Canadian Provost Corps
Me and My Uncle Herb!
Retired Warrant Officer Gordon R. (Gord) Greeno
Of Coldbrook, NS
PrologueWhere does one start a story? The beginning appears to be an intelligent place to begin, however; when the start point is questionable, it tends to deter one from starting.
For some time now I've toyed with the idea of putting into writing my thoughts and feelings relating to the happenings recorded on the following pages. I will be attempting to do what many people are unable to do. That is to express information which may reflect negatively on the writer. There may be those who will treat this as a yarn By someone who has an overactive imagination. Believe what you will however, there is no fiction in this piece.
I was encouraged to do this story by Mr. Peter Murray. My Grandfather, Gilbert Greeno and Peter's Grandfather, Percy Greeno, were brothers. Another brother, Herbert (Herb) Greeno was killed in 1917 in the First World War.
My Grandfather and Peter Murray's Great Grandfather was John Greeno of Avonport, NS
Chapter OneI will begin my story during the Second World War. I was between the ages of seven and twelve during the war years. I lived at Mount Denson, a rural community in Hants County, NS. I must describe myself at that time as being rather shy and not comfortable with strangers. I wasn't exactly anti-social, however; I definitely was not into public speaking.
There was a transit army camp at Windsor, NS where troops from all across Canada would be assembled prior to being transported by ship to Europe. It was common practice for army units to come out to the country for exercises while they were waiting to go overseas. They would train in subjects such as map and compass. They would have their weapons and equipment and would for example, practice setting up company and platoon defensive positions.
Every time the soldiers came to the area near my home it was a most exciting time for me. I am unable to properly describe the feeling that their presence generated within me. Suddenly; I was not a shy kid anymore. I did not attempt to explain my feelings to anyone but it's true that I felt as if I was part of them. One incident that I vividly recall that I have no explanation for. In addition to training the soldiers also had time to play. They would a game of baseball which was not unusual but what some civilians thought was unusual was the fact they used their steel helmets for bases. I did not share their amusement, although this was time I had seen them use steel helmets for bases, I was not amused or surprised by it. I had the distinct feeling that this was a replay. I had seen soldiers play ball before using their helmets for bases! Again; I never mentioned my strange feelings to anyone. This is the first time I have mentioned it but I've often thought about those old style steel helmets on the baseball field.
It was an emotional time for me when the soldiers would return to their Camp in Windsor. I am still unable to describe the feeling. I fought a good fight against the tears when My Army left. As an after thought, I recall making the comment several times over the years that I don't recall ever learning to play baseball. It seems that I've always known how. Everything else I had to learn but baseball, I always knew how to play it.
Chapter TwoI was not associated with the Army again until the 25th February 1958. On this day I joined up in Halifax. A short time later I was on my way to Shilo, Manitoba, site of the Canadian Provost Corps School (Military Police). The first thing that happened there was basic infantry training. This included infantry weapons, tactics, organization and a bit of living tough (roughing it) in the field. The police training came later. The saying was A soldier first, a policeman second!
It was an action packed six months. I discovered that I had the aptitude and a good attitude for this type of training. Although it was said to be one of the toughest recruit camps in the Canadian Army, I never experienced any trouble. Learning the weapons was routine for me. Almost immediately I qualified as a Marksman on both the rifle and the sub-machine gun. Normally, I didn't try to bring attention to myself. I just did what I was told, so to speak. During this training period there were a couple of incidents where I acted out a character without explanation.
I recall the day when my squad was assembled to be taught bayonet drill! More simple put, how to kill the enemy using a rifle with a bayonet attached! For this training they had a group of straw dummies all propped up to represent enemy soldiers. The first instructor called for a volunteer whom he would talk through recognized moves that characterized a bayonet charge. Without waiting for the instructor's coaching I charged those dummies and destroyed the lot using bayonet thrusts, butt strokes, kicks and cross checks. I think the rest of my squad were a bit startled. They were quiet! The sergeant instructor gave me a strange look and quietly asked: Have you had combat experience? I said no, but I felt that would be the proper way to rid us of the dummies. The sergeant, having regained his composure, said: Now I have got to get more dummies, you Dummy!
There was another incident later on that appeared to have gotten the same sergeant's attention. This happened on a field exercise where our squad was to put in a night attack on another squad that had assumed a defensive position in the training area of Camp Shilo.
The scenario was as follows: The defending platoon would be dug in on a slope, their position protected with barbwire and trip flares. They would have a supply of artillery simulators and thunder flashes which were similar to giant fire crackers which would produce a fair amount of concussion. The men would have blank ammunition for their rifles and sub-machine guns to add to the racket. The attacking platoon would have to attempt to breach the wire and reach the objective which would be the defenders dug in position.
The afternoon before we were to attach the defenders I got permission to go to the Quartermaster's Stores where I was able to get an old mattress. In the evening when my platoon assembled for the attack, I was dragging along the old mattress. Immediately our sergeant said: What the hell are you doing with that? Before I could answer, some guy said: He's going to sleep through this one! Of course; the sergeant had something unprintable to say about that idea! But, I was quick to assure the sergeant that the mattress would not be slept on.
I asked the sergeant if I could make a suggestion for the attack on the enemy. He agreed to listen at which time I suggested that we split the platoon; one group to create a diversion at a point in the front (by tripping some flares) while the other group throws the mattress on the barbwire and scramble across. While this group was creating havoc the group that had created the diversion could come along the wire and also cross on the mattress. For the second time the sergeant asked me if I had combat experience. I don't recall how I had answered him that night but he went along with the old mattress trick and it worked. We had quite the battle with the enemy platoon. They were definitely not nice and they threw eggs at us.
The point that I want to make here is that fact that I took the initiative at a time when I was strictly a follower. It may also be appropriate to note here that during trench raids in the First World War it was almost always standard procedure to create diversions in order to have a better chance of success. It was not until much later in life I read about trench raid tactics.
Chapter ThreeI was aware at a young age that my Father's brother Herbert was killed in action in WWI. I never asked questions about my uncle Herbert because probably, at that time, I did not know what to ask. I'm sure he wasn't talked about much in my family. This is not unusual because I don't recall family history being a major topic.
I clearly recall one story that Dad told. He told of being in a field at the family farm on the Avonport mountain (His brother Herb was away in the Army at that time). Dad said that he had heard Herb call to him from over the Hill. Thinking that Herb had come home, Dad said that he went up the hill to meet him but there was no one there. Dad said that they had heard later that Herb was killed in action on the day my Father heard his voice from over the hill. That is the only story I recall hearing about Uncle Herb.
I learned later that Uncle Herb was married with two children. I have never had any contact with his family.
Chapter FourThe years 1962 to 1965 found me in Germany with the Military Police Platoon (4 Provost Platoon) which was an element of the 4th Canadian Brigade Group. This Brigade was representative of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. We wore the red shoulder patch (Div Patch) emblematic of the 1st Division which has a distinguished record in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars. I wore that red patch with pride and was always mindful of it's presence. The Canadian Infantry Brigade Group was Canada's contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the days of the cold war with our friends, the Russians.
Being in Germany gave my wife and I a great opportunity to travel and to see many interesting places and things. High on my list of things to see were the sites of 1st World War battles. I was interested in 2nd World War history, however; I had and still have a fascination with WWI. It is common knowledge (or should be) that the battle of Vimy Ridge in France is where Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves in the eyes of the World. It goes without saying, that I would visit Vimy.
We did the Vimy tour and were impressed by the monument honouring the Canadian dead. I browsed around the old trenches and dug-outs that have been preserved to this day. It was interesting, however; I would say that my emotion level was normal at that time.
A short distance, approximately east of Vimy, we came across a massive 1st World War Cemetery. True to the poem In Flanders' Fields, the crosses were in fact row on row. I had intended to spend sometime looking around this Cemetery; suddenly, I was seized by an overwhelming attack of emotion. I don't know how to correctly explain my feeling. If I say that I felt that they were all my comrades, this is as close as I can come to explaining how I felt. Actually, I was embarrassed to be standing there in civilian clothes. I thought that if there was even a place for my battle dress with the red 1st Division shoulder patches, this was it. I had to get away from that Cemetery. I never mentioned how I felt to my wife for fear that she would think that I had lost it.
We drove East from there towards Germany which would involve passing through part of Belgium. As I drove East on a secondary road, I knew exactly where I was going. I had the feeling that I was on the right road to get to where I wanted to be. I was in a strange country where I had never been before. I never checked the map which was something we did constantly when traveling in a strange countries. We came to Ypres, Belgium and I knew this was my destination. At the entrance to the town there is a massive stone arch that road passes through. I later learned that this arch is called the Menin Gate. I was not aware that the Menin Gate was a WWI memorial bearing the names of 54,000
Commonwealth Soldiers who were killed in the War and have no known graves. I was not aware of the existence of this memorial prior to having arrived at it. I knew exactly where to go. I walked directly to the name of 888 359 Private Greeno Herbert William, 28th Battalion. All the names are engraved in the stone. I can truthfully say that I did not take notice to another name before I saw that of Uncle Herb. After photographing Uncle Herb's name we went to the graves registration book and found this entry: 888 359 Private Greeno Herbert William, 28th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment; killed in action, 6 November 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium. He was 28 years old and husband of Ida Gladys Greeno, Avonport, NS.
For a long time I never anyone how I found Uncle Herb's name in Europe without having my previous knowledge other then that he was killed in the First World War. Actually; I don't know how I found his name.
This happening certainly aroused my interest in the history of the First World War, causing me to read several books on the subject.
I have tried to narrow down the circumstances surrounding Uncle Herb's death. The following extract from the book; - Stalemate, The Great Trench Battles Of 1915 - 1917 - The weather again relented on the 27th and on the 30th the Canadian Corps made a limited advance preparatory to the main advance on Passchendaele Village but elsewhere little progress was made. At 6AM on the 6 November the Canadians again went forward. Their front only extended to about 2000 yards and following closely behind the barrage, they stormed through the Village. Despite Hindenburg's orders that the Village must be held at all costs and that it should be retaken if lost, The Canadians would not be denied.
Chapter FiveDuring my reading of several books on the Great War, I read about Canadian troops in rest areas. This would be elements on rest after being in the line. Some made mentioned of competitive sports between units, the most popular being baseball. Needless to say; I wondered if Uncle Herb played baseball and if they used their steel helmets for bases. Somehow, I would not be surprised if they did!
Non Remembrance Day in the year 2000 I attended the service at University Hall at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS. The Padre read the Honour Roll, identifying all servicemen from the surrounding communities, including Hantsport, who killed in wars. I have since spoken to the Chaplain at Acadia University who assured me that Private Herbert Greeno will appear on the Honour Roll in the near future.
This whole experience involving what appears to be some form of association with Uncle Herb is a great mystery in my life.
Possibly; there is an explanation as to how I could have found his name on that memorial in Europe while having the feeling that I knew where it was. If there is an explanation, I would welcome hearing it.
Uncle Herb died 15 years before I was born. I have heard the word reincarnation but I never attached any significance to it. Unless someone will provide some possibilities or evidence to the contrary, I rest my case!
EpilogueI have done a fair amount of research on my Uncle Herb who died in WWI in 1917, since finding his name on a memorial in Europe in the early sixties.
My Dad told me once that Uncle Herb had planted a Maple tree just before he went off to WWI. He had showed me the tree which is still standing near Highway 101 at Avonport, NS. This highway passed through which was once the old Greeno farm. The tree somehow escaped being destroyed during the construction of the Highway as it is on the very edge of it.
At one point, I had taken my three Sisters to see this old maple tree. At this time, I saw 3 maple seedlings growing beneath the old maple tree. I dug them up and gave them to each of my Sisters. All three Sisters planted their trees, however; only one grew and is still healthy today. The one that grew is the one planted by my Sister Stella. (My Uncle Herb had a Sister named Stella and this did not surprise me, given what appears to be my association with Uncle Herb.)
There is another story that occurred recently, just in this past couple of years. I learned that there is an organization in Belgium that was requesting information on Canadians who were killed at the Battle Of Passendaele in WWI. Apparently; they are creating a memorial at the village of Passendaele. I decided to write to that organization and identify my Uncle Herb and relate how I found his name on the Menin Gate.
On that same day that they received my letter, they also received a letter from my Uncle's great-great grandson who lives in British Columbia. He had provided them with a picture of Uncle Herb in WWI Army uniform which they ultimately forwarded to me. I had never seen this photo before and upon comparing that photo of Uncle Herb to one of me when I was about the same age that he was in the old photo; Bingo! A very close resemblance indeed!
I continued my research which included some history on a small town and surrounding area in Saskatchewan. I uncovered in my research that Uncle Herb had joined the Army in 1916. I had another chill when I learned that he took his basic training at Shilo, Manitoba; we had both done our left, right, left on the same ground.
Following his training he was posted to the 28th Battalion and sent to Aldershot, NS to await shipment out overseas. It was at this time that he would have gone out to Avonport and planted that maple tree.
When I finished my basic training at Shilo, I was posted to eastern Command Provost Company and immediately employed at kentville Detachment which was in fact dealing with troops from Aldershot (both Battalions of the RHR (Blackwatch) were there at that time)
Some things in my life are unexplained. For example: a short time after arriving in Shilo, my class, being the junior class, was therefore nothing more then the dust under one's feet. The training sergeant from the senior class approached me on a Friday evening and asked me if I would baby sit his two young boys on Saturday night. I immediately asked him why he would ask a complete stranger to care for his kids. He said you have been recommended and upon requesting the name of the person who recommended me (as nobody knew me West of NS) he was prepared to tell me and said that all he needed was a yes or no answer. I told him that i did not have a reason for not doing it, therefore; I would baby sit for him. Initially; I began to think that it was some kind of test or exercise and decided that I would go along with it. He said that he would pick me up at the barracks on Saturday evening.
This sergeant, who was a complete stranger to me, picked me up as planned and spoke to me as if I was a real person. We arrived at his P.M.Q. (permanent married quarter) where I met his lovely wife and they showed me where their two children were (already asleep). I stayed with the children, checking on them a couple of times and watched black and white T.V. until the couple returned shortly after mid-night. The sergeant and I talked in the car on the way back to my barracks just like a couple of real people!
This has indeed been a mystery in my life!
Web Master's Comment:
The author was a former mentor of mine when I was a mere rookie back in the early sixties and we are still close colleagues to this day and I can assure the readers; he is relating the facts as they occurred over the years, as mysterious as they may seem. I'm sure many of us can relate to such unexplained experiences in our respective lives. I wish to thank Gord Greeno for the extensive work he put into this article, specifically for posting on this web site.
- The End-