A Provost's Memories Of Petawawa - 1960's
( Submitted by former member of the C Pro C Sgt Robert (Bob) Thomas. )
During this time frame, the Commanding Officer of 2 Provost Platoon was a rather infamous Captain. A former senior Provost Officer once described him to me as a Captain who thought and acted like a Field Marshal. Life in 2 Provost Platoon during this era would make an excellent book or today an interesting Reality Show.
During the early 1960's the Canadian Military went through a long austerity program. The jeeps we had in service were from the former 1 Division Provost Company. Some of them were literally tied together with bailing wire. Some of the vehicle log books listed numerous engine changes. Vehicles were driven only when absolutely necessary. In the midst of this financial crisis, Captain Jim decided that he would do his bit by indenting for a bicycle built for two. I guess the plan was for him and another member of our unit to peddle the bicycle around the camp to do errands. No doubt the two adventurous bicycle riders would be accompanied by the Captain's German Sheppard dog, to ward off any enemy attacks. This didn't go very far because the response from the Quartermaster Stores was that they didn't have any bicycles built for two on inventory and it wasn't likely that they would have any in the near or distant future.
That year, for some reason that still escapes me, Captain Jim decided to cancel all Christmas leaves. Before the holiday we had a Platoon get together at the Old Fire Hall. Some of our members thought that singing a song to our esteemed leader would be a fitting tribute. As the beer flowed and the level of false courage increased, we sang to our Captain the following tune:
On Christmas morning, a young Second Lieutenant who was in training at the Platoon came to see me in the Men's Barracks. If my memory serves me correct, he was from a wealthy family in Westmount, Quebec. Even though our furloughs were cancelled, he advised me that he had every intention of enjoying Christmas dinner with his family in Montreal and wondered if I wanted to join him. Off we set in his tiny English Sports car. He dropped me off at my Mother's apartment in Montreal and my family were surprised and pleased to see me. Around 1900 hours, we set out for the journey back to camp. While we were enjoying the turkey and trimmings, a severe winter storm set in. During the long trip back to base, because of drifting snow and little visibility, we were never sure if we were on the road, in the ditch or in a farmer's field. It was one of the longest nights of my life. I knew that if we didn't make it back to camp, the young officer I was with could kiss his commission goodbye and if we weren't killed, I would have a long stay in the Military Prison in Camp Valcartier. With a wing and a prayer, the little sports car got us safely back to Camp Petawawa around day light with no one the wiser that we had been AWOL.
On another occasion we were doing a shake down exercise in preparation for the Brigade move to Camp Gagetown for summer concentration. I was in the field with Sgt Bellowing Bill. Suddenly, a jeep going hell bent for leather came tearing up to our location. Captain Jim stepped out and threw a map on the hood of our jeep. He announced that 2 RCR had just taken 800 prisoners and how were we going to handle them. Bellowing Bill pointed to a location on the Captain's map and advised him that we would build a POW Cage there. Captain Jim reminded Sgt Bellowing Bill that we were at the Brigade level and where in the world would we get the troops to build and staff a Prisoner Of War Cage (POW). Sgt Bellowing Bill scratched his head and replied, the same f****** place you got the 800 prisoners. A smirk came over the Captain's face to signal defeat and he jumped back in his jeep and raced off, no doubt to drop his bomb on another unsuspecting Section Sgt.
One summer, I was part of a three man team manning the Platoon Signals truck during summer concentration in Camp Gagetown. Over the winter our Platoon RCEME mechanic converted the three quarter cargo vehicle into a more comfortable and practical set up for communication. We had two C 42 sets, one for control of our Platoon network and the other for communications with Brigade H.Q. While we were in the field, part of our duties related to support for the Brigade and the other for policing functions. To improve reception of our Platoon net, the Captain advised me to go up to sigs and try and scrounge a ground plane antenna. Sigs confirmed that these items were in very short supply and they couldn't help us. Now our leader, who purported to have been a lumber jack in this day, had a Plan B. I was dispatched to return to sigs and this time to borrow a set of lineman's spurs. The plan was that when we moved to a location, we would climb a tree and lop off the top. Once this task (foreign to the Military Police trade) was accomplished, we would anchor the aerial tuning unit to the top of said tree.
On return to our unit with the spurs, our former lumber jack proceeded to give us a demonstration covering the proper technique for climbing a tree. Up the tree goes our good Captain and when he arrives near the top, he demonstrates the proper way to tie the belt up. Suddenly; the spurs let go and our leader is sliding down the tree, hugging it all the way, like a young cub bear making his first tree climb. On arrival at ground level, he is somewhat barked up, pardon the pun. His three students were unable to offer any assistance because we were rolling on the ground laughing. (I was informed later by one of the Sigs Linemen that their spurs were for climbing poles and the ones used in the logging industry had longer spurs to penetrate through the bark and into the wood.)
Now anyone who has operated a C 42 set knows that when you change frequency, the aerial needs to be tuned. That summer we experienced real lousy weather so suffice to say, that aerial on top of the tree didn't get tuned very often.
To his credit, our infamous Captain did help my career, although at the time, I didn't recognize or appreciate it. During the fall of 1962 I was on a draft for temporary duty in Germany. Our job was to beef up 4 Provost Platoon during the main rotation of the Brigade. The weekend before departure, I had taken all excess gear and left it at my mother's place in Montreal. On the Monday afternoon, the day before our departure for Germany, at about 1600 hours, I was paraded into the Captain's office. He informed me that I had been taken off the draft for Germany and would be going on a Junior NCO course. After asking if I had a choice, I was told words to the effect, No, you young soldiers don't know what is best for you. The next question related to when the course would be starting. I was absolutely in shock to learn that the course was in Camp Petawawa at 4 RCHA and had already started that morning. I was ordered to report to the Sgt. Major in charge of the course where I was told that I had one week to get up to snuff or I would be returned to unit. Thanks to my comrades in the platoon, I was able to beg and borrow the necessary kit. My next several evenings and late into the night were spent polishing everything to get it up to a Junior NCO Course standard. On the Friday I was paraded before the Sgt. Major and told that for the moment I had passed muster and would be able to continue on the course.
About half way through the course I was called back to the platoon and paraded before the Captain. He advised me that he had some feedback that although I was the only Provost on the course, I was standing near the top of the other 80 candidates. He then threatened that if I didn't top the course, I shouldn't bother reporting back to the platoon. Through some hard work and good luck, I was able to come first on the course and was presented with a drill cane from 4 RCHA Sgt's Mess which I still prize today. Our infamous Captain did not attend that graduation parade so on my return to the unit I requested an audience with his nibs. I not so gently placed the drill s tick on his desk and reminded him of our conversation a few weeks earlier. To rub it in, I reminded the good Captain that I did come first and he didn't have the courtesy to attend the graduation. His comment about young soldiers not knowing what was best for them did ring true because just after 4 years service, I was promoted to Cpl. At that time most of us in the Canadian Provost Corps served as L Cpl's (Without Pay); with a few lucky ones getting the rank pay. Generally a promotion to Cpl. required much more service and experience than I had in my service records. So, I do owe a debt of gratitude to the Captain for helping to open the promotion door for me.
These are just a few war stories covering the days with 2 Provost Platoon in Camp Petawawa in the early to mid-1960's.
A proud former member of the
Canadian Provost Corps
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