A new coin designed by Chilliwack artist Ardell Bourgeois marks the 70th anniversary of an elite combat unit known as the Devil’s Brigade.
But don’t count on the Hollywood movie of the same name to get the real story on this unit, Bourgeois said.
“The Devil’s Brigade movie didn’t show all the effort that went into forming this unique unit.”
The 2013 coin issued by the Canadian Mint commemorates the time during the Second World War when Canada joined the United States in the creation of the 1st Special Service Force, FSSF, known as the Devil’s Brigade.
To his knowledge there was never another military force that integrated soldiers from both countries. A large chunk of the unit comprised of Canadian officers.
“Several members of this unit ended up quite distinguished,” Bourgeois said, pointing to the exploits in Italy of an aboriginal soldier from Alberta named Sgt. Tommy Prince.
“He did some amazing things,” he said.
Several members were hunters and lumberjacks.
“There were people who lived in the back country,” he said. “They were used to living out in the bush and being quiet when they had to be.”
The unit’s Canadian and American soldiers underwent the same training, and received the same equipment and uniforms sporting a shoulder patch on joint missions in 1943 and 1944.
“Originally, this force was intended to be a parachute unit that would land behind enemy lines and sabotage their installations,” according to Veterans Affairs Canada website. “Instead, it became a versatile assault group with a reputation for specialized reconnaissance and raiding. (Sgt. Tommy) Prince was well-suited to be a member.”
Bourgeois’ final design for the coin features a stylized maple leaf and a star to represent Canada and the U.S., and an arrowhead reflects the courageous warrior theme of the specialized unit.
“They would leave a calling card on dead soldiers written in German telling them ‘the worst was yet to come.’”
The design requirements actually kept changing with this project, Bourgeois said.
First his drawings focused on the insignia, and then depicted some figures in action, with one of the designs showing Sgt. Prince splicing a communications wire right under the noses of the German soldiers in Italy.
But in the end the requirements for the coin once again switched back to a focus on the unit’s insignia.
“So I came around full circle, and ended up submitting modified versions of first designs I had done,” he said.
Bourgeois is a well-established military artist. Last year a commemorative coin from the War of 1812 was issued with his design on it.
He’s long been fascinated with Second World War subject matter and he started drawing as a kid, eventually graduating from Emily Carr. He’s won several awards following his artistic passion for military history and aviation in particular.
The Devil’s Brigade coin is available online from the Mint and at post offices in both gold and silver with a frosted finish and mirror surface.
The gold version of the coin has an extremely limited mintage of 2,000 coins, and will be a source of military pride for both Canada and the U.S., according to the Mint’s online descriptions.
The FSSF unit demonstrated the power of united national forces against a common foe — and was also the forerunner of units like Canada’s Joint-Task-Force 2, and the United States’ Navy Seals, Delta Force and Green Berets.