Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Every exercise and operation had a code-name. The names chosen for some exercises had good sensible names, like Battle. . .Viking. . . Spartan, for example. They were strong and appropriate and had the right ring to them. On the other hand, there were names given to exercises and schemes that were downright silly, like Mouse. . .Nightie. . .Mopsy, and of course, Snaffle, the one we were about to go on. This latter exercise should have been more aptly code-named SNAFU, the acronym for SITUATION NORMAL ALL FUCKED UP. It was an example of troop movement brought to the height of confusion and ineptitude. Nothing went right about it. From beginning to end it was nothing but a complete bollocks. It began with a short ride, probably less than a half mile. . .and we stop. Five minutes later we're on the move again. This time we travel no more than a quarter mile. . .and stop. No one knows why. Ten or fifteen minutes later the convoy moves on. I think we're finally on our way for good, when very shortly we pull over to the side of the road and wait for another aggravating fifteen minutes. Time enough at least for a pee break. I no sooner ease the pressure in my bladder when the frenetic order to climb back on to our trucks comes, and I have to cut the stream abruptly. Not an easy thing to do. On our way again, this time for a whole ten miles and then another stop. Breathe more exhaust fumes...climb out to stretch limbs...mill about not knowing what the hell the big holdup was...nerves getting on edge. Frustrating! Then all of a sudden it's...officers shouting orders...Sergeants shouting orders...Corporals running about like bantam roosters trying to herd us onto the trucks. A proper shamozzle, that's what it was. Everybody and his dog seemed to be shouting orders. Nobody seemed to have a clue as to where we were going and what we'd have to do when we got there. SNAFU! And in capital letters.
Actually, from what I had learned some ten years after the war, Exercise 'Snaffle' was a well thought-out exercise, and if those in command of the battalions had known their jobs a lot better it wouldn't have turned out to be the fiasco it was. Fifth Armoured Division's role, of which the Perth Regiment, the CBH and the Irish, and the Westminsters were the infantry component, was a straightforward one in which it was to seize a make-believe chromium mine defended by the 1st Polish Armoured Division. How this tactical exercise was to be carried out, no one seemed to know, leastwise the men in the ranks. No one had come around prior to this exercise-in-frustration to spell out the details regarding object-ives, convoy routes, company and platoon tactics, the whereabouts of the Poles who, we were told, through rumour actually, were the enemy. All this lack of information, of not being put in the bigger picture (a saying that became quite common with the Canadians later in Italy) resulted in a monster 'balls-up' affair. There were times when the Westminsters and the Perth convoy got tangled up trying to use the same narrow country road, one going one way while the other was headed in the opposite direction. The air was not only blue with exhaust fumes of Bren carriers and trucks, it was blue with choice, colourful and vehement Canadian expressions flying back and forth between the two convoys. But it was getting us nowhere in a hurry. Somehow, though, perhaps through Divine intervention, things got sorted out and both Regiments went their respective ways&emdash;to where, no one seemed to know. SNAFU!
Though we were an armoured division, and our Exercise opponent was also an armoured division, I can't recall having seen any tanks, ours or theirs in the three days we went bumbling through the wilds of Norfolk County. I saw Bren carriers and the odd armoured car(Lynx), but no Ram tanks. In fact, 'A' Company didn't even get to run into a single enemy infantryman. If we had have run into them, I don't know if we would have been able to tell whether they were our guys or not. We both wore, more or less the same cut of uniform and the same soup-bowl helmets.
What a waste of time and effort! No one one, right from the top down to us lowly Privates knew what the hell was going on all the time we were out gadding about the barren countryside chasing a willow-the-whisp. It was the blind leading the blind. When the exercise was declared over, 5th Armoured soon got the word that it had been soundly trounced by the Poles. I wondered later on if it was the poor performance of the division on this exercise that might have been the reason we didn't stay on in England to take part in the Invasion. It very well could have been why we were sent to Italy instead.
This exercise in futility will also be remembered for the food situation, mainly how I missed out on my rightful share. It might not seem like a big issue now, but it sure did at the time. We'd gone almost the whole day without a bite to eat and were pretty damn near to starving by the time the ration truck pulled up shortly before dark. Like the saying goes that I learned not long after taking on the uniform, "I was so hungry I'd eat the asshole out of a skunk!" Then came my introduction to Compo rations, the brainchild of some bright soul in the British Quartermaster Nutrition Department, if there ever was such a place. The rations came in a sealed wooden box about 24" by 18" by 12" deep, and was supposed to provide enough food to sustain a platoon for one full day. Although I can't remember all the ingredients making up the box, I'll never forget the canned bacon&emdash;no lean whatsoever, just a stack of fat and rind rolled up and stuffed in a can. There were also cans of a meat & vegetables stew, Argentine Fray Bentos corned beef, and steak & kidney pudding. To round out our food for a day, the designers of the Compo rations thoughtfully included packages of a mixture of tea, sugar and powdered milk, which I felt was about the only item I was able to prepare and consume.
Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the bacon was lousy. It was about as inedible as any bad bacon could be. After frying it in my mess-tin I nudged the fellow next to me and said, "This can't be Canadian bacon, there's no meat on it at all." He agreed, and with a wry face, replied, "Hell, it looks more like white dog shit!" After popping a piece of the fried bacon in my mouth I spit it out faster than when it went in. Pure unadulterated crap, that's what it amounted to. Then there was the Fray Bentos brand Argentine bully-beef, cans of meat & vegetables, both of which I found to be just barely edible. There was also a horrible abomination known as steak & kidney pudding. As hungry as I was, I couldn't stomach to even look at the mess. Which brings to mind a certain mealtime incident in Italy when I offered my dollop of steak & kidney pudding to a scrawny starving mutt. The dog sniffed at it, and then looked up at me as though to say, "What the heck are you trying to do, poison me?" and then he was gone with his tail between his legs.
It was late in the afternoon of the third day when the scheme mercifully came to an end. Man! Was I ever glad to be going back to our billets, and hopefully to better food, though I wasn't so sure about the latter.
Every platoon had thunderflashes left over because no one had had the opportunity of using them against the poles who we hadn't even caught a glimpse of, and there were more than a few guys who were just itching to do something with them. These 'more than a few' got their chance when our convoy entered King's Lynn. It happened at dusk as we rolled through the narrow streets when all of a sudden they started tossing the oversize firecrackers at the feet of people strolling along the sidewalks on High Street, scattering them every which way. I didn't find it at all funny seeing these mainly older folk frightened half to death. Fortunately no one was hurt, though I felt sure Battalion would hear from the authorities about the incident immediately on arrival in Hunstanton. And it came. Within the hour after we returned to our quarters our CO got a phone call from either the Mayor of King's Lynn or the Police Chief about the incident. Since the culprits were unknown, however, simply because no one would do any squealing on their buddies, the CO was helpless. All he could do was write a letter of apology, and that was that.
Original Story from messages received on 22 February 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 25 February 2002.
The story above, Exercise 'Snaffle', 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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