Chapter One
Serving in Canada

This is a story of the interesting and exciting events that occurred during my army days.  It all sort of begins in September of 1939, when war was declared.  It was only a blip in our local paper, most of it was a preprinted rag that was sent out to all of the small town papers that could not afford to hire a large staff.
At the time I was only 15 and the war did not make much of an impression on me.  I noticed my parents sitting in a corner, with tears in their eyes.  I learned later that they never expected to hear from their relatives again, namely pop's father and mother who were living in Italy.  My mother's brother had come back to Canada in 1937 and thus missed the draft.  Although he was born in Fort William, he had gone back to Italy with his mother in the late nineteen-twenties.
With Italy joining up with Germany, it was not a pleasant time to be a first generation Canadian.  There were a lot of small minded people in the area, who thought they were God's gift to the country.
In the mid-thirties there was a small group of reservists, with connections to a local militia group from a nearby town.  Some of the local boys joined up and met every two weeks for some foot soldiering.  There were no guns available for parade ground practice until brother Joe and some friends got the idea of making some out of wood.  They were cut out of 2 × 6s and painted brown.  The idea seemed silly at the time, but they were serious about the rifle drills.  It wasn't long before they started to look pretty good on parade, wooden rifles and all.
The main reserve base commander thought that they should be included in the two week summer camp at Con­naught Ranges Camp in 1937.  A result of this decision was that all the local boys were issued uniforms and rifles, for the two week period only.
My brother brought home all the equipment and laid it out on the kitchen table for us all to see.  I think that the guys were all on cloud nine after being outfitted for the camp outing.  While my brother was out for a minute, I grabbed the rifle and started dry firing at an imaginary target.  This didn't last too long as I had to make a dash for the door when he got back.  I think that was when I got the bug for thinking about army service when I got old enough.
Time went on and in some centres, reserve units were being formed.  Rumours were going around that a reserve unit was to be mobilized in Brock­ville, with platoons in outlying towns.  There was at the time a small unit in Brock­ville, and they were pushing for an increase in numbers so as to have a ready force when needed.
In the spring of 1940, while we were playing in the park, we could see a large gathering at the high school.  We went over to have a look and saw a number of the locals inside, in their birthday suits.  It was quit a sight and I saw some of the gals sneaking a peek through the windows.

A very young recruit

We soon found out that a recruiting officer was present, along with a medical officer, and they were accepting volunteers for the Brock­ville Rifles reserve unit.
I was only 16, but on a dare I went in and filled out the forms and proceeded to have a medical exam.  I was found to be A-1.  Then the officer in charge took a second look and asked how old I was and, when I told him, he wanted to know why I was trying to get in the army at such a young age.  I really didn't have an answer except to say that I thought it would be exciting!  He had a good laugh and said “Okay, you're in the army now”.
Training sessions started in the park twice a week and by September we didn't look too bad, or so we thought.  The local population turned out to watch us stumble around and they had many a laugh at some of the office staff and foremen who seemed out of their element.  It was a little confusing at first but after a month we managed to look like soldiers and we could even follow the commands of a sergeant yelling his head off at us.  I think he was trying to intimidate us a little and he sure had us jumping like puppets!
The rumours of a camp outing started and in September, we found ourselves in Petawawa for two weeks of training.  This was my first trip away from home and I had some apprehension of what to expect.
Things started out fairly well, with early morning parades and rifle drills with lots of marching.  It was strange seeing some of the locals out of their elements.  Some of them were foremen at the local plant, and I suspect that a lot of the workers were happy to see them sweating it out while we were learning how to dig a slit trench.  On one field drill a low flying plane took the head off an officer who forgot to duck.  After that we paid closer attention to all shouted orders.  There were two others from Cardinal my age.  What really shocked me was to see some of the older ones being homesick and actually crying at night.
The highlight of the day was when the local bootleggers came around with a trunk full of beer, in quarts.  It sold for 25 cents a bottle.  I had two and felt great, until some rat told him how old I was.  That was the end of the beer.
Saturday rolled around and the paymaster did not show up.  Our company major loaned us five dollars each.  Taxis to Pembroke were only 25 cents, but there were eight of us in each cab!
One night we had a sort of a talent night and some of the guys entertained us with music and singing.  A local chap, who was a little odd, got up on stage and starting reciting a dirty poem called “The midnight ride of Paul Revere” and it took a few seconds for the people in charge to realize what he was saying.  The Padre went on the stage and yanked him off and we all had a good laugh.  The guy was pretty mad and said that if he wasn't appreciated he was leaving.  The next day he was missing so the Police went to his home and dragged him back to camp.  He was put on kitchen duty so that he wouldn't be a pest.  He didn't last too long there either.  There was a gadget that looked like a washing machine with rough ridges inside.  It was spun around and took the peels off the potatoes.  He let it run so long that the potatoes ended up the size of marbles.  Later I heard that he spent the war working in the merchant marine and traveled all over the world.  He even survived being torpedoed by a German U-boat.
One of the guys (Fred) from home kept complaining about the tea tasting like piss.  One morning, another chap smelled the cup and declared that it did smell like pee.  That night a couple of the boys in that particular tent stayed awake to see what was going on.  Sure enough around midnight, the guy sleeping next to Fred reached over and got the cup.  After he peed in it he reached outside and dumped it out and replaced the cup.  The mystery was solved and one guy was moved out of that tent the next day.
The two week camp went by pretty fast, and soon we were home.  Life was never the same!
I was in grade 12 at the time and found it hard to settle down.  I left school in April of 1941 and went to work at the local factory.  Training was a little slack during the winter months, but picked up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
During 1940, the Brocks as a reserve force unit were authorized to train on a war establishment basis with a strength of 780 all ranks.  This was a change from the 200 which was set in earlier years, but by 15th August the full complement had been reached.  Through some arrangement many of the reserves were called up and shipped to other active units.  This went on until March 1942, when the Brock­ville Rifles were called upon to form an active unit.  It was to be part of the 8th Canadian Division.
To command the new battalion a Major Lewis was brought back from the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders.  He was appointed lieutenant-​colonel commanding the 1st Battalion of the Brock­ville Rifles.  He was a great guy.
This all happened on March 28, 1942.  At the Canada Starch plant there were many for and against joining up.  I don't know who started it but on April 7th several carloads of us went to Brock­ville and signed up in the active force.  I think there were around 22 of us.  The plant foremen were going crazy trying to fill in the empty spots!
When we reported at the armoury the next day, we were assigned to billets, actually boarding houses that were rented by the army.  We were assigned two to a bed, and my poor uncle had to put up with me.  At the armoury we were divided up in sections, three sections to a platoon, for marching drills and moving about.
The training sessions were taught by some tough old veterans from the active force, who had been brought back from England.  They were hard on us, but at the same time were very fair.  They did not play favourites with anyone.  After four weeks of training we had to pass a series of tests, eleven in all, all being looked after by different sergeants and officers.  The results were to be posted the following Monday.
On Monday morning we all stood around the armoury parade floor waiting to be called out.  The first name called was mine and I stood frozen on the spot until the tough old sergeant yelled it again and out to the centre I went.  I thought that being chosen marker was great, but I found out that I had made the highest marks in the tests.  I was made acting platoon leader.  Alas, I didn't have a good enough voice for yelling commands and was delegated to the ranks.  I had a lot to learn at the ripe old age of eighteen!
We had a great time training in Brock­ville; the people were nice to us.  We did a lot of hiking along the country roads.  It was a good way to get us all in shape.
On one such hike we stopped at a store and bought some ice cream cones.  The temperature was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don't think this was allowed according to the training manuals and when we got back, one of the jerks from Brock­ville ran over to tell the captain all about it.  The Captain asked him if he had bought some also and he said that he hadn't.  He must have been expecting a medal.  The officer told him that he should have, and dismissed him.  He was excluded from any social events from then on.  What an idiot.
At the end of our basic training a few of the recruits were discharged with various ailments.  The rest of us were lined up one afternoon and the medical officer came in with his staff and a box of needles.  We all lined up for a shot in the arm.  I don't remember what it was for but some of the boys got pretty sick.  One guy walking across the armoury floor passed out and his head bounced off the floor.  We thought he was done for, but he got up and shook himself and said that he had a headache!

Connaught Ranges

On 17th May 1942 we moved to the Con­naught Ranges, west of Ottawa.
This was our first real taste of outdoor camping!  We had bell tents, with wooden floors to keep us off the ground.  There were six of us in my tent, all from Cardinal, so it was a friendly group.  Being the youngest I learned to keep quiet most of the time and watch what the others did and thus I was able to get along pretty well.  The silliest part of this camping business was that we had to roll up all the equipment and line it up outside of the tents.  More than once we were caught in a rain storm and came back from the field to wet blankets and equipment.
We started an intensive training program and I can say that we were tired at the end of the day.  On May 16th, a number of us were given the exalted rank of lance-corporal.  Boy did we think that we were something.  It's funny what a little thing like a stripe can do to change a person's, personal outlook.  It makes one feel as though you had really done something great!
About this time a big load of old rifles arrived from the United States that had been in storage for a long time.  We spent several days cleaning them up.  Then it was down to the ranges to zero them in.  We would fire five rounds and then the armourer sergeant would adjust the sights.  Then we'd fire five more and so on until the rifle would hit what you were aiming at.
Since it was a hot summer we wore shorts and putties and short sleeve shirts with the result that we all received a sunburn on the exposed parts.  I had been used to firing guns since I was about ten, so I got pretty good at it, but firing the rifles all week made our shoulders so sore that we had to use a towel to lessen the recoil.  But we survived!  I really enjoyed this part of the training.  We had to zero the rifles in because a large draft was expected during May and June and we knew that most of them didn't know the first thing about weapons.  We were starting to feel like veterans.
The drafts arrived in two large lots in May and June, about six hundred in all, just after we had a lot of rain.  I felt sorry for the new recruits, walking around in the rain in their civvies.  What a mess it was; mud, mud, and more mud.  It was quite a job getting them sorted out in company lots and showing them to their tents.  Then it was meal and clothing parades.  Some of them grumbled a bit.  Who wouldn't, but everything went fairly well.
On one occasion, another corporal and I took a truckload into Ottawa for their medical examinations.  We had a system, or so I thought.  I checked them in one at a time to the medical officers and, when they were finished, sent them outside to wait in the truck.  When the last recruit and I went out to the truck, we found it empty.  I spied a beer room up the street and went in.  The place was full.  All eyes were on the floor, hoping that I wouldn't know them.  The other corporal was right there with them having a real good time.  So I had to join them for one quick beer.  I was underage but no one noticed it.  Then it was time to start counting heads and we were missing one other rank.  I still remember his name, H. Mandel.  He was from Toronto.  He disappeared and was never found.  He had vowed to stay out of the army and I guess he did.
On June 11, 1942 I was promoted to corporal.  Best rank in the army!  No guard duty, and no kitchen fatigue duties.  We did however have more to do in the training of the recruits.  They came from all walks of life and there were some darn nice lads in the bunch.  One chap, Cap­pel­lacci, played an accordion and was a real enter­tainer.  It made the nights in the canteen really worthwhile.
In June we all had to go through a series of “M” tests (intelligence tests).  That was so they could put the cooks repairing trucks and the mechanics in the kitchen.  That seems to be how things turned out in the army!  All the non-commissioned officers had to do the special M tests.
These were a series of timed questions from general knowledge to mathematics and grammar.  At the conclusion the officer asked if there were anyone with university training.  There was only one.  Next he was looking for high school grade 13.  Next came grade 12 and I volunteered.  Our job was to mark the M tests.  I found out that my score was 186 out of 212, whatever that meant.
We were next interviewed and the officer asked me if I wanted to go to officer training school.  I was surprised and said that I didn't know.  He put down that I was officer or non-commissioned officer material!  That was big stuff for an 18 year old out of a small village!
We had some amusing moments while on the parade ground.  Every morning we would form up the battalion, marching to the tune of Bonnie Dundee.  It was a great way to start the day.  The nearby units would all be still listening to our band.
There was a French regiment next to our unit.  The favorite command seemed to be “with the ass to the Ottawa river, about face”.  The other one that I remember was “the long knife on the big gun put, when I say ‘put’, you fix bayonets”.  Nearly every Monday morning, their regi­mental sergeant-​major would scream at them and tell them: “You dirty S.O.B.s, why don't you wash and shave.  You're not out in the bush; this is the army.”.  It didn't seem to make any difference.  Every week it was the same thing.  They were a great bunch of lads just the same and they proved themselves on D-day.
Visits home, were few because of the lack of transpor­tation, so one Sunday a bus load arrived full of our friends and relatives.  It was like a big picnic outing and a good time was had by all, with many pictures taken.  The separation was hard on the family men and there were some tearful partings.
While we were in Con­naught, we managed a few trips to Ottawa, and went to a few pubs for a beer or two.  We also had a couple of shows at the camp.  It all helped to while away the idle hours.
On the 12th of June, I was duty corporal, when an order came in to prepare for a move.  The order didn't say to where but I noticed that an advanced party was to be picked ready to move out on the following Sunday.  On a hunch I put my name down along with a Corporal Bunce, who was a friend.  The old sergeant-major wanted to know who in hell gave me permission to do that.  I told him that somebody had to go and why not me.  He just laughed and said okay.  There was also eight other ranks from each company to go, to make a total of 50 including the officers.
We entrained at the station in Ottawa and we were surprised to find that we would have berths and first class meals on the trip.
One of the highlights of the train ride was the fact that the train stopped and picked up people all along the way.  The only train ride this guy ever had was to go from Prescott to Ottawa to see the king and queen in 1939.
A lot of students got on at Ottawa and at North Bay.  I met a very cute young girl and we got along very well.  It made the trip go fast.  She got off at Armstrong and I remember that I carried her books up to her home.  Her parents were surprised but very friendly.  It was a learning experience to see how these folks lived in such an out of the way town.  I imagine they all worked for the railroad.
We had a short stop in Winnipeg and I sent a card home, to let them know that I was heading west.  My mother saved the card and I still have it in my scrapbook.

Prince George

The rest of the trip went fast and I also remember seeing a big moose along the tracks, just outside of Jasper, Alberta.  After four days and five nights on the train we arrived at Prince George, British Columbia.
The camp was set up about three miles outside of town.  It was an empty flat field of about four hundred acres, full of jack pine trees.  In the distance there were some high hills, which made for a very nice scene.
We soon settled down and started putting up some tents for the battalion that was due on the 22nd of June.  The real work started when the rest of the boys arrived.  We started removing trees for a parade ground.  Since the jack pine has very shallow roots, it was no big deal to pull them out.  One guy would climb up to the top of the tree and bend it over and the rest would just pull the tree out, roots and all.  Some of the larger ones were pulled out by the trucks.  At the end of the week we had cleared two hundred acres.
One silly thing happened two days after the troops arrived.  The brass decided that we should go on a hike to get rid of the kinks from the train ride.  Nobody was used to the high altitude and the guys were dropping like flies.  The pickup trucks were full of exhausted and sick guys.  The advance party was okay; we had had a week to get acclimatized.  I think the brass learned a lesson.
Prince George was a pretty little town, set at the junction of the Fraser and Nechako rivers, which formed the northeast corner of the town.  The army camp was set in the southwest area about three miles away.  The main industries were mining and lumbering.  It looked like a boom town of the 1890s.  For a town of 5000, it had seven hotels all going full blast and doing a roaring business.
The camp had a main road running east to west, with the canteen and support units on the right.  On the left were the rifle companies and further over were the washing facilities and latrines.  We all slept in the standard bell tents, usually six or eight to a tent.  I was lucky.  There were only four of us in our tent and my brother made beds out of two-inch poles with smaller ones to hold the pail­lasses, mattresses full of straw.
After a while we had a routine which included sick parade at 0630, followed by breakfast and full parade at 0800.  I guess all armies are the same in that you have to have a system.  The parade and following inspection got everyone up and going every day.  Details were read out, fatigues appointed, and soon the place looked like a thriving city, with platoons marching to their areas for instructions.
The rifle ranges were set up and we spent many days on rifle and Bren gun practice.  I also had some training on the two-inch mortar, the anti-tank PIAT (projector, infantry anti-tank) gun, and the Boyes anti-tank rifle.  When you fired the Boyes rifle, the recoil would spin you around a foot or two.  The 50 calibre shell was too powerful and it was later discontinued.
My brother and some others set up a flying target.  A steel cable was mounted up on a hillside and ran down across the ranges.  A target was suspended on a set of pulleys and the target really flew down at high speed.  Alas, it didn't last very long.  Some of the recruits were a little wild with the aim and they managed to cut the steel cable.  I think that some of the brass thought that we would be able to shoot down attacking planes!
We had some good times at night in Prince George.  There were seven hotels, all going full out every night.  The places would be full of miners, trappers and lumbermen.  As soon as you sat down they would put a beer in front of you, and they wouldn't let us pay for anything.  In one hotel the tables were about eight feet long, oval in shape and would hold 30 to 40 glasses of beer.  When the supply ran low, one of the guys would throw twenty dollars on the table and it was refilled.  They were heavy drinkers but seemed to hold their beer pretty well.  On one of our trips to town, Corporal Bill and I were invited to a lumber­jack's room for a drink.  When we got there we saw three other guys and a lady of the night.  One of them was having his way with the “lady” and she was so drunk I don't think she knew what was going on.  The other two were waiting their turn.  Talk about an education!  The chap we were with grabbed a bottle of rye and he offered to drive us back to camp.  He had an old Model A Ford.  It was only three miles to the camp, but it took almost 30 minutes.  We were having trouble seeing the road!  We drank the bottle on the way.
During our stay in Prince George, I met a pretty young lady whose father was an immigrant from Italy.  He owned a hotel and I still remember the wonderful meals that I had there on Sundays.  In September of 1942 she went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.  I saw her there just before I went overseas.  I often wonder how she made out.
The Elks hall was a popular place on Saturday nights.  They had a strange custom between dances.  Everyone kept walking around in a circle, instead of sitting down or just talking.  There always seemed to be lots of ladies to dance with, mostly square dancing.  I am sure that we all enjoyed our stay there.  They always had lots of coffee and sandwiches for us at the end of the evening.  It was a good way to get acquainted.
While there I started having trouble with an ear infection.  The medical officers didn't have any idea of how to stop the earaches, so it was grin and bare it!
We had one chap who got so homesick that one night, while drunk, he jumped into the 30 foot pit where the latrine refuge was dumped.  Was he a stinking mess!
We were serenaded nightly by the coyotes who were in the hills at the back of the camp.  Many a night while coming back to camp through the woods, we could hear the bears rooting in the garbage that was dumped down a hill a mile from camp.  I used to run through the woods and sometimes I took a wrong turn and spent some anxious moments wondering where the heck I was.  It didn't get dark until midnight, and it got light again around 0300 hours.  On many a night I came back in the daylight!
One item that I should perhaps mention is that in September an order came through to the companies for all non-commissioned officers to start motorcycle training.  We were to report at 1830 hours, dressed in coveralls, to the motor pool area.  They had sort of an oval track laid out in the sandy area, probably to provide a soft landing spot.  I think I was the second guy there and inside a half hour I was zipping around the track without any problems.  The bikes were heavy Harleys and weighed around 500 pounds.  If one fell on you, you could suffer a busted leg or more.  I was lucky and didn't have any problems.  The third night, someone discovered that the non-commissioned officers were supposed to be sergeants and up only.  That was the end of my training, but I had mastered the fine points and this proved to be a lifesaver later in France.  It kept me out of the rifle companies.
group photo of John Marin; his brother, Joe; and five other soldier friends
Back row: John Marin, Bunce, brother Joe Marin, Linnen
Front row: Buckley, Reid, McCurrie
During August, we started going on a lot of route marches that got a little longer each time.  They sure got us in good shape.  In mid-August we went on an overnight hike and crossed over to the north side of the Nechako River and camped near the river.  The section corporals were supposed to prepare dinner for their sections.  However the supply truck didn't make it so all we had were jam sandwiches.
After supper, Corporal Bill and I decided to look around.  About a mile from camp we came to a farm house and the old guy asked us in to have a beer.  This was against regulations, but no one would know.  The old chap was quite talkative and he rambled on for quite a while.  Finally he pulled out a deck of cards and proceeded to tell us our fortune.  He ended up by saying that the war would be over in about 1100 days.  He was almost right to the day.  It was August 15, 1942.
The beer tasted good and we asked where we could get some more.  He had a boat and we crossed the Nechako River in the dark, with big logs floating by.  It is a wonder that we didn't get swamped.  Bill and I hiked uptown and bought a case of 24s and back we went.  The ale was sure welcomed back at camp, and no questions were asked!
In September the nights starting getting chilly and by October the tent flaps would be frozen shut in the morning with the heavy dew.  To try and keep warm, we hung three lanterns from the top of the tent.  It helped keep out the chill but the smell of the oil lamps usually gave us a headache.
In mid-October we finally packed up and marched the three miles to the railroad station, accompanied by the band.  At 2000 hours we started heading south.  Around three in the morning we had a train stop at Kamloops.  The temp was 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  What a change!  Of course we didn't have a clue where we were going.


The next morning we arrived at Vancouver and detrained at the docks and got on board a ferry boat to Nanaimo.  What a nice boat trip that was.  The scenery was great and we were looking forward to Vancouver Island.
This camp had wooden barracks, long narrow buildings with bunks along the wall on either side and a potbelly stove in the centre.  It was a welcome change from the tents although I rather liked the tents.  A big plus was that we had hot water for showers and washing up in the morning.  Another big change was that the wake-up and parade times were delayed two hours.  Daylight came later in the morning and it got dark at four in the afternoon.  We even enjoyed sand-free meals!
In November leaves were starting to be granted and my uncle, brother, and I put in for a leave.  We had a 30 day leave which sounds like a long time, but it took five nights and four days to arrive in Toronto.  The tickets cost $20.05 each, return!  When we set out the Salvation Army made up boxes of sandwiches and candy, which they sold for one dollar a box.  This was a bargain since the package lasted for two days.
When we stopped in Calgary, we hiked the ten blocks to the liquor store.  They didn't ask for identification, just the new registration card which they stamped.  We had to run all the way back to avoid missing the train.
We stopped off at Fort William to visit some relatives that I had never heard of.  My mother's uncle and his family owned a store there.  A good time was had by all.  We had time to visit a small cafe out at Kakabeka Falls, where they served beer.  I kept looking out for a cop, but I was assured that it was okay.
I got off in Toronto to visit a gal that I had met in Cardinal a few years back.  Her father was the purchasing agent, for the local plant.  She was going to the wireless school for training and then to the air force.
The time at home went by very fast.  There were people to see and things to do and soon we were heading back to Nanaimo.  This trip west was very different from my first one.  The seats were made of wood with a centre part covered with leather.  They were not very comfortable!  Some of the other chaps who went home in December landed in the middle of an ice storm.  The power was off for six weeks and it was pretty tough on those who were on leave.
When we arrived back in Vancouver, my brother and uncle went to Chilli­wack where they had been on courses.  I took the ferry to Nanaimo and since my leave didn't expire until 1600 hours, I went down to the docks and rented a boat.  I sailed blissfully up the coast, north of Nanaimo, until around 1400 hours.  When I turned around and tried to find the dock I was lost.  I had forgotten about the high tides that they have there.  It took two hours to find the dock.  It was sure nice to get back on land.
In January, Corporal Bill and I were sent down to Esquimalt on a 50 calibre machine gun course.  This gun had 474 parts to it.  They had some good instructors and after two weeks I could take it apart and reassemble it again in record time.  The high point of the course was shooting at a target towed by a small plane.  I aimed high and almost shot down the plane.  Lucky for the pilot we were only allowed 20 rounds!
While there we visited Victoria in the evenings.  It was a beautiful city compared to what we were used to.  It has two main streets, called “Douglas” and “Government”, one for business offices and one was used by the ladies of the night looking for business.
All too soon the course was over and it was back to camp.  On the way back we stopped at a place called “Malahat Drive”, where the movie The Commandos Strike at Dawn was filmed.  This place is 60 miles north of Victoria.
Back at camp we continued with weapons training and lots of route marches.  In January of 1943 we got a new lieutenant as platoon officer.  He must have been a hold over from World War One.  He sure had some stupid ideas on training.  He kept telling anyone who would listen how tough he was.  He was about 5 feet 7 inches and might have weighed 150 pounds.  The colonel decided we needed an overnight hike with all our equipment on our back.  This included a large pack with the blankets on top, plus a small haversack ,and finally our weapons.  The march started off okay, with “pipsqueak” leading the way.
There is a small mountain just west of Nanaimo and up we went to about 1000 feet of elevation.  I noticed as we neared the top that the lieutenant seemed to be slowing down.  We made camp in a nice pasture-like area and made our supper, each section looking after themselves.  I was our cook.  The temperature was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  We had several fires going to provide a little heat.  When I turned in, I took my boots off and kept them inside the blankets, hoping that they would dry out during the night.
During the night we received two inches of snow and everything was soggy.  Some of the boys put their shoes close to the fire to dry them out, with the result that they cooked the leather soles and some of them fell off.  What a mess.  After breakfast we headed down the hill, back to camp.  The hike was 20 miles more or less.  When we arrived back at camp, our expert took off his pack and threw it on the ground and wondered aloud who was the idiot who had planned the march.  He was exhausted and that was the end of his bragging.
I started having ear trouble again due to the dampness.  Rather than miss out on some training, I took a carpentry course in Nanaimo.  It was fun.  We had an old English chap who was a retired architect and builder.  We started the course drawing up plans for a house (9 feet × 9 feet).  Next we proceeded to build it.  It was quite an interesting time.  I still have the drawings.
There seemed to be a lot of ladies in Nanaimo, and I met one at a hockey game.  Her name was Dorothy B.  Her mother ran a store.  She was a fine young lady and we had some good times together.  She took me to a lot of dances that her church group put on.  I remember having a lot of good meals at her home.  It sure made being away from home more pleasant.
Another favourite spot was the roller skating rink.  I spent a lot of time there and met some of the local gals who loved to skate.  One Saturday night I got in with a group that was out for some fun.  After the rink closed we headed out for a few beers, after which one young lady invited us up for a lunch.  Who could refuse.  It was soon apparent that it wasn't your regular lunch break!  My young lady grabbed my hand and led me into one of the other rooms.  The next thing I saw was her panties on the floor.  She must have noticed the dumb look on my face, because she pulled me down on the couch beside her.  I hated to admit to her that this was a new experience for me, but I rallied to the cause and we did what comes naturally!  One of the other girls came by and asked what was going on.  My gal told her that she was helping the war effort by keeping the soldiers happy.  I thought that was a good idea!
The next day I started having pains in my stomach muscles and the following morning I had to go on sick parade, because I had a hard time bending over.  The medical officer checked me all over and said that he didn't see anything wrong with me.  Then he looked at me with a big grin and wanted to know if I had been cheating with some guys wife.  He hit it right on the head and I never felt so silly.  I never went on sick parade to that medical officer again all the time that we were out there.

Long Beach

About this time the Japs were starting to flex their muscles and had invaded two of the islands west of Alaska.  Orders came through for a move to Long Beach, on the west side of the island.  We went as far as Port Alberni in trucks.  Here we transferred to a small coastal mail and supply boat for the trip up to Ucluelet (pro­nounced: You–​clue–​let).  The ship was called “The Haida”.  The boat was not outfitted for carrying passengers.  There was only a cabin for the captain and a section for the crew of three.  We were all huddled on deck and to make matters worse it started to rain.
We arrived in Ucluelet just as it was getting dark.  I was put in charge of a section to unload our equipment.  The rain came down in buckets and I was swearing at the situation when the captain announced that he had to leave.  Half of our equipment was still on board.  He said that he would drop the rest off on his way back.
Just then I heard a voice behind me say: “What's the matter boys?”.  I turned around and there was a chap from Cardinal.  He was too old for overseas service so he was working in the air force hospital.  It was 2000 hours and we were hungry.  He took us over to the air force mess and we had a good meal.  We slept there as well that night.  Next day we went up the coast to Long Beach where our camp was being erected.  It was back to the bell tents again.  Long Beach is a very pretty area.  It is now a park.
With all the training that we had, the brass started sending reinforcement drafts overseas.  From Prince George in September of 1942, two officers and 71 other ranks went.  From Nanaimo in December of 1942, four officers and 105 other ranks were sent. Next February, one officer and 21 other ranks left.
The unit was now down to a little over half the numbers that we had when we were at Con­naught.  Two companies were stationed near Tofino at an air force base, about twenty-five miles north of Ucluelet, and we were scattered along the coast in between the two places.  The guys that were stationed at Tofino had the advantage of being able to go to the air force canteen on their off hours.  They also attended shows there in the evenings.  They had a pretty good setup.
We set up our tents two hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean, at the back of an open space, next to a great stand of fir trees that seemed to fill the island.  It was a change being on our own, away from the main part of the battalion.  Our three sections set up our tents partially out of sight of the main trail that ran along the beach.  Being isolated meant that we had to post guards around the clock.  The guards also kept the fire going in the cookhouse.
The first building that we put up was a shack to serve as the cook­house.  This was built from scrap lumber and with a tarpaulin for the walls.  We had some tin for the roof.  It didn't have much ventilation and the poor cooks started complaining about the heat.  Our officer decided that since I had been on a carpenter course, that I should do something about the heat.  I built a cupola, trying to imitate the style that I had seen on barn roofs.  It didn't look too bad and when we cut the hole in the roof, a great gush of hot air came out.  It looked pretty rustic and did the job, the only drawback that showed up was when it rained.  The louvers weren't set right and the water poured in.  The cook said that he would rather have the rain than the heat.
One other problem that came up was an invasion of rats.  I don't know where they came from, but they must have been attracted by the garbage that was dumped in a big pile away from the camp.  The rats were from six to eight inches in length.  The traps that we put out were of no use.  I suggested to the lieutenant that if I had a 22 calibre rifle, I could shoot them.  The lieutenant went to Ucluelet and came back with a rifle and 22 short ammunition.  I kept the night guard company, and as we sat in the cookhouse, I shot 23 of the rats on the first night.  We put out some cheese and scraps for the rats and there would be two or three of them eating at the same time.  I would shoot one of them and it didn't seem to bother the rest; they just kept on eating.  By the end of the week most of them had been eliminated and we only got two or three a night after that first time.  This also provided a sort of entertainment for the night guards.  It helped keep them awake.
At Long Beach, we started cutting down trees to make access roads in case of a Jap attack.  The trees were eight to ten inches in diameter and 60 to 80 feet high.  I had never seen trees like them.  They were cut in eight foot lengths and laid side by side to form a corduroy road into the bush behind our camp.  We had a guy in our section who had worked in the bush lumbering and he had asked for a two-bitted axe.  He had that axe so sharp that you could shave with it.  It was quite a trick to use that axe, but he gave me a few tips and I got pretty good with it.  When we finished I had the honour of trying out the road in a Jeep, driven by our officer.  I think riding a wild horse would have been easier.
As we were on a wartime footing, we were expected to carry our rifles at all times.  I shot a big fat partridge on one outing and the cook roasted it for me.  I told everybody that it was wild crow.  I don't think that they knew the difference.
There were a lot of eagles in the area and one pair had a nest near our camp.  One of the guys couldn't resist and he shot one out of the tree.  It was a great looking bird.  We measured the wingspan and it was seven feet, two inches.
We spent a lot of time on the beach, in our off hours, collecting various type of shells.  Starfish were a favorite item.  They would be nailed to a board and left out in the sun and, when they dried out, we would ship them home as a souvenir.  One day I found a blue coloured glass ball.  These were used by the Japanese fishermen as floats for their fishing nets.  Some of the guys caught some nice trout in a stream just back of the camp.
I think that it rained nearly every day, or else it drizzled.  It was a wonder that we didn't get web feet!  Keeping neat and tidy was hard to do, but we tried to look our best.
In March, a “secret weapon” was brought up to our camp to the delight of our officer.  It was a Bren gun carrier with a two pounder mounted in the centre just ahead of the engine.  Down to the beach we all went to try it out.  A target had been set up on one of the small islands two hundred yards away.  The various officers took turns trying to hit the target with some success.  Our hero from the tanks tried it and hit the sand about eighty yards short.  I was offered a turn and took careful aim, then allowed for the north wind and the distance, because the heavy rain could affect the shot.  I remember squeezing the trigger and with the noise I couldn't hear the rest of the day.  I was the only one to hit dead centre.  I don't think our lieutenant liked it very much.  After 20 rounds the centre of the carrier frame was bent.  That was the end of the experiment.

Back to the east

We had enjoyed our stay at Long Beach, but all good things have to come to an end and May 1943 saw another draft for overseas.  There were ten of us including my brother and I.  We caught the boat at Ucluelet for Port Alberni.  When we arrived there, there was no one to meet us so we sat around and waited.  Soon a fancy car arrived and a brigadier and his staff got out.  Corporal Frank yelled at me to form us up on parade.  So I did and saluted the brigadier.  He was very friendly and shook hands with all of us and wished us all the best.  He told me that I was in charge and to deliver us all to Military District 3 in Kingston.  The adjutant gave me a big folder, containing all our records, plus first class tickets for the train sleeper car all the way to Kingston.  Boy we were certainly going in style!
We stopped in Calgary for an hour and made the ten block dash to the liquor store.  Back on the train we started to party and soon had a singsong going.  That night someone suggested the we peek at the records and since they were not sealed it was easy to take a look.  It was amazing at all the info that was in them.  All too soon we arrived in Kingston and were given a two week furlough.
Cartoon of a medical examination given to an army recruit by three doctors
Before starting our furlough, we had to have a medical exam, similar to the above picture.  One of the guys showed up so drunk that he could hardly stand up.  When the doctors put the light on him he could see a lot of  “mechanized dandruff” (crabs) on him.  He told the poor guy to collect his shaving gear and shave around his privates.  Boy was he a mess when he finished.  He must have cut himself a half dozen times and was bleeding.  The orderly smeared some blue ointment on him and it must have stung, because he sobered up in a hurry.
We boarded a bus at Kingston expecting to be home in two hours.  The first shock came when the driver would only sell us tickets for fifty miles, or as far as Brock­ville.  This was due to a stupid policy made by the government so people would stay home and save gasoline for the war effort.  At Brock­ville, we tried to get tickets for Cardinal but the bus was full.  There we were after a 3000 mile trip, stranded twenty-two miles from home.  We went up and down the streets looking to see if someone had left their car keys in the car; if so we were prepared to steal one.  Finally I called the taxi driver in Cardinal, and although he wasn't supposed to go out after dark for passengers, he came up and drove us home.  I vowed that I would never vote for that party, when I reached voting age!
At home everyone was worried at our leaving.  Before we left I saw that our old row boat was tied up west of Cardinal.  I don't know how it got there but we had to get it back.  The water was high and I stripped off my trousers and waded out.  By the time we reported back at the armoury I was starting to feel a little sick.  That night we boarded the train and started off for the east coast.
The train traveled through the night and next morning stopped at a small town in Quebec.  We were not allowed to get off, as there were a lot of civilians at the station.  Of course most of the soldiers were whistling at the girls and as the train pulled out several of the girls lifted up their skirts and exposed themselves.  I thought that some of the guys were going to jump off the train.
It was a long and tiresome ride, trying to sleep on the old wooden seats.  By the time we arrived in Halifax, I had a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was a great way to start the trip overseas, in the sick bay!