Above: Photo of #290 John Edwards Leckie taken sometime during his service with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), 1914 – 1918.
RMC – Forty Years On
By 290 J.E. Leckie
Originally written in 1933
Transcribed by 12570 Mike Kennedy
We had to spend one hour every evening in the gym, must roll the tennis lawns and cricket crease, must enter in the obstacle race at the sports, and must come at the double when “Recruit” is shouted in the barracks. There was a certain amount of fagging, sometimes recruits were told to pipeclay gloves and helmets, but it was not carried too far. Later, I understand it was carried much too far, beds having to be made and a lot of rather humiliating things to do. This is bad and may have tended to the cause of some tragic events.
Some evenings when the First Class were late, perhaps till midnight, with their chemistry work, there were parades. Recruits, stark naked save for their full marching order equipment, and carrying a household bedroom item in one hand, had to march up and down the corridors or the barracks.
Again, the R.E. professor, at times, like so many R.E. officers, had a bible class once a week in the officers’ anteroom. This took place in the evening after supper. The whole recruit class would be paraded at the other end of the corridor, given the order left turn “Double March” then when they came to the door of the anteroom “left wheel”, and a swarm of cadets could charge them from behind and into the room they would go, pell mell, over on the floor in a heap. Before the class started there would be the remark from the R.E., “I hope you gentlemen are all here of your own accord.”
To further keep the recruit in order, if any one of them showed a cheeky or independent spirit, there was a “T squaring” pulled off. This usually consisted of a parade of the recruit class, marched over to the caponier at For Henry, this after dark, the dark caponier dimly lighted with candles, the dread “Bulldogs” there in full regalia, their weird groans adding to the ghastly scene. The offending recruit listened to a lecture on his misdeeds and of the class in general, then the command “Bulldogs, do your duty” and the poor man was laid out, face downwards, and foils and bayonet scabbards were briskly used. I was fortunate never to suffer it, though one senior cadet always tried his best to have me T-squared so as to show that they did not fear the B.S.M.
The “Upper Shift” was the climax and might be given to a recruit or Third Class man. In my time, when I was a recruit, a Third Class man was given it. We were kept strictly to our rooms and could only hear what was going on, faintly. The man had to run a gauntlet of cleaning rods, for one thing. H was taken up in the roof part of the barracks, all this at night, with a rope around his waist and was dropped into the water tanks, all of them, hot and cold alternately, then taken on the roof he was let slide down to the edge several times.
In my final year we upper shifted a man and there was a great inquiry afterwards but nothing came of it. Curious to relate, in the late war I saw one of our balloons which had broken loose and was drifting over the Hun lines. On inquiry I found that this same cadet was the observer in the balloon. However, he was rescued only to come to a tragic end later.
Fort Frederick is now used as a museum I believe. A caretaker lived there in our day. One morning the rook caught fire and our fire brigade had to rush over and put it out. I, unfortunately, was the carrier of an extinguisher and had to go at the double with this on my back. I put the fire out. I think Charlie Armstrong, who assisted me by urging me on, got the credit. The townspeople gather on the wharves across the harbor, expecting to see the place blow up. Cadets picked up the heavy old 24-pound cannon balls and used them to throw at the side boards of the roof and knock them out so as to let the smoke out. The civilians though the cadets feared these solid shot would explode the way they threw them out.
Bill and Char. They were before my time, Bill Heneker (168 W.C.G Heneker) and Charlie Farwell (173 C.B Farwell). They were both from Lennoxville BCS both pals and would raise the devil. They got into a row over investigating the Observatory too closely. Farwell went into R.E. and died not too many years later. Heneker went Connaught Rangers and is now Major General Sir William Heneker and in command of some district in England.
The barracks in the old days were known as the “Stone Frigate”. These were the barracks for the sailors of the war ships on the Lakes, when the ships were laid up for the winter or in the Naval or Navy Bay there. The building was built like a ship with regard to the decks, floors caulked, etc. In the basement there used to be condensers send out from England for use on the ships, they had an idea that the water in the Lakes was salt. At very low water one season we found the remains of one of the ships and one of the cadets found a rusty old cutlass.
Digging practice trenches out behind the main building we used to find lots of old grape shot and small cannon balls and an occasional coin. We would roll the shot up and down the corridors during the night “making thunder”.
There was a legend that Cayley (180 A. M. Cayley), before our time, had gone around the outside of the barracks, on the narrow ledge, reaching from window to window. Another old story was of some cadets charging and firing the old mortar on the wharf by the barracks, during the night. Unfortunately the wife of either the Commandant or the Staff Adjutant was going to have a baby and this frightened her so that was a miscarriage.
Taylor (45 E.T. Taylor) was before our time and was B.S.M., I think. He later commanded the Cheshire and was Commandant at one time. Dead now. As a cadet he was the Commandant’s white headed boy and out on the rugger field one day talking to Taylor he gazed reflectively at the goal posts “I used to jump over that bar when I was young” he said, then adding “standing jump at that”. Then he told of a battery he had seen coming into action at the gallop, at a review. One of the gunners fell off and the gun wheel ran right over his head, nothing daunted he jumped up, and managed to swing on to the limber. He took his place by the gun and as the gun fired, he dropped dead.
One professor, a Major R.E., took a great interest in our spiritual welfare and used to ask some of us, whom he thought needed it, to diner at his quarters and then talk re our being baptized and confirmed. He said he would be my godfather if I would be baptized.
He told us one night of an officer he knew who had a terrible habit of swearing most awfully and swearing at all and most sundry times. To break himself of this habit he took a solemn oath that every time he swore he would kneel down immediately and kiss the ground. This he faithfully carried out and had about broken himself of the habit. He was on active service in Afghanistan and in an attack made a slash at an Afghan, with his sword, the sword broke off at the hilt, when the Pathan parried with his talwar. The officer let out a tremendous oath and then suddenly remembered his vow. It flashed through his mind that if he knelt down and kissed the ground he would be decapitated by the Pathan but he felt that he must keep his oath at all costs. He knelt down and as he did a whizz bang came, over him, and smashed the Afghan.
Again, he told of a lancer who had pinned an Afghan through the middle with his lance. The Afghan, a sturdy lad, caught the lance with both hands, pulled himself up the lance, and slashed the leg of the lancer open with his talwar.
For Part 1 of this series please see here.