Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
the Perth Regiment
By the second week in July the company hadn't yet roughed it in the field. We were asphalt soldiers, that's about all. When we finally did go out on an overnight scheme, the skies opened up and it poured almost all night long. In groups of three and four we took shelter under the protective mantle of drooping pine and spruce trees scattered about on the hillock where we'd been going through battle-drill tactics. Though we put our gas-capes and groundsheets in place on the overhanging branches we still spent a miserable night. The rain somehow managed to filter its way through the branches and the artificial roofing and dripped in maddening rivulets on my face no matter which way I positioned myself. It's for sure no one got much sleep that night. The rain mercifully stopped shortly before daybreak, and when we crawled out from under the trees an hour or so later we looked like a bunch of soaked feather-bedraggled hens rescued from flood waters. Not only were we soaked through to the skin, we were sleep-weary and hungry, with no forthcoming breakfast to cheer us up and give us strength for the morning's work yet to be done.
By mid-July we had our Tabloid Sports Meet, a Track & Field meet coupled with several military events thrown in, like 'grenade-throw', target-shooting with the Sten-gun and revolver, and a race through the obstacle course. If memory serves me correctly, I won the grenade-throw, and did very well in the Sten gun competition and the obstacle run.
In the 100 yard dash I ran shoulder to shoulder with my old coloured buddy, Scott, of the Ipperwash 10 mile walk hitch-hiking to Sarnia. It was 'nip and tuck' all the way, but out of the corner of my eye I saw myself inching ahead of Scott. Ten yards from the finish line, however, my right foot came down in a slight dip in the track throwing me off-stride and I went flying forward across the finish line and landed flat on my face. I didn't think it mattered how I crossed the line, but I was disqualified. As for the 400 yard dash, I knew before I'd gone half way that it wasn't my event. My lungs were on fire, my sides ached, and my thigh muscles felt like they were turning to jelly. Even so, I didn't too badly, finishing fourth out of eight entered.
Aldershot didn't win any popularity contest with the Canadians because of the mass of troops stationed within its confines. This was easy to understand. I would think I was one of the very few who found the place not all that bad, quite bearable and even enjoyable at times. I was a frequent patron of the three cinemas. Actually there was a fourth, but I didn't, for some unknown reason see one movie in the place. I loved strolling downtown window-shopping and stopping in at various canteens and reading rooms. And I loved lying out on the sloping greensward of the athletic field across the Farnborough Road, reading the three daily newspapers I bought every day, the Express, the Herald, and the Daily Mail. As for reading spicy news I'd buy the News of the World every once in awhile. I also enjoyed taking long walks beyond the bounds of the city into the green countryside out Crookham way and on the other side of Farnham. There was a lot to like about Aldershot if a guy would only look for it. I couldn't see spending a sunny afternoon in the smoky and noisy confines of the heavily patronized Queen's Hotel getting half corned as being an ideal way of spending a delightful sunny summer day. I saw too many of these day-long beer-swillers staggering in just before 'lights out' and knew very well the next morning the hangovers they had to put up with. I had an altogether different, more enjoyable, and more healthy view on life.
I'd be willing to bet my bottom quid that there was no bugler in the whole of the United Kingdom, Canada, and in any of the garrisons between Aldershot, Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope that could send a soldier off to bed in a better frame of mind than the bugler(or trumpet-blower) at 3 CIRU in that glorious summer of 1943. My ears and those near enough to hear the mellow notes coming out that horn will swear that he outdid the great Harry James and Clyde McCoy. Man! Could that man tootle the horn! The first few bars came out as per army style, but from then on he gradually stepped up the tempo, stretched out the notes, and pretty soon he slipped into jazz. Who'd ever have given a thought to thinking that 'Lights out' could be blown in any other way but the usual way? Not me, that's for sure, and most certainly neither did any of the dozens of others standing on the balconies outside our sleeping quarters listening to this new rendition of 'Lights Out!'. Up until this particular evening I had never particularly cared for jazz, neither hating it or loving it. I could only tolerate it. But now, listening for a whole week solid to that beautiful, toe-tapping tootling, I had come pretty close to being a jazz convert, even an aficionado. Jazz lover or no jazz lover, you got a lift out of the way that man, whoever he was, put his lips and wind to that mouthpiece. As always, however, good things come to an end, and by the end of the week he was back to regulation bugle-blowing. Someone in high places in Aldershot apparently didn't like what he was hearing and either replaced the talented one or made him go back to doing it the way the book spelled it out to be played.
AUGUST 4TH, 1943 &emdash; Graduation Day for the Company. This was the day we'd all been so eagerly looking forward to ever since we signed our attestation papers. This was the day for assignation to field units. We had four regiments to choose from: The Royal Canadian Regiment, better known as the RCR, Canada's premier Regiment with a long and glorious history behind it; the second was The Highland Light Infantry out of Galt/Kitchener/Waterloo area; the third was the Regiment most of the company wanted to join, Windsor's own Essex Scottish Regiment. The fourth unit was the Perth Regiment whose hometown Stratford, was where a good many of us had had our Basic Training. This relatively unknown Regiment with an uninspiring name, however, didn't appeal to any of us. Although we had a 'choice' of which unit we'd like to serve in, things for more than a few of us didn't turn out the way we expected and desired , meaning that we would not end up in the ranks of the regiment we preferred. More than a couple of hundred of us would find, much to our deep disappointment and even greater sorrow and some considerable indignation that we'd be soon wearing the shoulder flashes and hat badge of a unit that was not our choice.
Processing the draft went something like this: The company (close to five hundred men) formed up on the square behind Salamanca and Batajoz Barracks alongside Wellington Road to listen to a short bit of instruction from the Company Commander, a Major whose name we didn't know, and in fact we never even knew we had one because we hadn't seen him until that moment. He told us how the assignment to the regiments would take place, also gave us one of those "rah rah speeches, praising us on how well we'd gone through our training. He also said that in his opinion we were the best group thus far that had gone through #3 C.I.R.U. It was the same old crock of crap. No doubt he said the same lies to every draft before ours, and every draft that followed. Typical army bullshit. After that came the shouted order from the RSM; "All of you who want to join the Essex Scottish. . . fall out on the marker!" Whereupon a thundering herd went stampeding diagonally across the square to form up on the designated marker. There couldn't have been a hundred men left standing in the original parade. After all, since most of us were from Windsor and district it would be only natural that we'd want to be in the Essex Scottish Regiment. And what a shamozzle of a form-up it was! Jostling, pushing, elbowing, it was every man for himself. It took the NCOs a good ten minutes to get us straightened away, then the Major and the RSM went down the column counting out the files. They stopped about a dozen files from where I stood. And then I got the shock of my life. "Okay, the rest of you can go back to your original place," the RSM impassively tells us. It was like I'd been run-through with a bayonet. I was stunned speechless to know that I wouldn't be marching and fighting in the ranks of the Essex Scottish. I was beside myself with disappointment and was so upset I felt like bawling. But since soldiers, at least in holding units aren't supposed to bawl, I had to get hold of myself, maintain some sort of soldierly bearing and face up to whatever had to be faced. I wasn't the only one going through the pangs of disappointment. There had to be at least a hundred and more others in the same boat. And so, with hang-dog expressions and leaden feet we trooped back to where the hundred or so other guys who didn't make the run, stood. Never had I felt so low, so helpless, so deprived.
The next regiment called out was the Highland Light Infantry. Again, though nowhere near the stampede as with the Essex, we broke ranks and ran pell mell across the square to form up on the HLI marker. Once again I missed out, as the cutting-off file was six down from me. Back again I had to go, my dreams of serving in a kilted regiment having evaporated. What luck! What lousy, rotten luck! I was fit to be tied. But then there was still the RCR. It was one of Canada's premier Permanent Force regiments with a long honoured history and I felt it would be as good a third choice as any&emdash;maybe an even better choice in the long run. But even here good-fortune deserted me. And so, on this dull, overcast day with the threat of rain in the air, I settled myself with deep and dark reluctance and ill-mood into the tiny group that shuffled into place on the Perth Regiment marker. There were no more choices. This was 'it' We were now Perths. What a horrible fate! What a disaster! Or so I thought.
We'd made an unfair judgment when we considered the Perths a no-account Regiment, a deadbeat outfit that we'd be ashamed to admit we were a member of. How wrong we were! It took a little while for us to find out it wasn't so bad after all , and then it took a little longer to come to the conclusion that it was as good as, if not, better than the other two Regiments in the Brigade. Six months later I was to realize I was glad I ended up in that practically unknown County Regiment. By war's end I considered the Perth Regiment as one of the best infantry Regiments in the whole damn Canadian Army. No fancy name...just a terrific fighting regiment.
Original Story from messages received on 22 February 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 24 February 2002.
The story above, the Perth Regiment, 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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