In The Mind Of A Mountie
Restoring RCMP Credibility
Excerpt from "In The Mind of A Mountie" by T.M. 'Scotty' Gardiner
Chapter 2: Recruit Training
In the early 1950s recruit training took place either at Regina in Saskatchewan or at Rockcliffe on the banks of the Rideau River near Ottawa, Ontario. In the mid- to late-1950s, additional training on a temporary basis was conducted at the Fairmount Barracks in Vancouver and at the military base at Penhold, Alberta. Ever simplistic, there was 'first part' and 'second part' followed by equitation [the art and practice of horse riding]. Each of the three periods embraced approximately three months. Some delays brought about by holidays caused the total training period to be about 11 months. There was provision to transfer from one training centre to the other upon completion of any segment. I was assigned to the training centre at Rockcliffe. When being given my railway ticket by the Duty NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer], I was told I would be travelling with another recruit whose name was Bill Heyman, a Vancouver resident. And so, with finalities completed, in the early hours of October 11th, 1951, I bid the family good-bye.
Father's parting remark held remarkable wisdom: "Now, do not volunteer for anything. That was good advice in the Black Watch [Father's World War I regiment] and it will be good advice in the Mounted Police." If only such advice were followed at the crucial time!
Dougal drove me to the railway station in Fort Langley where I boarded the eastbound train and found my sleeping accommodation. My policing life was underway.
I awoke and arose early the next morning. Entering the washroom to undertake the normal shaving and other necessities I saw this chap already lathered up and deftly wielding his razor as the train rattled along its rails. Thrusting out his hand he welcomed me, "You must be Gardiner. I'm Heyman."
Our journey to Ottawa was pleasant, sharing various yarns, experiences and expectations while pondering the unknown. Excitement grew on the third day as we drew near to the Ottawa station. The train seemed to travel at a snail's pace for those last miles. As we expected to stop at any minute Bill and I decided we could not take the chance to go for breakfast. Eventually the stop came. A duty driver met us and within a few minutes we were whisked away, entering the grounds at Rockcliffe at close to nine o'clock.
Bill, clad in the then normal attire for Vancouver's Fraser Street area youth -- jacket, deep 'V' neck sweater with no shirt -- had shown some early disregard for formalities. This we were soon to learn was not exactly befitting our introduction to Rockcliffe -- a face-to-face encounter with Sergeant Major "Robbie" Robertson. Unknown to Bill and me, Robbie, who was to become the Force's Officer In-charge of all training, was by then a living legend. Following an impeccable military training he had earned advancement through the RCMP ranks the hard way. He was groomed immaculately with a uniform that appeared to be sprayed over his athletically-shaped frame. He took his responsibilities very seriously. Topping this off was a dour Scottish expression and an unmistakable brogue that resounded like thunder echoing through Glencoe. His office into which Bill and I were ushered by the duty driver was the epitome of organization, complete with an absolutely free-from-anything desk top.
Undaunted with these military style surroundings, Bill grabbed a chair, sat down and stretched a lazy left elbow across the Sergeant Major's desk, resting his chin in his upraised hand. This gave Robbie a close-up view of the hair on the lower region of Bill's chest.
Robbie exploded as if his life-time of military bearing had received the worst of all imaginable insults. Within a period of seconds Bill and I learned how to stand at attention, to answer everything with 'Sir', to realize we were no longer civilians and then, upon learning we had not eaten free on the train, Robbie found we were something less than human, or, giving benefit, if human then at the very lowest level. This was repeated as Robbie engaged his direct radio communication system with the mess kitchen. Now he took great delight in repeating, for the Chef's advice, information or entertainment, how he now had confirmed that the Force's recruiting standards had hit an all-time, rock-bottom low.
"Make them up some eggs," he growled into the radio, then he directed us to the accommodation block where we were to find the mess kitchen. Our fun had begun.
Bill and I, our suitcases in tow, took our departure from Robbie's haven in the administration building. We walked to the accommodation block which then housed the six 30-member squads of trainees. As we walked up the front steps it was class change time. A voice in the outcoming squad called to me, "Is that an accordion you have there?" -- this being prompted by the shaped instrument case I carried.
"Aye, it is," I replied.
The voice introduced himself as Don Racine, explained he was the fiddler in a band and that I should be at practice at a given hour that night. Rushing on his way, Don's parting words were, "O.K., see you tonight, Scotty."
I might as well never have been christened Thomas McPherson because "Scotty" was all I was ever known as from then on.
I did attend the practice and for the next few months until graduating classes depleted our ranks, our group of fiddle, banjo, guitar, piano and piano accordion livened up barrack room life most evenings.
Photo caption: The 'Rockcliffe Orchestra' in December 1951. L to R: Ralph Maxwell, Scotty Gardiner, Don Racine, Tim Brown.
We were assembled in a group of 30 and designated '84 Squad'. About half came from British Columbia with the balance giving representation to most other provinces. At an average height of 5'11", we were taller than most squads. Two chaps, Walt Lloyd from Windsor and Paul Drescher from Lulu Island in the Vancouver area, hit the wire, if they stretched, at five feet, eight inches. When on parade we tucked them from view, hidden in the centre of the squad. Our pride was having four returned war veterans: Dave Bush, Johnny Entwhistle, Rolf Hubert and Everet Snyder. On special parades we had them wearing their medals in our front rank.
We were housed in two rooms each holding 15 men and placed alphabetically... Entwhistle, Gardiner, Gawthrop, etc. My regimental number was 'One-Seven-Two-Nine-Six' confirming I was the 17,296th member to join the Force.
The academic classes came relatively easy to me, although sorting out the procedures in the criminal law was difficult at the start. There was my initial rustiness in the gym. And then there was boxing. When growing up in Burntisland, Douglas and I had been members of the local Amateur Athletic and Boxing Club. There I enjoyed the training but not the boxing. With no means of escape, I was now to face this same 'sport'. We were allowed to choose our partners. I had early on made close friends with Al Brasnett from New Westminster. The difficulty was I tipped the scales at 159 pounds. Al hit those scales at slightly more than 200 pounds. We had a pact that neither one would hit hard, something the instructors were ever alert for. Our pact had to be abandoned at any time the watchful eye of the instructors could be expected. That was essentially all the time. So the punches flew. My agility saved my skin many a time but when a punch from that 200-pounder did land, it stung!
One part of our training hit nearly everyone the same way -- typing. Not just typing, but reaching an error free 45-word-per-minute speed by the end of First Part Training. The alternative was to be dismissed! Most of us had ten thumbs and by design those old Underwood typewriters the Force supplied had tape on the keys to conceal the key's identity. Unknowingly this became a good exercise in memory work -- an essential ingredient for any policeman. But we did have a saviour among us. One of our chaps, Gary Buckborough who hailed from Winnipeg, was a proficient typist. He gave us encouragement, guiding us in our nightly, after-hours practise sessions in the typing room -- it was in fact an unused tack room on the second floor of the horse stables. Never did a group display so much dedication. We all achieved the required standard which was greatly to the credit of Gary Buckborough. How the ability to type has ever since stood me in good stead!
Our training went well and without too many undue incidents. I have carried a couple of notable memories. One is of our very first lecture. Our lecturer related a story about the instructor who had to give his very first address to a new class. He was troubled about what to say, what inspiring message to give his recruits. As he stepped to the lecture room door he noticed the entry sign, 'Push'. "Aha," he thought, "that will be the theme for my introductory address."
He was pleased with his address, full of encouragement and inspiration. Rising to his finale he explained, "And so, recruits, if you want to do well in the Force, just remember the sign above the door," whereupon all heads turned to look at the inside of the door where the clearly displayed sign read 'Pull'!
Another memory is of our barrack room inspections. Cleanliness was paramount. We had a very tidy group and our rooms were maintained in spotless condition. Throughout the week all rooms were inspected during our absence at classes. The bed sheet had to be folded out and over the blanket an exact length, this being measured by a given mark on a riding crop. The beds were to be aligned so that each bed's folded-over sheet created one straight line the length of the room - seven beds on one side, eight on the other. If anything on, below or above the bed was even slightly misplaced, the bed was turned down and an order given to appear before the Duty NCO. At best one received a stern lecture; at worst extra duties or confinement to barracks.
The most strenuous inspections took place on Saturday mornings. The hour was set at 11 o'clock after the morning's two classes. Nothing could be out of order, absolutely nothing. Each man stood fully uniformed at the foot of his bed. The inspecting party consisted of five men: three Senior Officers who normally included the training centre's Commanding Officer, a senior NCO and a Duty Corporal. As they entered the room the senior NCO would bring the room to "Attention!"
The three Officers, dressed in ceremonial blue uniform and wearing white gloves, went to work. Each inspected a different area. One examined personal grooming with the possibility of some questions being asked. Another did kit and bedding which was usually given a firm slap with a riding crop and a keen eye kept watch for any dust raised thereby. The third would run his white gloves along bed rails, desk tops or on the shelving above the bed, then scrutinize the glove for dust. While the Duty NCO kept a stern watch overall, the Duty Corporal, equipped with open note-book and pen poised at the ready, similar to a water-wading heron ready to strike some unsuspecting fish, trotted along behind the Officers to record the regimental number and name of any unfortunate miscreant who failed to meet the rigid standards. If a misdemeanour, however slight, was found it gave grounds for an on-the-spot chastisement, complete squad re-inspection about mid-afternoon or confinement to barracks for the entire weekend. Anyone sloppy enough to bring the slightest adverse remark or disciplinary action received the full weight of the squad's wrath. In the event the inspecting party left the barrack room with the hoped-for command, "84 Squad, break-off," pandemonium erupted and relaxation was enjoyed until the following Monday morning.
I made some quick observations too. Having come from a non-drinking family and being a non-drinker and non-smoker, I found the drinking that did take place very disturbing. I had many invitations to drink. When I refused, a bet would be made that I would be a drinker before training was completed. I took on every one and won every one -- but never collected on a single wager!
In that area a comment Father used to relate would always come to me, "Aye, I'm a teetotaller, and I've seen many fools that weren't." Repeatedly I would accompany my colleagues as they 'took to the bars and pubs' and on many occasions found it a humorous experience when moderation was present. In time I was appointed the 'banker' collecting in advance a chap's money for the night, then calling the curtain when his funds had run out. Usually the amounts were small, Constable wages being very modest in 1951. It was not long before my teetotal stand was accepted, a lifestyle I have held steadfastly to and one that on occasion called for some extra explanation when testifying in alcohol-related cases in court.
First Part terminated with exams. I was satisfied with my fourth out of 30 placing. Standing first was Bob Miles who joined directly upon high school graduation in Calgary. In second place was Walt Lloyd from Windsor, Ontario, one who spoke six languages and studied the least. Walt was one great chap. Third was my Sassenach bed-fellow, Johnny Entwhistle, our ex-RAF navigator.
We immediately launched into Part Two. With about three weeks underway we thought happily that we were to remain at Rockcliffe. By then it was into the second week of February, 1952. One evening as we were studying, reading, letter-writing and so forth, the Duty Corporal appeared unannounced. Everyone jumped to attention to stand at the foot of their bed, this being the requirement in training regardless of the state of dress, or more appropriately, undress! The Order was read: "Part Two Training will be undertaken at Depot Division, Regina. Assemble your kit and prepare for departure by train..." -- a date a few days later was given.
The appointed day found us under the supervision of one Sergeant bound for Ottawa's railway station. Our trip to Regina was underway. Somewhere on that journey my 21st birthday came and went.
Regina has a history of cold temperatures in February. However that one in 1952 seemed to surpass all others. 'Depot', as it is referred to, lies to the west of Regina proper. There was then about three-quarters of a mile of undeveloped land between the city limits and the start of the 590 acres within which the buildings of the training facility were located towards the land's east side. The buildings were in the form of a large square around an area one half nicely lawned, the other half acting as a parade square. Centrally positioned within the square was the flagpole. A wide, paved driveway surrounded the lot.
On the outside of the driveway were, from the north-east corner, first the Commanding Officer's house and then another Senior Officer's house. In the south-east corner stood the Crime Detection Laboratory and moving west, two recruit accommodation blocks and then the Chapel. Along the west boundary were buildings that housed the administration, the mess hall and another recruit accommodation block. The swimming pool and gymnasium occupied the north-west corner, then continuing east the blacksmith shop, the fire hall, other Officers' residences with the Officer's Mess completing the square back to the Commanding Officer's residence. On the outside of the square and on its north and west sides stood a mixture of buildings, homes for some Non-Commissioned Officers, a hospital room, the riding academy, the stables themselves complete with horses, and an assortment of army type buildings used for recruit accommodations. It was into this conglomeration we found ourselves in that mid-February night, cold, snowy and bleak. In keeping with Depot's squad classification we were designated 'C Squad', representing within the 13 squads then there the third to have assembled so far in 1952.
Photo caption: 'Depot' Division, Regina in May 1952. This is 'F' Block, our home, home, sweet, home.
Our accommodations were assigned. First we were scattered. About a dozen of us found ourselves in one of the buildings between the laboratory and the chapel. This building was old, evidenced by the slope of its floor. Those on the 'down' side actually slept with their heads where their feet were intended to be. When we scrubbed this floor, this being all but a daily routine, the 'scrubbers' would line up on their hands and knees facing uphill which was south. The 'bucket bearers' would throw the water westwards. Immediately hitting the floor the water would do a 90 turn and flow north, finding its way past scrubbing brushes and between the knees of the scrubbers. Being assured these were temporary quarters we found it laughable. That was, laughable until we found the condition of our new quarters, thankfully again temporary, into which we moved in about three weeks.
Here we were all together, now enlarged to number 32 with the addition of two chaps whose illness had caused them to drop back a squad. Thirty-two personalities cramped into limited space, not insulated and with an ill-fitting door that saw the snow drift in to a distance of six feet each night. First one to rise undertook to shovel the snow out. Once again assurances were given that this was only a temporary spot.
So we journeyed on. It was when in this block that my 21st birthday cake arrived from Mother's lifelong friend, Carrie Small in Dundee, Scotland. The cake was in a tin box with the lid soldered on. By a vote that passed 31 to one I had the box opened in the blacksmith shop, then returned to the welcome of 31 colleagues. The cake was cut into 32 pieces. A moment of weakness came and I decided it would only be proper to have a photograph to send back to Carrie Small. To get this I scrambled up on the rough, plywood shelf that ran along and above the heads of the beds. Aiming downwards I focused on the cake and a sea of 31 happy faces. The flash went -- and so did that cake, it went in its entirety. I only got a crumb. One learns in this life!
Photo caption: "When I wis 21!" Eating the cake from Scotland at a belated birthday clebration at 'Depot' Division, Regina, March 1952.
In about another three weeks we moved to our permanent space. This was in an old army style hut on the outside of the square's west side past the gymnasium. Again it was one long open space that housed the 32 of us. Not a single clothes closet did it have. Heating came from two small oil-burning heaters placed with precision in the centre of the floor. Ours was the centre hut of three parallel huts positioned east to west. A fourth hut was aligned north-south along the east of the three to act as entrance-way and washrooms.
Cleanliness and neatness as always were of paramount importance. We were now well into Part Two and becoming quite senior in the 13 squads then at Depot. But where do you keep clothes when no closet facilities for the purpose exist? Enter ingenuity -- broom handles placed across the rafters of the low-pitched roof. I often wonder what the janitorial staff thought when so many handleless broom heads appeared each morning!
But the real problem was heat, or more accurately the lack of it. March and into April brought temperatures as low as in February. 'Orders' were that the settings on the two little heaters had to be at '4'. We tried this. We froze. We slept in outdoor clothing, jackets, coats, whatever while uniforms ready for the next day dangled overhead from broomshafts, all of which were concealed below our beds before we left for early morning classes. We worked out a plan. If we had the option of freezing for the entire night or enjoying an element of comfort for the first few hours until the fuel ran out, why not the latter? So it was. Those little heaters were set at the maximum '7'. We had some comfort until just after midnight, then with the knowledge the fuel would soon be gone, it was into the outdoor clothing, get to sleep and waken to a temperature on the inside that vied with the cold of the outside.
Winter finally gave way to spring. The studies progressed. Of all the studies I found those about scenes of crime, evidence gathering and preservation, interviewing and interrogation, memory and observation the most interesting. Boxing, of course, intensified. But at Depot weight was pitted against weight. I still felt each part of an opponent's glove but I found I could face it much better.
Then came one fateful day, the day Father's advice momentarily left me. We had four left-handers, south-paws of the finest order. They were paired at Depot for boxing. But on this day one leftie was absent. The instructor called for a volunteer. There were no takers. The challenger waited in the ring, none other than Eddie Cadenhead from New Westminster. Eddie stood grinning. The instructor emphasized the need, he cajoled, he explained. Still no takers.
"Look," he finally said, "it will be good experience because out on those streets you will certainly meet up with left-handers."
That sounded wise. That did it -- sanity left me. I entered the ring. I remember hearing the cheers. I remember better the pummelling I took from that fight. I just could not break from my right-handed stance and defend against all that leather that came to me from the 'wrong' side. Even today bells have a sound of mercy for me.
It was the same Eddie Cadenhead who came up with the perfect scam when we were at Regina. One of the routine duties was to rise at about five-thirty in the morning to walk to the stables to feed, groom and water the horses, not one of life's greatest pleasures in sub-zero weather. Within a couple of weeks of our arrival Eddie announced he had succeeded in convincing a pretty little stenographer who worked in the administration office that Cadenhead company was a most desirable thing. As the greatest of good fortune would have it, this pretty little stenographer was the one who prepared the duty roster that rotated those early morning stable duties among the 13 squads. Not only that, but this same pretty little stenographer agreed that the desirable Cadenhead hulk should never be so inconvenienced or be so shabbily treated by having to undertake such mundane tasks. In return this pretty little stenographer required a weekly regeneration of her visionary code of ethics, the rights and wrongs of life, specifically to overlook the former.
This, Eddie assured us, could only be confirmed by a weekly date to some suitable entertainment spot in the fair city of Regina. By deft planning on Eddie's part, the 'date' always fell on clean-up night -- and Eddie was always broke! And so, every week, 31 wax- and suds-soaked hands would deposit into the palm of one of Eddie's outstretched hands a suitable volume of cash, simply to give assurance that early morning stable work would not come C Squad's way. Eddie's railing about his romantic-cum-duty evenings out was only tolerated by the fact that in the entire time we were at Regina, only twice did we get early morning stable duty, and one of those times was before Eddie made his acquaintance with that stenographer. One wonders what path her life took or if she ever harkens back to her preparation of the stable duty schedule which caused our whole squad to secretly adore her?
During my time in Regina I trained with the Regina City Soccer Club. Two days before our first league game which was scheduled against Moose Jaw, I was stopped by the Force on the grounds any injury would not be covered by insurance. Also, the Force wanted a soccer team started at Depot. The continual progression of graduations, one about every two to three weeks, made my involvement with any team at Depot impossible. I never got one started.
Again exams completed our Part Two period. Bob Miles held his top spot and Walt Lloyd remained in second spot. I closed in on Johnnie Entwhistle in a tie for third. This over, we prepared ourselves for equitation. But then came two unusual events. The first was a new Training Officer who discovered that many recruits having completed the academic training left the Force during equitation. His view was that equitation should be the first part of all training so that the weeding out would take place before the taxpayer paid wages for six or eight months, only to get no return on the investment. Therefore the training schedule was amended with the notice that we would not undergo equitation but could volunteer to return for it at some later date if interest prompted us to do so.
The second thing was filming of the 20th Century Fox movie Pony Soldier. Scenes for this were shot at Depot. As the senior squad we were chosen for the film. The initial excitement soon wore thin. On the first day we got up, polished and went to the parade square, only to find the clouds incorrect. The next day we polished and returned, only to find the sun or some other atmospheric aberration was not right. This went on daily for two weeks. Finally all conditions were perfect -- and if you see the film we are all but unrecognizable throughout the 10 to 15 seconds our squad marches across the camera's lens!
As was the custom, one day prior to leaving Depot the graduating squad gives a drill and gymnastic display. Citizens from Regina, tourists and members' families often attend. We were proud of our display all done outdoors under a fine Saskatchewan sun, no hitches, no lost hats or dropped rifles, physical condition well demonstrated. Finishing that there was the farewell gathering in the mess hall where postings were announced. With our large number from B.C., many hoped for western provinces, my own preference being Alberta. I was assigned to Manitoba with five others, two of whom, Walt Lloyd and Shorty Nielsen from Warner, Alberta were by then close friends of mine. Departure date was June 6th, 1952.
Photo caption: 84 Squad training at 'N' Division, Dec. 1951. Backrow left to right: Bud Abrassart, Edmonton; Eddie Cadenhead, Vancouver; Wayne Bissaillion, Montreal; Ross Elliott, Edmonton; John Entwhistle, Montreal; Gus Gawthrop, Victoria; Paul Drescher, Lulu Island; Dave Bush, Montreal; T.M. Gardiner, Langley Prairie. Kneeling: Ronnie Crevier, Montreal; Roland Cobley, Winnipeg; Rudy Brytus, Athabaska; Garry Bockborough, Winnipeg; Al Brasnett, Jasper and Vancouver
Our group scattered from that parade square in Regina, many of whom I would never see or hear from again. But now real police work lay immediately ahead -- as did my back-up plan to rejoin my brother Dougal in British Columbia, contemplating a 'Discharge by Purchase' which would cost me five dollars for each month remaining in my five-year contract.
Copyright 2010, T.M. Gardiner
Read an excerpt: Chapter Seven: The Bank Robbery.