Updated: Apr 17
It is 3501 km from Liverpool, England to St. John’s, NL. Retired Staff Sgt. Kenneth (Ken) Le Breton has travelled that route home many times.
“When I was asked at Depot where I wanted to go I told them Newfoundland. That way if it didn’t work out at least I was halfway home,” laughed Le Breton.
Growing up in Liverpool, Le Breton had heard glorified stories of the Mounties but never dreamed he would one day become one. He grew up in a war that was quickly spreading across Europe.
At 18 he has conscripted and enlisted in the British Army for the compulsory two years. He served in the First Battalion Kings Liverpool Regiment. Shortly after he found out his battalion was being deployed to Korea. He boarded a ship and sailed to Hong Kong for training.
Then a battle training school in Hara-mura, Japan. Eventually they landed in Busan located in south Korea. He fondly recalls his battalion being played in by an American Army band when they landed. They boarded a train to Seoul then a truck that headed straight to the front line.
Le Breton remembers with clarity how at 18 he threw himself on the ground to take cover as shells started coming in. Only to find out later that they were not enemy shells but their own. The battalion was so far up into enemy territory that they could feel the fallout from their own attack. Three months into the fighting a cease fire was ordered. Shortly after he was shipped to Hong Kong then back to England.
At the ripe old age of 21 he found himself jobless with a thirst for adventure. He answered an advertisement in the paper for police officers in Kenya, Africa. In January 1955, he was on his way to his next adventure only to find himself back in a bloody war. He arrived in the middle of the Kenya Emergency which was one of the British Army's bloodiest post-war conflicts. Tens of thousands of people died in the fighting, in detention camps and restricted villages.
When his contract was up he went back to England. Le Breton and two friends who also served in Africa, decided their next adventure would be in Canada and in May 1957 they landed in Prince George, Vancouver where he found a job in the logging camps of British Columbia.
Once they had enough money saved they took their paychecks and headed to the United States and spent approximately three months travelling. They toured San Diego, California, then on to Florida where they travelled down through Key West, Cuba, Honduras and Mexico City. With just enough money left to get back home, they boarded a Grey Hound bus to Vancouver. Where he once again found himself jobless.
After working at various jobs, he spotted an advertisement in the paper for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The admired Mounties of his youth were hiring. In May 1958, he landed at Depot and began his next adventure. This one lasting 36 years.
After training he received his wish and in March of 1958 he was shipped off to Newfoundland. He boarded the William Carson and remembers hearing the crunching ice hitting its bow as the ship made its way to Port aux Basque only to dock in a blinding snow storm.
He eventually arrived in St. John’s and throughout his 36-year career was posted in Whitbourne, Harbour Grace, Botwood, St. Anthony, Lewisporte, Goose Bay, Corner Brook and back to St. John’s.
Although he is shy to talk about his career, he has had some outstanding moments.
In Michael Harris’ bestselling novel Unholy Orders, a novel about the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, he refers to S/Sgt. Le Breton as “conducting a remarkable interview” with Father Ronald Kelly.
Le Breton and his partner, Cst. Murray Urquhart investigated and charged Father Kelly, a well liked and respected priest in Port aux Port Peninsula with ten sex related charges. “It was like charging Robin Hood,” stated Harris.
Father Kelly had many influential friends and followers from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to business and political connections throughout the province. By the time S/Sgt. Le Breton and Cst. Urquhart wrapped up their investigation, Father Kelly confessed to his crimes and pled guilty.
After a stellar career in the RCMP, he was forced to retire at 60 on April 1, 1994 due to mandatory retirement policy at the time. “I wanted to continue working,” states Le Breton. “I loved my job and enjoyed doing it everyday.”
When asked what advice he would give to new RCMP recruits he recommended “They maintain a good attitude and don’t be afraid to work.”
Retired S/Sgt. Ken Le Breton has followed his own advice throughout his lifetime. From maintaining his British stiff upper lip while serving during World War 2 to maintaining the right during his 36 years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
S/Sgt. Le Breton has now embarked on a new adventure, retirement. He is active in the RCMP Veterans’ Association an has served on the executive in Newfoundland and Labrador. He and his wife live in St. John’s and have two grown children.
This lad from Liverpool, who lived through war, served on the front line at 18 years old, travelled the world and policed in Africa and Canada has finally slowed down. Reluctant to tell his stories of war and policing, he prefers to keep them in his memory.
He is now one of the few veterans left in the province who has served in both a world war and the RCMP.
“I have made some great friends throughout my career in the RCMP,” he proudly states. “I loved every minute of it.” He has lived an amazing life.
Thank you for your service S/Sgt. Ken Le Breton.
Read about this and other grand adventures in: In Search of Adventure - 70 Years of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador available here.