'It felt weird being called sir': 11-year-old P.E.I. historian gets VIP treatment at military camp

When 11-year-old Riley Clarke woke up Tuesday morning, he had no idea the kind of day he was in for. While most kids his age were busy learning math and English, he was piloting a military robot at a temporary military base on Prince Edward Island.

Riley Clarke recognized for preserving military history

Riley Clarke was presented with a special plaque, recognizing his great-grandfather's service in the Second World War, and the young historian's own efforts to preserve military history. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

When 11-year-old Riley Clarke woke up Tuesday morning, he had no idea the kind of day he was in for. 

While most kids his age were busy at school learning math and English, he was piloting a military robot. 

"Apparently it's supposed to be a land mine detector," Riley said. "I just kept turning it around and driving it forward toward mom. I harassed my mother with a robot!"

It's not an opportunity the Canadian Armed Forces gives to many 11-year-olds.  

11-year-old Riley Clarke got an exclusive tour of the base camp, set up this month at Slemon Park, near Summerside, P.E.I. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

'He's an amazing young guy'

The Summerside boy caught the Forces' attention a year ago, when CBC told the story of his impressive collection of Second World War artifacts. 

Riley Clarke poses with his collection of artifacts from the First and Second World Wars in November, 2017. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

Riley made it his personal mission to find and preserve as many artifacts as possible, after learning his great-grandfather had served in the war. 

"He's an amazing young guy," said Lt.-Col. Jason Gale.  

"Not all 11 year olds are receiving artifacts from across the country to remember military members. So that was striking to us, when we read the articles about what he's done already."

Lt.-Col. Jason Gale was happy to present Riley with a special plaque to honour his family. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

So when Gale and 450 other Canadian Armed Forces engineers descended on P.E.I. for a month of training exercises, it was an easy decision to invite Riley to their massive base camp at Slemon Park, and give him the VIP treatment. 

We've invited the lieutenant governor of P.E.I., we've invited the premier, and the deputy minister of veterans affairs.  But at the top of that list was Riley Clarke.- Capt. Jamie Tobin, public affairs officer 

"We make it a point to reach out to important people in the community," explained public affairs officer, Capt. Jamie Tobin. 

"On that list, we've invited the lieutenant governor of P.E.I., we've invited the premier, and the deputy minister of veterans affairs.  But at the top of that list was Riley Clarke for all the advocacy he does for the military, preserving that military history. He's doing more than many of our soldiers, to tell the story of our past."

Capt. Jamie Tobin said it was important for the visiting soldiers to invite Riley Clarke to visit the active military camp. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Plaques and promotions 

Riley wasn't just rewarded with a tour of the camp.  He was named deputy commanding officer for the day. 

"It felt weird being called sir. I'm only called Riley. Never in my life have I been called sir," the young historian said. 

Riley Clarke had the chance to pilot this bomb-detecting robot, from a command centre off limits to media. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

On top of getting the exclusive tour, piloting the bomb-detecting robot, and eating lunch with soldiers in the mess hall, Riley was also presented with a handful of souvenirs, and a special plaque. 

It recognizes his great-grandfather's service in the Second World War, and his own efforts to preserve military history. 

After finishing his tour of the camp, Riley Clarke got to share a meal with soldiers in the mess hall. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"It's cool to have a plaque," Riley said.

"I'd like to thank the soldiers very much ... for inviting me into their camp. I think the world could use soldiers like them."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Sarah Keaveny-Vos

About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.