Taken from a draft copy of our Regimental History “The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 1860 – 1960, One Hundred Years of Canada” The author was Lieutenant-Colonel William T. Bernard, ED, CD. and published in 1960. Spelling left as in the draft copy.
ARRIVAL IN NEWFOUNDLAND
The short trip on the Duchess of Richmond was very pleasant. Accommodation was ample, the food excellent, the weather warm and the sea smooth. The usual boat drills were held; a muster parade completed for a complete check up on personnel aboard; and the QM found time to issue identification discs and anti-gas eye-shields. Destroyer H60 accompanied the ship and by a curious coincidence the first aeroplane sighted on escort duty bore the number 753. The serial number of the battalion was also 753.
The route taken was through the Straits of Belle Isle to Botwood, Newfoundland. Twenty-four hour rations were issued to all ranks just before the ship dropped anchor at 0800 hrs, 10 August. All troops and baggage had to be removed by tender, a slow and tedious process. A and B Companies and a detachment from HQ Company remained at Botwood under Major W. L. Bryan. C and D Companies and the remainder of HQ Coy, under Lieutenant Colonel MacKendrick proceeded by the well known narrow gauge railway to Newfoundland Airport at Gander in the Interior. It is perhaps necessary to note that, at that time, HQ Coy was a huge company. Later, it was split into Support Company and HQ Company.
By 1350 hrs, 10 August, the two trains transporting the troops and some stores had arrived at Gander. Here Lieutenant-Colonel Blackader, commanding The Black Watch, handed over to Lieutenant-Colonel MacKendrick. By 1450 hrs, the QOR had taken over the outposts. The Black Watch, with loud and fervent exclamations of relief, pulled out on the same trains that had brought The QOR in.
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Six weeks before The Black Watch had started from nothing, so naturally much remained to be done. The tents had no floors and, as there was little run-off from the rock, the camp was damp and clammy. There were no facilities for showers, the cook house was primitive, and recreational facilities were completely absent. The first night the temperature fell to 36 degrees F, the never ceasing wind howled around the tents, and icy rain fell fitfully. There were few in Gander that night who didn’t think longingly of the luxurious living afforded on the Duchess of Richmond.
The role of the battalion in Newfoundland was to preserve internal security, aid the Newfoundland Militia if required, and guard against sabotage at the airport and at certain other strategic points. This was a big task for one unit. It would be a fairly easy matter for an enemy submarine to find an isolated stretch of coast on which to land a group of saboteurs. Obviously, the airport at Gander was absolutely essential.
The next day, 11 August, the Botwood detachment spent on finishing the unloading of the Duchess of Richmond. At Gander, one company was on outpost duty, one on airport duty, and the third was the training company. A regular system of rotation was devised. Strange to say the men on outpost duty seemed the happiest. The platoons built shacks, improvised stoves, picked berries and caught trout. They had all been well briefed and much ingenuity was displayed in doing the job, as well as improving living conditions.
In bringing about the necessary improvements at Gander Lt. S. M. Lett, OC Pioneer Platoon, and a platoon of hard-rock miners form Geraldton, under Lt. I. R. F. Wilson, proved invaluable. In practice it was the same as having a platoon of engineers attached. There was little digging; dynamite had to be used and the battalion had the men who knew how to use it. So a garbage disposal system was evolved; the kitchens were improved; hot showers provided; floors laid in all tents; a proper ammunition storage shed built; and, as a final gesture, a three hundred-yard rifle range produced. One need hardly elaborate on the favourable effect on battalion morale.
One interesting event occurred on 12 August when two errant members of The Black Watch came out of the woods. They had apparently been on a spree at some lumber camp and didn’t even know that their unit had left. Their remorse was pitiful to behold. As The QOR was then officially known as Force W and was controlled directly by Ottawa, the suggestion was made to NDHQ that the two men be sent to rejoin their unit now in Canada. This was refused but no other instructions were sent. Finally, after two or three weeks, The Queen’s Own were ordered to take them on strength. This was done and the two finally went overseas with the battalion.
The Botwood detachment was more favourably situated as to amenities. Grand Falls could be reached by road and the general area was well populated. One of the detachment’s duties was to inspect and clear all ships entering the port. Perhaps the most important thing was to see that all the crew remained aboard. It appeared that one day the subaltern in charge of the inspection detail went out in his small boat armed with a Bren and challenged a big cargo steamer coming in.
“Stop or I fire,” yelled the dauntless subaltern.
“Don’t worry: we have to, or go aground,” came the imperturbable reply from a ship’s officer.
Honour was satisfied; and the captain stated later that it was the only comic relief he’d had after months of dodging submarines.
Many RCAF and British amphibian planes carrying various VIP’s (Very Important Persons) landed at Botwood. The detachment’s officers had a hut for a Mess and so were able to offer transient hospitality. The guests included captain the Honourable Harold Balfour, British Under-Secretary-of-State for Air; Sir Henry Tizard, Chairman, Aeronautical Research; Air Vice-Marshal W. Bishop VC; Mr. Jan Masaryk, Czecho-Slovak Minister to London; Major-General R. P. Pakenham-Walsh; Captain H. W. Faulkner RN, and many others.
By 15 August Mr. Peters, the Auxiliary Services officer, had managed to secure a moving-picture projector. Only about fifty men at a time could be accommodated but the ancient westerns and flaming love scenes of the twenties helped. So too did the military band which played at every opportunity. The bugle band was at Botwood. Mr. Peters also arranged with the citizens of Grand Falls to extend hospitality to one hundred of our men each week-end until all men at Gander had had a trip. This was an extremely generous gesture on the part of the citizens of this town and their kindness will be long remembered.
The RCAF squadron at Gander was also quite obliging in providing reconnaissance flights for the officers. One amusing incident occurred when, quite by accident, practically every senior officer at Gander was up on a flight in one plane. While the aircraft was circling to land it was noticed that all the junior officers were lined up near the hangar. As the plane taxied in the young gentlemen shook their heads sadly and marched off singing, “Bless ’em all”, with roaring emphasis on the line “There’ll be no promotion this side of the ocean.
VISITORS AND TRAINING
On 20 August, Major-General W. H. P. Elkins CBE DSO, Air Minister C. G. Power and Air Vice-Marshal L. S. Breadner arrived on a tour of inspection. Satisfaction was expressed with the progress made to date. The general confirmed the CO’s suggestion that a detachment be placed at Lewisporte and that concrete pill-boxes with an all-round traverse be constructed to supplement the slit trench section posts round the runways. At that time, a route march round the edge of the runways covered seven miles.
While in Newfoundland the battalion worked on an imprest account. That meant Ottawa established a credit in a Newfoundland bank of, say, $100,000.00. All payments to soldiers and civilians were made by our paymaster from this account. When the amount became low he simply wired Ottawa for further credit. During the time the battalion was in Newfoundland many hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid out and accounted for to the penny by the paymaster, Captain Ward Taylor. It was highly creditable performance for which the Treasury unbent enough to complement him.
About this time, huts began to be erected. A small engineer detachment under 2/Lt. “Rory” MacLeod RCE was attached to plan and supervise the work. All the labour was found locally. That statement isn’t literally true, however; when the news was bruited that carpenters were being paid $1.25 an hour men came in from miles away. The Newfoundland government protested that the pay was much in excess of the prevailing rate, to which the reply was made that The Queen’s own didn’t set the rate – Ottawa did.
As there was no refrigeration, considerable perishable food was condemned by the MO. The trains arrived at Gander at highly irregular times and, as a result, the meat was sometimes left for hours on the station platform. So the signals platoon ran a line from the little station to Bn. HQ. On notification that food was in, a special fatigue, on 24-hour notice, was sent down to pick it up. Soon after, Lieutenant-Colonel Westmoreland DS & TO arrived from Halifax to see if he could give assistance with the problem.
Training went on steadily and food progress was made. As well as the armourer, several seasoned shots from the NPAM days were still with the battalion. In consequence all rifles were well zeroed. The shooting standard became quite high. Sand-filled cans balanced on poles were used to supplement the official targets. The mere fact that the cans fell down when hit gave a fresh impetus to shooting. The country was ideal for field craft and compass work. Each specialist platoon did what it could with the equipment available. 2/Lt. N. R. Pilcher ran a physical training squad. Innumerable lectures were given and received by the officers; none escaped the public speaking ordeal; and one day, a week or so after a 3″ mortar arrived, Lt. H. E. Dalton and his mortar platoon put on a nice demonstration – including one spine-tingling misfire.
The makeshift RAP (Regimental Aid Post) was without sheets, hot-water bottles and other hospital necessities. The MO got in touch with the Red Cross. In the meantime, half a dozen ladies, wives of the permanent officials at the Airport, donated sufficient sheets so that our worst cases of influenza could be cared for more suitably. Occasionally, the RCAF squadron would hold a dance in a small hall in their administrative building. Ten or twelve Air Force officers would be present, with probably the same number of Queen’s Own. With complete adaptability to various complex styles, and amazing physical endurance, these same half-dozen ladies would dance with everyone in turn. It was certainly devotion beyond the call of duty.
Ten other ranks were returned to Canada as medically unfit on 3 September. Civilian rumour had it that two or three men were lurking in the bush near the Airport so a patrol was sent out to bring them in. There were a good many enemy internees on the island and it was always possible that some might escape. However, none was found. Major-General Elkins and Colonel Goodeve arrived on 5 September on second tour of inspection. The General laid special emphasis on a possible suicide attack by parachutists. Accompanied by the C.O., the party left the next day by Buda car (a small enclosed Diesel running on the railway tracks) to visit Botwood and Lewisporte, with a view to reconnoitring positions for field artillery. Later, selected QOR detachments made special recces to Brown’s Arm, Notre Dame Junction, Port Leamington, Twillingate, and down the Gander River from Glenwood to Gander Bay.
The Legion Hall opened on 5 September. A dry canteen under Lt. W. R. Robertson was opened and the first film shown. Six RCAMC orderlies arrived as the incidence of minor illness had arisen. On 7 September, A Coy from Botwood interchanged with C Coy from Gander. 2/Lt. D. A. Keith with his platoon completed a one-hundred yard rifle range at the Receiver Outpost so that shooting could continue uninterruptedly. General alarm practices were held at both Gander and Botwood. By 18 September, Lt. S. Lett and his pioneer platoon had constructed a grenade range and made many improvements to the camp drainage and sewerage. On 19 September, some twelve U.S.A. naval planes landed on Gander Lake. Many high-ranking officers were aboard, headed by Admiral J. W. Greenslade, USN. The general situation was discussed and many ground and air recces made. At the same time, Colonel C. S. Craig RCA, arrived to reconnoitre positions for AA guns. Major-General C. F. Constantine, DOC, MD No. 6 came in from Halifax with Colonel Campbell DMO; Major Dawson DDO, and Commander Gow RCN. The Airport was alive with “brass”.
A severe storm struck the Airport on 23 September; a good many tents were blown down and some general dislocation resulted. One officer and 87 other ranks arrived as reinforcements. Continued bad weather forced postponement of the return of several of our visitors. The RAP hut was now ready. A stove and plumbing had been installed by the versatile pioneer platoon. By 1 October, with a good deal of crowding, all the men were in hutments. This naturally made for a tremendous improvement in living conditions. The officers remained in tents until the beginning of November.
Rear-Admiral Bonham-Carter RN visited the Airport on 2 October and journeyed on to St. John’s, accompanied by Major-General Constantine and Lieutenant-Colonel MacKendrick. One task was to secure temporary quarters for The Victoria Rifles, who were to be sent to the capital in the near future.
On 4 October a Court-Martial was convened to try a man, who, for some time, had been marked as an agitator and underminer of morale. Unfortunately, it was one of those case in which everyone is convinced of the guilt of the accused but no one can really prove it. Major G. W. McMahon, Halifax Rifles, had flown up from Halifax to act as President of the Court-Martial. He was accompanied by other legal luminaries. The case was a cause celebre. Even the Air Force was interested; and every rifleman knew the story and welcomed the whole affair as something new and exciting.
2/Lt. D. A. Keith, a lawyer by profession, prosecuted. It was a difficult case from his point of view but he presented it logically and convincingly. Lt. I. R. F. Wilson, an advertising man by vocation and a raconteur of the first water by avocation, defended. It was a triumph of tear-jerking emotion; none of it particularly relevant but all magnificently acted. He did particularly well with the incident, in which the accused, when ordered by a corporal to scrub out the RAP bowed low to the floor three times chanting, “Great is Allah”. As was foreseen, the man was acquitted. However, he was sent back to No. 2 District Depot, where he transferred to the Artillery, and then promptly deserted.
American officers continued to arrive. They were now doing a survey of Argentia which was destined to become a large American base. A brigade force was to be stationed in Newfoundland in the near future. Colonel P. Earnshaw DSO MC RCCS, had been appointed Commander of “W” Force. He visited the battalion on 9 October to discuss the situation but, as his HQ was not set up, left the unit entirely on its own. On 10 October, Squadron Leader Paul RCAF arrived from Ottawa to put the message and accommodation of the transient civilian pilots on a firmer basis. B Coy from Botwood exchanged with D Coy of Gander on 15 October. By now the men had endured a lot, improvised even more and were thoroughly competent to look after themselves. The Legion Hall provided something every few days – a band concert, a movie, boxing, wrestling, amateur acts and so on. From the talent available the battalion mustered its best and, on 13 October, gave a concert at Grand Falls to the citizens who had so kindly entertained the troops. The band performed under Band Sergeant O. W. Marsh; Sgt. R. C. S. Blue played some classical piano selections; Rfn. W. H. Middleton sang and Rfn. F. J. M. Killick, the battalion siffleur, gave his usual inimitable numbers.
Lieutenant-Colonel MacKendrick left on 18 October to report to Ottawa so Major W. L. Bryan came up from Botwood, leaving Major J. G. Spragge in command at the port. A snowstorm struck on 18 October and a period of violent weather set in. Section posts were flooded and drinking water became in short supply. To add to the trouble the pipes leading to the showers burst. Once again the pioneer platoon swung into action. The snowstorm still raged on 26 October. On that day fourteen second lieutenants came through as qualified lieutenants. The Mess marquee really rocked that night without any aid from the storm.
The blizzard raged on till 29 October, leaving several feet of snow. All telephone and telegraph wires were out of commission and trains were from six to twelve hours late. The Outposts were put on a time schedule allowing the men to return to camp for sleep. Water supply was still a major problem. Railway sleeping-cars were put on a specially constructed siding for the civilian pilots. Sir Wilfred Woods, Commissioner of Public Utilities, came up with a temporary solution for the delay caused by all our supplies having to go through Newfoundland Customs. Sir Humphrey Walwyn KCSI KCMG CB DSO together with Lady Walwyn, paid the battalion a visit on 29 October. Their Excellencies had lunch with the officers at the Airport Administration Building, visited the hutments, and at a band concert in the evening Sir Humphrey gave an excellent talk to the men. At Botwood the next day the weather was kinder; so Sir Humphrey was received with a Guard of Honour under Captain G.F.C. Pangman and later inspected the detachment.
THE ISLAND GARRISON IS STRENGTHENED
By 31 October communications was reestablished by wire with the outside. The first company of Victoria Rifles arrived at St. John’s and our very good friend, Squadron Leader Carscallen RCAF was transferred to Halifax. A lot of trouble was experienced now with boots. The shoemaker couldn’t cope with the hundreds that had been worn out on the rocks. The snow was turning to slush and, despite greasing, the boots were soaked in very short time. No reserve stock was available and rubber boots were in very short supply. The Officers’ Mess and sleeping quarters were sufficiently completed by 2 November so that the officers could move in. The pioneer platoon had constructed a fireplace in the Ante-Room complete with regimental crest. It all seemed very luxurious.
On 10 November at 1900 hrs, the first flight of seven Hudson bombers took off for England. All arrived safely. It was a spectacular sight to watch the aircraft, unarmed and carrying every gallon of fuel possible, roar, with the exhausts spitting flame, down the mile-long runway. The Airport Control Room kept in touch until, at the point of no return, the British took over. The meteorological briefing of the pilots was done by Mr. P. McTaggert-Cowan, whose skill and knowledge contributed greatly to the success of this phase of the war effort. On this first flight a rather amusing touch was supplied by the band who, unable to read their music in the darkness, decided to play a hymn they all knew from memory – “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. As the Air Force remarked later, the effort, though of a religious nature, was hardly a morale lifter!
Now a shortage of coal and firewood was experienced and the incidence of minor illness rose sharply. Training went on, nevertheless. Roads were built around the hutments. Wireless reports from sea regarding enemy raiders caused a state of readiness lasting for several days. One touch of cheer was added when news was received that, in the near future the battalion was being returned to Canada. As Major Nesbitt had been transferred the battalion had to depend for medical services on the MO of the RCAF and, for a short time, on Captain M. T. Kobrinsky RCAMC. Thus the appearance of Lt. M. K. Gordon RCAMC was doubly welcome. Outdoor training became possible on 8 November and on Remembrance Day the usual memorial service was held. A fire broke out on 12 November at No. 7 Airport post. The post was completely gutted and all stores destroyed. Fortunately, no one was hurt. By now all water-pipes had been repaired and insulated. On 13 November word was received from Canada of a possibility of attempted sabotage. The Airport Guard was doubled. Nothing happened, however.
By this time practically everyone had but one dilapidated pair of boots left. Lt. S. M. Lett had joined dozens of others stricken with colds and influenza; the RCE officer was on sick leave; so Lt. J. N. Gordon took over as Works Officer. About this time the first 2″ mortar arrived. The existing hut wiring was not heavy enough, so Lt. A. V. Malone, Signals Officer, strung a three-line system using No. 4 wire. For the first time sufficient power was, available to run light pumps; and once more the versatility of the battalion’s officers and men had been demonstrated. On 18 November, a warning order was received that Serial 1042, The Royal Rifles of Canada, under Lieutenant-Colonel W. J. Home MC would arrive in the near future and that, on relief, The Queen’s Own would depart for Sussex, N.B., to join the 8th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Preparations for the hand-over began immediately. Heavy QM stores were loaded and, on 18 November, a parade was held for all ranks in full marching order with kit bags.
A farewell dinner was held on 20 November in honour of our Air Force friends. Throughout, they had been most kind and cooperative despite the fact that their own task was heavy indeed. As might be surmised, the dinner was a hilarious success. During the proceedings, the Air Officer Commanding presented our inimitable paymaster, Captain Ward Taylor, with a very fancy pair of wings. These, he declared, Ward had won by scrounging more flights than anyone else.
BACK TO CANADA
On 22 November, an advance party under Captain M. Milne left for Sussex, N.B. On 23 November, advance parties of The Royal Rifles began taking over both at Botwood and Newfoundland Airport. Thirty-two other ranks left for a week-end at St. John’s as guests of the Newfoundland GWVA. Intense cold now set in; seven Hudson bombers due to take off for England could not even start their engines.
As but one small ship, the S. S. New Nonhland, was available the battalion would have to travel back to Canada in three flights. Each flight must have its due complement of cooks and other essential personnel, so considerable care had to be exercised in determining the flight composition. The first, under Major W. L. Bryan, embarked at Botwood at 1600 hrs, 25 November. Bad weather delayed sailing until 1000 hrs, 26 November. As no naval protection was available the northerly route through the Straits of Belle Isle was taken. Coming out of the Bay of Exploits, heavy seas were encountered. By 1000 hrs, 27 November, the ship was making such little headway that the captain pulled in to a bay near Blanc Sablon. At 1600 hrs another fruitless attempt was made.
On 29 November, at 0300 hrs the captain tried again. This time the ship made some progress but was finally forced to take shelter in a small bay on Cape Breton Island. At 1400 hrs the ship put out but this time for Sydney, Nova Scotia, as provisions were running low. Finally, at 1730 hrs, on 30 November, Halifax was reached. The flight arrived at Sussex, N.B., on 1 December, with most of the troops claiming that they were still seasick.
Back at the Airport Lt. S. M. Lett left for a ski course at Ottawa. As the temperature was below zero it seemed an appropriate move. Now a second severe blizzard started. The C.O. and Adjutant who had been to Botwood to see the first flight off returned to the Airport by Buda car. They were fortunate to get through as the blizzard raged until 27 November. As a final blow all at Botwood were temporarily quarantined because of an outbreak of measles.
Despite the weather an RCAF Digby arrived from Halifax with The Honourable Colin Gibson accompanied by two of his staff, Captain Dyde and Mr. Davis. Lieutenant-Colonel W. A. Jones DADMS “W” Force was also on the plane. During all these comings and goings Lt. W. E. Bawden, together with the QM of The Royal Rifles and an RCOC representative, was busily engaged in the hand over. Lt. C. S. Heyes left on 2 December for Camp Borden to take a Carrier Course.
On 29 November the adjutant left for St. John’s to complete the rail arrangements for the final moves. By now the hand-over of stores was completed and the pay audit finished. The Royal Rifles had inspected every outpost and received all pertinent maps, sketches and emergency action schemes. The wind remained high; the snowfall heavy. After various experiments with snow blowers the Air Force found that the best plan was to steamroller the snow. So steadily though the storms the rollers moved in echelon up and down the main runways.
By 1 December, The Royal Rifles had taken over the Lewisport Detachment and our men had returned to the Airport. Ninety-seven bags of mail that had met with delay finally arrived. The sorting and distribution took eleven hours. Throughout the Newfoundland stay all outgoing mail had to be censored. This is really an unpleasant task and was not at all relished by the platoon officers. Once, a letter considered to be suspicious was brought to the Orderly Room. The suspicious part consisted of the scientific names of the local flora and fauna. It wasn’t a code. It was simply the observations of a rifleman who happened to be a student in biology.
Training was continued even though the sub-zero temperature persisted. Winter caps overshoes and sheepskin coats had arrived, but there wasn’t sufficient to outfit everyone. Nevertheless, a greater degree of comfort was obtained. Command passed from the OC Serial 753 to the OC 1042 at 1400 hrs on 6 December, 1940.
The Second Flight, under Lieutenant Colonel H. C. MacKendrick, left the Airport and embarked at Botwood at 0300 hrs, 7 December. Lt. H. E. Dalton and Lt. R. C. Clarkson supervised the loading into the ship of two freight carts of stores. A heavy swell and high wind greeted the ship the moment it got into the Bay of Exports. Quite fifty percent of the strength immediately became seasick. Nevertheless LMG’s were set up, and black-out sentries posted. The battalion still had to rely on itself. After a rough trip the Second Flight arrived at Sussex at 1630 hrs, on 11 December, and were met by Brigadier J. P. Archambault DSO MC, 8th Brigade Commander.
The Third Flight, under Major J. G. Spragge, left the Airport at 2330 hrs on 13 December, from Cornerbrook. Bad weather delayed the ship but at 1500 hrs, 15 December it put out. Later the wind increased in fury to such a degree that the New Nonhland dropped anchor in the lee of an island. Starting again, some progress was made, but at 0130 hrs on 17 December the captain made for Sydney, N.S. Enthusiastic coast defence batteries fired over the ship under the impression that it was an enemy raider. Even if it were, as seventy-five percent of the personnel were deathly sea-sick, not much damage would have been done. Finally, the Third Flight reached Halifax, and arrived at Sussex at 2140 hrs, 19 December.
As fast as possible, the men were reoutfitted and sent on 21 days furlough. This meant that about two-thirds of the battalion had Christmas at home and the remainder New Year’s Day. Those at camp drew vehicles, weapons and store: the amount of training done was quite limited. At Christmas the ladies of the St. John Chapter, IODE, arranged for a dance for those in camp. In the morning, after the Church services the traditional Christmas dinner was held with the officers and senior NCO’s waiting on the men. Christmas greetings were exchanged with The Colonel-in-Chief, H.M. Queen Mary. Major J. G. Spragge left to attend the Field Officers’ Course at the Royal Military College on 27 December. Everyone was enjoying the amenities of life. 1940 ended on a very happy note.
IMPACT OF NEWFOUNDLAND ON THE BATTALION
What was the effect on The Queen’s Own of the six months’ stay in Newfoundland? Sartorially speaking, worn-out boots and frayed, stained battle dress indicated that much more time had been devoted to training and work than to military pageantry. This, however, was easily remedied. Boots and battle dress were available at Sussex and it takes very little effort to bring back the “spit and polish” to men who have the background. What mattered was that the essentials had been achieved; confidence in one another; a tightly knit solidarity; and the knowledge that the attributes of a rifle regiment had been truly demonstrated.
The returning men had shown themselves capable of both mental and physical endurance. Like the Chinese water torture, little things, by constant repetition, build up cumulatively. The never-ending wind at the Airport is an example. It brought some to the breaking point. To those with small inner resources the entire lack of recreation was a great strain; and, it is undoubtedly true that, to a few, the communal life of the Army is an extremely difficult adjustment. One by one these people had departed; only the hardened core remained.
Who of those present will ever forget the evenings which off-duty personnel spent huddled around makeshift oil-drum stoves in battered marquees? Outside, the wind howled and snow worked its way through the flaps. Inside, in the muggy, smoky atmosphere the home-made entertainment went on. What memories will linger around the tattered tent the officers called their Mess; Ian Wilson’s stories, told in a perfect imitation of the local dialect; Hugh Downie’s attempts at a little home-cooking; Ellie Dalton’s effervescent yarns; Steve Lett’s constant matching of the CO’s latest and best anecdote; the mock Court-Martial of the adjutant; the howling of college yells with Ian Matheson; the lone McGill man, out-shouting the rest; Sid Heyes displaying a handful of detonators (omitting to mention that they were empty) and suddenly throwing them into the stove, remarking that he couldn’t stand any more (never was a marquee cleared more quickly); the shooting, strictly against orders, of a moose by an outpost sentry and the varied explanations by the subaltern in charge regarding the manner in which the vicious brute charged the law-abiding rifleman; the Newfoundland folk-songs sung in bellowing chorus? The officers, like the NCO’ and riflemen, kept the flag flying with their own vitality; the battalion was strong at heart.
In one sense the experience had been a rifleman’s paradise. For the greater part of the time the battalion was entirely on its own. Training, protective duties and the struggle to live went on concurrently. No one was there to help; and, it must be said, no one was there to hinder. Improvisation was the order of the day. Occasional failure was experienced; but it served only as a spur to redoubled efforts. From C.O. to rifleman, initiative, hard work and cheerful spirit had been expected and had been manifested in abundant measure. Everyone was quite certain that, no matter what the task, somewhere from within the battalion’s resources would come the answer. Without a doubt the Newfoundland tour produced a tremendous corporate spirit.
Adversity was the touchstone; the same bonds would hardly have been forged in a comfortable, well-organized camp.
THE 8th CANADIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE
3rd Canadian Division had its headquarters at Debert, N.S. At first Major General E. W. Sansom DSO commanded. He was succeeded on 14 March by Major-General C. B. Price DSO DCM VD. Throughout Lieutenant Colonel Charles Foulkes was GSO I. The 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade consisted of the Queen’s Own Rifles, The Regiment de la Chaudiere, and The North Shore New Brunswick Regiment. The brigade was commanded by Brigadier J. P. Archambault DSO MC VD; Major Ralph Crowe, The RCR, was Brigade Major, and Captain C. J. Laurin, Staff Captain. The battalion was fortunate in having such splendid soldiers and gentleman to shape its destiny.
Intensive training was carried on from the beginning of January until the end of June. Throughout the six months, officers and men left for special courses; yet the training at camp never lagged. By the time any officer felt that he had taught all he knew, the people fresh from courses started dispensing their newly acquired lore. Major Crowe was adept in imparting new twists to training. For example, a quiz and assembly drill on the Bren and Thompson Sub-Machine Gun was held for all brigade officers. It took the form of a competition in which The QOR managed to come out on top. A Brigade Intelligence Course also found several QOR riflemen leading the parade.
Splendid relations were maintained with the other brigade units. Each battalion had excellent qualities peculiar to itself; and all fostered pride in “The Shiny Eighth Brigade”. The Regiment de la Chaudiere taught The Queen’s Own a few choice French phrases and how to make army rations palatable. The rugged North Shore boys always engendered the notion that they would be very useful to have around when real fighting commenced. In return, The Queen’s Own explained interminably how a rifle regiment differed from its infantry counterpart; and why that difference was always in the rifleman’s favour. They probably made no converts, but they did make plenty of friends.