By: 13077 Dean Black (RMC ‘81)
It was bloody cold. I remember that. I can also remember being anxious about the whole affair; fire picquet, that is. I was in my 1st year at the Royal Military College of Canada, loving every aspect except this – fire picquet. I had been spoiled, you see. I knew there were better reasons for being up and about at 5:30 AM. Band was the most important. I had been playing trumpet for ten years, by the time I was 18. I attended the six-week Air Cadet Band Course three years earlier. I had played trumpet “professionally” for my father’s swing band. Now I was in the RMC Pipes and Drums, getting up every morning at 5:30 trying my best to play a trumpet loud enough so that I could hear myself over the skreels of the pipes. Mission Impossible, I might add. Today, for some reason, Band members were tagged for fire picquet, practice be damned. Unfortunately, the day they taught 1st years how to tie a flag to a mast was the day Band members were at practice.
I could have been the Fire Picquet commander, or one of the rifle bearing “escorts”. But, no. That day, the senior cadet in charge picked me. He was not interested in my explanation or excuse, of which I was only able to blurt out half. He thrust the flag under my arm and bellowed “Quick March”. We were off to Fort Frederick, to hoist the college flag. It was bloody cold. I remember that. The pathways were treacherous. I remember that, too. Ice had accumulated only in spots your mind told you would be clear. Oh, and the wind. I almost forgot about the wind. It did seem windy, already. As it turns out the wind was close to 30 knots and it was still dark outside.
The piper did a splendid job, although he was shivering something fierce. I think it was the first time (and the last) I had heard vibrato from the pipes. I got the flag up to the top of the mast, and I was about to wrap the rope around behind the pole, and tie it off with a bow, when, thankfully, the senior cadet pointed to a “thingie” on the pole, directly in front of me. “Wrap the rope around the cleat”, he said. How clever, I thought. By this time the wind seemed like it was up to 50 knots. I had a heck of a time holding on to the rope. The senior cadet seemed concerned, too. He was craning his neck, staring worriedly at the raucous from aloft. From the darkness above us, it sounded as though the flag was being shredded by the wind. By this time I had done what he had asked. I had wrapped every inch of rope I could manage, around the cleat. He hadn’t noticed the method I had used, because he was too concerned about what was going on above us. At the last moment I was trying to figure out what to do with the little loop of rope left over, after my splendid “wrapping job”. Luckily, there was just enough to force over top of the cleat’s top flange. I was convinced it would hold. The senior cadet was convinced we were frostbitten. “Quick March”, he barked at us.
Unfortunately, no one mentioned the rope should be wrapped around the cleat using a figure-8 pattern. I vaguely recall reports that the wind exceeded 75 knots, that day. In my four years at RMC that was he only time the wind blew that strong. It was also the only time I was ever asked to do fire picquet.
13077 Dean Black (RMC ’81) – Executive Director | Directeur exécutif -Publisher Airforce Magazine | Éditeur revue Airforce
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