Sunday, 2 August 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 15 - Basic Training

In the summer of 1975, I finished my first year at University of Toronto, passed my exams, said my good-byes to my fellow residents of Cody House and prepared for my first summer with the Canadian Armed Forces; Basic Training. In those days, Basic Officers Training was conducted out on the West Coast at Chilliwack, British Columbia. I'd heard my brother Rick tell me many stories about his adventures and activities when he went there in the late '60s and was looking forward to it. I had never been west of Ontario so that had an added attraction. This was going to be a great adventure, flying west on the service flight, seeing Vancouver, having my first military training on the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

Well, so I thought anyway. As I mentioned previously, during those days, we had three military colleges going full swing plus a large number of us 'civvie u' types (those of us who attended civilian university on military scholarships) and Women!! Basically, my University Liaison Officer, a Captain who worked out of the Avenue Road site in Toronto (at Avenue Road was the Canadian Forces Staff College and Staff School, a place where officers learned how to be better officers; Captains being groomed to be Majors and Majors being groomed for more senior ranks).  The University Liaison Officer for we Officer Cadets (OCdt) who went to university in central Ontario had an office there and he looked after us, so to speak, and arranged our summer training programs. Anyway, he informed me that, no, unfortunately, the Civilian university types would instead be attending Basic Training at Camp Borden, just up the road from Toronto. There were too many military college types and Chilliwack was full to the brim; well, with just enough room for the female OCdts to attend there. The overflow from the military colleges and we civvie u types would get the enjoyment of going to Borden.

I will admit that this was a bit of a letdown . And when I saw where I was staying for the next 13 weeks (The building seems to have been converted for another use, but it was one just like that photo above). There were 3 platoons of us civilian university Officer Cadets. I was in 13 Platoon and if that is the building, I think the room just to the left of the main entrance on the second floor was our room.

My summer digs
Yes, we were 4 to a room. We started off the summer with about 10 UTPMs in our platoon. They were men who had been in the military for a number of years already as Sgts and such, but who had applied to be offices and were attending university (called the University Training Plan for Men) after which they would be commissioned officers. Our training staff, 2 young lieutenants from the Royal Canadian Regiment, 1 Warrant Officer Field Engineer and 1 Sergeant from Armoured Corp, quickly realised that these fellows were wasting their time spending 13 weeks with us and moved them over with the military college types who had already been in Borden for a month. Luckily our roommate, Ron Emby, imparted some useful information to us on waxing floors, ironing and polishing boots, etc before he left. Thanks for that Ron!

My roomies, Jim Dunstan, Tom Beggs and Lorne Ness
So after the first week, I had my roommates for the summer. We got along, that was what was important. We were a mix, Jim (the fella in his undies) became a dentist. Unfortunately I can't remember what the other two did?? As you can see, quite a few folks, once they made there bed to satisfy our morning room inspections, never slept under their covers. They either slept on the floor under their bed in their sleeping bag, or slept on top of the perfectly made beds, also in their sleeping bags. Personally, I couldn't see the point. I figured that I was going to be up until midnight or later every night, waxing floors, ironing, polishing and studying and then getting up at 5 a.m. for our morning run before classes that I may as well have some little bit of comfort. It wasn't that hard to make a bed. Anyway, quite often our morning inspectors would make a point of messing up beds that they figured weren't being slept in, just to keep us on our toes.

As you can see from the photos, we didn't have a lot of room for storing our kit. The locker by the bed had to be set up in just a certain manner, uniforms hung in a certain order, the top three doors of the small dresser containing specific items in a specific order; top drawer, a comb, shaving kit, etc, next drawer, so many pairs of socks and underwear and third drawer, a certain number of t-shirts. The bottom two drawers could be filled up and we also had a barrack box at the end of the bed we could cram full of our civilian clothes. On either side of the door to our room, we had the storage cabinets for our FNs (the rifles we carried on parade and to the ranges).

Our first responsibilities were to get our floors shiny and smooth. After we had them nicely waxed, we spent most of our time skating around the room in our wool socks to keep the floors shiny for inspection.  Each of the three platoons had other areas of responsibilities; a section of hallway to wax and buff, one of the washrooms or showers to keep clean. You quickly got into a routine each day and night, what to do before you went to bed, how to minimise your efforts in getting your rooms ready for morning inspection, all those basics.

Be vewwy vewwy afraid!!
For the next 13 weeks, our routine alternated between classrooms and heading out into the field for exercises to test our mettle as future leaders. Over the course of the summer each cadet took turns as Platoon Commander or Deputy Platoon Commander, which meant getting everybody up and out of bed in the morning, ready for morning PT (a run or a trip to the obstacle course), back to barracks and quickly ready for inspection and breakfast, then marching the platoon to classes or to whatever else the instructors had planned for us. It was a mixture of classroom work; Military writing, Military Law, etc during which you desperately tried to stay awake. Classrooms were hot and you weren't getting any sleep so the tendency was to perform the falling asleep head bob. Eyes start to glaze over, you nod your head as if you are agreeing with your instructor, nod again, eyes closing, then eyes close and your head drops and the instructor shouts at you to WAKE UP!!! Lots of drill in preparation for the big grad parade; platoon drill followed by Company drill with the other platoons, quick march, slow march, march in review order.

A day at the ranges
And then for a change, we'd march off down the road to the ranges; qualify on the FNC1, our main weapon and a heavy sucker. Or just for familiarisation, the FNC2 (the automatic version of the C1), the SMG (sub-machine gun) or the 9 mm pistol. I will say I never won any shooting trophies, but at the same time I also never accidentally pointed my weapon at the instructors to show them I had a jam and then spent the rest of the day burning ammo boxes while the rest of us had fun shooting. "This is my rifle, this is my gun, this for killing, this is for fun". You figure it out. :)

If we weren't shooting, we were doing the obstacle course; which I have to admit, I quite enjoyed; crawling through tunnels, swinging across creeks on a rope, climbing walls. That was fun. What wasn't quite so much fun was doing the gas hut. We got some classroom training on how to use our gas mask, then off to the gas hut, some more instruction and explanation on what was going to happen and then in we went. First they had us run around the room, do some jumping jacks to get us nice and sweaty; because tear gas loves sweat, makes it burn nicely. Then standing in a circle around this little fire and the instructor drops in some gas pellets and shouts 'Gas Gas Gas!' and out come the gas masks from our carriers and with eyes closed shut tightly and holding our breath, we quickly don our masks, test it to make sure it's snug and then off we go again, running around the room, jumping jacks, our necks and hands and any exposed skin burning. The exit is opened and out we go, single file. Before we can leave, we have to take off the mask, shout our name rank and serial number and out we go, hacking, coughing, spitting. Of course, stupid me, as I shout my serial number, I get it backwards (not that the instructor would even know or care) and I say, damn, and start over again, taking a breath before I do so... gag!! (I never said I was the quickest rabbit in the forest and I do like to mix metaphors).

So besides the routine stuff, we also spent every second weekend in the field. This was to give us the opportunity to really test our mettle and leadership skills. We either marched to Blackdown Park, or poison ivy hell, and found our campsite, set up our hoochies and spent the day doing small tasks; building bridges, setting up a communication line, doing map work, etc. Each day one of us got to be Platoon leader and either find our next location and keep our platoon on the march, or direct one of the tasks, or multitudinous other ways to see that we were suitable as leaders. Our instructors were a mix. Lt Fenton was the head instructor and firm but fair. Lt Allen was a bit of a wild card, somewhat strange at times and could be a picky stickler. WO Mushrow was our hero. He was strict and fair at the same time, 5' nothing, but a true leader. We called 13 Platoon 'Mushrow's Mushrooms' in his honour. Our Sgt Carmichael (I think that was his name) was a good guy, during some of our tasks, he'd drive off and bring us back coffees or hamburgers.

Having a break on the side of the road
Our biggest exercise was our overnight Escape and Evasion exercise. On a Friday evening, we met in the classroom. They handed some of us snake bite kits and told us we were going off to the Bruce Peninsula, that we were escaped Prisoners of War and that we had to get to the safe site by Sunday and that the instructors would be hunting us down overnight and on Saturday. So on that note, at 9 in the evening, off we went in our Deuce and a Half's (2 and a half ton trucks). They dropped us off in groups on this road and told us to head to safety. Of course, we had no idea where we were and where were going, just a general idea. Jim Dunstan and I stayed together, getting on each other's nerves as we got more and more tired. Early Saturday morning, we were walking down this stretch of highway and decided we would go into the woods and rest until evening, when we saw a snake (oh yes, the snakebite kits were because the Bruce Peninsula has rattlesnakes). At that point, we decided instead to walk through the town just ahead and rest on the other side. Of course, that is when we were captured and brought back to the POW camp. There we spent the next 20 hours blindfolded, being interrogated, etc. Not the most fun time I had on basic training.

13 Platoon - Mushrow's Mushrooms
Having said that, Basic Training was a fun time, a time to look back on fondly. Even with all the hard work and lack of sleep, we managed to spend a few hours each evening relaxing in our little club, having a few soda pops. When I could, I went up to North Bay to visit the folks, have a nice bath, eat good food and forget about camp for a weekend. But I managed to get through it. I wasn't the best student and I wasn't the worst. As was the case during most of my courses, I floated through as a good, solid student who successfully passed his course and moved onto the next challenge.

I did graduate! Woo hoo!!
Mom and Dad came down to Borden for my graduation and after a nice day and a nice parade, my summer was over. It remained only to pack up my kit and head back to university for 2nd year.

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