by Major Ronald R. Lilley, CD
This article was the first of two found in our collection. The date or purpose for which is was written is unknown. The second article will be posted in two week. Lilley left the Loyal Edmonton Regiment to join the 1st Battalion QOR in March 1954.
Back in the Spring of 54 (1954), not 1854, as many of my more recent associates would claim, the formation of 1 QOR of C was in progress at Currie Barracks, Calgary. Major C.P. McPherson (CP), acting by authority of Lieutenant-Colonel John Delamere’s absence, was the Supreme Commander of a handful of riflemen, NCOs, WOs and officers. The term “motley” may be an unkind term to use in describing this crew, but motley it was. The Adjutant, Captain Frank Moad and RSM Rusty Rowbotham completed the Bn HQ triumvirate. Lieutenant Fred Sargent (the QM) and I, at the time of my reporting in, were the only two First Lieutenants. Our association increased in size when Lieutenants Lloyd Cornett, Herb Pitts and Bob Munson reported for duty. At that time the PPCLI still reigned supreme in the permanent Mess on the hill while the LdSH (RC) were located adjacent to them in the temporary wartime buildings. Our Mess was located in an old Air Force H-Hut located adjacent to the Northeast corner of the parade square.
“Tea” was an informal “parade” where the CO determined the progress made on the state of the union and made or rescinded his various pronouncements, such as “ALL officers will wear moustaches.” Parties “spontaneous or otherwise” always ended up with “Grease the Tube”. After every shot, the Mess Secretary, while he was capable of doing so, gathered up and placed in an appropriately labelled bag, mainsprings, crystals, cog wheels, etc., of the individual’s wristwatch. The equivalent of a Timex was soon worn by all officers, and issue watches were in great demand.
Inevitably, Wainwright was upon us and Major Don Creighton became acting 2IC, relinquishing the command of HQ Coy to Lieutenant Lilly. The Coy was in the best shape possible considering the paucity of equipment and personnel. At the time, I was corresponding with Captain “Honest John” Mitchell, who was the Sigs Officer designate. “Honest John” took over his platoon several weeks after we were in Wainwright and it he had been prone to heart seizures we would have lost him on day two of his service with the unit. CO’s briefings were held daily, with the officers assembled around a campfire pit. Young 2/Lt Mike Newell ([later] Deputy Commander 12 RBC – Valcartier) commanding one of the sp wpns pls, was scorched by the CO’s wrath when, after receiving a direct order for events to take place the following day, he said: “I won’t do it.” Mike was suffering from an abscessed tooth, as I recall, and had a dental appointment for the next day. CP’s fury provided an unexpected anaesthetic. Incidentally, Mike did have the tooth extracted and not by CP.
My turn came at the end of one of the Bde exercises. The Bn was granted 24 hours in the built-up area for R&R. I had checked over the officers’ quarters and had allocated the rooms by placing the officer’s name on the appropriate door. Unfortunately for me, I had to return to the Men’s area because their quarters allocation had been halved and I had to make up a new plan. In my absence the Straths advance party overruled our representatives and re-allocated the CO’s suite and most of the choice rooms to their CO and officers. On my return to the Officers’ Mess I felt righteous indignation for the treatment to which I was subjected.
By this time, we had all learned to keep our mouths shut and not to raise the subject of our undoing until another officer fell into the excreta, or for at least 48 hours. My saviour had already been earmarked by fate, Lt Ivor MacLeod by name. Those were the days of “NO shortages.” A smouldering mattress heaved from a second storey window (still open) was discovered the next day by CP. Poor Ivor had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette; feeling extremely warm, he had taken the aforementioned action which caused the inevitable chain reaction.
That same summer, then, in an effort to increase the mobility, started the first post-war experiment which eventually led to the procuring of the M113A1 APC. 2/Lt Spike Vanier, with a fleet of tired bren gun carriers, streaked around the training area on a preconceived battle plan. Experiments the next summer included transporting troops in 3/4 ton trucks and trailers. We must have been blessed by either CP or the Almighty, because we never lost a man.
Individual training began once again after the leave period and we were soon introduced to a new Capt Adjutant in the personage of George Hall. George, the nemesis of CP, was noted for using his Christian name on part one orders, green tinted glasses, a moustache and his wife Bunty. George and Bunty were also noted for their after-duty escapades. George continually tried to widen the entrance to Currie Barracks, was usually successful, much to the chagrin of the Garrison Commander. Bunty became infamous at a Strath Mess Dinner involving CP, Kurt Greenleaf (CO LdSH (RC) and General Vokes (GOC Western Command) . I eventually replaced George as adjutant and Lloyd Cornett in time replaced me . By accident or design, all the adjutants (Frank Moad, myself and Lloyd Cornett) with the exception of George Hall, were to meet Rod MacKay, the former Bn 2IC, in Vietnam.
After a sojourn in Vietnam, I returned to the unit in Sep 56 and after a relatively short but peaceful existence. “Rapid Step” was upon the unit in its full fury. I was relegated to be OC Rear Party and missed out on all the fun in Halifax, much to my dismay but to the eternal joy of my wife. Rehearsals for the Feu de Joie were held on the RCAF tarmac at Lincoln Park. This always caused a minor problem because the Air Force stenos had tender ears and objected profusely to their Station Commander about the air pollution which followed the unit in the form of a blue haze. Needless to say that RSM Rusty Rowbotham was the main contributor with minor contributions being made by various CSMs. Officers received sword drill from CSM Ken MacLeod in Scott Hall. We in those days carried the famous Wilkinson Sword made in Japan. Trying to balance it was like holding a 6-pounder Atk gun in the vertical position by the muzzle. Young Ken using the best techniques of instruction of that day, continued to practise us in sword drill by numbers and by numerous demonstrations to inculcate the finer points in our rather erratic movements. In due course, we were able to do the whole drill. Wishing to sharpen us up, he prepared to give us one more demonstration using his own words of command. “Draw Swords”, shouted CSM MacLeod, and with a flourish, his hand went through the motions. To his dismay and to our amusement, the blade never left the scabbard and momentarily basket, sword knot and handle were held in a gloved hand with the blade parallel to the ground, elbow at the side, then in slow motion the basket, complete with knot, did a barrel roll to the concrete floor. Sword drill was suspended for the rest of that day in a gale of laughter.
Wainwright 57 saw the unit in bivouac at Border Lake and once again I was casting covetous glances at our mates in our rifle coys and at those officers in the rifle coys of the ad hoc bn formed under Major Ron Wilkinson, our Bn 21C. We went through the various rounds of inspections of the HQ Coy Bivouac area. On one occasion, LCol Chuck Lithgow accompanied by the Comd MO and Food Services Officer, commented on the completeness of amenities in our area and jokingly said “Where’s your deep freeze?” To his amazement, I said to Staff “Zump the Pump” Zumprelle, “Show them our deep freeze.” Zump showed them our ice cream cooler suitably concealed in a bush near the kitchen.
The next summer saw us located in the Westgate area. That was the summer I learned to tactically employ helicopters. My most important task, brought on by the introduction of helicopters, was to race around the whole bn area ensuring that crapper lids were closed. The Bde Commander, Brigadier Wrinch, had a fetish for hovering over bivouac areas and peering into open crappers.
The incident I remember best and will undoubtedly be reported on more adequately by others, involved the OC and 2IC of a rifle coy which shall remain nameless. On a dark and probably stormy night the 21C Capt John Probyn (1 had to use a web belt on the old grouch to make him human when he was adjutant) was returning from a recce of a coy crossing site. The coy was to launch an attack across the Battle River. Time being of the essence, the coy Comd Major Hank Elliot had decided to move the coy forward. In ground mist obscured depression, the 2IC and Coy Comd encountered each other and locked radiators.
Pte McAteer, the outstanding batman in the unit, was ordered during an emergency move of HQ Coy to look after our stock of ammunition (blank of course) by CSM George Collings. While establishing our new position the CSM yelled several times for McAteer to bring forward the ammunition for redistribution. McAteer had disposed of the ammo by burying it in the old location.