Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
While I was at Camp Ipperwash, persistent rumours kept making the rounds... stories about some of the CWACs getting poontanged within the camp environs, most of the affairs having taken place outside in the shadows of the CWAC huts. Standing jobs, obviously. Whether the stories were true or not, I had no way of confirming these liaisons, but I suppose there might very well have been the odd one that was consummated, but not as much as were supposed to have taken place. It could have happened, though. After all, when you have young women out of parental control for the first time, thrown together with a whole gang of virile young men living next door to each other you're bound to have behaviour of this kind.
Directly behind the drill hall was the bayonet training 'run' with log butts as targets, as well as a small obstacle course for toughening up leg muscles and building up endurance...Beyond that, out in the pine-forest boondocks was the main obstacle course and the assault course, the latter being as punishing an instrument of torture as ever devised by the diabolical mind of man. Although at the time, when we had some ways yet to go before we could call ourselves tough enough to take everything and anything the army threw at us, it took a lot of energy and stamina to make it all the way through. The rifle range was located down the road about a quarter mile, with the five foot diameter bulls-eye targets just short of the stand of pines where the great dismal swamp began, the happy home of trillions of voracious mosquitoes, black flies and a hundred other obnoxious and pestiferous species of insect life. It was in this God-forsaken swampy forest that we were supposed to have learned how to stalk an imaginary enemy, and pick up all the tricks necessary in scouting enemy positions, but I doubt any of us really did learn anything.
Our Platoon Officer was a strikingly handsome fellow by the name of Don Muir. He was Canadian Hollywood actor Richard Greene's look-alike. Muir was so good-looking, a couple of the boys in the platoon let it slip that they actually had a 'crush' on him. Now, I don't think the guys were queers or anything like that, because I'd never seen them make a suggestive 'pass' at anyone. But they did admit they couldn't take their eyes off him. Latent homosexuals? Possibly. But I didn't concern myself over it. As long as they didn't make any suspicious moves in my direction, what went on in their minds was of no concern of mine.
Aside from his damning good looks, Lt. Muir proved to be an efficient officer and got along very well with the men under him. We liked him from the start. Later on in England he went to the Lincoln & Welland Regiment where his father was the CO of that Regiment. The Regimental History of this unit which I picked up at the time of its printing after the war bore out the fact what I had believed when he was running the show with us; he was not only handsome, he was a good officer in combat, the kind that good men would follow into hell.
When he first came to us I thought he was a bit too low-key and a little too easy on the discipline. A nice guy, but too soft. He never raised his voice at anyone who happened to be a little slow-witted or who wasn't sharp enough on parade. Instead of ranting and raving like a lunatic like some Sergeants and RSMs were inclined to do, he'd just go up to the culprit and say, "C'mon lad, you can do better than that," or at least words to that effect, and the guy invariably responded in a positive way. I never saw him get riled up when something or another went amiss. He never lost his composure. His approach to leading men, although not exactly the way the army wanted him to take, Lt. Muir got as much out of his men as what was there in the first place. He got respect and admiration from us, and in action that's worth a ton. A man will go the extra mile for an officer like Muir more so than he would for some bastard who thought he was another Napoleon.
Our advance infantry training program began on an unimpressive note, actually a continuation of what we'd already learned in Basic. One immediate and notable difference, however, was that on the rifle range we fired the newest Mark IV .303 calibre Lee-Enfield rifle, whereas in the Stratford Armouries range we squeezed the trigger on the WW I Ross rifle converted to .22 calibre. It sure took some getting used to the mule-kick to the shoulder the Enfield gave.
After the first week of getting acquainted with our new officers and NCOs, the training syllabus picked up rapidly. We were on the rifle range at least once a week, firing not only our rifles, but also the Brens, and even the long-barreled 'Boys' anti-tank rifle that had the kick of an overgrown donkey to it. It was easy to become gun-shy of this monstrosity of a weapon. Three shots, and it felt as though you'd broken your shoulder-blade. This weapon was discarded in late 1943 as being useless against anything heavier than a Universal carrier, and we were not unhappy to see it go.
Practically every day, if we weren't charging furiously with fixed bayonets and with unbridled enthusiasm at straw dummies or suspended log butts, we were churning our way through the physically punishing obstacle course. Up till now, most of us thought we were in tip-top shape, but we soon found out we weren't quite there yet. In fact we had some way to go. But it didn't take long for us to reach that acme of soldierly skill. It began when we ran through the obstacle course for the first time, a series of barriers, log-runs, and ramps set up in such a way as to twist and break ankles. All the route marching we had done thus far served only to get our legs toughened up, but it didn't do all that much for our upper body conditioning or our respiratory capacity. By the end of our first day of gruelling training, when we were dismissed it was all we could do to drag our asses off the square and plop our weary and aching bodies on our bunks. We were so pooped out that evening, not all that many guys had the strength of body and will to walk over to the canteen for a cup of coffee. Not even the lure of the pretty CWAC counter girls could get us to go. Next morning we were all so stiff, you'd think we were the residents of an old folks home the way we hobbled about, bent over like we had a broomstick up our ass. But then, after our usual half-hour of morning calisthenics we'd worked the stiffness out and were ready for whatever else the army had planned to dish out to us. By the end of the week we took the run through the obstacle course as though it was just another jog around the square.
Out on the bayonet course I was having my problems. My right index finger knuckle was taking a beating every time I drove the bayonet into the log butt. After a half dozen thrusts, the knuckle swelled up to almost double its size. Finally, without the NCO in charge having to show me what I was doing wrong, I found the reason for my distress. Where my right hand, clutching the small of the rifle butt should have served only to guide the rifle while the left, firmly gripping the stock at mid-barrel did the work of driving the rifle hard into the target, I was using my right in putting force behind the thrust. This drove my knuckle hard up against the bolt. I damn well soon corrected the fault, but for years after, my knuckle was enlarged by at least half of the same knuckle on my left hand. Another thing we learned was that a blood-curdling yell was a most necessary ingredient in any bayonet charge. It was supposed to terrify the enemy and make him want to throw up his arms in surrender or run like hell. In the one and only bayonet charge I'd gone in on in Italy, this is exactly what happened, though the enemy didn't have a chance to run. We were on top of them so fast they couldn't climb out of their deep trenches fast enough to throw their hands up in the air in surrender.
Original Story from messages received on 18 February 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 19 February 2002.
The story above, Camp Ipperwash, was written and contributed by Mr. Stan Scislowski, who served with the Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. The moving story is a part of his published work entitled: Not All of Us Were Brave which was published by Dundurn Press.
Would you care to read more tales of World War II written by Mr. Stan Scislowski? His work is featured on a website devoted to the Perth Regiment of Canada. Check out this very interesting website and while you are there look at Stan's Corner .
We at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words wish to offer our profound "Thanks" for the excellent material contributed by Mr. Stan Scislowski.
September 5, 2002.
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