Alan Craighead - Centenarian

November 08, 2021

I was born at home in North Vancouver and attended North Vancouver High School. Upon graduation in 1939, I moved to the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, completing the first wartime course in April 1941.

I was accepted as a junior officer by the Indian Army and planned to travel; firstly, to London, England, and from there to Bombay via South Africa. Upon arrival in Bombay, I was advised that I had been accepted by the Regiment of my choice, Skinner’s Horse, and was to report to their training base in Ferozepore. With the exception of the first year spent in Ferozepore learning Urdu, which was the language used by the troops, I served my whole military career with Skinner’s Horse.

Prior to the arrival of Skinner’s Horse in Egypt, the Regiment had been fighting the Italians in the north-east of Africa, ejecting the Italian troops from what is now Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Sudan. In 1942, after a rest period on the island of Cyprus, the Regiment was ordered to Persia as part of a force to protect the oil fields in case Germany broke through the Caucasus. It was in Persia that I started active service with the Regiment. In 1944, after the Russian Army successfully held Stalingrad, and it was apparent that the Germans would not be attacking Persia, Skinner’s Horse was ordered to move into Italy.

Service in Italy commenced in the heel, landing at Taranto, and finishing when the German armies in Italy and Austria surrendered unconditionally on April 29, 1945. At the time Skinner’s Horse was in a rest area 15 miles west of Ferrara having broken through the Gothic Line and later suffering a serious number of casualties fighting as infantry on the Senio River bank. The Regiment had over one hundred wounded men, a very large number for a reconnaissance regiment of four hundred men. Fortunately, ninety-eight percent recovered from their wounds. Skinner’s Horse later received “Senio River Bank” as a Battle Honour.

After victory was achieved in Europe, Skinner’s Horse packed up and returned to India. Officers and troops were given leave and I returned to Canada for six weeks. On rejoining I was promoted to Major and given command of a squadron which was posted to the Northwest Frontier with Afghanistan. On 15, August, 1947, India was granted independence from Great Britain and shortly after I was advised that my services were no longer required by an independent India.

I departed from Bombay on the sixteenth of December, 1947, for a month of skiing in Zermat, Switzerland, before carrying on to London. I remained in London for a further two years before sailing to New York. In New York I married Joan Mobray, whom I met in London. After the marriage we set out to drive across America to Vancouver, arriving at the North Vancouver home of my parents shortly before Christmas 1949.

January 1950 was the commencement of my business-life as a junior clerk in my father’s customs brokerage business, Milne and Craighead. Stuart Milne, the son of my father’s partner, was already employed by the company. Later, it was decided to incorporate the company as Milne & Craighead Customs Brokers Ltd. Over the years the company grew to have offices in BC, Alberta, and Toronto.

I became a director of the Dominion Chartered Custom House Brokers Assn., (later The Canadian Custom Brokers Assn.) and was asked to chair the Education Committee. The Committee reported that in their opinion the best way forward was to form a separate organization to provide training. The Canadian Institute of Custom Brokers came into existence in 1969 and I was elected as its first President. The first student class graduated in 1971. In 2006, the Custom Brokers Assn. and their Institute were amalgamated as the Canadian Society of Custom Brokers.

In 1972 Milne & Craighead was sold as a going concern to the senior employees and I retired to become Chairman of the Board of Directors. Also, as our three oldest children had left home it was decided that we would sell the home in North Vancouver and move permanently into the summer cottage on the Sunshine Coast. As Gibsons, one of the major towns on the Sunshine Coast, was a home port for many fishing vessels I became interested in fishing and bought a troller. After five years I found that fishing required too much time away from home and the boat was sold. In 1980 cancer took my beloved wife, Joan, an immense loss to myself and our family. Later, I met Eva who became my travel companion. We married in May 1986.

In 1980 I decided that I wanted to attend university, the result of having attended evening classes. So, in 1981, I enrolled at Simon Fraser University and commenced the courses that would end, in 1986, with a BA Honours degree in Archaeology. For two years he attended university while Eva continued to work at Milne & Craighead.

Then it was time for travel. The plan was simple, we would fly to Germany pick up our Volkswagen camper van and drive to Kashmir. When it came time to actually go, the Russians had occupied Afghanistan, the Israelis were fighting with their neighbours, and in Kashmir there were battles between Indian and Pakistani troops. In 1983, Eva took a years’ absence from the office, we flew to Frankfurt, picked up our camper van and toured Europe; Southern France, Northern Italy, Yugoslavia (where we thought we were going to be imprisoned), and Greece.

That winter we stayed on Crete in the van and found it very cold. For relief from the cold we thought a two-week sojourn in Egypt would be the answer. Not so! It snowed in Cairo the second night. Not much, nothing on the ground, but real snowflakes falling from the clouds. When we returned to Heraklion we were greeted with mugs of hot coffee spiked with brandy. It was the only winter we stayed in the van. Future winters saw us established in rented accommodation.

in September 1990, I commenced further studies in Archaeology in England at The University of Cambridge. I joined Magdalen College as they still dined by candlelight. Five years later I was “admitted to the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy”. As I was a married Foreign Student, the college provided the housing for the first two years, a small flat in one of the buildings owned by the College.

After obtaining my degree, ‘Doctor Alan’ and Eva retuned to Canada. There have been many more travels including three trips to Australia and at least four trips to India. Three outstanding trips were the 2008 voyage to the Antarctic including a long stay in Buenos Aires, the Around the World trip in 2005 arranged with British Airways, and in 2003 the trip to India for the Bicentennial Celebrations of Skinner’s Horse.

Eva and I recently made our final move from a waterfront acreage to a waterfront condo. Gardening, which used to be fun, had become a chore. The same story with the Jaguar XK120, what was once enjoyment had become just another chore on the TO DO list. In 2019 the property was sold and the move took place. The disposal of our lifetime collections of stuff had to be dealt with. Books were the major problem. We invited friends and neighbours to come and take away what they liked, the remainder went for recycling. The beloved Jaguar went to auction in the U.S.A. in October of the same year.

Then, suddenly, it was 2021 and after two years of COVID shut downs, I celebrated my 100th birthday on August 21.