Reg. # 0.385, Insp. David James McCOMBE
December 12, 1955, near Cut Knife, Saskatchewan Age: 50 years
Insp. McCOMBE was born on June 20, 1905. He was engaged in the Force on May 23, 1927 and received his Basic Recruit Training at Depot Division. Upon graduation,
Reg. # 10294, Cst. McCOMBE was posted at Wolesley, Sask. He also served at Regina, Melville where he was the NCO i/c from 1932 to 1939., Charlottetown, PEI and Ottawa. Promoted to Cpl. On October 1, 1932 and Sgt. On September 1, 1937, S/Sgt. On December 1, 1944. He was transferred to North Battleford as the OIC of the Sub/Division on July 1, 1953.
He had been a policeman for over 20 years, starting with three years in the Royal Irish Constabulary in his native Belfast from May 18, 1921 to October 31, 1924. He came to Canada in 1925 and joined the Force at Ottawa in 1927. His promotions came quickly and regularly until he was appointed Inspector in 1950. Much of his service was in Saskatchewan, with postings in Charlottetown and Ottawa as well.
Married Annie Marjorie?
Insp. David McCOMBE died of exposure in one of the worst Arctic blizzards in the history of northwest Saskatchewan. As Officer Commanding North Battleford SubDivision, he left the detachment office on a routine patrol at twelve noon on Monday, December 12, 1955. His destination was Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, 35 miles to the west on Highway #40. At the time of his departure, the weather was normal for winter but, as he drove west, the more the winds blew, raising thick clouds of blowing snow. Heavy drifts began to clog the roadway but, by this time, Insp. McCOMBE was more than half way there and there was no sense in his turning back. Two and a half miles from the village of Cut Knife, McCOMBE’s cruiser bogged down in the snow, slipped off the highway, and settled into the snow-filled ditch beside the road. Unable to get it free, he got out of the car, locked the doors and started walking in search of shelter. The snow drifts were so heavy that they clogged the highway and it was difficult for him to distinguish the roads from the fields. The raging storm reduced visibility to less than 20 feet. Walking in the drifts was extremely difficult; seeing where he was going was impossible. Insp. McCOMBE had no idea that he was within a mile of the safety of a farmer’s home. He was also only two and a half miles away from the village of Cut Knife but, with the blizzard blinding him and the snow thigh-deep, he might as well have been a hundred miles away. McCOMBE went back to his car.
Once he got there, the Inspector discovered that he had lost the car keys while trudging through the heavy snow. In desperation, McCOMBE tore off the car’s chrome mirror and smashed in the driver’s side window. He tried to start the car’s motor, but the engine was covered with snow and ice and wouldn’t respond. Seeing this was hopeless, Insp. McCOMBE attempted to escape the fury of the 45 mile per hour winds and the sub-zero temperature by curling up on the floor of the back seat. When the storm hit the area so suddenly, the detachments at North Battleford and Cut Knife were both concerned for the Inspector’s welfare. RCMP Cpl. J.K. BIRD immediately left North Battleford to look for Insp. McCOMBE. However, he was soon forced to return because portions of the highway were filling in and he found it impossible to proceed any further west.
In Cut Knife, the storm was so severe that Cst. R.E. SONDERGAARD decided to leave the detachment and meet the Inspector on Highway #40. But the constable only got a half mile out of the village when his car stalled in a snow drift and he had to walk back to the detachment office. His face was severely frost bitten on the return journey. Later, a large tow truck went out to find the missing Inspector, but it didn’t get as far as Cst. SONDERGAARD’s police car before it too had to be abandoned on the road. Then SONDERGAARD tried to get a large tractor to go out, but it couldn’t get far either. Meanwhile the storm kept steadily increasing in ferocity.
At 2:15 pm, RCMP Csts. A.F. SQUAIR and C.C. YOUNG left North Battleford with Duncan Crone and his tow truck to search for Insp. McCOMBE. Visibility was so bad that the policemen had to take turns walking in front of the truck with lights. The wind was so strong it sometimes swept them off their feet. The truck was within eight miles of Cut Knife when it got stuck in a snow drift. They had to abandon the vehicle and take refuge in a nearby farm house. In so doing, the patrol came upon a family of four stranded in their car in a ditch. The whole party was fortunate to find warmth and safety in Roy Ferguson’s farmhouse. So vicious was the weather that the entire group of seven survivors was forced to stay with the Fergusons for three days until the storm abated.
At 5:00 pm, four more Mounties set out from North Battleford to find Insp. McCOMBE.
Cpl. E.V. MATCHETT and Csts. J.A.J. LAKING, L. WALL and C.P. MISKIW left with W. Whiting, who was driving a Department of Natural Resources tank-tracked Bombardier. By now it was dark, visibility was zero and the storm was at its height. One of the officers had to walk ahead of the vehicle with a large spotlight to keep it from going off the road. The party of five braved the elements and searched for four hours, until they finally came upon the Inspector’s car at 9:00 pm. They found Insp. McCOMBE’s frozen to death on the floor of the back seat. Later, the coroner set the time of death between four and five o’clock.
Insp. McCOMBE’s loss was a severe blow to the RCMP and to the men who served under him.
Insp. McCOMBE was survived by his wife, Annie and their three teenaged sons. After a huge funeral in North Battleford, he was buried in the RCMP Cemetery in Regina. One of his sons, H. Barry McCOMBE, went on to become a Mountie and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He retired in 1994.
(Personnel File reviewed Photos available)