Veteran Stories:
Murray Edwards

Army

  • Mr. Murray Edwards placing a wreath during a Rememberance Day ceremony.

    Murray Edwards
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"The very first interview was by a psychologist and the word went out very quickly that he was going to ask you a question on sex and if you embarrassed, you would fail. Most of us in those days couldn’t spell the word."

Transcript

Just at this point, word came through that I was to be sent to an officer selection centre in a big mansion that had been commandeered just outside Aldershot [the main training centre for the Canadian Army in England during World War Two] . And I reported there and we had 10 days going through the selection process and it’s funny how things can work out. The very first interview was by a psychologist and the word went out very quickly that he was going to ask you a question on sex and if you embarrassed, you would fail. Most of us in those days couldn’t spell the word.

Anyway, I was determined that I would not be embarrassed. I had thought that the selection centre would require a lot of math, my poorest subject in school. And in those days, the [Royal] Canadian Legion ran an educational program for the junior ranks and I wrote to them and asked if I could have a couple of math books. They sent me a couple and they also sent me a copy of Stephan Leacock’s, History of the British Empire [an English-born Canadian political scientist, writer and humorist].

Well, going to school in America, I didn’t know much about British history and I wasn’t going to start studying it at this point. However, you know how you can leaf through a book and certain paragraphs catch your eye, I went in, this officer said, Number 88, we went by numbers, not names, while we were there, sit down. I sat down, he said: ‘Read any good books lately?’ Well, I knew the answers should be rest, yes, but I had only been in the army about nine, ten months by that time, I hadn’t had time to be reading anything. But I said: ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Well, what have you read lately?’ I said, Stephan Leacock’s History of the British Empire. ‘Oh yes, he said, what part did you like best?’ I said: ‘I found it most interesting when the author compared British and French colonizing methods in Africa and it was one of those paragraphs, that it caught my eye.’ He said: ‘How did that go?’ And I said: ‘It was where the British tried to make every African a better African and the French tried to make every African a better Frenchman.’ Oh yes, he said, thank you very much, send [Number] 89 in.’

The second one, one of the things they tested on was extemporaneous speaking and we were all gathered in this very large room and I noticed when they came, there was a captain and a lieutenant and the lieutenant had a shorthand book. Anyway, we all sat down and he said: ‘I’ll be calling you by number and I’ll give you a subject and I expect you to speak on that.’ The very first question they asked, they asked a chap: ‘Tell us about medieval architecture.’ Well, the chap got up and he talked about master masons and the way the cathedrals are built and flying buttresses and he got by. And seven more were asked and then he called my number and he said: ‘Number 88, tell us something about beekeeping.’

Well, I had a cousin in England who kept bees and just before the war, he had written to my dad and asked him if he would send a book on American beekeeping, he thought there might be a few tips in there that wasn’t familiar to him. And I love nature, I belonged to a nature club at the time and before my dad mailed the book, I read it. I couldn’t have been asked for a better subject than beekeeping. So I got by that one.

At the very end of it, the commandant of the selection centre was a Danish officer, a cavalry officer from World War I, a Colonel Bjorn. And on the Sunday, the last day, each of us paraded in the gardens and introduced ourselves. When my turn came, he said: ‘And your name?’ ‘Edwards, Sir.’ ‘Edwards, you know, Edwards, I never forget a name, good work, Edwards’, ‘Thank you, Sir.’ Well, I was told about a month later I had passed and we all had to attend what they called a pre-octu [Pre-Officer Cadet Training Unit], which was strictly academic training for a five week course and on the first Saturday morning, we all paraded and waited for an inspecting officer that was to arrive and when he arrived, it turned out to be Colonel Bjorn. And when he came to me, he looked me up and down, the same as he did everyone else and then the inspection party came down the back of the rank and the parade square was crushed flint and it was just crushed, crushed, crushed as they walked. And all of a sudden, all the footsteps stopped behind me, I got a punch in the shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: ‘Edwards, you see, I never forget a name.’

Anyway, we were told we were going to attend a training in England and at the last minute they said, no, we’re sending you back to Canada. Most of us said, we’d rather stay here. They said, no, you will leave for Canada. Well, if you wanted an introduction to the good and bad movements, the train took us to Greenock in Scotland, where we were to catch the [HMS] Queen Mary. Just before the train stopped, a warrant officer came through the train and said: ‘When the train stops, fall out in two ranks on the right side of the train station in the engine.’ The engine stopped right next to the dock and we were given a quick march, right turn and we marched onto the dock and each of us handed a meal sitting and a cabin number into a tender, onto the Queen Mary. We were in our cabins about a half an hour after the train stopped. We arrive in New York and from the top deck of the Queen Mary, I could almost see my home in New Jersey [Mr. Edwards was born in the United States] and I asked permission to phone my mother to say I had arrived safely. Oh, we can’t do that, we can’t have everybody knowing the Queen Mary’s in harbour, as if they could hide it.

Anyway, I had to travel to Montreal and then Toronto where they said: ‘Where would you go on leave?’ and I said: ‘New Jersey’, and got back on the train and went right back. One of the things that made all of us mad, some of the boys with me had been in England since 1939 and 1940 and lived on the West Coast. They knew it was a little over two weeks before Octu would start but all they gave us was one week’s leave. So the boys on the West Coast never got a chance to see their home. Instead of that, we paraded at the Od Stanley Barracks [military barracks] in Toronto every morning and then had the afternoon free.

Anyway, Octu came, we went through that and finished, got our commissions and three of us were asked if we would join the instructional staff at the optu, including myself. So instructed the optu for a course but one of the prerequisites was to attend the battle school at Vernon [British Columbia]. And as soon as the first course came up available, the three of us were dispatched to Vernon for the course. We didn’t know it but on the course with us was a British major from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. What we didn’t know was that as I mentioned earlier, the standard of training of officers arriving in England was poor and they had sent this British major over to sort the thing out and set the school up properly. And typical Brit, he came and took the course first to see what was wrong with it, stood it down for a month, rewrote the whole program and laid on that no student would be accepted for future courses who hadn’t had at least two weeks of strong physical training. Because the course, the way he was going to run it, you had to be in physical shape.

Well, the first course arrived and about a third of them hadn’t had the two weeks training and he just put them on the train and sent them home. We had no more problem on that. He turned to two of us, including myself, and asked us if we would join his staff. So instead of going back to optu staff, I stayed on the battle staff. It was like night and day, the changes he had made. And we ran for four courses and then some brass [high ranking officers] from Ottawa came out to visit and when they looked at the live firing training that he was conducting, threw up their hands in horror and said: ‘You’re going to have somebody killed.’ His planning was so meticulous, we never had a problem of anybody even hurt.

Anyway, he said either I run this school as I want to run it and the way it’s running or I go back to Britain. And they said: ‘Then you’d better go back to Britain.’ And the very first course after he left, we had two men killed, strictly because his planning wasn’t there anymore.

Anyway, at this point, they were getting short of infantry officers in Europe [by the end of the Northwest Campaign of 1944-1945] and they suddenly froze the whole staff, closed down the battle school and we carried on converting signal officers, air force officers and so forth to infantry. And finally, two of us got our release just in time to get to Halifax for VE Day [Victory in Europe Day, May 1945].

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