Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Camp Ipperwash, Pt. 2
The most disturbing and unpopular aspect of Canada's prosecution of the war in the minds of most Active Service personnel was the 'Zombie' situation as created by Prime Minister McKenzie King. A real mess it was, right down to the very end of the war. Without a doubt it was the biggest sell-out to Quebec and the proponents of non-conscription as regards overseas service by the gutless top-dog of Canada. It was a black-eye to all Canadians in general. It fostered a hell of a lot of hard feelings in the ranks, especially when the Active and Reserve types trained side by side. It was a wonder no all-out brouhaha broke out at Ipperwash. Although there was no overt display of ill-feeling between us, there was, nonetheless a palpable standoffishness. You rarely ever saw an Active guy palling around with a Zombie or even sitting at the same table in the canteen having coffee and doughnuts with each other, or in the wet canteen drinking beer. They kept to their own kind. It was better that way.
The only time I had anything to do with a Zombie other than on the square was at one of our noon messes when I had a run-in with one of them, a guy by the name of Alex out of East Windsor. What happened wasn't because he was a Zombie, it was simply because I knew him from high school and never did like the look on his face. He walked around with that half-sneer on his otherwise not bad-looking face, like he thought everybody was below him. Even when he spoke, there was a distinct unfriendliness in the tone of his voice that you couldn't help but feel this guy had a complex, and was somebody you wouldn't likely become a bosom pal of. And from what I heard from others, I wasn't the only one that had him pegged as a being a 'loser', and a lousy one at that. Definitely he wasn't my kind.
As it so happened, what do you know but that on my second day in uniform, who do I see standing in the file next to me but 'old sourpuss'. I remember saying to myself, "Jeez, I hope I don't have to put up looking at that lousy mug of his every day." Although we were in the same company, he was in a different platoon, and since he was a Zombie I didn't have any contact with him until we sat opposite each other in the mess hall at Ipperwash for the noon meal one day. I didn't like it at all when I saw who it was sitting across and two seats down from me. It couldn't have been more than a minute after we sat down when I asked him politely to pass the Carnation milk. He gave me a dirty look instead, and snapped, "Get the friggin' stuff yourself, what do you think I am, your servant?" That did it. I bounced out of my seat as though a jolt of electricity shot up my ass, damn near knocking the table over to get a shot at his nose. A couple of guys grabbed me right away, while others wrapped their arms around the lousy sonofabitch. We didn't come to 'blows' or we both would have ended up in the guardhouse and done a fair bit of pack-drill as punishment.
After order was restored, I pointed my finger at him and said, "I'll see you out behind the drill hall after supper, you bastard!" The adrenalin was really pumping through my bloodstream . He took me up on it, and for the balance of the afternoon I had a hard time concentrating on training and lectures. All I could think of was the coming 'set-to'. And, with four and a half hours to think about it, I began to wonder if I made a mistake. After all, the guy was no peewee, and probably no slouch with his 'dukes' and might do a real job on my face. Yeah, I sure did a lot of thinking about it, and a little bit of worrying besides, but there was no way out of it for me now but to go through with the challenge, come victory or defeat. I found myself wishing I hadn't opened my big mouth. Now I had to go through with my challenge, no matter what. Supper time came, and as I entered the mess-hall, my eyes quickly scanned the tables to see where the big lug was sitting but he was nowhere to be seen. I had a feeling he was backing out of the showdown, and I have to admit, I was, in fact hoping he'd back out. After I''d finished eating I headed out to the field behind the drill-hall with my entourage of buddies who wanted to see me beat the shit out of the asshole. I guess they figured I could handle him with no problem at all. They sure had faith in my street-brawling ability&emdash;more so than I had. I think some of Alex's Zombie buddies were also there, waiting for him to clean my clock. Or maybe they wanted to see me clean his clock. Who knows? Maybe they didn't think too much of him either. With an attitude like his, how could anybody like the sonofabitch? As it turned out, the guy made himself scarce. There was no getting away from it&emdash; I had to admit, but only to myself, that I was relieved. But I also felt great because at least I didn't chicken out. I wouldn't have been able to live it down had I backed out. "Pride goeth before pain," as the ancients would say it.
After celebrating my hollow victory over a couple of coffees and doughnuts at the canteen with a few of my platoon buddies, one of the guys said to me, "How come is it that the both times you got into trouble so far it's been in a mess-hall (referring, of course, to the 'maggots in the soup incident) of a couple of months before. What have you got against mess-halls?" It caught me off guard, but I replied, "Be damned if I know." And then we all burst out laughing. From that point on, I guess I might have been a bit of a hero to them. It was a good feeling.
As the weeks went by we began to spend more time training in the pine scrub at the back of camp. We slithered, crawled and groped our way through the thick stand of pine, spruce, underbrush and the weeds in daily scouting forays. The biggest problem was not so much the trees and underbrush and the damp decomposition of the forest floor, it was the cloud of black flies and hordes of blood-hungry mosquitoes making every effort to eat us alive. Even though we'd smeared a good mess of #611 anti-mosquito ointment all over our faces, necks and hands, we still had to flail away in fending them off. Little good did either tactic do. We came back with itching welts all over our tormented bodies. It's a wonder we managed to get any sleep at all those nights.
About mid-April someone up in HQ decided we'd had enough training in and about the camp and should be ready to go on night schemes. This was like a shot in the arm. The routine training on the obstacle course was getting to be "ho-hum" stuff and more than a few of us were getting restless and pretty damn sick of it all. In fact some guys began to overstay their leaves. I heard tell that at least three guys went beyond just being AWOL; they simply took off for wherever deserters take off to. Although all the guys in my company were getting to be somewhat bored of the same old shit over and over again, no one went AWOL or deserted. It wasn't that we were getting to hate army life, it was simply because we had to go through the same old crap day after day. It was like being overtrained in sports. In our case, a man starts going flat, not only on the obstacle and bayonet course, but even on the parade-ground. We were losing some of that crispness that made us feel like Grenadier Guardsmen. Something new had to be added to our daily syllabus to snap us out of the malaise and put a little zip back into our approach to training. That something different came in the form of our first night scheme, a simulated attack on a collection of cottages on the beach at Port Franks a few miles north of the camp.
We were trucked out into the inky blackness of the countryside about four miles away where we off-loaded, and in the resulting confusion and some hootin' n' hollerin' by the NCOs we somehow got ourselves sorted out into platoons for the approach march to the objective. In this very first scheme, I had my first experience in being confronted with a glaring flaw in the way the army conducted operations, and that flaw was, that nobody in authority bothered to tell us what our objective would be, how we would go about assaulting it, or what support we could expect to get in the way of mortars or whatever other heavier weapons. No one in the ranks knew sweet bugger-all as we shuffled around in the pitch blackness of the moonless night waiting for someone to tell us to move out. Like almost every attack or advance we went into in Italy, we were almost completely blank as to what, where, when and how to go about what we were supposed to do.
Somehow or other,but only God must have known how, we arrived intact at the cottages at Port Franks. "Okay, so now what do we do?" This question flitted through my mind, as it must have passed through the mind of every other guy in the company, waiting to make our next move. Then I heard the reassuring voice and barely made out the silhouette of Lt. Muir as he went back and forth lining up the platoon in some semblance of attack formation. Just as we were about to sprint towards the cottages, a couple of flares fired off by the defenders lit up the cottages and the beach in an eerie glow as they slowly descended under their parachutes. We went to ground just short of grenade range, but, with Muir leading the way, we rose and ran after him feeling brave because we knew no harm would come to us. It was easy to be brave when no one's firing at you. As soon as we reached the first cottages, thunderflashes went off with loud bangs only yards away throwing us into momentary confusion, as none of us knew what to do next. Where the thunderflashes came from, we had no way of knowing. Then I heard Muir holler, "Open fire!" Now it was getting to be fun. We blazed away at the cottages (blanks, of course) with boyish exuberance like throwing fire-crackers. And then before I knew it I was up on my feet and making a wild charge for the first line of cottages as another flare bathed the scene in a ghostly light. If it had have been the real thing, the defenders in those cottages would have had us 'cold'. We'd have been gunned down like in a turkey-shoot. It was exciting &emdash; it was exhilarating! Now, for a change, we were having some fun, with thunderflashes banging away all around us.
As much as it was fun and what we'd been looking forward to doing for past three months, there was an element of danger in the fact that a couple of flares fired into the night sky by a 2" mortar failed to ignite, one of which landed with a plop not more than two yards in front of me. If it had landed on top my helmet, "Good-bye Charlie!" It didn't scare me, just startled me. This was too good a thing for me to be scared about. After all, I'd been looking forward to this kind of stuff for the past four months. Fifteen minutes later, a whistle sounded, signalling the end of the night's exercise. As hepped up as we'd been, we were glad it was all over and we'd soon be on our way back to camp. This training at night cut too much into our free time.
Original Story from messages received on 20 February 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 21 February 2002.
The story above, Camp Ipperwash, Pt. 2, 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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