A retired brigadier general with an impressive army career behind him was interested in the military long before he enlisted.
Peter Kilby’s Uncle Gordon was killed at Vimy Ridge in the First World War.
“At a very young age, I knew who he was, where he’d been and what he’d done,” says Kilby of his mother’s older brother and how he invented his own “war” games as a youngster. “Harrison Mills, the little place where I was born and raised, didn’t have much so I did a lot of imagining and playing.”
Kilby’s interest was also piqued by the Home Guard guarding bridges nearby during the Second World War.
“My mother was probably really worried that things would happen,” he says of his decision to join the Army Reserves in Chilliwack in 1950.
Like a duck to water, Kilby discovered he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “We were all pretty much farm boys and the major in command of the company had won the Military Cross in Italy,” he says. “We were impressed; he was a major with a big medal.”
Kilby’s military career continued with a one-year stint with the Royal Westminster Regiment followed by a transfer to the B.C. regiment in Vancouver which, at that time, was a tank regiment.
He served there for about five years when he was advised to join the Regular Forces. After conferring with his wife, Barbara, Kilby went into the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals for five years.
“My last year-and-a-half was spent as the signal officer to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, which had a parachute element,” he says with a glint in his eye.
The couple moved to Salmon Arm in 1971 where Kilby began a teaching career and shared his extensive military expertise by getting involved with the local Rocky Mountain Ranger Cadet Corps.
Greater involvement followed when he accepted an invitation to return to the Reserves with the Rocky Mountain Rangers Unit in Kamloops.
His command lasted from 1980 to 1984 when he was asked to take command of the entire brigade. He ended his career with the rank of brigadier general and was a familiar presence at many military and legion events, including the Salmon Arm Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, often taking the salute.
Kilby was so well regarded that, in 2001, 2887 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in 100 Mile House named their new training facility after him.
Much more than an agent of force, Kilby says the Canadian military is a well-oiled social organization.
“There are so many things going on in society and the societies we support,” he says. “We’ve got Canadian soldiers and sailors all over the world in penny packets, mostly mentoring.”
Over time, he has been very critical of the lack of support given to the military by the Canadian government, mostly with regard to underfunding and lack of sufficient personnel, with many soldiers repeatedly being sent on dangerous peacekeeping tours to places like Somalia, Rwanda, Cyprus and Bosnia.
On a number of occasions, he has also taken issue with changes in higher military echelons that increasingly saw many officers considering their own careers over the welfare of their troops.
“For myself, if you take on a leadership role, you’ve got to make sure you really look after your people,” he says, be they cadets, Reserves or Reg Forces. “If people are really committed, it’s amazing the wonders they work.”
Like many Canadians, Kilby was outraged by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s contention there is no contract between Canadians and the military – no special obligation to veterans.
“The impression I get from fairly close observation to what was going on was Harper worked to achieve something if it was on his agenda,” Kilby says, noting the Canadian military was well taken care of when Afghanistan was running hot. “That’s because he had a chief of staff who scared the crap out of him and fought for them (soldiers). I think that’s been the stamp of all of Harper’s achievements – who carried the biggest stick and wielded it.”
Kilby calls Harper’s move to replace lifetime pension support with single $1 million payments to veterans shameful.
“Most of these young men and women are being maimed and killed at a stage in life when $1 million does not mean very much,” he says of the often badly traumatized veterans. “They do things that they shouldn’t be doing for us. We were served far and above the normal expectation of service, I think.”
Kilby is no less critical of Harper’s attempts to impress by sending four Canadian Hornets to join the campaign against ISIS.
“We never left the requirement for peace and I don’t see the justification, he says. “I don’t see any benefit of sending over dribs and drabs.”
Giving a satisfied smile and a thumbs up to the change in government, Kilby has more hope for the future of the Armed Forces, and high hopes for Jonathan Vance, Canada’s new chief of defence staff and his ability to deal with the issues facing today’s military.
“He is a very determined man and he’s going to push through things to try to clean it up,” he says.
Kilby’s eyes light up with pride at the mention of his son, Acton, whose own career began with the Rocky Mountain Rangers. He is currently the military attaché to Canada’s High Commissioner in Australia and New Zealand.