The legacy of “Mr. Veteran”

December 31, 2018 by Don Gillmor

Born in Fort William (today’s Thunder Bay, Ont.) in 1919, Cliff Chadderton enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles on Oct. 15, 1939, with the idea of playing hockey for them. He had been playing for the Winnipeg Rangers, farm team for the New York Rangers. “That’s really why I got into the Army,” he said.  “It wasn’t for military reasons at all.” But he was soon pressed into action and quickly rose through the ranks.

In October 1944, he was in command of a company of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. They were fighting at the Leopold Canal in northern Belgium when a German grenade exploded nearby.

“That ended my war,” Chadderton said.  “My troops dug me out.” They put him in a small boat and ferried him across the canal using rifles as paddles. Stretcher-bearers then took him to a field hospital. “For the next four or five days, I knew nothing,” he said.

The first thing he learned when he came to was that he had lost his right leg below the knee. But he didn’t remember this as his worst day in the war. “My most horrible day in action, I was ordered to go out in the battlefield and pick up the wounded or dead.” He was 19 at the time, and 70 years later he still dreamed of those scenes of the men dying or dead, lying mutilated on the battlefield.

Back in Canada, Chadderton had several operations on his leg and was fitted with a steel prosthetic that was awkward and clumsy. He started working for The War Amputations of Canada, which was established in 1918 to meet the needs of amputee veterans, and by 1965, he was the organization’s chief executive officer. He became Canada’s most prominent advocate for war amputees. He developed programs and services for them, and under his leadership The War Amps expanded from helping only veterans to a charitable foundation that represents all amputees, especially children.

He established the Playsafe program, which promoted child safety, and Jumpstart, which helped multiple amputee children learn computer skills. In 1975, he founded the War Amps Child Amputee Program, which provides funding for artificial limbs, counselling and education, the only program of its kind in the world. Of all his many accomplishments, he was proudest of the work he did with children.

Chadderton was also chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada, an umbrella organization for various veterans’ groups, and became known as  “Mr. Veteran.” He was instrumental in drafting key pieces of legislation that helped veterans. He received numerous honours, among them Companion of the Order of Canada, the Canada Veterans Hall of Valour, and Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour of France.

Chadderton remained CEO of The War Amps until 2009. He died in 2013 at the age of 94. His death brought an outpouring of messages from Canada and around the world saluting his tireless service on behalf of others.

In his memoirs, Chadderton wrote, “I would say that it all hasn’t been a picnic. But I’ve always had a way of finding where the good part of it was and I’d say, ‘Oh, hold onto that.

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