||My Feller Memories|
||As if we didn't spend enough
time in our school uniforms.
Well this took a bit longer than I expected. I just started writing and things kept coming back; I even intentionally left out some stuff that I may get around to adding in the future. I also may have unintentionally, or intentionally messed with the chronology of events, but itís my story so deal with it.
Although I had
reservations about my participation as a prefect, at least initially I was much
less ambivalent about Sea Cadets. For
one thing, my father was very gung ho about military things in general, and
cadets in particular. Furthermore,
I was OCD enough to rather enjoy the mindless, repetitive mechanical activity
that went into ironing and detailing my uniform, polishing my brass and spit
shining my boots. I started as a
lowly ordinary cadet (O/C) in Micmac Division.
I think one was supposed to be 14 to join up, but at least for RCSCC Fort
Lennox the rule was either 14 or in Grade 8 and since I was 12 for the first few
weeks of grade 8, I was pretty young for cadets.
I could be wrong, but it is my recollection that most of the younger,
more malleable guys were placed in Micmac and after the first year, or maybe
two, you moved on to either Haida, which was for the enthusiasts, or to
Bonaventure Division which, except for the officers and POs, seemed to be for
the older guys who were somewhat less keen about participating.
Not surprisingly, there were a number of those.
Presumably in most cadet corps guys joined because they chose to, or I
guess in some cases because their parents insisted; at Feller, participation was
compulsory; and quite understandably some guys were not all that passionate
That first year in
Micmac division is a bit of a blur.
During the first few weeks we learned the navy way to do things; as might
be expected there was indeed a navy way and a wrong way.
I was young enough not to be concerned too much that we were expected to
maintain a strict ďours is not to reason whyĒ attitude, so I got along well.
Mostly we relearned how to do things weíd been doing our whole lives
and then did them over, and over, and over. We
learned how to perform the spare and elegant palm down salute and stop doing
those exaggerated palm out army salutes we learned from all the WW2 movies.
Legend had it that during a visit to a naval vessel one of the early
English Queens requested that the sailors modify their salute so that she
wouldnít have to see all those filthy palms covered with tar from working the
ropes. It has a ring of truth, we
highlanders always sort of felt that the British ruling class were a bit prissy
when you came right down to it. Anyway,
we also learned how to line up in formations; rows of three for units the size
of our divisions; by the right dress, by the left dress.
This peculiar order did not involve putting on your uniform with the
right hand or left hand, but rather extending your right (or left) arm and
shuffling your feet to move until your knuckles just brushed the shoulder of the
cadet beside you, thereby ensuring the proper spacing.
We also learned the orders for the several positions in which we were
permitted to stand after we had lined up properly.
Attention! Feet together,
chin up, shoulders back, chest out, fingers forming a fist at the 1st
interphalangeal joint (sorry, Iím an anatomist), thumbs aligned with the seams
of our bell bottoms. We learned to
hold this position for seemingly interminable periods by periodically rocking
forward and back imperceptibly and clenching our leg muscles to stimulate venous
blood flow. Stnndatease! Feet
shoulder width apart, hands behind the back, fingers extended, thumbs
interlocked. Easy! The equivalent
of parade rest; feet in the stand-at-ease position but arms and upper torso
relaxed and allowed to move more freely. We
also learned the proper way to turn while standing at attention. Right Face!
Pivot 90 degrees clockwise on the heel of the right foot and the ball of the
left foot. Sharply move the left foot up in line with the right foot attempting
to click your heels without scuffing your boot. Left Face! well I guess this is pretty obvious. About Face!
Pivot 180 degrees clockwise on the heel of the right foot and the ball of the
left foot. Sharply move the left foot up in line with the right foot attempting
to click your heels without scuffing your boot.
We also learned how to march in formation and how to co-ordinate turns
during the marching drills.
As I suggested in
the first paragraph we also learned how to care for and maintain our uniforms.
The aroma of damp wool when Iím ironing my suit pants still takes me
back to those days. I remember that
you had to fold the detachable collar just so to get the three, razor sharp
creases in the correct outward and inward directions.
No double creases were permissible on this item or on your jumper or
bell-bottoms. I still remember some
of the tricks we used: dabbing a tiny amount of nail polish to limit fraying on
the dovetailed ends of the cotton ties that we used to bind our silk scarves.
I know that some claimed behind my back that my dad polished my boots,
but in fact the reverse was true, and I can still take a beat up pair of leather
shoes and in less than an hour produce a truly incredible mirror finish that has
such depth and glimmer that you have to be careful not to fall in.
For the spit polish cognoscenti, the tools of the trade were a stubby
white candle, a stainless steel teaspoon, a fresh tin of Kiwi Boot (not shoe)
Polish, and a soft rag. Rookies and civilians used a brush to apply polish and the
rag to buff up the polish to a feeble, dull shine, but those of us in the know
would dip the rag in the polish and use a whole lot of spit and elbow grease to
create that mirror shine on the toe and heel caps of our boots.
I donít know if Iím breaking some sort of unwritten code by revealing
this, but the real secret was in the use of the candle and the spoon.
I know Iíve read a technique for spit polishing elsewhere in these
pages but it is different from the procedure I learned at HMCS Acadia, and is
therefore wrong! The candle was
applied to the spoon, which was then used to seal up the pores in the leather
and melt a thin layer of boot polish on to the surface thereby creating a hard
glaze. Once the surface was smooth,
oneís index finger was placed in the soft rag, a gob of polish was scooped up,
one spat liberally on the boot, and rubbed a mixture of spit and polish in
circles until the mirror finish began to emerge.
The piece de resistance was achieved by breathing on the surface to form
a fine uniform mist, gently dabbing a microgram of polish onto the rag, and
rubbing oh-so delicately in circles to produce the mirror surface.
If you were careful, a good spit shine would last a few weeks with only a
bit of touching up. Marching on gravel, grass or in a field (shudder) would
require you to strip down the polish with the hot spoon and start over again.
I later learned that most of the Leadership POs at HMCS Acadia had two
sets of boots, one that they only used for dress parades and one that they kept
shipshape but merely gleaming for every day use.
Anyway, once we had become familiar enough with the fine points of
uniform maintenance and the marching drills, we were promoted to Able Cadet and
received one chevron to sew on our left sleeve.
I guess that itís pretty obvious from the above narrative that what I mainly remember is that Cadets seemed to consist of standing around, or marching somewhat aimlessly to and fro in the gym, in hot, itchy wool uniforms and getting yelled at. I know from my later experiences that we must have occasionally dressed in our uniforms and had a Ďchurch paradeí either at Roussy Memorial or First Baptist in NDG and that November 11th was an appropriately big deal. Itís also apparent, from Sandy Braydenís photos, that Mme. Feller Day was also a special occasion. After lengthy discussions with LCDR Horse and a subsequent conversation he had with JC, it is now clear that during my first year the whole corps went in to Montreal and participated in a large parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the RCN as an independent body. We mustered with cadets from other corps on the McGill University campus and marched to the Cenetaph in Dominion square. The day ended with a tour of HMCS TERRA NOVA. During the initial muster, our CPO, Jim High (an actual qualified PO1) was standing there minding his own business when a pigeon apparently mistook him for a statue and crapped on his collar. We all got a good laugh about that and he took it in stride and walked around all day with this big white splotch on his collar. I guess thatís supposed to be good luck, but Iím not sure that it was in this case. Jim left under less than happy circumstances before the year was out (nothing to do with cadets), but then again he did get out of Feller, so may be it was good luck, after all.
I now can provide some of the details, the only thing I really remembered was
Jim's encounter with the pigeon and a few vague memories about the visit to
Terra Nova, and these I would have placed later in my 'career'. In
reality, when I was first preparing this I came to realize that for me Sea Cadets started in earnest
the summer between grade 8 and grade 9 when I went to HMCS Acadia for a 2-week
sea cadet camp.
Every summer there were a
series of courses and camps for sea cadets in Nova Scotia. A handful of our guys went on the full-blown 8-week courses,
but for various reasons, I did not participate in any of these.
However, in the summers of í61 and í62, I was a member of the Fort
Lennox contingent that went for one of the two-week camps at HMCS Acadia in Cape
Breton. This was a big deal for us.
The year before, our first year of participation, the Fort Lennox
contingent won the General Efficiency Trophy and JC Girodo was named the most
proficient cadet. This was
considered a real upset, if you saw the movie Hoosiers, think of that, we were
the little corps that could, out-competing the elite cadets from much larger
corps. Thus, those of us who were
selected the next year were made aware in no uncertain terms what a privilege
this opportunity was and that we had to uphold the tradition.
The day before we
left, my dad took me into St. Jean and I got the shortest haircut of my young
life, but still somewhat longer than the buzz cut that Uncle Stevie routinely
gave the cadets. My parents drove
me to Dorval airport and my mother hugged me goodbye and admonished me not to
let Uncle Steve shave me bald (isnít it amazing what trivia you remember).
We assembled on the tarmac and I remember looking up at the 4 engine
Trans Canada Airlines North Star with a certain awe, since this was to be my
first flight. Somewhat
surprisingly, I actually donít remember much about the flight itself.
We took off on a gray rainy day and flew in the clouds for a few hours
with the engines droning loudly, and then we landed.
I donít remember that it was a particularly bumpy ride, no white
knuckles anyway, but it seemed to take a bit longer than we had been told to
expect and we ended up landing in a fairly dense fog.
When we trooped into the terminal Uncle Stevie was there to greet us
wearing his full dress uniform. It
turned out that the flight was a little less routine than we had believed. The pilots and air traffic controllers (were they called that
then? someone should know) had apparently been most reluctant to land the plane
in the fog and had decided to divert us to Halifax.
Uncle Steve had putt putted in his VW beetle up from Halifax
and around the Cabot trail and had no intention of letting that happen.
Knowing Uncle Steve, I guess thereís a 50:50 chance that this was
legend but on the other hand, I can just see him in the control tower
vociferously informing everyone about his trip and browbeating them into getting
us on the ground, now! At least
thatís the story he told us. Whatever,
the truth of the matter, we did land in Sydney and were bussed to HMCS
Acadia which was located on Point Edward Naval Base on the outskirts of N.
Sydney NS (now apparently the site of the Canadian Coast Guard College).
It was across from a Steel mill so, needless to say, the water
and air were pristine and not at all oily and sooty. I remember the weather as often gray and rainy and all one
could see across the water was slag heaps. During
the day these presented a bleak moonscape, but some of them did glow at night,
which provided a bit of relief from the grayness that was our daytime view.
We checked in and found our
barracks, and of course the first thing Uncle Stevie did was take his trusty
clippers and give half of us, me included, a bean shave. I knew that someone
would hear about this, but I didnít think that the time was right to inform
Uncle Steve of my motherís orders. And
for perhaps the first time in my life I somewhat blasphemously realized that
perhaps in some situations there was a higher authority than my mother and
perhaps even the Lord! Next
we got down on our hands and knees, took the Varsol and steel wool that Uncle
Steve provided and stripped the dingy wax off the linoleum.
Then a couple of guys headed off to commandeer a floor polisher so that
we could polish the freshly waxed the floor.
A bit of navy humour while weíre waiting for the guys to get back
with the polisher. Every year some
of meaner guys amongst the older cadets would try and send some of the neophytes
to shipís stores to ask for striped or checkered paint for the last post,
and/or tobacco for the boatswainís (bosunís) pipe. Fortunately, I was never taken in, but plenty of cadets were;
I saw one guy cheerfully go off in search of 50 feet of shoreline to help rig up
the sky hook. Presumably, the
regulars at stores were used to this and the first couple of days of each
session they had the more gullible types wandering all over the base.
Eventually the guys arrived back with a huge industrial quality floor
polisher and we took turns getting the floor gleaming.
While this was going on, others were in the bathroom scrubbing to make
that spotless too.
Except for Lloyd Meldrum and
me, our group was already used to living together and doing chores and I had no
trouble getting into that mindset and becoming part of the tightly knit group.
It was obvious that Uncle Steve had a mission planned for us and we were
getting a running start on winning the second straight efficiency trophy.
That night we hit the cots tired, but satisfied.
I guess that everyone else was used to Feller beds, but for me, the bunk
beds left something to be desired. Not
to mention that I had the good fortune to sleep beside a broken window.
As one might imagine, August nights on northern Cape Breton Island were
not tropical and I shivered under the thin blankets.
Again it seemed that we
mostly did a lot of marching but there was a fair bit of fun stuff too.
For one thing, I was introduced to sailing.
After a bit of dry land training in which we were instructed in the
proper terminology (halyards for hoisting, sheets for steering), how to raise
and manipulate sails, how to maneuver into the wind (tacking), how to sail down
wind and end up back at the mooring, how to come about with the bow pointing
into the wind and admonished to avoid gibing (coming about with the stern facing
the wind), we were turned loose on the unsuspecting boating public.
There were three
distinct sailboats; the 14-foot dinghy was a 3-cadet boat with 2 sails.
The 27-foot whaler carried a crew of seven and had three sails. The
32-foot cutter was a real boat with a largish crew.
I canít remember how many were in the cutter but I only went out in it
once, since it turned out to be pretty boring.
One of the regular navy sailors was the Ďskipperí and the older guys
divvied up the tasks of manipulating the lines and controlling the sails.
The rest of us just sat there as ballast or scurried from side to side
trying not to get clunked on the head by the mainsail boom as the boat came
about or tacked. It was better than
marching but not all that exciting. From
then on I made sure that I was part of a 3 man crew in a dinghy or, failing
that, part of a seven man crew in a whaler since we were also allowed to sail
these unsupervised. The
whaler did not come equipped with harpoons, but was called that due to its
shape. It was pointed at the stem and the stern, presumably to enhance
it's maneuverability. Over the course of the two weeks I became
fairly comfortable and generally these exercises went along without incident,
but on a particularly windy day three of our number managed to capsize a dinghy
and had to be dragged out of the yucky waters of the harbour.
They insisted that they had been intentionally gibing at the time they
capsized, and I have no reason to doubt this.
We clearly had some free
time because I remember several activities that were not restricted to marching
or sailing. The base had a PX-like
entity, and at certain times we had access to this and were exposed to 5Ę cokes
and 17Ę packs of cigarettes (the joys of tax free products).
We also must have played softball since I remember mildly spraining my
thumb after being relegated to catcher. For
some reason I must be a masochist or a mark, I invariably end up catching, I
even did it for three (well, 2 Ĺ) years on a fast pitch intramural team at
Queenís and managed to really tear up my left thumb effectively ending my
serious guitar playing days.
Another bit of free
time that stands out was a liberty in N. Sydney, during which I roamed around
with Lloyd and I think John Gibb. The
officers warned us to be on our best behaviour, to not insult the local
residents and avoid confrontations. They
also gave us a somewhat vague and confusing lecture on the perils of VD.
Of course the word from the older guys in the ranks was that all the
girls were easy and looking for a good time.
As with most of the tales of sexual exploits told by adolescent boys, this
turned out to be somewhat of an exaggeration, but given the VD lecture I
remember spending some time thinking about the possibilities (remember I was 13
at the time). In the end, we
wandered the bleak and dreary streets for a few hours and ate a very lackluster
late lunch in a greasy spoon. The seedy businesses we wandered into clearly depended on our
trade but for the most part seemed to resent our presence, probably with
considerable justification. The two
girls we interacted with were fairly typical working class kids; they perhaps
used a bit too much make-up, but other than that werenít particularly trashy.
I seem to recall that they flirted a bit more boldly than the average
Feller girl and they wanted us to buy them stuff, but in the final analysis, at
least for me, the myth was not borne out; and to my mild disappointment (and
considerable relief), I saw no evidence of promiscuity or even sluttish
behaviour. When we arrived back at
the camp, there was some gossip claiming that several cadets were talking with
some girls when one of the girls peed in a cup and threw it all over them.
Iím not sure if that was legend since no one knew to whom exactly this
happened. In any case, the one
sided story also didnít describe very clearly the nature of the interaction
that led up to the incident but itís safe to assume, if it did indeed happen,
that there was some provocation. In
retrospect, I realize that rather than lusting after the local girls, I ended up
feeling a bit sorry for them having to manage what I perceived as a somewhat
underprivileged existence and negotiate interactions with a group of adolescent
boys emboldened by being away from parental restraint and having a herd
Did I mention that I
was sleeping beside a broken window? In Cape Breton? In late August?
Apparently the old wivesí tale advising you to avoid drafts has some
basis in fact. Towards the middle
of the second week, I ended up visiting the infirmary with a terrible earache.
The corpsman took my temperature (102į F), looked in my ear, shrugged,
gave me a couple of aspirins and let me rest fitfully on one of the cots in
sickbay for a couple of hours before sending me back to sleep beneath the broken
window. I guess itís not too
surprising that my recollection of the rest of the camp is episodic, at best.
About all that stands out is that we were herded on a bus for a visit to
Louisburg, a fortress built by the French to protect a harbor, which early in
the European settling of North America was pretty busy.
I have no idea, what it looked like, or whether itís worth visiting.
I was still suffering from a raging fever and a headache and stayed on
the bus sleeping.
Andy and David Oliver
already gave the punch line of this story away, but Iíll give a personal
account of our ultimately disappointing voyage.
We were anxiously steaming along, tied for first place in the standings.
I remember the sense of anticipation I had waiting for the daily posting
of the marks based on the state of our barracks, the condition of our uniforms
during morning inspection, and our formation during march past (I still get
shivers when I hear ĎHeart of Oakí). Through
the first week and into the second, we were tied with RCSCC Vanguard with a
perfect score. Then one day we
heard through the grapevine that 0.6 points had been deducted during the morning
inspection of our quarters. We
agonized over this as we went about our scheduled tasks and activities, and
recriminated with those who were responsible for cleaning the bathroom (the most
likely source of the deduction), but no one could figure out what we had
overlooked. When we got our first
break, we rushed back to the barracks and there under one of the radiators was
the culprit. Someone, fortunately
not I, had left a dust bunny. That
was the only deduction we received and it cost us the efficiency trophy since
our fierce, and now hated rival, Vanguard ended up with a perfect score and we
could not overtake them. However,
Murray Willson did come home with the most proficient cadet trophy.
I, on the other hand, came
home with, in addition to the personal insights and sea cadet knowledge, a
severe case of pneumonia, and a susceptibility to draft-induced colds that
lasted for the better part of a decade. The
flight was presumably uneventful, as I said, I wasnít tracking too well.
I do remember that when I arrived, my mother was so focused on my haircut
that she didnít even notice at first how sick I was.
It was only after she heard my lung-rattling cough and felt my forehead
that she realized I had come home with more serious problems than a beanshave.
She immediately went over to the school, (can you imagine in these days
of cell phones, we never actually had a phone in our apartment?), and called Joe
Senikas, the gruff East-European immigrant who acted as the schoolís doctor.
I lay in bed drinking flat ginger ale, eating chicken soup and hacking
until he showed up. Imagine that, a
doctor making house calls at the drop of a hat, 10 miles from his office,
doesnít that take you back. Anyway,
he took a quick look at me and was about to tear a strip off my mother for
letting my condition deteriorate so far before calling him.
Fortunately, even with his less-than-fluent English he made the
connection that I had just returned from sea cadet camp.
He started to mutter about incompetent idiots and gave me a penicillin shot in
my butt. I imagine that Uncle
Steveís first week back wasnít the best he ever had, not only did Dr.
Senikas, in his capacity as the medical officer of Fort Lennox, let him have it,
he had to deal
with my motherís wrath as well. After
a week to ten days in bed coughing up lung
tissue, my pneumonia mostly cleared up and my hair grew back in.
||The next year I was deemed
suitable for Haida division. So
added to the normal routines, I had to learn the care and handling of a
rifle, a web belt and gaiters. Thus,
I acquired skills in using liquid white goop to turn a khaki canvas belt
and a set of khaki gaiters into shipshape, immaculate white accessories
that nicely set off the navy blue serge of our dress uniforms.
Yikes, Iíve turned into Mr. Donaldo, fashion consultant.
This is not a picture from my personal collection. I think it and all the others from here on are Ken Phelan's.
I also learned to use Silvo (not Brasso) to get the brass on my disassembled web belt and the buckles of my gaiters glistening, and then re-assemble the belt without getting fingerprints on the brass or scraping the freshly whitened belt. I also became skilled in the art of dis-assembling the bolt, firing chamber and magazine of a bolt-action rifle and cleaning the barrel till it gleamed when the inspecting officer looked down the barrel with the bolt open (You have to be able to do this blindfolded!). I also learned some more drill moves that involved holding and carrying the rifles properly; Shoulder Arms! Present Arms! Port Arms! If anyone is pathologically interested in this sort of stuff, instructions on the various rifle maneuvers, complete with diagrams, are available at: cadets.ca
The rifles were somewhat
old-fashioned .303 caliber Lee-Enfields that had been converted to .22s for
cadet purposes. Can you believe
this? They were functional rifles,
but normally had no firing pins. The
rifles were chained up in the supply room off the gym and the firing pins were
locked up in a drawer, but believe me this system wasnít foolproof.
I remember playing around one afternoon in the 3 huge trees that were
just up the farm road halfway to the sugar shack with several other guys.
All of a sudden we heard something whistle through the air and snick off
a branch. We looked across the
field and there were a couple of guys holding cadet rifles.
An instant later we heard the report of one of the rifles.
The idiots (I assume that given the circumstances no one will complain
about this characterization) had commandeered a couple of firing pins and some
.22 ammo, and were using the trees for target practice.
Luckily, no one was hit but you can imagine the shouting that ensued as
we tried to make Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett
aware of our presence.
Thatís the sound of me warming up to toot my own horn.
Iím only a tiny bit embarrassed about how boastful this next
paragraph seems when I re-read it. There
were things about cadets that I truly loved.
Looking back, I realize that I consider the second year of cadets my most
successful Feller experience, and in that endeavor I achieved a level of
competence that I have occasionally approached, but likely never surpassed.
As will be obvious, I have been remembering my accomplishments with
unabashed pride, so break out the Dramamine, keep a barf bag handy or skip down
to the next paragraph.
This year was undoubtedly the apex of my cadet career. At the age of 14, I was in my element. I had to perform a few clear and simple tasks about which I had no doubts or reservations. I had to make my uniform look good and follow orders. From the anal retentive description of how to care for a sea cadet uniform that is presented in the above paragraphs, it must be obvious that I took to the first task like a duck to water. I admit that I canít possibly be objective about what follows and itís very self-serving for me to write about it but Uncle Steve used to tell me almost every week that I was the best turned-out cadet in the corps. Obviously, itís something about which I remain inordinately proud and since I was, and still am, a perfectionist, not to mention modest; I have no reason to doubt it. In any case, one of Uncle Steveís incentives was to take the cadet with the spiffiest uniform from each division out for a treat after the parade. Thus, every Wednesday night three of us went to St. Jean with Uncle Steve for greasy French fries and gravy and a hot roast beef sandwich, or some such. I went a lot that year; in fact, I occasionally had to miss a week because Uncle Steve finally imposed a rule that you could only go so many times in a row. In retrospect, I have a fair bit of guilt about not politely thanking Uncle Steve for the recognition and insisting that someone else escape from Feller for the evening, but I wasnít mature enough to recognize the relative unfairness of me accepting this treat. Whew, now that the shameless self-congratulations are mostly out of the way I can describe a few of the things that stand out about that year.
On at least one occasion we made an excursion to the appropriately named Ile aux Noix, for a parade at our namesake Fort Lennox, ironically making the name of the Island even more appropriate. The fort guarded the mouth of the Richelieu at the entrance to Lake Champlain. There was some sort of fort there from the beginnings of European settlement and you can read about the history and see some spectacular images at: Fort Lennox
I remember it as a few
grassy mounds and a low stone fortress with a dungeon and a few dank rooms.
We took a ferry over and marched around a bit providing entertainment
for the handful of sight-seers who were there and then broke formation and wandered about.
It may be that I remember the wandering about from non-cadet related
trips. But it made a nice change of pace and was a pleasant place to
spend an afternoon.
I also remember a number of Remembrance day parades. These were elegant and solemn occasions with muted drums and everyone wearing poppies. There was a chapel service and we would file in and then two cadets would slow march to the front of the chapel, reverse arms and stand heads bowed to the right and left of the steps leading up to the stage. This year I was selected as one of the guards. This year we also participated in a parade and a wreath laying ceremony in St. Jean. Another cadet and I were chosen to lay a wreath at the cenetaph honouring WW1 and WW2 dead. We made a snazzy pair in our dress uniforms, went up in perfect unison and solemnly laid the wreath, stood at attention, saluted and did a snappy combination of Left Face, Right face and ended up looking at each other. Since I wasnít prepared to interlock arms and do a jig, I convinced the other chap to do an about face so that we could march off to the right, as we had practiced. Oh well, so much for pomp and ceremonyÖ
The other event that really stands out is the annual inspection, which for some reason Uncle Steve decided to make this an unusually big deal this year. Perhaps he was going through some sort of mid-life crisis and focusing excessively on things of minor importance, but in any case, this was certainly the most elaborate event staged by the cadets of RCSCC Fort Lennox, and arguably one of the more flamboyant productions in the annals of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. JC Girodo was PO in charge of the Honour Guard that year and he returned from the HMCS Acadia Leadership course brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. Pretty well all year long we were practicing a close order drill routine only slightly less complicated than that of the US Marine Corps national drill team. We spun our rifles and marched with all sorts of criss-crossing patterns in ďperfectĒ synchronization, counting in our heads and using our peripheral vision to try and keep in synch so that we could do it silently. We thought that it was remarkable, and it did come off quite smoothly, but I suspect from some of his facial expressions and body language that Captain Jette, the inspecting officer that year, thought it was un peu de trop. At the end of the 15 minute drill he seemed to be anxious to get back to his duties at CMR and when informed that we still had a few activities to complete I believe that I saw him roll his eyes. Which put things in a different perspective for me.
There we are! Looking at the above photo made me remember an incident that was unscheduled but equally memorable. As we stood in formation one of the bigger, sturdier guys suddenly collapsed and had to be carried off in a stretcher. Hmm. Was this some semi-secret, pre-planned exercise to show off our first aid routines? Was he really sick? It was a warm sunny day but not that stifling. He rejoined us after the actual inspection and during a stand-at-ease break we discovered that heíd simply lost his grip, and his rifle started to fall. One thing that we never did was drop our rifle, it simply was not permitted. The only permissible excuse was that you had been shot, or succumbed to some debilitating health condition. We were so indoctrinated that he just feigned a fainting spell and crashed face first with no attempt to break his fall. Now that's dedication. He deemed a face full of grass and a bit of embarrassment as more acceptable than bending down and picking up his rifle. I imagine it startled the audience and puzzled Capt. Jette.
We had this old brass cannon (you can see the back end of it in the above photo if you look carefully). I donít know from whence it came but Uncle Steve assigned a couple of cadets the task of polishing the brass and scrubbing out the barrel and one of the officers was put in charge of getting some black powder and cotton wadding so that it could be fired off. They came to calling it Old Betsy, which led to an interesting exchange in the Dining Room when someone misspoke and made an announcement about firing off Old Bessie, which caused a titter since thatís what we used to call Bessie Lockhart. Anyway, following the drill routine the guys fired off the cannon. It made a spectacular kaboom and gave off a cloud of smoke and fortunately didnít explode maiming someone, which by the look on Capt. Jetteís face he half expected at this point.
||For me , the highlight of the the annual inspection, was very unexpectedly being awarded a share (with Terry Phillips) of the most proficient cadet trophy. Uncle Steve privately told Captain Jette that it was partially due to the marks I received on the Leading Cadet test and how proficient I was at carrying out orders (read compliant), but mainly I was selected on the strength of how well I maintained my uniform.|
That summer, over my
motherís objections, I made my second visit to HMCS Acadia as part of the
contingent to the 2-week camp session. I
was an A/PO2 and nominally one of the leaders of the group.
The day before I departed I convinced my father to take me into St. Jean
so that I could get a very short haircut from a professional.
It wasnít exactly as short as the buzz cuts that Steve May gave, but
pretty close. I still remember the
resigned look and the sigh my mom gave me when we arrived back in Grande Ligne
after the deed was done. This year the weather was sunny and we flew uneventfully from
Montreal to Sydney on a TCA Super Constellation. Uncle Steve was again there to greet us and the first day was
pretty much a repeat of the previous year.
Those who needed it got a bean shave; he raised his eyebrows at the sight
of my short hair, and then smiled appreciatively and let me slide without a
total bean shave. After that, we
again stripped the old wax off the floor and polished it, and got the rest of
our quarters spick and span. Alas,
the next morning we discovered that the powers-that-were had decided that they
didnít like the rivalry engendered by individual corps vying for the
efficiency trophy, so they decided to split us up and intermingle cadets from
different corps in the various units. We
were crushed, and convinced that they did this to rob us of the opportunity to
atone for the tragedy of last yearís defeat (not too self-involved, eh?).
It turned out that only a few of us were staying in the barracks that we
had made spotless, and even those guys were entirely in agreement with the notion
that this was a crock, so we all went around very immaturely scuffing up the
floor, and leaving a minor mess in the head.
Those of us who were re-assigned gathered our stuff and shuffled
dejectedly off to our new quarters.
I ended up in a unit
with 4 or 5 other Fort Lennox cadets, and in retrospect it really wasnít such
a horrendous turn of events. We
mostly hung out together, but I remember that I enjoyed the interaction with some
of the cadets from other corps, particularly one from Glace Bay, NS and a couple
of Newfies from one of the outports. These
guys had unique viewpoints, a lilting way of speaking, and an accent so heavy
that they were impossible to understand for the first couple of days.
The mood was not quite the
same and we never formed the tight knit unit that the Fort Lennox corps had
been, but the handful of us left sailored on as best we could.
Our divisional PO was also named Ferguson, no relation, but it made for
some interesting exchanges. He was
a real PO2, and I was an acting PO2, so we eventually fell in to a routine
whereby we addressed each other as Petty Officer Ferguson.
Over the course of the
two weeks, I developed a good working relationship with PO Ferguson; he knew my
credentials, and he clearly considered me one of the cadets he could rely on to
set a good example. At morning
inspections he always looked carefully at my uniform and was very appreciative
about how well I maintained it (my boots were almost as shiny as his dress
pair). This guy was incredibly
dedicated and serious about things and although for the most part he was very
much the tough, unyielding drill instructor, he really knew when he could be a
bit less demanding and he helped us make the best of what we all felt was a poor
decision on the part of the brass.
The Fort Lennox cadets really formed the nucleus of the division and we
taught everyone how to polish boots and look after their uniforms.
Although we didnít go to the lengths of stripping and re-waxing the
floor, we got the polisher and shined it up.
We also organized a rotation for giving everything a light going over and
showed everyone else how to make their beds. In fact, a couple of us acquired a mild renown in this field.
One of the Fort Lennox officers had a couple of us go over to his
divisionís quarters and give a demonstration on how to make a bed properly.
There wasnít anyone who knew how and they were getting trashed at the
morning inspections, so I went over with someone else and we made tight hospital
corners and stretched the blanket to the maximum degree of tautness possible
with the old rags they gave us and demonstrated that it was possible to bounce a
quarter off the bed and have it
rebound a couple of feet. I
remember that the cadets were awed and only half-jokingly insisted that the chap whose bunk weíd
used to demonstrate on was out of luck Ďcause they were going to leave it
intact for the morning inspection.
As I said the mood was
different, but in many ways it was more relaxed and I had more fun.
I did a lot of sailing, mostly as skipper of a dinghy, since I had last
yearís experience under my belt. I
never tried to gibe, so we stayed relatively dry and were always able to get
back to the moorings. One morning,
we went and shot at targets on the firing range.
A couple of us did well enough that we were encouraged to come back in
the evenings and attempt to qualify for marksmanís badges, so we did that.
I donít remember a liberty, but itís entirely possible that the one I
described above actually occurred this year and that I had been too sick to do
it the year before. I was a bit
disappointed that no field trip to the fort at Louisburg was scheduled.
This year the outing was a trip on what amounted to a glorified PT boat.
My recollection was that this was a newish boat (I think too small to be
a ship) that was supposed to represent a novel direction in the coastal ASW
techniques that were the specialty of the RCN.
If I remember correctly, the skipper was a CPO, and the crew was less than 20. We
had a lot of fun asking questions about the boat and Navy life as we spent a
couple of hours zipping around at 20+ knots in the Atlantic ocean on a bright,
but choppy day.
Oliverís summary in LíEcho indicates
that the practice of awarding the general efficiency trophy was discontinued
following the previous year but that is incorrect, since this year my division
won it! After, that award was
announced I remember waiting nervously for the most proficient cadet award to be
announced, since it often went to someone from the unit that won the efficiency
trophy. But to my considerable
disappointment the ceremonies progressed without naming a most proficient cadet.
Instead, our PO, was named the most proficient cadet in the Leadership
training course, so at least one Ferguson won an award.
Later, I heard from one of the Fort Lennox officers who was at Acadia
that summer, that discussions had taken place, and that I was mentioned as one
of the strong possibilities for the award.
In the end, splitting us up had made it too difficult to identify a clear
winner and since there was no consensus, they decided not to award it that year.
Apparently, if Davidís write-up can be believed, the next year they did
away with the divisional award as well. Encroaching
political correctness, if you ask me.
Itís a bit anticlimactic from here on in. The next year, I was appointed PO of Haida Division, and the first thing I did was select my personal rifle. All of the rifles had dullish walnut brown stocks, except for one that had a reddish blonde coloration. I had coveted the distinctiveness of that rifle ever since they were delivered several years earlier and I shamelessly exercised my petty authority and made it mine. I wish I could go into exhaustive detail concerning all the exploits of my storied career as PO in charge of the honour guard, but the fact is nothing much stands out. The car accident intervened fairly early on and put me on the shelf for at least a month. I was back on my feet in a few weeks, but the scar on my forehead got infected and I couldnít wear a cadet cap until after Christmas so I may have been replaced temporarily or attended parade with my cap askew. Frankly, I donít remember about that or many other details of that yearís cadet activities.
||Another traditional event took place around Christmas time. The youngest and/or smallest cadet is named CO for the day and gets to dress up as an officer and carry out the inspection at that evening's parade. Here O/C Lefebvre inspects Celand Selby's Uniform, while John Baxter looks on.|
That year the
Honour Guard did not attempt to
emulate JCís ambitious close order drill routine at the annual inspection, but
I guess we did OK since the Fort Lennox histories indicate that Haida did manage
to win the efficiency trophy (you could have fooled me).
I canít recall
that we actually sent a contingent to the two-week camp at HMCS Acadia that
year, which is not to say that no one went, I just donít remember.
In any case, in the logical scheme of things, it would have been time for
me to take the Leadership course at HMCS Acadia.
I ended up not doing that, in part because my mom was adamant about not
letting me go away to northern NS and contract some terminal illness.
My second 2-week stint had been over her strong objections and 8 weeks
was just too much. When it came
right down to it, I didnít really want to go all that much, so I didnít
press the issue and I never applied for it.
Looking back, I mildly regret that decision because it would have been
good for me. On the other hand, I
ended up going to the Maritimes that August and camping for the last time with
my folks and my brother and sister, and Iím happy that I didnít miss that.
The Final Year:
Although Andyís Fort Lennox history lists John Baxter as Chief Petty Officer (CPO), there is some confusion
in my mind as to the accuracy of this. I
believe that was the year that the beginning moves in establishing the Army
Cadets Corps were initiated. I have
a vague recollection that at some point that year John turned 18 and he
and several other older boys were permitted to join the Army Reserves.
In any case, I distinctly remember a conversation with Uncle Steve in
which we discussed my resignation from the Prefect System the year before.
Ultimately, we agreed to put that behind us, and he asked me to take over
At the time, I probably got all full of myself, but the fact was that
there just werenít that many of us left to fill the positions of officers and
petty officers. On paper, I suppose
I was actually one of the more qualified candidates since I was one of the few
people who had bothered to prepare for and actually pass the PO 2nd
class test, and later that year I successfully passed the PO 1st
class test (along with David Oliver); but looking
back I doubt that I was the first choice.
If I remember correctly, the
army reserves had drained off many of the older boys, and of those left, most
had to be recruited as officers (I note in the history that several of
the officers that year were acting, which I assume meant
that they had not completed whatever training was necessary to make their
appointments official). Many of the
guys in our class were actually too young to be officers, and possibly no one
else may have been inclined to take on the duties of Chief.
I do not believe that I did a particularly spectacular job in this
position. I have no illusions about
what I am good at; and I fully admit that I didnít really have the personality
for the job; I simply did not have enough self-confidence or assertiveness.
Even then I was more of an observer and a scholar, and by that stage in
the development of my psyche, I was no longer very good at blindly following or
giving illogical orders. I came to
realize the truth of this during the course of the year.
Which didnít do the corps much good, but was a useful life lesson
learned for me. In any case,
although I may not have been the most effective CPO in the corpsí history, I
believe that I was indeed the last. The
historical import of that fact did not strike me until I was essentially
finished this retrospective.
Speaking of revisionist history...
I'm reluctant to weasel out of this completely because my memory of this is quite strong, so for now I'm going to leave the above paragraph essentially the way I originally wrote it. However, the official Fort Lennox Historian has questioned my memory and pointed out the the 1964 edition of L'Echo lists John Baxter as CPO. Well, I keep cautioning that my memories may not be 100% accurate. Upon delving deep into the recesses again, I am now wondering whether we did not, at some point after the Christmas break, relinquish our positions to concentrate on prepping for the Junior Matric exams. John Baxter was in Grade 10 and he may have succeeded me at some point. The memories about him and the Army Reserves are also quite strong, but that may have been from the following year. I did come back to Feller most week-ends after I left for Grade 12 in Pointe Claire. That would make the L'Echo right and then he, in fact, was the last CPO of RCSCC Fort Lennox. Well, that's a bummer; I may have only been the penultimate CPO, which in the grand scheme of things is probably more appropriate.