The Minute Book
Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Militia Way of Life; Training (1980s)
Topic: Canadian Militia

The Militia Way of Life; Training (1980s)

Canada's Militia; A Heritage at Risk, T.C. Willey, 1987 (Originally published under the title "A Heritage at Risk: The Canadian Militia as a Social Institution")

…it led me to wonder about the effectiveness of an artillery battery commander after a few days of this kind of life because I had always been taught that an officer should have more important things to do than look after himself.

On a Friday evening in May, the armory at Calgary, Alberta, was the center of a mighty thunderstorm, and the men and women of the Militia district were arriving after their day's work to load up for an exercise at the Suffield training area some two hundred miles away. The elements of an infantry battalion and an artillery battery were to defend a position against a live enemy provided by the armored regiment. The infantry was actually an under-strength company of about fifty, and the battery had about thirteen officers and other ranks for a total strength of about thirty, also, it was without any of its guns. The armored enemy were, like all their kind in 1980, borne in jeeps and numbered about thirty. The proceedings were timed to begin in the exercise area at midnight, but by this time only a few vehicles had arrived, and news came that the storm had delayed the main body's departure, so hurried plans were made to provide sleeping cover for the troops overnight, and the exercise was postponed until Saturday morning. By 0800 no breakfast rations had arrived, so there was a wait until the troops were fed, and it was nearing midday on Saturday before a cheerful group of officers was assembled for orders from the district commander, whose duties as a provincial court judge ended late the previous afternoon. He had spent the night with the rest, sleeping on the floor of a vehicle shed, but seemed none the worse for it, he described an invasion by "Fantasians" (who seemed to have connections with the USSR) that his troops would try to delay from positions to be dug into the bare hills five or six miles out in the plain.

And so about eight hours after the exercise had been planned to begin, the troops set off in bright sunshine for the plain. I accompanied my battery of six nonexistent guns to its first position where each was sited with proper care but in an unfortunate line with most of the vehicles, such that they would have been an attractive target for hostile aircraft. But no one seemed to worry about this because there was no "air situation" on this exercise, something that I found rather surprising. Despite the absence of guns, everyone took their jobs seriously, including the sentries who were posted over one hundred meters from the position ' to look out for infiltrating enemy.

It was late afternoon and things were happening very slowly; there was time to heat up the canned food, and just as it was ready a note of warlike realism was struck-an order to withdraw to new positions that were sought after we passed through the infantry who were digging slit trenches with fervor to await an expected assault during the night. I joined them with the battery commander, who was driving his own jeep and working his own radio set; for the last four hours of daylight, he had been planning fire support with the infantry while I walked round the troops noting their mood. With faces blacked and plenty of mud on their persons, they seemed to be enjoying the situation and were in what inspecting officers since time immemorial have called "good heart." Their CO, a lieutenant colonel who was normally a business executive, was taking the whole affair as real despite the handful of troops to defend a front of about four hundred meters, and I was reminded of the scene in so many other Militia situations across Canada where there is a senior officer handling a command that would usually be the lot of either a subaltern or, at most, a captain. But, as he said, "That's all I've got, and that has to be it."

I left them in their trenches with my battery commander, an environmental scientist in civilian life, and walked back about a mile to the new gun position that like its predecessor, awaited air attack and annihilation with equanimity because it was again pointed out that there is no air situation this time." More tinned food came and then the rain, which fell in torrents from dusk onward and a gale-force wind to boot. Because nothing was happening, I sought shelter in the back of a truck while the troops huddled in a tent that looked, and was, precarious. Much had been organized by a brisk and good-looking young woman sergeant, who, with the others, was much concerned for the comfort of the professor;' whose vulnerability to the storm was apparently taken to be great. So I was given the back of the truck despite my protests that I could sleep underneath; "what, and be crushed if the truck sinks in the mud" was the sage advice with which I did not argue. About midnight or later I heard my battery commander arriving, and I saw a solitary figure looking round in the rain for somewhere to put his bedroll. I wondered about the hot drink, food, and place to sleep with which I was provided by my team of driver and batman when I was in a like situation many years before. Again, I was reminded of a frequent Militia scene: the officers at all regimental levels doing for themselves just as their soldiers had to and so extolling the virtues of living as a democratic Army. As before, it led me to wonder about the effectiveness of an artillery battery commander after a few days of this kind of life because I had always been taught that an officer should have more important things to do than look after himself.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

Tuesday, 10 November 2015 - 10:21 AM EST

Name: "PatG"

Typical of the '80's. Militia making do with what little they had. However, those officers willing to share the trials and tribulations of their men were held in high regard.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016 - 11:52 AM EST

Name: "Neil Thornton"

I remember that one.  My view of it was different, being the armoured folk.

I do remember the rain, and troops floating down a hill, in their sleeping bags, on a torrent of water, having pitch the tents at midnight with no thought to the lay of the land. 

Never been on a exercise more disorganized, confused, unsure of its self,  but the weather was very wild.  That was over 1 year moisture in two days.

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