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The Last of the Newfoundland Rangers: The Tom Warfield Story



William Thomas Warfield, Ranger Regimental Number 149, passed away January 23rd, 2024, at the age of 97 years. His wife, Roberta Warfield, passed away in October of last year. They resided in Sonoma, California.


The Newfoundland Rangers existed from 1935 until 1950. Two hundred and four men enlisted in the ranks. Today, only one Ranger remains: Cyril Goodyear, Regimental Number 158.


 The Rangers served in the outport and remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador, providing the main link between the people and their government. The first recruit signed on July 9, 1935. Before the end of the month a full authorized complement of thirty men had been sworn in.


All enlistments were for a five-year period. Qualifications were high for the period. An applicant had to have a Grade XI certificate, be between the ages of 21 and 28 years, be single, physically fit in every respect, be a minimum of 5’9″ in height and weigh not more than 185 pounds.


When Confederation became a reality and Newfoundland joined Canada, the Newfoundland Ranges were given the opportunity of transferring to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because members of the R.C.M.P. were paid on a higher scale than Rangers, one stipulation was that Rangers, upon transfer, would have to drop one rank. It was a purely economic transfer; no consideration was given to ability or service. All who transferred and remained achieved at least the rank of Sergeant. Most attained Staff Sergeant and some attained officer rank. The Force ceased to exist on July 31, 1950.


Many ex-Rangers have gone on to other successes. Tom William Warfield was one of them.

Warfield was born in Wesleyville, Bonavista Bay in 1926. His family moved to St. John’s when he was eight years old, and he completed his school days at Bishop’s Field Collage. His father was a cook on the boats and his stepbrother, Edward Warfield, was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Warfield knew he did not want to work on the boats, so he followed his brother into policing.


He joined the Newfoundland Ranges in July 1944 and retired in 1949 with five years, five months service. “My contract was for five years,” he says, “But I stayed for an extra five months at headquarters request because they were short on staff.”


He often thinks back about his days in the Newfoundland Rangers. “At the end of high school and even before receiving final test results, I applied to the Newfoundland Ranger Force and became a recruit at their Kilbride Barracks. I needed work and it was the only job that suited me and was available.”


Warfield admired his older brother, Edward. “I grew up with a stepbrother who was a constable in St. John’s with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Therefore, I was familiar with police activities. That knowledge and experience may have led me to the Ranger Force.”


In 1949 two sergeants managed training at the Newfoundland Ranger Force Barracks in Kilbride. One covered practical and class and the other overall discipline. Warfield remembers that both had a great sense of humour. “The class sergeant had a repertoire of jokes to share with the serious stuff. The discipline sergeant oversaw minor offences in bizarre ways. For example, he noticed that I had failed to keep my hair trimmed. He took a photo of the back of my head and sent it to all detachments asking, ‘Can you identify this Ranger.’”


There were seven Newfoundland Ranger Recruits in his training class. Six members were assigned to detachments in Newfoundland after six months of training, but Warfield was assigned to the Quarter Masters office. “I was disappointed that I remained there for several months before being transferred to Stephenville Crossing Detachment. Later I realized that the office work experience and knowledge gained there helped in early promotions. I spent only a few months at Stephenville Crossing and about a year at Port Aux Basque. Then I was placed in charge of a detachment.”


Shortly after arriving at his first post in Stephenville Crossing, he was instructed to serve a civil arrest warrant in a remote logging area and to deliver the prisoner to the Constabulary in Corner Brook. To reach the logging site he travelled by freight train, then by horse sleigh across a two-mile frozen lake and walked a hillside in search of the defendant for hours.


After searching the logging camp, he finally found the guy he was looking for. “He acknowledged the warrant and was cooperative throughout the long trip back. When we arrived at the Corner Brook Detachment a constable asked about the prisoners’ reaction to the arrest. I learned that he was well known to the police there and the entire Stephenville area.” The constable was surprised, “he told me whilst drunk and disorderly on one occasion, it took several constables to subdue the same guy. His history of intoxication and disorderliness was well known.” 


The Newfoundland Rangers were well known and respected men. They were well-educated and physically fit young men able to perform a variety of tasks with little supervision. They issued relief payments to the poor, enforced criminal and game laws, inspected logging operations, helped build roads, bridges, and other public works, collected custom duties, and performed a variety of other roles.


Warfield can still recall his days with the Ranger Force. “Early on at my first post, I responded to a church hall complaint where two drunken men were disorderly. One left on demand. The other continued brawling and had to be forcefully removed. We had reached the exit door when he toppled me down the stairway onto the ground.” He says the impact with the hard ground was painful and he was embarrassed by his failure to control the situation. “I returned to the hall, and in anger, forcefully ejected the culprit. In court, the defendant described his arrest as being brutal. The magistrate later told me that in view of my inexperience he refrained from pursuing the defendant’s complaint, and perhaps I had learned something from the experience. The defendant was convicted and fined a minimum sum.”


After three months of training, recruits proceeded to their assigned postings. Seven rangers worked at the Whitbourne headquarters, while twenty-three patrolled remote detachments scattered across the country at 16 locations – six in Labrador and ten on the island. There was often only one ranger at each of the detachments and the men sometimes found it difficult to adjust to the loneliness of living in isolated communities. Rangers proceeding to Labrador also had to build their own living quarters and office space.


Each ranger had to patrol a large territory but could only travel by the most inexpensive means – usually foot, dog sled, or boat. Rangers occasionally travelled by rail, but frequently in second class. The force also had a few motorcycles and cars, but these were generally restricted to the more populated centres at Deer Lake, Badger, and along the Burin Peninsula.


Dealing with loggers was a regular activity. “I faced a group of drunken, disorderly loggers in the railway car whilst travelling to my first post. The conductor had asked another Ranger named John Joseph Fagan to quell the brawl. Ranger Fagan was well known and respected. He directed me ahead into the train. The loggers settled down when they recognized Fagan. I was fortunate in having one of the Rangers’ top officers as backup, also, I was honoured by his compliment that I had handled the situation well.” Ranger Fagan was a proud member of the Newfoundland Rangers. He went on to become a superintendent of H.M. Penitentiary and Director of Corrections for Atlantic Canada.

Warfield says he worked hard but always found time for fun and a little hunting. While at Glenwood Detachment, he decided to take advantage of a logging camp patrol to hunt for a moose. He visited several remote logging camps and talked to may loggers and bagged a moose during a two-day period. “The patrol costs involved a guide for two days at twelve dollars. When Ranger Headquarters received the twelve-dollar bill for payment and knew that I had been moose hunting. They reasoned that I should absorb that cost. I could not, or did not argue the point, even though the logging camp patrol was legitimate.”


He recalls during an off-duty weekend the sergeant was temporarily absent and Warfield and another Ranger decided to borrow the training motor cycle without permission. “We returned within an hour to find the sergeant waiting for us. We were charged and escorted to headquarters at St. John’s. The Chief Ranger fined us twelve dollars, which would be deducted from our monthly pay. I though we might be discharged. Perhaps the shortage of trainees saved us.”


 The outbreak of World War Two in 1939 placed further responsibilities on the rangers, who had to enforce rationing and blackout orders, patrol for enemy submarines or aircraft, take military deserters into custody, issue national registration cards to residents aged 16 years or older, and help recruit volunteers for service in the Armed Forces. Although some rangers left the force to serve overseas in the early months of the war, the Commission quickly declared the unit an essential service in order to prevent others from doing the same.


After the war, the government asked rangers to secretly report on public opinion relating to confederation and other political matters. The men also worked at polling stations during the 1948 referenda and helped make sure all residents within their detachments were able to vote.


Following Confederation, Newfoundland’s Premier Joseph R. Smallwood and his administration decided to dismantle the Newfoundland Ranger Force as a cost-saving measure. When the Rangers disbanded, Warfield decided to move to California where he became an insurance adjuster. Now at ninety-six years old, he is enjoying retirement in the golden state.


His daughter Rochelle Warfield followed in her father’s footsteps and went into policing. She graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in Physical Education. She joined the Sheriff’s Office and became a deputy. She says proudly, “I knew my dad had been a Ranger and my Uncle Allen was with the RCMP, so I felt I could do it, even though I had never shot a gun.”  Her uncle Allen Stevens was also a member of the Newfoundland Rangers and stayed with RCMP. He retired as Staff Sergeant and married Phyllis Melbourne, who is Rochelle’s mother’s sister.


Right out of the academy, Rochelle went into undercover work, buying drugs, doing search warrants. She admits she had a lot of fun and enjoyed patrolling in the rural areas along the coast line of California. “I liked hanging out in coffee shops and bars talking to the locals, getting to know the town drunks. My worst fight happened in a bar, I was losing, but the locals joined in and helped me, back up was 30 min away! I ended up bruised with a bloody knee and torn jacket but very grateful for their help.”


She was promoted to Sergeant five years in but after ten years she wanted to move on. “Shift work and violence got old. I now work in the medical field as a nuclear medicine technologist.”


Tom Warfield retired from insurance adjusting at 62 years old and was bored. So, he took a job as a car salesman. At 73 he quit working and is in a retirement community in the city of Sonoma, surrounded by vineyards. He takes a couple of walks a day with his wife Robbie. He is her caretaker as Robbie has dementia/Alzheimers. He has four grandchildren who live close by, along with his daughter and son. In his spare time, he indulges in his favorite hobbies: crossword puzzles and the San Francisco Giants.


Back in Newfoundland and Labrador, Tom Warfield is considered a living legend. One of the last of those great men who kept law and order in the old British Colony of Newfoundland… a Newfoundland Ranger.


Source material for this article and information on the Newfoundland Rangers can be found at: https://newfoundlandrangerforce.org/ and https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/politics/newfoundland-rangers.php

You can read Tom Warfield's Newfoundland Ranger record here: https://newfoundlandrangerforce.org/person/william-warfield/

 

 

 

 

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