Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Maggots in the Soup
A little more than three weeks of barracks-room life and everything was going along about as smoothly as I'd want it to go. I got along just fine with the NCOs and the guys in my platoon, although a couple of the fellows were the kind I didn't go out of my way in getting chummy with them. Boorish, foul loudmouths is about the best way I can describe them. They couldn't speak three words in succession without using the infamous four-letter word that covers every rule in the book on grammar, They also spent too much of the their free time guzzling beer in the local hotels like they were trying desperately to put out a fire in their bellies.
For a kid who seemed to suffer a degree of doubt as to mental acuity for learning anything new, and for no good reason, I did very well, picking up quickly on all the things a soldier has to learn to prepare himself for battle. If I had known my score on the 'M' test, which, as I learned long after the war, indicated I had senior NCO potential I might have been a more assertive person. But since I didn't know this, I carried with me the invisible baggage of self-doubt early into my military service. Other than these doubts, though, everything about my progress was going along as good as I could expect, with nothing about my basic training experiences thus far being in the negative. But something went wrong one day, and it went wrong in an entirely unexpected manner. The immediate aftermath of the event made me a very worried young soldier. Up till this point I had never known what worry really was. But all of a sudden I was a very worried young fellow, indeed! Let me relate.
The evening began much the same as usual. We filed into our places at the tables in the mess along with about 500 other ravenously hungry potential defenders of our way of life, looking forward to the meal that smelled so appetizing as we entered the mess-hall. We'd had an especially tough energy-draining after-noon of struggling through sometimes thigh-deep snowdrifts on the Stratford Golf Course, and now we were hungry enough to eat shoe-leather as long as it was cooked just right. No question about it, we were voraciously hungry as we entered the mess-hall, loud with the usual of hubbub of voices, the clatter of dishes, and of benches scraping on the wood floors, along with assorted other sounds. In this cacophony we waited somewhat impatiently for chow to be served. Man, were we hungry!
Came the first course&emdash;soup. Tomato soup. What a mouth-watering aroma! The salivary glands kicked in at full pitch. The soup tureens were set down at the head of each long table, and after each man filled his bowl, the steaming energizer was passed on down the table. As soon as I filled my bowl I went at it with a hunger I hadn't known since I took on the uniform. It tasted so good I had to admit my mother couldn't have made better soup. Halfway through and savouring every spoonful, I happened to spot a suspicious looking something floating at the side of the bowl. I put my face closer to see what it was, and be damned if it didn't look like a maggot! "It couldn't be," I thought. I picked one up in my spoon and examined it like it was under a microscope, and be damned if it didn't look very much like a maggot. I gave big Roger Lansing sitting on my left, a nudge, and said, as I pointed my finger at the suspicious-looking objects floating in my bowl, "What does that look like to you, Roger?" I asked. Up till that moment he'd been slurping his soup at a rate that said how hungry he was and how much he liked it. And then he stopped, glanced over at my bowl, took a double-take, then did the same to his own, stirred it a couple of times, gave another searching look and then practically shouted down to the end of the table, "Maggots in the soup! Maggots in the soup!" Every bowl was suddenly pushed to the centre of the table the contents only partially consumed. Though I didn't know it at the time, the electrifying news went from table to table right through the mess, with the result that no one finished off their soup. Once the 'flap' was over and done with, supper continued as per usual. I never gave a second thought to what happened simply because I was too busy wolfing down the steak, the mashed potatoes, the sliced beets and peas.
However, after depositing my dirty dishes and cutlery in the tubs by the door on my way out, a bony hand grabbed me by the shoulder with a vise-like grip. I turned sharply about to see who the hell was getting smart with me, and instead of some smart aleck there was this tall, gaunt, rail-thin Corporal wearing an apron and with a foot-high floppy cook's hat. His face was livid. Looking me straight in the eye, he shot a question at me in a tone of voice that said he was ready to kill me. "Are you the guy who said there were maggots in the soup?" At first I didn't know what to say. He caught me off guard. When I finally realized what we was all worked up about, I admitted it started with me. "Uh, uh, uh, uh, y-y-y-y-yes, I did, b-b-b-b-but. . . . ." I tried to explain to him that I wasn't the guy who passed the dirty word around the mess. At the same time didn't want to point the accusing finger at Lansing. The cook wouldn't listen to my excuse. He whipped out a little black book out of his blouse pocket and practically spit the words out, "Name, rank and number" in a tone of voice that was umistakeably the voice of doom. "You'll be up on charge in front of the Company Commander tomorrow morning."
Man oh man! I'd never seen anybody who could look so murder-minded. He was literally foaming at the mouth and could hardly write my name down. There was a moment there when I felt as though I was about to keel over in a dead faint. Visions of a court martial crossed my mind. "Oh my God, why did I open my big mouth? Why did that Goddamn Lansing have to open his even bigger mouth?"
Sleep didn't come easy for me that night, that's for sure. Although bone weary as I was from struggling cross-country through the deep snowdrifts that afternoon, I thrashed and turned and fought the pillow half the night, got up and went to the latrine at least three or four times. What a night! If I slept at all, it had to be only in brief snatches. The very first note of the reveille bugle woke me, that's how shallow my sleep had been.
At the breakfast table I hardly touched the bacon and scrambled eggs, picked at it halfheartedly and then pushed it aside. I drank my orange juice, but left half my cup of coffee. All I could think of was the dreaded appearance I'd be making in front of the Company Commander in the morning to answer to the serious charge the cook would be making. What penalty would he hand me? Detention? Hard labour? CB'd? As a matter of fact I even had horrible thoughts that I'd be drummed out of the service&emdash;in other words be handed a dishonourable discharge. How could I live that down? How could I go home and face family and friends in the ignominy of being unfit for military service? Better to be dead. I couldn't get it out of my mind. The successive lecturers I sat through that morning went in one ear and out the other. Nothing registered. My mind was elsewhere, wandering in a wasteland of negative thoughts. As the morning wore on, however, and no one had come calling on me, I began to hold faint hopes that maybe the cook had been only trying to scare me&emdash;that I wouldn't have to appear in front of the Company Commander. By 11:30, with no one having yet showed up to escort me to the Company Commander, I started breathing a little easier, hoping that maybe nothing would come out of the incident. Maybe the cook had only been trying to teach me a lesson? My hopes, however, were short-lived. I stiffened at a knock on the wallboard, hearing someone talking to the Corporal who answered the knock. I knew right then and there it was the escort come to march me to Leckie's office. The blood drained from my face as I got up on wobbly legs, trying to look unconcerned as I threaded my way around the prone and sitting bodies of my platoon mates. When I stepped out into the hall I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of two men shouldering rifles, with a Corporal in command. I had an instant fleeting vision of being marched to a wall to face a firing-squad. "Oh, my God! No! I didn't commit that kind of a crime!" the thought went through my mind. And before I knew it, I fell in between the armed escort, wedge cap removed, and we marched off down the bay to the CO's office downstairs where I was brought to a smart halt in front of his big black oak desk.
What an imposing figure he was! When I came to a halt, and on command made a smart left turn to face him, he gave me a cursory look from under those great, bushy eyebrows of his, and then let his eyes fall on some papers in front of him, obviously reading the charge sheet and my record. When he finally looked up at me in a look so stern I damn near wilted and keeled over in a faint. He read off the charge, which boiled down to 'Inciting a mess-hall to riot.'
It stunned me to hear this serious charge. The complainant then was asked to explain exactly what happened at the evening meal of the night before, which. more or less, was true, in that no soup, or very little of it was consumed and so went to waste. Captain Leckie, with that stone-face look that could make men wilt, turned to me and asked, "Pte. Scislowski, what do you have to say for yourself?" I replied in a shaky voice, telling him that I didn't knowingly incite a mess-hall, only that I had made the mistake of saying something that, once said had been passed along by another person and it couldn't be stopped. In a shaky voice I went on to tell him what led up to the sudden mass rejection of the soup, a series of events that I had no control over. At this point I was so nervous, it was a small miracle I was able to stand, let along speak in my defence. It was tough for me to maintain balance because of the highly stressed state I was in. It felt as though the floor kept tilting, first one way, then the other. Somehow, through all the stress I managed to explain to the Captain that there had been no intent on my part to cause trouble, that my only fault lay in pointing out to the ma(Roger Lansing) sitting on my immediate left, the suspicious-looking foreign matter floating around in my bowl of soup. And that all I said to him was, "What do you think they are, Roger, maggots?" At least that's what they looked like to me. Upon that, the big galoot put his nose closer to his bowl to have a better look, and then let out a bellow, "Maggots in the soup!" "That's when the whole thing got out of hand." I meekly then asked the Captain, "What could I do then?"
To make a long story short, if it hadn't been for Lt. Bowman, my platoon Commander, a lawyer in civilian life acting in my behalf it's very likely I'd have been sentenced to do time at hard labour somewhere in whatever penal camp the army sent troublemakers to. On the other hand, I shudder to think the much greater punishment would have been for the army to give me a dishonourable discharge. Lucky for me, though, that Lt Bowman spoke in glowing terms of my performance in all aspects of training, mentioning also that I had senior NCO potential. So, instead of all the dire things I was afraid would happen to me, all I got was a reprimand, with nothing written into my record about the incident. I could have kissed and hugged Lt. Bowman for saving me from falling into dishonour, something I doubt I could have gone through a life of shame hanging over me. On dismissal, I literally walked on air all the way back to my bay where everybody waited with bated breath, or so I assumed, to hear the outcome of the charge. Naturally they were all glad to hear that I came out of it free and clear and with an unblemished record. What a scare!
Original Story from messages received on 17 February 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 18 February 2002.
The story above, Maggots in the Soup, 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.
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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