With thanks to 12162 Dwight Davies and the Class of ’79
We all can easily recall that period of shock and awe when we transitioned from our freedom-loving high school existence to the much more disciplined life of a cadet, most notably during Recruit Camp. During that period, we were introduced to many of the more responsible aspects of military life, most particularly to the concept of “duty”.
The convergence of two “duties” is at the heart of this story. First was the not so subtly implied duty to perform “Skylarks”, ones which would reflect well on your Squadron, especially if they revealed a certain panache or daring-do that would be the envy of the rest of the Wing. The second was that recurring duty: Fire Picket. I will review this latter duty in a bit more detail.
When on “fire picket” we were required to carry out a several page list of duties, all of which were to be performed during the late night quiet hours. These included things such as removing the cushions from the big stuffed chairs in the many lounges where smoking was permitted, and widely patrolling throughout the many buildings on the College, keeping an ever wary eye out for possible fires or fire hazards. Now I am not sure that any fire picket EVER found a smoldering butt, or in any way ever prevented a fire, but that may not have been the point: you are assigned a duty, given a comprehensive explanation of the details, and you were expected to perform.
So …. when on fire picket I was expected to wander around the semi-darkened hallways of a wide spectrum of buildings, completely unsupervised, and more importantly, unobserved! What could possibly go wrong? Well, one thing led to another and I found myself checking for potential fire at the base of the flagpole that was mounted on the very top of the Mackenzie building, outside on a small platform that was reached through a variety of stairways, ladders, and locked (??) doors and hatches. No fire…but hey I had an idea….
Okay, I think you are starting to guess the convergence of duties here. After enlisting the help of a fellow 2 Squadron member, who I will not incriminate (Tom Lawson), and obtaining a 2 Squadron flag, we set off under cover of darkness. Retracing the pre-scouted trail, ever higher in the bowels of Mackenzie Building, the two of us eventually found ourselves standing outside in the darkness and at dizzying heights at the base of the flagpole. We very professionally attached the flag to the lanyard, and started pulling it up. As the pride of our Squadron fluttered its way to the top of the pole in the darkness, we couldn’t help but contain a snicker or two as we imagined the entire college awakening and seeing our flag in this lofty place of honour. We finally got the flag to the top, and very diligently tightened the lines…or should I say “enthusiastically”… because much to our shock, the down-haul line had apparently reached its end of life, and let go at the top! That left our flag fully raised with no way to ever bring it back down! We tied off the up-haul line with a small but growing sense of concern, and hastily beat a retreat.
The next morning the College awoke to see the 2 Squadron flag flying proudly from the highest vantage point in the entire college, and the next morning, and the next morning, for a whole week. That is how long it took to find a steeplejack who would climb to the top of Mackenzie tower and then shinny up the long flagpole to pull down the flag and fix the lanyards!
Note from the Class of ’79: Dwight also recalls that 2 Sqn pitched in to help pay for the steeplejack, indicating presumably a degree of pride for their willingness to do so. Furthermore, while trying to search online for photos, we came across a 2018 article on skylarks by 27476 Danielle Fielding in the eVeritas which seems to suggest that not only was the Wing in 1975 impressed with this daring-do by Tom and Dwight, but subsequent generations of 2 Sqn cadets as well, elevating the skylark to almost mythical status:
“One story that has stood out for those in 2 SQN, La Salle SQN, was the story about the skylark and switching of the flags. Many years ago, a group of Cadets managed to switch the flag atop Mackenzie building with the 2 SQN red flag. Unfortunately for them, it did not go over to well with the training wing. When the entire squadron was pulled into a room they were told that whoever had performed this skylark must come forward or the entire squadron would be punished. After a few moments a few cadets stood up and came forward. However, surprisingly for them more cadets came forward, until eventually the entire squadron had come forward. It was in that moment that their staff decided not to punish any of them, after this display of camaraderie.”