canada in 1966, until he was released from the Canadian Forces in March 1969 due to age factor.
In May 1969, Devlin again entered military service, when he was called out for Class “B” special duty with the rank of Major. He organized and participated in Canadian Forces Small Arms Competitions at Connaught Ranges, Ottawa, for 15 years and continued there with the Dominion of Canadian Rifle Association Control Staff until the mid-nineties.
Military decorations include: Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Korea Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Korea), Special Service Medal, (NATO/OTAN), Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal (Korea), ICSC (Indo-China), Canadian Forces Decoration with three bars, and several Canadian commemorative medals.
Well known to Legion members across the country, Devlin has been a member of Perth-Upon-Tay, Branch 244 since 1965. He has served in various executive positions for most of those years, including his current fifth term as president. He was Branch Parade Marshal for almost 30 years, and continues to organize Remembrance Day ceremonies. A Life Membership was awarded in 1994, and he was named Branch 244 Legionnaire of the Year for 1999. He was awarded the highest Legion medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, in 2005, and the accompanying Palm Leaf in 2010.
Other veterans’ groups include: The Royal Canadian Regiment Association, the Korea Veterans Association of Canada, and the Armed Forces Pensioners Association. He is also associated with 42nd Pipes and Drums Heritage Band of Perth and District and served as Drum Major for several years.
Cadet Organizations such as Rideau Wing No. 443, Air Force Association of Canada and 585 Rideau Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets have benefitted from Devlin’s leadership for many years, and in May, 2001 he was appointed a Director with the Air Cadet League of Canada, Ontario Provincial Committee, and completed 35 years’ service.
Devlin was a Councilor of the Town of Perth from 1988 until 2010, and served on many committees over the years. He was appointed Deputy Reeve for the Town in July, 1993, and served on the Lanark County council until November, 1994. He continues to serve as a member of Recreation Advisory Panel and McMartin House Seniors Committees for the Town.
He has worked with many local charities, and also with the Perth Minor Hockey Association. One of the most important honours bestowed came with being named “Senior Citizen of the Year for the Corporation of the Town of Perth” on August 10, 1999.
So you have seen some of the athlete, the veteran, the politician, and the active citizen. Eric Devlin continues to keep on giving, and to enjoy life with his wife Marilyn, five children, and six grandchildren.