Our main task early on was protecting property against the considerable pilfering which went on in the Canadian Army. ...... Bicycles were being stolen in hundreds. My batman, Jimmy Gallacher, who had been a head waiter in the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, was a specialist in knocking off bicycles. The Canadian sappers used to pinch any bicycle in the morning which had not been locked up, strip it down and mix the parts around so that it was impossible for us to recognize a whole bicycle which could be identified as stolen property. The local police sergeant came to our camp to complain, and I recognized him immediately from the days when I had served in that area as a sergeant in the Military Mounted Police. This made the bicycle thefts even more embarrassing. Finally, Colonel Whyte -who commanded the Royal Canadian Engineers Holding Unit- had me up about it. He said: 'Mr Cusack, we are having far too many complaints about these bicycles being stolen by Canadians. You must do something about it.' I said that the Batmen's Union was proving a bit stronger than the Warrant Officers' Union. It was only after our padre, Father McDonald, caught a Sapper redhanded hiding stolen bicycles in his chapel that we managed to get all the bicycles numbered and registered in the camp at Cove. - John Cusack, MM, and Ivor Herbert, Scarlet Fever; A Lifetime with Horses, 1972
We knew the German routine almost as well as our own; the habits of their patrols, the routes of their working parties when they came out at night to strengthen the wire, the emplacements in their front line from which machine-guns uttered a morning 'strafe', the location of battery positions behind the wood-though we never saw them-which carefully registered each new construction in our trenches with a few ranging shots. Not often did we see a Boche, sometimes a head and shoulders leaping past a gap in his parapet, a working party on the wire caught for an instant in the glow of a Very-light at which they would 'freeze' and stand still, hoping not to be noticed perhaps a shadowy figure by night in No Man's Land. We heard wagon-wheels in the distance as their transport brought up the rations the thumping and scuffling of their night-workers, distant coughs and sneezes, and once I caught the unmistakable sound of a sergeant-major bawling-out a soldier for some misdemeanour which I could well imagine. - Charles Carrington, Soldier From the Wars Returning, 1965
"Why did it have to be us, Sargeant?"
"Because you're here; nobody else."
- dialogue from the movie "Zulu"
The Long Way Round
It is related that on one occasion in France the Chief [Field- Marshal Haig of First World War fame] inquired from an astonished soldier whether he was aware that he was the left-hand man of the extreme left of the British Line. This interesting piece of information left the man singularly unimpressed; and later on a sergeant took upon himself to explain: "You `eard what' Aig said. Well, it means that if `e gave the order `Right Wheel', you'd go on runnin' for the rest of yer blinkin' life!" - Canadian Defence Quarterly (October 1923). - CANADIAN ARMY JOURNAL, VOL 7, NO 1, APRIL 1953
"...to follow the dictum of the British NCO who, when asked where his officers were, replied, 'When it comes time to die, they'll be with us.'" - Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army; 1978
In the days before the western world seized on the idiotic quest for political correctness, the army was a haven for men who lived hard and often died young. Our instructors swore continuously, drank regularly and did not give a damn about social norms from the civilian world. If you could do your job, your personal life was your own business. We admired our instructors all the more for their unrefined ways. For me, the professional soldier can never be a model of civilian mores. The men who make a life out of pushing limits will always be, in their hearts, the swaggering and rough-at-the-edges lot from days gone by. - James R. Davis, The Sharp End; A Canadian Soldier's Story, 1997
I had been around long enough to realize that all of my superiors were not the infallible supermen we were led to believe. As in any line of work, there are success stories and failures. Generally, our training process weeded out those unfit for the lifestyle. Sometimes though, the occasional lemon made it through. Leadership and loyalty for our NCOs and officers quickly became a matter of our respect for them and was no longer based solely on their rank.
We developed a great deal of loyalty to those of our leaders whom we saw as professionals. It was not necessary to like them, only to respect their leadership qualities. Often the NCOs and officers we grew to have the greatest feelings of loyalty towards were those who displayed one important attribute: they placed the interests of their soldiers above their own career concerns. - James R. Davis, The Sharp End; A Canadian Soldier's Story, 1997
[Canada's Royal Military College at] Kingston, ..., is pure British imperial. ... Watching cadets parade there, I saw them perform a drill movement I knew only from sepia Victorian photographs - it has long been abolished in Britain - while I listened to a running stream of criticism from a sergeant in bottleglass-brilliant boots of their minor imperfections in marching. He hated, he told me after the parade, the adoption by Canada's army of the naval salute - 'the wave, I call it' - he hated the universal green uniform, he hated the use of common ranks - 'How can the captain of a ship be a colonel?' - he hated the disappearance of polished brass - the metal of his pacestick glittered with burnishing - he hated rubber soles, non-iron shirts, nylon uniforms and being mistaken by civilians for an airman. Kipling and he would have got on like a house on fire: 'Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where ... a man can raise a thirst' were almost the next words I expected to hear at the crescendo of his relentless tirade. Spiritually he belonged with the Royal Canadians who had gone to fight the Boers for Queen Victoria; his cadets were unlikely to be allowed to forget that her great-great-granddaughter was Queen of Canada or that he had learnt his drill at the depot of her Foot Guards.' - John Keegan, Warpaths, Travels of a Military Historian in North America, 1995
At dawn throughout this tour I went round all posts armed with a rum jar. After the N.C.O. in charge had reported his command present and his rifles clean, each man of the post filed up to me, and I issued him his "tot" in a small metal cup. I never saw the rum more appreciated than it was during this tour.
The "old toughs" who had been up all night in a waterlogged sap-head would hold out their ration and say: "best of luck, sorr," or "best respects," and drain the rum in one gulp.
Kelly said to me one morning after he had drunk his tot, "Begorra, 'tis wonderful, sorr. 'Tis trickling yet." And they all in turn would lick their lips, stamp their feet, and so life would smile on them again. The ration rum was excellent, and as Kelly said, when frozen through after a long wet night, one could feel the rum trickling down into one's very toes! I asked one of the old "sweats" what he thought the initials S.R.D. which was on every rum jar meant, and he replied, "Soon Run Dry." - Captain F.C. Hitchcock, M.C., F.R.Hist.S., "Stand To" A Diary of the Trenches, 1915-18, 1937