"Well, we had no equipment for instance. We would go on parade on Monday night and we were carrying a sword!"
I was 15 years old and I came from a very large family and times were very very hard. There was no father; my stepfather was dead. So I was working. There was nothing to do. There was no money and there was nothing to do, so I met my chum, Bob Kerrins, one night and he was in uniform. And I asked him what he was doing and he explained, : he went down Monday, Mondays and Wednesdays I think or Tuesdays and Thursdays, I can’t remember. But every Thursday night, they went riding, they rode horses. And I thought that was a great idea so I went down and I joined the regiment with them. And then we trained on, I believe it was Monday nights and then Thursdays nights, we went up to Sunnybrook Farm, where Sunnybrook Hospital is now. The police had a riding academy there and so did we. And we rode horses and just had a good time on them.
And that’s what attracted me to it. But I took to army life, I liked it. I didn’t mind the drill and the discipline and learning to be a soldier. But of course, it was all very old- fashioned, it was all way still back in the 1918 days of army life, you know. We weren’t modern at all.
Well, we had no equipment for instance. We would go on parade on Monday night and we were carrying a sword! We paraded with swords belted to our bodies. And we learned how to draw swords and carry swords and this sort of thing. And we had no armoured vehicles or anything like that. But then as things developed, we were turned into a motorcycle regiment and things began to move. But previous to that, all our training had been based on the World War I training, the 1914/1918 style of things.
Well, that was all across Canada. We had no idea, there was no plan, well, they had plans but they were never practiced. We had no idea of the concept of war the way that Germany went to war in ’39. The way they traveled, the way they fought, was entirely new. And we had to start learning all over again.
When the regiment was called out, we went on guard at the Welland Canal and we just walked up and down with old rifles and our swords and we had a troop of men who were riding up and down the canal, protecting it from supposed saboteurs. And we also put a guard around the air drome, up at Camp Borden; and we had a squadron up there. And we just learned to march and drill and rifle drill and we learned a little bit about machine guns. I liked the machine guns, I was pretty good at it, and I became an instructor. I was promoted to a corporal. In those days, I was an instructor in small arms, — pistols, rifles, machine guns. But like a Lewis gun was left over from World War I, which was the machine gun.
Now, there was a new machine gun called a Bren. And it was developed in Czechoslovakia. When war broke out, I think all across Canada, there were about 10 of those machine guns used for demonstration purposes. But we weren’t prepared for a war, we had no idea how to fight a modern war. And we learned, slowly but surely, we learned what we had to do.
The regiment was formed up in Camp Borden and we were an armoured regiment, a motorcycle regiment first, and we were going to be issued machine guns. So they sent me to this armoured corps training centre to learn to be an instructor in weapons and tank gunnery and small weapons and so on. And I did extremely well there because I was young and interested. They made application for me to be transferred to them as an instructor. And that’s how it went.
Basically, everybody accepted discipline in pretty good terms. Like I was a lance corporal, a corporal, a sergeant, a staff sergeant and then a warrant officer. And you learn over a period of time just how far you can push people. You don’t deliberately pick on someone, just to get him antagonized. But when you’re doing certain drills, you have to get them mad. You have to make them put a lot more force into it, particularly after they’d they’ve been training for a long time.
Suppose we’re doing bayonet fighting. You’ve got a rifle that weighs about nine pounds and you’ve got a bayonet on the end of it. And you’re supposed to stick this bayonet into a straw dummy. And you’re supposed to do it with all the vigour and force you can muster. Now, after you’ve done it for a couple of years, you’re not interested in bayonet fighting and you’re not interested in sticking it into a straw dummy. You’ve done it and done it until you’re sick and tired of doing it.
So what we have is the instructor has a big long pole, about six feet long. On one end of the pole, there’s a metal ring fastened to the pole, a small metal ring about three inches in diameter. At the other end, there’s a great big rubber pad. So you hold this big long rod in the position and you tell the soldier to shove his bayonet through the hole in the bottom ring. You yell, “Thrust, !” and he pokes his rifle through it. Now, you do this two or three times and he’s not putting in the effort into it, so you just swing your hand and you let the rubber pad hit the side of his head. Well, once you do it once, that’s not bad. You do it twice, it’s not too bad. By the third or fourth time you hit him, he’s getting pretty mad at you and then he starteds to work. And he’s taking his bad temper out on doing bayonet work. You do that sort of thing. Or you yell a lot. You keep them running, you keep on chasing them all the time.
But in the evenings, you leave them alone, you don’t go near them, you stay away from them. You go to the same shows that they go to, if they’re having a theatrical group in for an evening’s entertainment, you go to the same shows and that sort of thing but you don’t eat with them as a sergeant. As a lance corporal and a corporal, you do, but as a sergeant and up, you have your own quarters. So you leave them alone and let them get over their mad, you know.
But that’s the way you work at it, something like that. You find yourself chasing ’ him, you find fault a lot. You find a button undone or a badge dirty or a dirty rifle or pants not pressed or boots not shined properly or a bit of rust on the bayonet or a bed not made properly. Every day, they’re inspected for everything. Your kit’s inspected and you’re inspected and if you don’t shave in the morning, you’re in serious trouble. That sort of thing.