Memories Uninvited - Army Stories


Shortly after arriving in Valcartier, in early August, 1940, Lieutenant Elmer Denison summoned me to his quarters and asked me if I would like to act as his batman. Elmer Denison had been my Grade VIII teacher. Looking back, he probably thought he was doing me a favour, since I was a small and rather immature 18 year old. I thank him now for that, but my mind was set on being a he-man. I accepted the offer, but when I found out that the job included shining his shoes, making his bed, I was not enthused. The first time my name came up for quarter watch guard duty, I eagerly accepted, neglecting to explain that I was a batman, and would therefore have been excused from such mundane chores as quarter watch and kitchen fatigue. Needless to say, that was the end of my batman career.

That night I had a midnight snack of bread and honey in the Company kitchen and came down with a case of hives I remember to this day.

We had, in the early days of Valcartier, an officer by the name  of Captain McLeod. Where he came from and where he went is still an unanswered question for me. He was tough. He gave us lectures on the perils of venereal disease, and how to avoid same. He taught us deportment as a soldier, and other behaviour that marks a good soldier.

While he was lecturing, if he thought your attention was wavering in the slightest, his punishment was swift and severe. He made Reg Taylor stand at attention for a half-hour in the blazing sun for absentmindedly plucking a blade of grass while the good Captain was making a point on some important policy, such as, why the puttee should be wound clockwise instead of otherwise. Art Duggan suffered a similar fate for admitting he was tired at the beginning of a lecture on the merits of personal cleanliness. Fortunately, Captain McLeod was left behind at Valcartier, and we never saw him more.

Sussex, Quarter Guard

When we moved to Sussex, NB, from Valcartier in October, 1940, the huts to which we were assigned were brand new. So new, in fact, that some,  "D" Company's included, had not been electrically wired, and many did not even have glass in the window openings. The toilets were working, but there were no stalls, just a row of crappers. In fact, the whole room was bare except for a few essentials. In addition to that, some of the toilets in our hut were continually getting plugged, and the contents thereof sometimes overflowed to the floor.

One Saturday, in early November, Lance Ross, who was then a Corporal, was assigned to command the Quarter Guard. Now, Lance like all of us, liked a good time, and still does in spite of his ninety years. On this particular day, Lance got a day pass to go to Moncton. He was supposed to be present at 6 pm, to take care of the Changing of the Guard. When Lance didn't show up at six, yours truly, Good Samaritan, meddler, take your choice, and a buck private to boot, undertook to save a buddy from trouble, and not being able to locate another NCO, it being Saturday and all, I decided to change the Guard myself. I should add that Lance had earned the respect of all of us, even though our military career's had been short. I was just doing what a buddy would do to help  another buddy. Anyone in No.17 Platoon would have done the same for him. I located all the guys who were supposed to go on Guard Duty and got them posted.
About six-thirty I went in to the washroom and I heard a low moan coming from the far end of the room. It was dark, of course, so I couldn't see who was there. I decided to get a flashlight and investigate, but something distracted me, and I forgot about  it.Lance came in about eleven-thirty, with his crooked grin a little more pronounced, and after getting a report from me, went into the washroom. When he came out, he said, "there's someone in there."  That reminded me, and armed with a flashlight, we went in for a look.

As we rounded the corner at the doorway the flashlight beam fell on a figure lying on his side, knees drawn up, and rear end pointed toward us. What a sight. A hemorrhoid the size of my index finger protruded from his posterior and he was covered with some of the contents of the blocked toilet bowl. We soon figured out what had happened. Tom, (not his real name), had gone into the toilet, taken down his battle dress trousers, and had made the mistake of sitting on a toilet that was plugged, full, to the brim! His battle dress trousers, with their high waist and short suspenders, unbuttoned behind, and up around the back of his neck, prevented him from straightening up after he fell off the toilet.

Tom was a drinker, and had no doubt stayed too long in the wet canteen that afternoon. Obviously, in his semi-conscious state, he had fallen asleep and had toppled off the throne, a definite unroyal unflush. Lance and I gingerly picked him up, still unconscious, and carried him to his bunk in Eighteen Platoon, heaved him up and covered him with his blankets, clothes, hemorrhoid, effluent, the works. Poor guy, he was unable to keep up on parade, largely because of an old ankle injury. He was discharged in Sussex, for reasons of, "Not likely to become an efficient soldier." He went back to his home town, continued his drinking, and was found dead on the beach some years later not far from his home.

Drummed Out

One incident in my army life that left a lasting impression on me, was the "Drumming Out" of a fellow soldier. "Drumming Out" is the most severe punishment a soldier can get, short of the firing squad. Pat, (not his real name), a fellow from a place not far from where I was brought up, had joined the Royal Rifles about the same time as I had. He was a bit of a maverick, and didn't take kindly to army discipline. He spent an awful lot of time AWL, and most of the rest of the time in detention barracks.

While we were in Sussex, in the fall of 1940 the powers that be decided that Pat had gone far enough, and that his membership in the Royal Rifles of Canada was no longer desirable.

At any rate, one dull, rainy Saturday morning, the whole Regiment was assembled in a hollow square on the muddy Parade Ground. Pat was marched in, and his crimes were read off. Then an officer stepped forward and ripped off his epaulets, and whatever other insignia he wore and the sentence was read, "Dishonourably discharged!"

What good did it do? I have always suspected that these same powers were seeking some diversion, and reasoned that no further harm could be done by Drumming the poor fellow out, rather than giving him a simple dishonourable discharge. Pat, whatever personal shame he harboured for the rest of his life, died only recently.

When I recently met my old Sergeant-major, and mentioned the incident to him, he told me that there had been no "Drumming Out" in the British Army since the eighteen-hundreds. Maybe it wasn't a "Drumming Out" in the conventional meaning of the term, but that's what we were told it was, and the results were the same.

Home on Leave

I went home on leave from Sussex in November, 1940, and while I was there I came down with Scarlet Fever. For the next four weeks I was quarantined at home. Although I enjoyed being with my parents, I was unable to leave the house, and found the time long. One day I told my Mother I was thinking of joining my cousin in the Air Force. She said, "Stay where you are. You're in enough trouble now!" Spoken like a true Mother.

When the quarantine period was over, just before Christmas, I was told to report to Quebec City, since the Regiment had moved to Newfoundland in the meantime. There I met, among others, Leo Murphy, who died only recently, and his brother, Reynald*, who, sadly, was killed in action in the defence of Hong Kong. I spent a memorable Christmas in Quebec, being treated excellently by several families that I met there. Little did I realize that I was passing up the opportunity of spending the last Christmas for four years with my father and my mother.

*Murphy, Reynald  E/30639, December, 21/41