Lieutenant Colonel Michael Roland Gentles, CD was born in England on 28 May 1936. His father Keith served in North Africa and Europe in World War II, earning a Military Cross for conspicuous bravery at El-Alamein. But growing up during the war also took courage. Mike was blown out of bed by a V2, he and his mother Helen were machine-gunned by a Focke Wulf 190 on the way home from school, and he witnessed the deadly crash of a Mosquito, just down the road from where he lived.
After the war, Mike and his little sister Lesley moved with their parents to a shattered Germany, where his father worked for the Civilian Control Commission in the British Zone of Occupation. Mike was a Boy Scout and an Army Cadet. He graduated from King Alfred School in Ploen, O-levels across the board, with top marks in woodworking. An athlete from an early age, he was not on every team’s first string, but he was on every team.
Returning to England for National Service in 1954, Mike joined the Devonshire Regiment and was commissioned from the ranks. He served on the docks in Portsmouth, his hometown, for the departure (and return) of British forces to the Suez in ’56, and thereafter, he left Her Majesty’s service. Already an avid reader, Mike was impressed by stories of fly-fishing in the wilds of North America and wanted to be a forester.
So in 1958, Mike came to Canada. Having paid for his travel and his first semester at UBC, he staked out his new life with $10 in his pocket. What a life it would be.
To make money for tuition, he became a logger in the most remote region of Vancouver Island. When the loggers went on strike, he swung a pick and shovel for the Canadian Pacific Railway, lowering tunnels through the Rocky Mountains. He even worked survey crew for the Trans Canada Highway, as it was pushed through Rogers Pass. He loved the fishing, the wildlife, and the trees.
Mike would meet the love of his life, Aileen, at a theatre “wrap” party in Vancouver. She had also come from England in ’58 on a full scholarship to UBC. To stay in the city, Mike took a regular job and joined the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. It wasn’t long before he joined up full-time and married Aileen. She would embrace his military career and relish all their postings with their daughters, Cynthia and Kate.
The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, The Canadian Airborne Regiment, The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry: Mike served at home and abroad for 35 years. He deployed twice to Germany with NATO and twice to Cyprus when tensions were at their worst. Regardless of regiment, to the soldiers with whom he served, he was a ruthless administrator, an innovative trainer, and most of all, a respected leader.
Wherever Mike served, he turned his considerable abilities to wildlife conservation: he reintroduced bison to Camp Wainwright, helped the Peregrine Falcon to recover, and rebuilt salmon spawning beds in local rivers.
Mike retired from the Army in 1992. He and Aileen made one final move to Sicamous where at long last they built their beautiful log home. Lifelong supporters of the arts, they fostered a thriving creative community in the Shuswap. From singing with the Aura Chamber Choir to producing local musical theatre, Mike and Aileen lived their final years together, doing what they both loved.
Mike died 10 August 2022 and was interred at the Solsqua Cemetery, District of Sicamous, British Columbia.