WORLD WAR II - MOBILIZATION AND EARLY TRAINING, 1939-40
At 12.30 hours on 1st September, 1939, Lt.-Col. J. E. Wright received a phone call from Brigadier Russell, Disstric Officer COmmanding M.D. 12, Regima, ordering him to mobilize the South Saskatchewan Regiment up to full war strength as part of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division.
On receipt of these orders, Lt.-Col. Wright phoned all officers of the battalion to meet in the Legion Hall, Weyburn at 15.00 hours, 1st September, 1939. When told that the South Saskatchewan Regiment had received the very distict honour to be the only Infantry Regiment in Saskatcheawn to become part of Canada's first two divisions, all officers volunteered for active service. The following were taken on strength and swore allegiance to His majesty: Lt.-Col. J. E. Wright, Majors E.R. Osler, M.C., H. T. Kempton, J.E. McRae, D. C. Orme, Captains E. W. White, G. R. Matthews, F. H. McDougall, C. W. Steele, J. R. Mather, T.M. Osten, Lieutenants N. A. Adams, A. D. Devine, M. M., R. J. Wilkinson, M. E. Gray, A. C. Bannatyne, J. L. Hart, R. S. Wells, R. L. Stevens.
On 2nd September, 1939, the International Harvester Building, Weyburn, was taken over to be used as a barraks and Battalion Headquarters for the regiment, while the Canadian Legion was to be used as the Officers Mess.
Recruiting commenced at once with Lt.-Col. Creighton of Estevan supervising the Medical Board, and Dr. Eaglesham, Dr. Good and Dr. Coulter assisting him. Among the first N.C.O.'s and men to be enlisted were:
L 12001 Robertson, C.
L 12002 Briggs, T. H.
L 12003 Partridge, C. N.
L 12004 Mitchell, R. J.
L 12005 Symons, C. C.
L 12006 Rose, J.
L 12007 Watchman, J.
L 12008 Turner, K. L.
L 12009 Michie, N. R.
L 12010 Cunningham, W. G.
L 12011 McDonald, J. A.
L 12012 Powers, E. J.
L 12013 Dunkerly, E. A.
L 12014 Charnell, W. A.
L 12015 Smith, C. E.
L 12016 Smith, B. H.
L 12017 Lane, W. G. A.
L 12018 England, L. L.
L 12019 Glew, H. A.
L 12020 Smith, D. K.
L 12021 Greer, L. N.
L 12022 Osborn, H. A.
L 12023 Campbell, I. W.
L 12024 Matthews, J. W.
L 12025 Heinz, J.
L 12026 Mather, F.
L 12026 Martin, A. R.
L 12028 Bell, L.
L 12029 Skoberg, C. A.
L 12030 Kercher, E. R.
L 12031 Purvis, D. E.
L 12032 Dean, J. E.
L 12033 Winn, J. T.
L 12034 McDonald, J.
L 12035 Edmondson, F. R. S.
L 12036 MacKay, E. M.
L 12037 Dalziel, E. E.
L 12038 Jewell, E. D.
L 12039 Dalziel, R. L.
L 12040 Conn, V. H.
L 12041 Nesbitt, I. C.
L 12042 Moore, H. B.
L 12043 Huggat, J.
L 12044 Hill, W. N.
L 12045 Teague, E. G.
L 12046 Clark, G. W.
L 12047 Winn, A.
L 12048 Britton, E. G.
L 12049 Wanner, P.
L 12050 Hill, E. R.
Hon./Major W. Cole became the unit's first Chaplain and spent many hours in the barrak rooms and canteens giving counsel and help to the men.
In October recruiting was suspended temporarily with the regiment at a strength of 600 men of all ranks. Men from all parts of the prairies had answered the call to service and had chosen as their regiment the South Saskatchewan Regiment. Adventurers and itinerant men, men from the harvest fields, men who were more at home in the orchands and ports of Ontario and Quebec, men from the Rockies and Pacific Coast, and men from across the border, all were mobilized into one strong unit of fighting men. Strong indeed were the lasting friendships formed in the early days of the battalion. Lt.-Col. Wright had the tremendous task of welding men from all walks of life, men from all parts of Canada, into a single well trained, well disciplined, and spirited infantry unity. Only a man of his character and human understanding could so successfully have built the foundations and traditions for the regiment that was to earn later the reputation of being one of the best of Canada's fighting machines.
W.O.II C.S.M. Tommy Briggs was appointed as acting Regimental Sergeant-Major until the arrival in October of W.O.I. Roger Strumm of Saskatoon. Mr. Strumm was another man who was destined to be part of the tradition of the battalion. Under his farr-carrying bule-like voice and his unusual ability for organization and discipline, the I.H.C. Building soon became a spick and span military barracks and woe betide the errant soldier-civilian who walked on parade or on the streets without dress and deprtment becoming a Guardsman.
Many yarns could be told of Sgt.-Major Strumm's scathing tongue on the parade square, but the best was perhaps, when at the end of an exhaustive hour of drill, he addressed the parade as follows:
"When I was a little child, I had a set of wooden soldiers. There was a poor boy in the neighborhood, and after I had been to Sunday School one day listening to a stirring story on the duties of charity, I was soft enough to give him the soldiers. Then I wanted them back and cried, but my mother said: 'Don't cry, Sonny, some day you will get your wooden soldiers back.' And, believe me, you lopsided, mutton headed, goofus-brained set of certified rolling pins, that day has come!!"
With the addition of Staff-Sg.t Instructor C. J. Doyle of the P.P.C.L.I., the tempo of training in small arms and foot drill increased. N.C.O. training schools were organized under Captain N. A. Adams and Lieutenant R. L. Stephens with Sgts. George Lane and Les England as instructors. The results of early and good N.C.O. training became evident as the fall and winter progressed. Those first N.C.O.s became the backbone of future leadership in the battalion. Many of them were eventually W.O.s and commissioned officers on the field of battle. The officer strength was increased during the fall and winter months.
Captain Don Wallace became the very first official quartermaster in October and very able equipped and fitted these civilian soldiers.
In November Captain V. Millions was posted to the battalion as Medial Oficer and his prowess with the inoculation needles soon made itself felt among all ranks. Liet. S. Linton also was posted to the unit in November. Later in the winter Lieutenants P. C. Jardine, E.D., and Chas. Watt, M.C., both officers of long experience completed the establishment.
The regiment became a familiar sight on the streets of Weyburn and the citizens followed closely its activities and noted the improvements resulting from each successive month of training. Weyburn businessmen, organizations, and townspeople spared no effort to make the boys feel at home and as comfortable as possible. Entertainment was provided by various organizations from Regina, Estevan, and Weyburn.
During the winter of 1939/40 the regiment's hockey team made quite a name for itself in Southern Saskatchewan Hockey circles and it was only at the end of the season in Provincial Intermediate playoffs when Father Murray's Kids from Wilcox, the Notre Dame Hounds, came forth with a newly perfected checkerboard offensive hockey, that they went down to a notable 13-1 defeat. Stars of the team included: Buck Buchanan, Len Kempton, Lou Greer, Maynard Smith, Johnny Ashworth, Rod Stephens, Jim Hart, McIntyre, Bishop, Wallace, Young, Sunderland (playing coach), Hansen, Rutledge and several others. Lieut. Jardine acted as business manager and coach.
The Officers' Mess held several Military Balls and Mess Dinners, as well as several other social activities required of them. Few of those officers will ever forget the clowning and practical jokes, and the good fellowship they found in the Legion quarters that winter. It was there that Captain Murray Osten, and his ever-present partner Lieutenant Rod Stephens, started the long chain of merriment that was to take them from one predicament to another until they were famous throughout the Canadian Army.
It was of these two, that Lt.-Col. Wright sighed to Major Jim McRae one day when the two officers had bagged an extra pass: "There go to accidents to happen some place." It was in this first mess that the pattern and the traditions of open friendliness, regarless of rank, was established, for herein its officers and men were equal to one another. The S.Sask.R. was famed throughout the war for its warmth of welcome and western hospitality.
On New Year's Day Col. Wright invited the Seargeants' Mess over to the Officers' Mess for an "at home". A very delicous punch was served and even R.S.M. Strumm was seen sipping greedily. Sgt. Scotty Reynolds got into an argument with Major Osler and before it had progressed very far the diminutive Scotty looked up into the face of the Major and with his R's rolling exclaimed "You are full of prunes Sir." Thus ended a good party.
The other ranks have good and bad times to remember in Weyburn also. There were paydays and the "Flying Patrols"; dashes to a hotel to stop a near riot or rescue a harrassed citizen from the clutches of an over enthusiastic soldier; the changing of the Guard; and the Bugle Cals; the guard room with the board cells from which 'Frenchy' Chamberlain and 'Big' Ryan, Jack Gilmour and others consistenly escaped just to show they could do it; the Mess Parades, the Canteen with Pat and Rosey behind the counter, the Sing Songs and games of poker and crap, and Scotty Boyd and his Dodo games. They will remember those nights when the inter-company bottle throwing competition took place after lights out, and that night the tall veteran Harris came in late and obeyed the call of nature near Paddy Sharpe's bed and ruined his good pipe and the resulting scrap.
One Saturday morning Captain Adams as Orderly Officer was inspecting the barracks and accosted Pte. Bill White: "Is this your cigarette butt on the floor?" "Go ahead," replied Bill, "you saw it first!"
Another time Lt.-Col. Wright had addressed him with: "You admit breaking a bottle of beer over Corporal Roberts' head and then have the audacity to stand there and say it was an accident?" "Yes, Sir, that's right Sir", replied Chamberlain, "I didn't mean to break it."
The sergeants in their quarters were awakened every a.m. by some ex-waddy tuning in on the radio for the Cowboy Songs. Long remembered will be those first cold nights on guard duty when one befuddled sentry informed Captain Jardine, the Orderly Officer, that his duty at the front door of the barracks was to open the door for the sergeants; and those hours of pack drill with special packs loaded with bricks. Remembered, too, will be the small arms training on the top floors, judging distance from the C.P.R. dam, and long route marches; the battalion drills with Staff-Sgt. Instructor Doyle's voice booming across the field "Stand still, damn it!" regardless of the fact that none had even drawn a breath. Few will forget the huge, drafty, old Mess Hall and those early Mess Parades. Especially remembered will be the Friday that the regiment came in from a long, hard route march to be met by the usual smell of a fish supper. All was well until the fish were placed whole on the table, heads, scales, tail and all. This still wasn't to bad, but when it was discovered that they had been cooked with the "innards" still in them, a mighty howl shook the building. The orderly officer had a near riot on his hands.
Another near catastrophe was averted by the quick thinking of Pioneer Sergeant Scotty Bell. On a very cold night the water main to the barracks froze up and the local town engineer said it would take hours to again supply water. Sergeant Bell coupled fire hose from a city hydrant to the inside pipes and saved the day. Another near catastrophe occurred when Pte. Daigle came in late and was using an unguarded rear entrance to the building. He fell down an old freight elevator shaft and was rescued from an oil bath. Later on that same night a Pte. Kelly lost his false teeth down the same shaft.
With the coming of spring and the authorization to continue recruiting, the unit soon reached a full strength of about 950 all ranks, including the welcome addition of Major MacTavish to command D Company. ALthough all ranks had enjoyed a pleasant winter in Weyburn, the urge was to get on with the job. The I.H.C. building was proving inadequate to train and house the ful battalion, so some 300 men, under command of Major Kempton, were moved to the Exhibition Grounds at Regina.
From this Regina Detachment the unit boasted its first major sports champions. Hank Forness and Jack Milmine each won a Saskatchewan Boxing Championship.
During this latest re-inforcement drive Lieuts. G. U. Mason and D. H. Pearce bolstered the officer establishment.
At the end of May the battalion was ordered to proceed to camp Shile, Manitoba, to join the rest of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The Brigade was to consist of: The Calgary Highlanders, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, and the South Saskatchewan Regiment.
The advance party under the command of Major 'Left' White arrived on 24th May, 1940, and erected the S.Sask.R. section of the huge tented camp. The main body of the regiment arrived on 27th May. Now training commenced in earnest; night compass marches, patrols, range work, trench digging, bayonet practice, route marches, and platoon and company tactics in attack and defence. Lieutenant Delaney of the P.P.C.L.I. was attached for instructional purposes and used 12 Platoon for his demonstration platoon.
In June the first advance part of officers and 26 other ranks left for overseas on courses of instruction, etc. The battalion spirits soared at the prospects of an early trip overseas into action. At this time Captain A. W. R. Ashley was added to the strength as the Unit Chaplain and Captain Dan Woods was the Unit Medical Officer. New equipment was arriving daily as the scope of training increased, and new and realistic war-time activiites became possible. Platoon and Company self-contained exercises of several days duration stirred up the towns of Minnedosa, Neepawa, Souris, Virden, Killarney, Boissevain and Dauphin. Carberry will long remember the street fighting schemes, especially the 15-cwt. truck piloted by Sgt. Lionel Coderre, tearing down the main streets with someone's chicken fence complete with entangled chickens draggin behind and being chase by 12 Platoon through a funeral procession.
A request to camp headquarters for a Guard of Honour at the Brandon Fair was awarded to the S.Sask.R. The guard of 100 men and officers under command of Captain N. A. Adams performed their duties with guards precision and were warmly congratulated.
The weather at Camp Shilo was in itself a test of the battalion. Blistering hot days suddenly turning to torrential rains, and short-lived tornadoes felling tenst and filling cook houses with dust, soon toughened the men to meet the vagaries of weather. Towards the end of August the rigours of army life proved too much for many men and transfers and discharges were arranged. Shilo also produced its quota of regimental incidents: like the time Bill Clark scalded himself with a dixie of coffee; and Pte. W. Ettle was drowned in the Assiniboia River; and Major Orme went on a non-stop ride on a motorcycle and sprained his ankle; and above all, the sea of bottle soutside the canteen on pay nights. Few will forget the scenes on the trains from Brandon to Douglas when even the engines were covered with troops, and harassed C.P.R. Officials tried to collect tickets that did not exist. An outstanding weekend was the result of a huge motor calvacade from Weyburn and Estevan of families and friends. Regimental characters like Sabouring, Deminuck, Carr, Roberts and many others will long be remembered too.
Shilo cannot be discussed in any group without reminiscing on the long, long walk to the row of beautiful eight holer latrines.
Baseball was the principal sporting attraction of the summer. The final game of the Brigade schedule was played in Souris between S.Sask.R. and Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in a thrilling 6-5 victory for the S.Sask.R.
During the early part of August, the unit's main advance party under command of Major Kempton left for overseas. At Shilo the first of the South Saskatchewan Regiment's N.C.O.'s received their commissioned ranks. Six W.O.'s were sent to Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg for a qualifying course as provisional second lieutenants. These included C.S.M Ted Miller, and P.S.Ms (W.O.3) Ven Conn, Bill Cunningham, Len Kempton, Cliff Smith and Buck Buchanan, all of whom returned to their own companies as officers. These new officers arrived back in the S.Sask.R. Headquarters on a Saturday afternoon and found Major Jim McRae and Lieutenant lex. Dawson to be the only other officers in camp. Major McRae was growing grey hair by the minute. He had just come from Brigade Headquarters where he had been issued orders for the regiment's part in the first tactical exercise of the complete Brigade. Lt.-Col Wright was attendign Senior Officers short course, Kingston' Ontario, and the other officers were on week-end leaves. The sight of the six provisional lieutenants brought tears to the eyes of the Major for he had at least one officer per company to arrange company details, etc.
Many inspections by prominent military people took place at Shilo, but most important of these was the one by Colonel Ralston, Minister of National Defence.
By the end of August, more than half the officers and a good many N.C.Os and men were already in England on courses, and other duties.
The original party, under command of Lieutenant Chas. Watt, M.C., and Lieutenant D. H. Pearce had left Camp Shilo on 2nd June, 1940, and were joined in Winnipeg by Captains G. R. Matthews, R. S. Wels, A. C. Bannatyne and ten other ranks. This party left Winnipeg on 5th June with great fanfare by the P.P.C.L.I. Band, etc. On board the same train, first acquaintances were made with the Nursing Ssiters of No. 5 Canadian General Hostpital, who later became familiar personnel in Mess functions in England.
On 8th June the party sailed aboard the Duchess of Bedford in a convoy including the "Duchess of Atholl" and the Samaria and the escort battleship Revenge. The ship was crowded but the trip was a smoot one compared to the one made by the main body in December. Arriving in Liverpool on 20th June, the party entrained for Morval and Delville Barracks in Cove, Hants, near Aldershot. It was days before the baggage caught up with them and some of it never did arrive.
Air-raid sirens, steel hats, respirators and weapon regulations soon convinced the men that they were in a war zone. During the summer the party became familiar with the south country transportation sysmtes and tactical requirements of hte daily-expected main party of the regiment.
Nearly all ranks attended courses of various types. Captain A. C. Bannatyne was on a course, learning the fine art of vehicle maintenance, when "Jerry" decided an air-raid on Camp Borden was needed. Creighton lost everything he had in the work except his pyjamas and so was the S.Sask.R.'s first casualty.
In late August the party moved to Guillemont Barracks with the Calgary Highlanders, and were joined by the second advance party with Major H. T. Kempton, Captains N. A. Adams, P. C. Jardine, and Lieutenants S. Linton, R. J. Wilkinson, B. Wylie and 64 other ranks. This group came overseas on the Pasteur and experienced the thrills of a submaring attack in which two torpedoes missed the target.
On 1st October an enemy plane dropped a bomb on the cookshack in Guillemont Barracks and killed one man, a Calgary Highlander. On 31st October the S.Sask.R. officers held their first Mess function in England. This was a Hallowe'en Party which Major-General Victory Odlum, G.O.C. 2nd Canadian Division attended, as well as Nursing Sisters from the Canadian General Hospitals at Taplow, Bramshott and Basingstoke.
On 3rd November a low-flying enemy plane came over the camp machine-gunning the site. Pte. Marion Bartnokowski ran out of the hut with a rifle and fired several shots at the aircraft. Thus he became the first of the S.Sask.R. to fire a shot at the enemy.
The rest of the fall and early winter was spent on courses, demonstrations, tours, and recces, of invasion areas, and in preparing Morval Barracks in Cove for the arrival of the main body of the Regiment.
On 17th October the unit left Shilo for Toronto on the first lef of the journey overseas. The barracks proved to be the very spacious Horse Palace of the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. Training was limited to battalion drills and long marches, etc., but the social activities and the entertainments were overwhelming. The people of Toronto took the Prairie men into their hearts and home and many lasting friendships were made. Outstanding memoriesof Toronto will be sure to include the Casino, Elizabeth Street, the long walks home from downtown, the huge canteen, the Church Parades and Socials, and the downtown Canteens and Concerts.
Further officer re-inforcements included Lieutenants A. R. Berwick, T. L. Davies, D. B. Johnson, and T. P. Gentles.
Finally in December, Lt.-Col. Wright received his orders to proceed to Halifax and inspect his troopship the "Pennland": the battalion to follow him under the command of Major J. E. McRae. Great was the last day of celebration in Toronto. The mornign of the departure found the shiny cemmnt floor like a mirror and not a paper or stub to be found anywhere until after inspection by M.D. 2 officials. Then miraculously, the place became a floor of broken glass. R.S.M. Strumm nearly lost faith in mankind. It seemed as if half of Toronto had come to bid us farewell. The march to the train with each man in full pack and two kit bags was a sight never to be forgotten. The streets were keenly iced with a freak raine which had frozen. That, coupled with high 'spirits' inside and out made an ordinary military march into a three ring circus at which Mr. Strumm took one long lingering look, shuddered, and vanished to the confines of the train.
On 15th December, the unit was struck off strength Canada and taken on strength the C.A.S.F. overseas and boarded the "Pennland" for the final trip tot he battle areas of Europe.
Ships were extremely scarce at this time due to sinkings from intensive enemy submarine warfare. The Pennland had just returned from carrying internees to British West Indies. It was very substandard in equipment and accommodation for a troopship and very dirty. The Halifax Command consented to clean it up and with 12 hours to go pressed 100 men into the job to make it acceptable when the troops arrived.
The Dutch captain and first mate were extremely competent as were all his Dutch crew but unfortunately had to complement his crew with a number of renegade sailors which he admitted to Colonel Wright he could not control. The ship's Provost Officer and the Colonel had to deal drastically with a number of these fellows throughout the trip. Also upon leaving Halifax the transport officer advised Colonel Wright regarding the situation among the crew and warned him that if the ship was torpedoed that this faction of renegades owuld likely seize adequate life boat accommodation and leave the Dutch crew and ourselves to what we could launch. One hundred trusted N.C.O.s and other ranks of the S.Sask.R. were on duty by details night and day in a lounge on A. Deck with rifles and Bren guns and ammunition to see that they were quickly and effectively looked after in case the test came. It is doubtful if any other troop-ship went across the Atlantic under similar conditions.
During the loading of unit supplies, the ship's crew and a few unknown soldiers had borrowed quite a few cases of beer, scotch, and cigarettes that had been bought with Mess Funds. Of interest to many will be that fact that the "Pennland" was a troopshit for many more trips until she was finally sunk off the Italian Coast.
At 0800 hours 16th December, we up-anchored with a total of 3000 on board. This included 12 Nursing Sisters and the first group off 200 Commonwealth Air Trainee graduates going to the theatre of war. Thirty-Three officers and 808 other ranks of S.Sask.R. were on board. Colonel Wright was appointed O.C. Ship. The convoy was composed of four ships, the "Pennland", "Pasteur", "Cape Town Castle", and the "Columbia". The weather was very foggy and the rough seas made most of the men seasick for several days. Boat drills, pay parades and P.T. periods were the only breaks in routines of wlaking, retching, and crap or poker games. The meals on the "Pennland" did little to help the general atmosphere. Kippers were served for three meals every day.
After two days at sea the only escort, a Cruiser, was called away to more urgent duty and the small convoy were on their own. The Pennland was by far the slowest ship of the four in the convoy. The degaussing cable broke and affected the ship's compass making it not dependable. The Captain assured Colonel Wright he could sail round the world without one. A day or so out from the Coast of Ireland was particularly dangerous in those days due to submarines. The convoy had a rendezvous with Royal Navy escort to guard it through those waters but missed it by about 12 deg. N. and 10 deg. W. No one on board but the Captain, his mate, and Colonel Wright knew of it, but everyone was glad to see one or two old four funnel destroyers come up aongside a few hours out of the Clyde. Later the Admirality sent the Colonel a telegram to Morval Barracks in Cove, Hants.
After some good nights' rest and the settling in process had been completed, anti-invasion instructions were issued and first recces of battle positions made. Everyone felt sure that at last they were in action.