"We suddenly realized we were in the war. The sergeant said, 'reload;' and only half of us could get the bullets in, we were so shook up."
The big thing that happened while we were doing our [Royal Canadian Air Force] basic training, Lord Halifax [Edward Wood] came to Toronto; and, at that time, he was one of [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill’s cabinet ministers. So we had to prepare for a guard of honour and they took our little group, and we marched over to the automotive building where the [Royal Canadian] Navy were [HMCS York] and along come the army with a crack contingent. They must have been out of World War II and come back from Europe. They were all in order and dressage [full-dress uniforms].
So the navy went first in this guard of honour, the army went second and the air force, being the latest addition, went in the last group. So we get the band going, kilts, everything; and we start to march along the Lakeshore there, to practice for this guard of honour. They forgot about one thing there. The regimental sergeant major yells, "march," and we all pile into the navy. The navy marched at 45 [paces per minute] (laughs), the army and the air force marched at 60 paces to the minute. It took us a while to get organized and, finally, within a couple of weeks, Halifax arrived and we all marched up Bay Street to the city hall; and we were in the guard of honour, and had quite a reception there.
The next thing that happened, once we were into a pretty good marching condition and that, was we used to ride around in a stake panel truck, a wooden bench on each side and we were having lots of fun, going to different places that wanted the air force, or the army, to do a little marching. Finally, this one day, we pile into the truck and we’re all laughing and everything, and we get out at a funeral parlour. We get ready with our equipment, rifles and standing, and out came the casket and into the hearse. We went three blocks with the band and the slow march, and then we piled into our stake panel truck again and off we depart, and end up at the cemetery.
Then we got there in time with the hearse; and we lined up on each side of the grave. The sergeant says, "load your rifles," which we did. He said, "fire;" and we all fired. And then there was a blood-curdling scream and it was from the wife of the pilot that had died in training. We suddenly realized we were in the war. The sergeant said, "reload;" and only half of us could get the bullets in, we were so shook up.
Anyway, we got through it and it was a quiet ride home, realizing how important our lives were even then, and the chances of us getting through there.