The following is an article taken from Shotgun News, written by one of our founding members, Vic Hatheway, about Fred Bragg.
you think you can't build a range, consider this ...
is about another Fred, a man who can serve as a good model for all of us. I'll
do my best to properly honor one of the most modest men I ever knew. There are
so many blanks in his story, but I suppose he talked more to me than to anyone
else living around here. I'm proud to give you all that I DO have. I hope I get
it right, for his memory's sake. I did not meet this fine gentleman until he was
Fred was born in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, Sept. 14, 1909. It is locally
believed that his family brought him as a baby to the country around Brooks,
Alberta. He mentioned a few times that he had been a young man there.
He grew up cowboying. What little formal education he received was massively
augmented by always having a book or two in his saddlebags. He read extensively
through the long winters, in line shacks and bunkhouses. At that time, without
any guidance beyond pictures in dime novels, he taught himself to shoot well.
Cartridges were very expensive on a young cowboy's wages, and he did not like to
waste them. A modern hand gunner would grin to see him shoot his .45LC Ruger
revolvers in his later years. His stance was straight out of the 1880's, knees
slightly bent, the off hand tucked in a back pocket, the shooting arm slightly
bent. (When arthritis crippled his left hand, he transitioned to shooting
right-handed, in his eighties.) The grins would quickly disappear from the
scoffing faces, as the man was deadly accurate out beyond one hundred yards,
With that sort of background, Fred was never far from the cowboy life. His
saddles were on racks in his bachelor living room, and in his later life he was
always ready to help a neighbor move some cattle. He was much respected for his
abilities on a cutting horse, or in roping. He could shovel more dirt or string
more wire than youngsters a third his age, and do it longer. The man was built
out of whipcord and whang leather, as they used to say.
The Depression hit the Prairies exceedingly hard, and the Dirty Thirties Dust
Bowl was something Fred didn't like to talk about at any length. The look on his
face gave an inkling of how hard it had been on him. In his late twenties he
joined a Canadian Army Militia unit for a little extra survival money and free
ammunition. He said uniforms were never complete: an army jacket and blue jeans
was a common outfit. No boots were issued, and he bitterly recalled
square-bashing in cowboy boots! He always grinned when he remembered that he was
the only man in the (eight-man) unit issued a heavy overcoat one winter!
In September of 1939, Britain declared war on Hitler's Germany. Canada, the
loyal Dominion, instantly followed. Fred saw the whole thing as a chance to
escape the drudgery of his isolated life, have three squares a day, a bed off
the ground, and a little adventure on the side. He enlisted in the Army before
the war was many weeks old, traveling mostly on foot to Calgary to do so. When
he did get a ride, it was in what was called a "Bennett Buggy" or an
"Aberhardt Wagon": a horse-drawn Model T Ford named for the Canadian
Prime Minister and Alberta Premier, the common Depression-era vehicle of the
times, as no one had cash to spend on gasoline.
Put on a train in Calgary, he chugged his way to the training camps of the East,
and ended up in, of all things, the Artillery. He was troop-shipped across the
U-Boat infested Atlantic to England, (his convoy lost a few ships), arriving in
1941 for more training. He was in the Artillery, but of course there were almost
no guns. He said so many gun crews trained on the same 25-pounder that the
breech, traverse and elevation mechanisms were almost destroyed. Of course, they
never got to actually FIRE the thing! Fred said that the fact there were no
shells available saved his life, as it probably would have blown up. But
dragging that piece around in English rain and mud decided him on trying for a
After the debacle of Dieppe, a call went out for volunteers for the Infantry.
Fred jumped at it, and was accepted into the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, a
prestige regiment. Then a further call went out for men to volunteer as
scout/snipers. Fred jumped at it and reported to the selection board, which must
have been composed of retread officers from WW1.
Fred laughed when he told of his "selection". A piece of writing paper
was tacked to a post at about twenty-five paces. The candidates were given the
newly-issued Lee-Enfield #4 Mk. I rifles to replace the #1 Mk. III's they'd
brought from Canada. They were each given ten rounds of precious ammunition.
Each candidate was then to fire his full magazine load offhand at the piece of
paper as fast a he was able. The best shots from the group then became
scout/snipers, just like that. Selection and training all in one pass, with
little expenditure of ammunition!
I asked Fred how long it took him, and what was the size of his group at that
range? And whatever did rapid fire have to do with sniping?
Rather embarrassed, he said "maybe fifteen seconds, tops", and
indicated his thumbnail. Typical of the man. Rapid fire demonstrated that the
candidate knew how to use his weapon, and speeded up the process. Simple.
"Are you a cook, or a Rifleman?"
The selected went on to train in Scotland with the Lovat Scouts, stalking stags
in the Highlands, learning, if they didn't know already, the arts of the
Fred landed in France on D+2, June 8, 1944. He now carried the prized #4 Mk. I-T
rifle, mounted with the British 3X brass telescopic sight. Each sight was
especially mated to its own rifle. There was NO interchangeability. The scope
lenses were not coated. Shooting into the sun, or as far as forty-five degrees
to either side of it, the scoped blanked out. It also reflected a flare back to
the intended target. It weighed about two pounds with mount. It identified him
to a German sniper for what he was, that sniper's deadliest foe. Fred decided
very quickly to lose his. He was REQUIRED to use it, and having "lost"
it, was required to pay for it: about a month's pay! There were no more to be
had, so Fred "would just have to soldier on without it". He did so,
Fred described his war in Normandy as a series of "walks in the
country". Close questioning revealed just what he meant by that. Battalion
HQ would be HERE. FAR forward of that would be his Company CP. Far forward of
that would be the fluid Front Line. About five miles beyond THAT, would be Fred!
Sometimes he had a partner, (he lost three to enemy action), but he preferred to
operate alone. Partners were always giving away his position at inopportune
One day in my gun shop we were discussing the German Tiger tank. I opined that,
according to production figures in a book I had, there were very few in France,
most of them being employed in Russia. Fred said that on one of his
"walks", he'd found three of them together. Peering through a
hedgerow, he saw three Tigers, hatches open, sitting in a small field. The crews
were relaxing in the sunshine over breakfast. He said "I tickled them up
pretty bad, and they reacted pretty quick!" During the "tickling"
he must have exposed himself somehow, for all the quickly-manned turrets started
to turn toward him simultaneously. He said he was very glad the Tiger turrets
were hand-cranked, thus slow in traverse. He said the machinegun fire never
caught up to his scampering heels, and by the time the 88's blew his hedgerow to
pieces, he was long gone!
Fred said that when they were fighting through Caen, he was grateful for the
snipers' issue of rubber-soled boots. He said you could hear boots crunching on
rubble or broken glass from two blocks away. The trouble was, whose boots?
Theirs, or ours? "Sniper up!"
Most of his "work" was counter-sniper. A point man would be shot from
"somewhere". Fred would sneak up as close as he could get to the
fallen man whilst still under cover, and talk to his mates. Applying his
knowledge, he'd get a pretty good idea of where the German had fired from.
(Saving Private Ryan?) Then he'd wait. Eventually, he'd get his opportunity, and
the advance would continue until the next "Sniper up!".
So Fred soldiered on through France and Belgium, into Holland. He had a lot to
say about the Canadian Army supply system. He was never resupplied with uniform.
He came back to England in the same heavy woolens that he landed with on D+2.
The "grenade pocket" of the trousers was on the front of the leg. It
filled with sand during beach-assault training and nearly drowned him. Nobody
actually carried anything in it, because if you had to hit the dirt suddenly,
you'd get a very bad bruise on your leg. Most Canadian ammunition issued was of
very poor quality. He said that sometimes he couldn't have hit his hat with it
at fifty yards. American Winchester .303 was to be prized above all, if he could
find some. American rations were "great". The usual issue of
"rations" for his "walks" was a few choke-dog biscuits, hard
as nails. He always tried to conveniently be near an artillery unit at chow
time. He said they were the only ones who ever got hot food.
In this vein, I once mentioned that I had been acquainted with some vets from
Montgomery's famous Eighth Army of the Western Desert. They all vowed they would
never eat bully-beef again. Fred said he would have happily killed for
bully-beef. He never saw any.
He said that, after his rifle, his most important accoutrements were his shovel,
and his spoon, in that order. They were not available to mere infantrymen, so he
liberated them after coming ashore in France. He replaced the useless
entrenching tool with a real strong spade from somebody's garden in Caen. When I
showed him some of Mauldin's Willie and Joe cartoons on the subject, he broke up
laughing. He just loved Bill Mauldin's WW2 work! The spoon was brass, and came
from a Norman farmhouse. (Read: Dead German sniper.) It was German issue. He
showed it to me, swastika and all. He never carried any mess kit: too noisy. He
never carried anything that wouldn't fit in a very small pack: too bulky. No
blanket, no helmet. No gas mask, and no socks because there were none to be had.
The Canadians were assigned to sweep the left flank of Montgomery's creeping
slow advance, thus the stories of "Cinderella on the Left".
Fred could tell you all about the Battle of the Scheldt (Estuary)!
The American forces were not to encounter such conditions until Vietnam, and
THEY got to do it in a warm country!
The polders were mined, then flooded, so our troops had to advance along the
dikes. The dikes were heavily fortified, and machineguns could sweep them clean
with ease. It was pure hell, cold, wet, and deadly. Fred was tasked with
clearing the gunners off their weapons until some brave man could get within
grenade range. Would you, with a bolt-action rifle, willingly engage entrenched
machinegun crews who knew exactly where you were? Of course, they never gave him
a medal for that work! He was "just doing his job". Maybe those old
boys with the rapid fire requirement back at selections knew something? Typical
Fred got blown up during the Scheldt campaign. From the waist down he was amass
of scar tissue, which he was too tired to hide when I visited him during his
last days in hospital. Having risen to the rank of Sergeant, and been so
incautious as to allow himself to be hurt to the extent that he was of no more
use to the Army, he was quickly reduced to Corporal, and started home. Aid
station. Nothing they could do. I mean NOTHING. A few bandages and no pain
relievers. A truck ride further to the rear, SITTING on a wood bench over
shell-pocked mud roads. Nothing they could do there. Two days wait. A three-day
ride across the Channel IN A FLAT-BOTTOMED OPEN LANDING CRAFT returning with
faulty engine for repairs. Fred said it was the salt spray coming over the side
that kept his wounds from turning septic, and never mentioned what salt felt
like on raw flesh.
Hospital at last. A few weeks, and they turned him out to recuperate on his own.
He got to see a little of Britain up around Manchester. Finally he was boarded
onto a ship for Canada, and after an interminable trip breasting the westerly
gales, landed, and was given crutches and put on a train for Calgary Alberta,
his place of enlistment. There, he was to report to the Colonel Belcher Military
Hospital for further treatment.
Seven days on a hard horsehair coach seat later, he arrived in Calgary. His car
was positioned such that he had to crutch the 500 yards to the station along the
roadbed. Once in the station, as there was no one there to greet him, he was
directed to the Col. Belcher on 4th Street, eight blocks away.
He made it, probably on pure grit. Up the steps to the main entrance, and in to
the reception area. "I'm sorry, Corporal, but we have no orders about you.
You can't be admitted without orders!" (His orders were supposed to have
been mailed from his port of arrival upon landing, so he would not lose them
while traveling, to reach Calgary long before he did. Didn't happen.)
So there's Fred, alone in a city he hardly knew, without a penny to his name. He
said he just sat down on a bench in the park across the street and tried hard
not to weep. Knowing him, he did not.
A passing angel of a woman widowed by the war saw him, forlorn on his bench
probably looking like death-warmed-over, and prodded his story out of him. she
forthwith took him into her home some short blocks away, and marched back to the
Col. Belcher to inform them where he was. He was in her home for two weeks
before his orders caught up to him and he could be admitted for treatment. He
stayed a week, went to the local HQ in the Armories, took his discharge and
hitchhiked home to Brooks.
Fred, like many Canadian vets, vowed "Never Again!" His military
career left him bitter to his dying day, and with an absolute hatred of
officialdom in Ottawa.
He was back in Calgary in 1947, riding as an outrider for one of the better
wagons in the famous Chuckwagon Races of the Calgary Stampede. He lived through
that, too. Before OHSA and the Humane Society got hold of things, "the
Chucks" were pretty hair-raising events, with wrecks galore. Today, they're
pretty tame. Then he went back to just "cowboyin'", a valued hired man
on one ranch or another, shooting as and when he could afford a new gun or
When Fred finally decided to give up the life in his seventies, he came north to
Monitor, Alberta, and bought acreage and a house on the north side of town,
living on his scant savings and Government pensions. He kept and rode the odd
horse once in a while, and shot in the local gravel pit, a lot.
In 1988, when I opened my little gun shop here in the village of Veteran,
thirty-odd miles west of Monitor, Fred was one of the first in the door. We hit
it off immediately, and became fast friends. It was very apparent to me that,
unlike most of the locals, here was man man that understood riflery! We soon got
into the discussions of where and how to put in a formal shooting range
facility. One of my customers, Bob Lindsay, said he might have such a place, if
his father Bill would consent. Fred and I went to see Bill. Bill was very
impressed with Fred, less so with me, the city guy, but he gave his consent and
the project just "growed like Topsy". I used my engineering skills to
design and lay out various facilities and ranges to fit the land with minimum
alteration and maximum utility.
I'd met Will Porter, a young man then in his late twenties, of the Double U,
Quarter Circle ranch. His father was still alive then, and let Will bring his
huge Cat down to Lindsay's to push a little dirt. Boy! Did we push dirt! I
won't go into all the details of the years of progress here, as we have
explanatory photos of the finished Ranges. Fred was everywhere during all this,
cadging materials and cajoling donors, and enlisting members for the new
Nosehills Gun Club. One weekend, with almost no help, he posted and strung about
800 yards of three-strand barbwire fence, with gates, to seclude the main area
from roaming cattle. He was eighty-two at the time!
It was about 1995 that Fred's arthritis (from the polders of Holland?) began to
really drain him. He could no longer shoot his beloved rifles offhand, and had
to content himself with working from the benches, or the rifle pits we had
emplaced. His handgun work eventually had to be given up: his hands were no
longer strong enough. Every winter, pneumonia sent him to hospital. He hated
hospitals! If he was in any kind of shape, he'd come to our house for Christmas
dinner. My kids treated him like a grandfather, my own father
having died when I was very young.
When the ranges were set up for Metallic Silhouette competition, Fred became
interested in that facet of the shooting sports. From a Lee-Enfield #4 Mk. II, I
cobbled him the be-all and end-all of Silhouette pistols,
"Shorty-the-Brit". I wonder (Ha Ha!) if he ever registered it?
"Shorty" improved quite a bit on his Martini-Henry shorty pistol that
he picked up at some auction somewhere for about ten dollars!
As noted elsewhere, Fred was the first in the Club to clean the Military Match,
and he did it with his M1, in fourteen shots out of the twenty allowed. He
was eighty-eight, and we have a photo taken that day of him with his
rifle. It hangs in a place of honor in the clubhouse.
Fred was forever at the Ranges. In his final years he was living in the Seniors'
Lodge in Consort, Alberta, between his home in Monitor and my home in Veteran. I
visited him, and he visited me. He also visited other friends, and there was
always his good friend and neighbor Don Rudd to drive him wherever he wanted to
go. Fred had long ago converted the top floor of his house to an HO model
railroad layout of some immensity, and if you called at his house you would
often find him up there, running his hand-built trains. An artist of some skill,
he once presented me with a little pencil sketch of an old cowboy holding a
coiled rope, which I treasure. He'd doodled it whilst talking, in the gun shop,
probably thinking of his life on the range.
Fred was a most courteous gentleman, polite to everyone. If you were a fool or
an idiot by his standards, he would have absolutely nothing to do with you. You
always knew where you stood with Mr. Bragg! I believe that hardly a day went by
that he was not peaceably armed with his 1911 .45 tucked somewhere about his
person. Sometimes forgetful in his advanced years, he left said.45 on the bed in
his room one day, to be discovered by the cleaning staff. Heavens to
Murtgatroyd! What to do? The local Mountie was called to safely remove the
offensive weapon. Fred was "granted an interview", promised to be
good, and got his .45 back. Authority was assuaged: they had done something.
Of course, Fred went right back to packin' his piece, and the Mountie knew that
he did. Around here, we all know, as did the Mountie then, that disarming Fred
and living to old age were mutually impossible scenarios. Fred quietly gave away
all his many guns shortly before his death. I don't know who got the 1911. I got
his Woodsman Match Target.
The Fall of 2001 came in early, cold, and wet. Fred was taken from the Lodge one
night to hospital. He received the most excellent care. They tried their very
best, but the old Rifleman was too weak. He died October 26.
He was laid in his coffin dressed simply in his blue jeans and denim shirt, with
his Queens Own tam and his medals on his chest. The Canadian Legion
representatives gave him a final salute. At the graveside, so did I.
We buried him in a military grave in the cemetery of his home town of Brooks,
with a piper playing his favorite airs, and finally, Amazing Grace, and I cried
like a baby, as I am now, writing this. I guess I'm getting too emotional, now
I'm past seventy.
Thus, Fred Bragg.
Cooper once wrote that the proper aim of a young man was "To Ride, Shoot
Straight, and Speak the Truth". Well, Colonel, here was a man who did it
all in spades!
With much respect,
Note: Any errors in this biography are mine. Fred seldom elaborated on his life,
and the above are my recollections of driblets of information strung together
the best I know how.
Please watch here for workbee's, corporate shoots, area gun shows, advertised shoots etc.