"And there, you put your arm out and they put three dots the size of a nickel of mustard gas on your forearm, on both arms, and to see how it would affect you"
Just before I got into the army, I was helping out a couple of buddies that were stranded on Belle Isle [part of Detroit]. During the day, we picked up a rowboat and rowed over at night to pick them up and bring them back. But being the coastguard got us, I ended up in detention in Detroit. Later, I got out and two MPs [Military Police] picked me up at the tunnel. And right from the tunnel, I got in the army. I got in the army in Windsor on St. Luke Barracks, just about a block and a half from where I lived.
And then I got the training, marching up and down on the different streets, in the army of course. My mother would come out and say, here Gene, cookies and milk for the ten or 12 of us that were marching. It was kind of a little embarrassment for me, but that was it. Soon after that, I went to Stratford [Ontario] and it was winter. A lot of the fellows were out there shoveling the snow on the railways, but I was kind of a little smarter than that. I got hooked up with the electricians that were fixing up the barracks. It was an old furniture factory, three floors. So being handy at fixing electrical wires, I got out of the job of working outside. Later on, I got into the bugle band, just for the benefits, the parades and stuff like that.
And just so happened, somebody passed away and they needed somebody to blow a bugle at the cemetery. So naturally, all of us that’s in the bugle band, there was nine of us, had to practice who played the best. When it came to be my turn, I didn’t even know how to blow a bugle, I just held it there for the goodies that I could get from going on parades with them. So, first thing they said to me, “Turn in the bugle band, the bugle, you’re out.” Then I got shifted to Petawawa [Ontario]. In Petawawa, we had to have our basic training. But before that happened, I wanted trades pay. Here they found out I was in the army three months and no training. So he said, “How can you get any basic, you’re not even a soldier yet.”
So they shipped most of us to Petawawa and in Petawawa, we start training. So two months of basic training and then got some advanced training. The next thing I knew, I was working in the first aid helping people dispensing pills and salve and rubbing wintergreen ointment on their backs and that. And one day, the other people that was working there in the first aid with me said, “Hey Gene, it’s your turn.” And I said, “For what?” He says, “The fellows in the other room, he’s got piles.” And I said, “To heck with that, I’m not going to be looking up somebody’s backside, I don’t want to.” He said, “Well, in that case, you’re going to go to the kitchen and end up working washing pots.” I said, “That’ll be alright for me, at least I’ll eat good, keep warm, out of the winter weather.”
Well, I got in there and it wasn’t long after that, I got promoted into being in the kitchen and then a cook. So I was there for quite a few years in Petawawa. But during the time I was in Petawawa, they were looking for volunteers for experiment on poison gas and other chemical things. And I applied for that because that was a goodie going to Ottawa, you live good, you enjoy good, got a free pass to ride the streetcars and stuff like that. All for mustard gas tests and things like that.
In Ottawa, a building off of Sussex Street and that it was overlooking the Ottawa River. It was a huge three storey building that I can remember. And there, you put your arm out and they put three dots the size of a nickel of mustard gas on your forearm, on both arms, and to see how it would affect you. Other people got other kinds of treatments in other places that I actually didn’t know what they got, but knowing it, a lot of them really got seriously into the mustard gas and the poison gas and other kinds of chemicals that they tried. And they got really harmed quite a bit. But I was lucky that I healed up good on my arms and nothing shows to this day, it’s healed up beautifully.
I had a wonderful time in Ottawa. And it was good to me. Well, then I went back to Petawawa and in the kitchen, I was cooking and I end up, when winter came, summer, I got to be a bush cook, fighting forest fires. I would go out there and I would, I was fighting fires and I would be cooking the food for them for their meals. And we slept outside and I enjoyed that little bit of life. We also in the summertime, when the engineers group would be building a bridge, cutting the trees, and then blowing them up, just to get the experience and being an engineer. So I enjoyed that, that part of cooking for them also.
And I went back in the kitchen and next thing you know, I’m on draft to go overseas. We went to Sussex, New Brunswick and there I met my brother coming from Chilliwack [British Columbia]. So I applied for my brother to be with me so we could be together. His unit went over, but they took him off the draft because of the paperwork that we had to apply for to go together. Luckily for that, he missed going overseas.
But my brother wasn’t in active service, he was in reserve and I was active. So they took him and discharged him and I ended up going to Vancouver to help there when bringing the vets in from Japan. Well, the war ended in Japan, these veterans were coming back in very bad shape because we were starving them and other ways, ill fed. So I ended up in a Vancouver hospital. Next thing you know, I met a boyfriend, one of the fellows with me, in the place where we were staying, and we were going out with a couple of girls and I had more time to spend than he had with the girls. And I was getting kind of serious with his girlfriend. So I said, no, I don’t want to take away the guy’s girlfriend, so I said, no, I’m going to apply for a discharge.