Looking Back – Retired Major Thomas Jamieson Quirk

Thomas Jamison




Veteran Windy Gale has provided his transcription of the Looking Back article which appeared in the 63rd edition of the Vancouver Division’s Scarlet & Gold magazine (1981).





Noted article below was written by Major Thomas Jamieson Quirk (Reg.#11951) who served from 1932 to 1939.  At the outbreak of World War II, he resigned from the Force to join the Canadian Scottish Regiment and was shortly thereafter received a commission in the Artillery.  He would later transfer to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and was involved in the “D-Day invasion.  Jamieson was later transferred to the Canadian Provost Corps.  After the end of the war, he remained with the Provost Corps to command several different military prisons in Canada until his discharge in 1950.  On May 5, 1999, Jamison passed away in Vancouver, B.C.

The writer engaged in the RCMP 15 December 1932 under my stepfather’s name Cameron, which I dropped some years later. I had recently returned from a lengthy sojourn on a small jungle island about 500 miles west of Columbia, South America and a month or so prior to my enlistment a gaggle of would-be recruits had gathered at HQ. “E” Division, Fairmont Barracks, Vancouver, B.C, to write the entrance examinations. Those who met the requirements and were physically acceptable were taken on strength over the next few weeks. At that time candidates from Alberta and British Columbia took their initial training here hence all our class were from those provinces.

1935 - Photograph of the RCMP Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver, B.C.

1935 – Photograph of the RCMP Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver, B.C.


It is interesting to note that the weight limit for a recruit was 175 lbs -with regard no doubt to the comfort of the horse with whom he would soon become intimately acquainted. A strict military haircut was the rule – “Short up the sides and back” and this meant short. Ideally when wearing headgear no hair should be visible.

   The Force was then traditionally a quasi-military organization and commissioned officers held an honorary army rank by authority of King’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Militia 1917, starting with an inspector who was for his first five years in rank a lieutenant. Thus the commanding officer of “E” Division, Superintendent (later Commissioner) S.T. Wood held also the rank of major. For a time there were sub-inspectors who wore the rank badge (one star) of a 2nd lieutenant. The Commissioner of the RCMP was Major General Sir. James H. MacBrien, a former regular army officer who had been Chief of the General Staff, a very distinguished soldier and a one time constable in the force.

     As the RCMP was at that period a mounted force a recruit was in effect a cavalry trooper who lived and trained in that capacity in addition to learning how to be a policeman. A man with prior military service was given preference for enlistment. Once he had taken the oath of office and the oath of allegiance, a Constable 3rd class led a Spartan existence paced by trumpet calls throughout the day commencing when the duty trumpeter sounded reveille at 6.30 a.m. (15 Nov to 15 Feb) or 6.00 a.m. (16 Feb to 14 Nov) which was followed in half an hour by stable parade lasting for an hour during which time the “dunging out” procedure and the feeding and grooming of the horses was carried out. A very hasty breakfast before changing into boots and breeches and all ranks were off to saddle up and get on parade, usually inspected by the riding master, Sergeant (later Staff- Sergeant) J.H. “Jockey” Jones (Reg.#9205), an Irishman despite his Welsh name and a decorated old cavalryman. (Jockey had previously served in the South African British Yeomanry and in World War I with the Roay Canadian Dragoon – where are received the Military Medal & the Distinguish Cross Medal).

     Jockey was a short-fused old martinet but he was fair, and albeit if somewhat feared he was respected. If a luckless trooper failed to meet his standard of dress and cleanliness, including his mount he was wont to roar “I’ve seen a man ten days in the line look better than you!” There were three regular troops and I recall that my first troop was No. 3 which was given an obscene connotation indicating that it was at the very bottom of the social scale. I had earned this unhappy state by having been so indiscreet as to criticize my riding instructor, Corporal Fairman, in some trivial manner, but the word got back to him and I was for it.

Photograph - An isolated Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver – a far cry from today! Note the stables on the left (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph – An isolated Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver – a far cry from today! Note the stables on the left (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

     For this I was awarded what was without a doubt the most horrible example of the equine species in existence, a horse by the name of “Spasm”. To be mounted on this beast was assuredly akin to “riding the rail”. He had unquestionably the roughest, most uneven, jolting, back-wrenching gait of any four footed animal alive. In addition to this he had an utterly foul disposition. He was a crowder, a biter and a kicker and the only horse I can recall who was also a “cow-kicker” who could lash out with a wicked swipe from just about any direction. For years I carried a scar under one arm where he had scored with a vicious bite, and any one who has suffered a horse bite knows that this is a most excruciatingly painful experience. Not only was Spasm as mean as a cactus, he was as well almost unbelievably filthy in his personal habits. He loved to defecate, urinate, and then to lie in this mess with the result that getting him cleaned up in the morning to pass inspection was a Herculean task.

     We were expressly forbidden to use a curry comb to remove the worst of the dried up debris on the horse’s belly and Spasm simply loathed being touched by the stiff bristled “dandy-brush” – which he made explicitly clear. Consequently every morning was a battle of nerve and wits between this incorrigible critter and myself. Happily after three months or so I was restored to grace, promoted to No. 1 Troop and given a good horse.

RCMP Rough Rider

Photograph of the RCMP trade badge “rough rider”.

     Corporal “Charlie” Fairman (Reg.#9520) was a veteran of the Royal Horse Artillery who wore the 1914-15(18?) star and above the two chevrons on his right arm the spur insignia of the “Rough Rider” a distinction held by very few in the Force. He was, I consider, the finest horseman I have ever known and an excellent riding instructor to whom I have always felt indebted. He was also not a man to carry a grudge. Years ago I found in a drug store post card rack a fine colour photo of Corporal Rough Rider Fairman mounted on his beautiful black mare “Lady” and to this day that framed photo has a prominent place in my home.

Photograph of Physical Training at the RCMP Fairmount Training in Vancouver, B.C.

Photograph of Physical Training at the RCMP Fairmount Training in Vancouver, B.C.

     The daily routine of the barracks was riding in the morning, stable parade again, foot drill, physical training and lectures in the afternoon followed by the final stable parade. The chief drill and P.T, instructor was attached from the army (as was done in post World War Il years when P.T., drill and musketry N.C.O. instructors were attached from the Canadian Provost Corps, Regular Army, to the RCMP Depot division at Regina). Our instructor was the famous (some might say notorious) Sergeant S. Pink, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. “Pinkie” was a lovable rascal and a typical regular army N.C.O. of the old school who knew every dodge and angle there was. A small, barrel-chested man of impeccable military appearance with his stick tucked under his arm, his buttons and brass gleaming and his boots reflecting the light like a mirror. This not withstanding his claim that when he came from his native Ireland to join the British army in the First World War that “it took three men to get boots on me!” He was a first class drill and physical training instructor – with a matchless vocabulary. One of his favourite albeit less colourful appellations was, “Dog’s body!” followed by “You horrible man!” directed to some hapless recruit. None the less the lads loved it and he had the devotion of us all.

     Pinkie had a terrific personality and he was the only N.C.O. who could join the boys in the old Hotel Georgia tavern on a pay night and still retain his authority and respect. In those days a glass of beer cost ten cents and it was the custom for each man to throw in his dime for another round. If there were ten in the party Pinkie would count the dimes and then exclaim with great indignation, “There’s only nine dimes here — some s.o.b. hasn’t paid!” One of us would then without question toss in another ten cents amidst much hilarity. It should be noted that he was never addressed as anything but “Sergeant Pink”. The next day in his P.T. class looking trim and fit he would give us his usual proficient demonstration on the parallel bars after which he would invite us all to a “Cheap drunk” – i.e. multi forward head rolls (or somersaults which was met with agonizing groans from the hung-over assembly and the Machiavellian taunts of the good sergeant.

Photograph of a RCMP Mounted Troop at Fairmont Barracks.

Photograph of a RCMP Mounted Troop at Fairmont Barracks.

     The various RCMP riding and drill instructors were all good sorts and well liked but could not, and did not, fraternize with the troops off parade in accordance with good military protocol nor were they ever spoken to without the prefix of their rank. A lance corporal or corporal was “Corpora|” and a sergeant was “Sergeant” and this rule never varied. Which is not to say that they did not have nick-names as most of them had, but they were reserved for the barrack rooms. Our division sergeant major “Watty” Watson was a strict disciplinarian who when harangueing the wretched recruits regarding the diverse rules and regulations was inclined to bellow in conclusion “And if you don’t like it – there’s the gate!” pointing with his crop to the main entrance of the barracks. But withal he was a good hearted soul and I think held in general affection.

It is not possible to mention every “E” Division type but one who stands out in my memory is Sergeant (later Sgt. Major) Bill Stevens (Reg.#10229), a very tall soldierly figure and a superb horseman who taught us by way of a change the “Italian” (or forward) seat. He was a gentlemanly sort with a quiet sense of humour. Another was Sergeant W.C. (Bill) Grennan (Reg.#4810) who lectured on various subjects including the “History of the Force” for which he was well qualified having served throughout Western Canada including Fort Churchill and the Yukon Territory from the year 1908 when he joined the Force — at a pay rate of 60cents per day. He had as a consequence many interesting anecdotes of the early days. Bill Grennan was promoted to commissioned rank in 1935 and as Inspector was sent to Hollywood California as technical advisor for the filming of the musical “Rose Marie” starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, part of which incidentally was made in Vancouver and North Vancouver with the whole mounted division acting as extras for many riding scenes.

     In his younger days Inspector Grennan was a member of the RNWMP mounted detachment which attended the Coronation of H.M. King George V in 1911 and later as a volunteer for the RNWMP cavalry draft served in France during the closing days of the First World War with the Canadian Light Horse which was at Mons when the war ended. Returning to England he was with the mounted cortege at the funeral of Sir Sam Steele in 1919. During the visit of H.M. King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth to the RCMP Depot at Regina in 1939, Inspector Grennan commanded the Mounted Escort and at that time the Queen requested a photograph of the inspector which was duly taken and a fine equestrian photo was presented to Her Majesty. When interviewing Inspector Grennan for the Calgary Mounted Police archives in 1979, he spoke of the many colourful characters he had known in the Force including the Crown Prince of Belgium and some of the aristocracy of Great Britain and Germany. He was then in his 90th year still clear headed, straight and tall.

     We were in our recruit class not entirely without our own quota of “Remittance men” and “Gentlemen rankers” from the United Kingdom, and a wide variety of adventurers who had sailed the oceans or broken horses in Alberta plus quite a high percentage of university men from Canada or the U.K. and former army officers of the Commonwealth, all welded into what we were frequently reminded was the lowest species of humanity – the recruit.

     The uniform of that day was more colourful than it is now. Every constable was issued with a riding crop which he carried with him at all times. With his boots and spurs, Stetson hat and double breasted blue pea jacket (no longer issued) the mounted policeman was indeed a dashing figure. The riding crop was officially designated as a “Baton, dismounted” with a leather loop at one end, a five or six inch Turk’s Head at the other and if need be, could be a formidable weapon. The privilege of wearing spurs came only with graduation from the riding school and they were worn with a great deal of pride.

    Two of our officers were Inspectors Fish and Fowell, their juxtaposition a source of some speculation. Both were good types and well thought of by the troops. Another pair who sometimes knocked one back together was the aforementioned Sergeant Pink and Constable Denis Lavender who were delighted to truthfully introduce themselves as “Pink and Lavender”. Of our class I think of three who made a career in the Force and were eventually commissioned – Inspector Reg Whittaker a very tall skyscraper of a man, now retired in Victoria; Superintendent Joe Atherton of Vancouver who saw himself rise to occupy the same office occupied by our first Commanding Officer, Superintendent S.T. Wood; and Superintendent H.C. (Chris) Forbes now living in Kelowna. Forbes served overseas in World War II from the start with No. 1 Company (RCMP) Canadian Provost Corps and before leaving the army had attained the rank of Major and APM 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.

     Life for a recruit was not easy. On the night he was detailed for guard duty (Night Guard) he mounted at 4.30 p.m. and was on duty until 6.30 a.m. the following day without a break. If he took time for breakfast he got to bed about 7.30 a.m. and was up again before noon getting cleaned up for the afternoon parade after lunch, hence he was lucky to get about four hours sleep after 24 hours on his feet. If he drew a Friday night guard he was not permitted to go to bed at all due to the Saturday morning inspection; the theory was it seems that a weekly “Stand·to-your-bed” inspection would be seriously disrupted by the horrid sight of one man in a 20-bed barrack room asleep in his iron cot. He was of course free to go to bed on Saturday afternoon. Speaking of beds I well remember as a recruit being advised to get some baling wire from the stables to repair my bed, a chain link affair, lest I fall right through it on to the floor. We had then considerable old army surplus I suspect. I know my mattress had the army ordinance mark on it (an arrow inside the letter C) and it was clearly dated 1915.

     A week-end pass which was rarely given, was from 1.30 p.m. Saturday until lights out at 10.30 p.m. Sunday. Otherwise a constable had to be in barracks and in bed at 10.30 p.m. every night with the exception of Saturday night when he was allowed out till midnight (23.59 hrs). This made it rather difficult to take a girl to a dance as one had either to take the poor girl home very early in the evening or hand her over to a friend before departing. This monastic life did accomplish one thing though. When the day finally came months later when the lad was away to a police detachment, no matter how long the hours or arduous the task it was no problem – and the freedom was wonderful!

     Annual leave did not exist. “No leave is to be granted to N.C. Officers or Constables without some apparent necessity for it” (Rules and Regulations, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Sec 528, 1928.) It was not completely impossible however and I think that in the better part of eight years service I did get perhaps, a total of 14 days leave. Only single men were enlisted but theoretically after 6 1/2 years a member of the force could apply for permission to marry. This submission was by no means granted automatically, but if it was, then the constable was crowding 29 years of age as the minimum joining age was 21. Of those who remained in the service of my group I would estimate that those who eventually married were probably about 35 years of age at the time. If a constable’s intended bride was found to be a fit person to occupy government quarters and he was duly married, he then received a marriage allowance of $20.00 per month. These rules did not apply to personnel serving in “A” Division, Ottawa, who were static and a take-over from the old Dominion Police.

     The pay of a 3rd class Constable was $1.50 per day for the first six months after which having passed the requisite examinations he became a Constable 2nd class with $1.75 per day. One year later on promotion to Constable lst class he received $2.00 per day and thereafter his pay was increased by 5cents per day per year for a maximum of five years when he was then drawing $2.25 per day, the top salary for a Constable lst class.

     The routine in “E” Division stressed physical fitness and horsemanship (more about this later), proficiency with rifle and revolver, mounted and dismounted drill in addition to lectures on the History of the Force, the Criminal Code, the Federal Statutes, Veterinary Science and very considerable study of subversive elements in Canada. Boxing was the principal P.T. activity apart from horse and bar work and other gymnastics and as well, Japanese instructors taught the rudiments of judo in which, if so desired, a man could specialize and some went on to obtain high qualifications in this art. One of these was Constable “Happy” Glanville who eventually held the “Black Belt” degree, the highest awarded.

  Boxing was a sort of legalized mayhem in which participants were encouraged to “mix it up” and any man who showed a disinclination to do so was subject to a scorching denunciation re his personal habits and character. One such was “Pinkie’s” withering observation to the effect that “You couldn’t pull a drunken sailor off my sister – get with it man!” (It was never ascertained as to whether Pinkie had in fact a sister or not.) On occasion a Friday night boxing card was staged with the C.O. and officers in attendance. Usually a somewhat gory event where often-times a lack of finesse was more than made up for by the enthusiasm of the gladiators. I well recall many bouts I had with a fellow trooper about my own weight, Constable Bill Graham who was a close associate and the soul of kindness and good fellowship – but in the ring he was a killer with one objective only, – to destroy the enemy. No doubt this is how Bill earned his nickname, “Hog Wild and Stone Blind Graham.” (If wakened from a sound sleep he was apt to come out swinging!)

   For one who liked horses as most of us did the daily ride was a strenuous exercise but a lot of fun where in addition to much cavalry drill there was jumping, vaulting and tent-pegging with a lance or sword. On one occasion, the writer whilst engaged in this latter sport had just reached the peg and was consequently leaning over as close to the ground as possible, sword in hand when the galloping horse was startled by a wind blown leaf causing him to make a sudden sharp turn to the left whereas I continued straight ahead hitting the hard packed ground like the proverbial ton of bricks. Having staggered to my feet and retrieved my sword, Staff Sergeant Jones came galloping up and asked if I was alright, which I was, but being completely winded was unable to answer for a while. Such mishaps occurred occasionally and I feel I must have been particularly lucky as another time my horse, his feet balled with wet clay, slipped on a curve and came down but again I escaped without injury.

     Of course others had narrow squeaks. Once the horse ridden by Constable Johnny Piper did a “sunfish” – i.e. landed on his back with Johnny aboard; however here again the rider received only minor bruises and abrasions. Another time Constable “Bunny” Lockhart got the tail end of a flying hoof which grazed his forehead although a fraction of an inch closer would have very probably been fatal. The next day though, Lockhart had two beautiful black eyes.

     Jumping, we learned the hard way, with reins tied, stirrups crossed and arms folded which meant that one was forced to use the knees with utmost vigour, to balance properly and to lean well forward at the right moment. Otherwise it meant an ignominious tumble for the unfortunate rider and the scorn of the instructor. The bar jumps were fine but the brush jumps were best with less likelihood of a crash. Vaulting was done either with a vaulting surcingle when the dress was trousers and gym shoes and no headgear, or wearing boots and spurs, and a regular saddle was used.   The latter was much heavier going as one had to clear the cantle with the near or off leg, or come to grief, and the sweat running down from under the Stetson into the eyes was no joy either. “E” Division sent two Musical Rides to the Portland Rose Show and Horse Show in the l930’s where the overwhelming hospitality of our hosts was something long to be remembered.

     Altogether our training was varied and thorough and the hours of cavalry drill with sword, lance, rifle or mounted baton undoubtedly produced a high standard of proficiency as did the foot and rifle drill and the use of the Smith & Wesson or Colt .45 revolver. One manoeuvre instituted by Sergeant Pink was certainly impressive. To a body of men on the march the command was given “Pile Arms!” upon which the squad came to a halt and without further orders proceeded to go through the entire drill for the lengthy and somewhat complicated sequence of piling arms – all without a word from the instructor.

During the troubles in the mid thirties two or three mounted troops were at times sent into town for the purpose, of dispersing large crowds and keeping order. I recall one such occasion when, a mob estimated at 5000 was gathered on the old Cambie Street grounds then used as a soccer field for the “Wednesday League”, and as a parade ground for the nearby Militia units from the adjacent Beatty Street Armoury. (It is now the B.C. Hydro bus terminal.) We were, equipped with steel helmets and greased mounted batons, albeit the latter were never put to use. Our job was simply to break up an unwieldy and boisterous assembly, which was done without violence.

     Prior to 1950 the RCMP in British Columbia enforced the federal statutes, the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act, Customs and Excise Act, Railway Act, Indian Act and so on but when called upon by the B.C. Provincial Police, assistance was given. On my first detachment duty at Kamloops I accompanied Constable Giles who had considerable previous experience, but after a few weeks was reassigned to another duty, hence I took over the detachment with one man and at times three other men. Austerity was the rule in those Depression times and when I asked for a typewriter or authority to rent one I was told that as my detachment was not a permanent one there was no establishment for a typewriter. In other words it was my problem. So I rented a machine from the Plaza Hotel where we were quartered, for $3.00 per month – at my own expense. Crime reports were submitted in five or six copies and I often wondered what happened to the bottom three copies which were surely all but illegible.

     We were at first given a meal allowance of $1.50 per day later reduced to $1.00. On the only inspection trip made by the Officer Commanding “E” Division at that time, Assistant Commissioner R.L. Cadiz, the usual question was asked, “Any complaints?” I replied to the effect that we could not possibly eat three meals a day on one dollar, to which he answered “Then try eating two meals a day”. Such was “man-management” in those days!

     After about 15 months at Kamloops the detachment was closed and later I was at Hope B.C. for a few months, however, I wanted to get some experience with the criminal code and provincial statutes, consequently when I heard that a special mounted detail was being formed at Regina, I requested a transfer at my own expense. I felt strongly that I was missing something in not having seen duty at the “Depot” division of the Force. I was granted my request but somehow I am inclined to think that I was the only man in the history of the Mounted Police who ever paid his own way to Regina!

Photograph of RNWMP "Depot" barracks in Regina (Source of photo - Ric Hall).

Photograph of RNWMP “Depot” barracks in Regina (Source of photo – Ric Hall).

     When I got there I found that the special fancy riding school I had fondly envisioned was nothing more than a barrack room rumour, hence I spent many months exercising horses (ride one, lead three) or as a member of one of the troops carrying out the same routine we had had in “E” Division H.Q. Incidentally that exercising of horses as noted above could be a very tricky business in freezing weather with one’s hands getting close to complete numbness and the four-footed friends eagerly awaiting the chance to break away which, when they did, meant a search party across the endless snow driven prairie. Regina was boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter and I well remember the anxiously awaited order to get out of the leather “Strathcona” boots into moccasins for mounted duty.

     The depot had no recreational facilities whatever and at times it was so cold at nights that we went to bed wearing our woollen stable “tukes”. I am reasonably sure that I went through a bout of pneumonia that winter but the sick bay was such an unpleasant prospect that I remained on duty, desperately ill as I felt. The food at Regina was notoriously unpalatable as I am very sure any former denizen of the depot barracks at that time will testify. On one occasion a mass boycott of the noon meal was organized which resulted in an inquiry, but brought no improvement. At mid day the canteen in old “C” Block did a thriving trade and anyone who could scrape together the wherewithal purchased a pint of milk and something like “pigs-in-a-blanket” brought in by local women, thus skipping the mess hall entirely. Despite the terrible climate – 30 to 50 degrees below zero for weeks at a time my memories of the depot are not at all bad.

     Encouraged by the C.O., Superintendent C.H. Hill, M.C., we had a flourishing rugby team which commenced play as soon as the snow disappeared, and we had some great games usually against Regina sides or in Moose Jaw. We were greatly assisted in our efforts by Captain F.J. Rowan, president of the Saskatchewan Rugby Football Union and a number of us played for the Saskatchewan Representative team as the RCMP fifteen had won the provincial title. We lost the inter-provincial game against Manitoba at Winnipeg but it was a grand trip. Our rugby captain at the depot was Jimmy Robinson a former noted player in Northern Ireland. He was a line playing coach and a keen leader who was to remain in the depot for many years where he attained a prominent position with the RCMP Crime Laboratory. I also recall the boxing instructor, Jim Coughlin a middleweight who had held many Canadian titles and who like Robinson was by nature and instinct a gentleman.

   Later in the summer of l937 we rode off to Lumsden for a week long mounted training camp under command of Inspector Cooper, M.C. with Sergeant “Cec” Walker, both old cavalrymen and decent sorts. The ground was rock hard and we ruined a lot of tent pegs trying to hammer them into the concrete-like terrain when we put up our bell tents. None the less we enjoyed our visit to this lovely oasis and it was a pleasant break from the usual barracks routine and riding about the hills and hollows of the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley “dismounting for action” trusty rifle in hand, horses tethered nose to croup, was-good fun.

     In the summer we could get into town now and then but in winter a trip to the city was at times more like an Arctic expedition. The trolleys had a small coal-burning stove at one end and so this was not too bad, however the walk from the end of the line back to barracks was something else but by pulling a woollen mask over the face one could manage. More often we did not venture out at night, partly due to the bitter cold weather but more likely because of a lack of funds hence we stayed in the barrack room. As no tables or chairs were issued we improvised i.e. most of us had a few boards joined together which made a writing desk when placed on the bed and by pulling out a trunk or barrack box for a seat one could study or write letters. Some of us subscribed to the Regina Leader·Post and my own evening practise was to sit on my bed, smoke my one cigar of the day and read this excellent newspaper (which had a particularly good week-end edition). That and listening to the radio was the routine procedure but occasionally on a Saturday night we would round up as much cash as we could between us and send out for some cheap wine, and beer delivered by taxi and have us in our remote second storey barrack room what might be described as a relaxing soiree.

     As in “E” Division there were the usual extra duties, Night Guard, Stable Orderly and Mess Orderly. The latter was a welcome break in freezing weather as it meant a day spent in the warmth of the kitchen washing mountains of dishes or “Pearl-diving” as it was called, sweeping up the mess hall or mopping the wooden tables after meals, not too arduous really and the uniform was fatigue pants and shin sleeves. Another assignment much sought after was to be detailed on morning stable parade to break off and sweep up the Sergeant’s mess – a warm inside job followed by a cup or two of coffee. Cushy indeed!

     As in other divisions the occasional dance in the gymnasium was always a happy affair with every man wearing his best scarlet tunic and tight fitting blue “overalls” duly impressing the young lady guests, or so we hoped. The routine was hard but high spirits prevailed and at times may have got a trifle unregimental but very discreetly so. There was an old custom at the depot rarely affected however, called “Horse-troughing” which consisted of seizing a man from his bed in the middle of the night and conveying him bodily to an outdoor horse trough where he was then dumped into the icy water. The conspirators then beat a hasty retreat to their barrack rooms. This punitive exercise was reserved for any individual who was considered a “real stinker”. I recall only one such incident when the victim was a decidedly unpopular lance corporal who had I consider earned the treatment.

   No narration concerning the Depot Division would be complete without mentioning Tim Griffin, Corps Sergeant Major of the Force. Tim was an institution himself known to generations of mounted policemen as the somewhat irascible old martinet of the riding school. None the less he had a droll sense of humour and a human side which he attempted to conceal, not always successfully. He loved animals and the numerous stable cats were his pride and joy. Quite unwittingly I got into his good graces by bringing extra rations from the mess hall to a cat and kittens when on stable orderly duty and it was not until long after I learned the reason for Tim’s unseemly cordiality. The procedure on the morning ride was for the men who had regular horses to saddle up and be ready to get on parade. Those of us not lucky enough to have a horse were eventually detailed to go to No. 4 Stable, an ancient edifice dating, I am sure, well back to the previous century, and there to take his pick.

   First however it was necessary in winter time to grab an axe handle and break the ice on the surcingle buckle to get at the saddle which, as it was stored in a freezing cold room, had a snow white coat of frost on it. The next thing was to hammer the caulks into the horse shoes which was often impeded by the fact that all shoes did not always take the same size caulk hence by the time the luckless trooper got going he was dead certain to be late on parade and subject to the sulfurous recriminations of Sergeant Major Griffin. In the jumping lane known as “Suicide Alley” the usual procedure of jumping with crossed stirrups and reins tied was often carried out with Tim watching from the side lines. Any man so craven as to “pull leather” (i.e. grab the pommel) risked having large clumps of turf hurled at him as he attempted to stay mounted —and his name was mud as well!

     The Depot Sergeant Major was E.O. Taylor (who later retired to pension as a magistrate at Banff) and the chief Physical Training instructor was Sergeant (later Inspector) H. Robertson who came to the Force from the Gordon Highlanders, British Regular Army. “Robbie” was an expert in his line with the ability to vary the monotony of routine, one of which was to build a human pyramid three “stories” high. When Robbie blew his whistle the entire structure collapsed every man dropping to the ground. It was really quite spectacular. The drill instructors were Sergeant “Fred” Whitehead, a real character and a Boer War veteran with a delightful old soldier’s parade ground patter, Corporal Griffith, late Brigade of Guards, and Corporal Fell, MC, another old soldier with a distinguished military background; all of them first rate instructors.

     Eventually I was posted to “N” Division, Rockcliffe, Ontario in charge of a nine-man draft. The morning of our departure we were paraded before the C.O. (who had succeeded Supt. Hill). This worthy was inclined to pontificate on various subjects and on this occasion he was almost outdoing himself at some length before his captive audience. Standing next to me elbow to elbow was a particular friend of mine who with fiendish design would give me a subtle nudge after each profundity. As we had often mimicked such utterances in the barrack room this was not lost on me with the result that I had an almost irresistible urge to burst out laughing and it was only with superhuman effort I was able to control this dreadful impulse. Had I not managed to do so I shudder to think of my fate.

     The dastardly instigator of this near calamity was Constable Reg.Taylor who later went overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers and was eventually commissioned in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. Reg, who will be remembered by many in the Force, joined the regular army in post war, retiring with the rank of captain after which he became an Anglican clergyman.

     Rockcliffe was like Vancouver and Regina, a mounted training centre and here the routine was much the same. The morning we arrived we had risen early on the train and dutifully spent a lengthy time shining buttons, riding boots and brass so that when we eventually presented ourselves before the Division Sergeant Major, (S.M. Clifford, affectionately known as “The Bull of the Woods”) we felt we might even be complimented on our smart appearance. It was a bit of a let down then after having been inspected by the S.M. to be told, “Go and clean yourselves up” or words to that effect, prior to being paraded before the Commanding Officer. It must be said in fairness that Clifford was a typical sergeant major but really quite unbiased.

     The C.O. would not grant a pass to anyone planning to spend it in Ottawa hence the drill was to request a pass to Aylmer or some other such place. He was a keen pigeon fancier, consequently a Constable ostensibly heading for some small town would be handed a pigeon or two in a cage with instructions to release them at a certain time. The C.O. must have been impressed by the amazing times some of these birds made – having been released from a hotel window in downtown Ottawa.

     I had paraded before the Commanding Officer requesting that I not be transferred further East due to the fact that my mother in Vancouver was not in good health at the time but was informed that the Force was not interested in my personal problems. Shortly after I was posted to Prince Edward Island, first to Charlottetown and then to Montague. The officer in command of “L” Division (P.E.I.) was Inspector “Jimmy” Fripps, a gentleman and a fine policeman. It was a pleasure to serve under a man with so much common sense and the ability to see the humour in some situations.

     Montague was a typical maritime small town of about a thousand souls with a Roman Catholic church, a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a United and one called, I think, The Church of Christ and they certainly appeared to live together in harmony, just about everyone seemed to attend all the church suppers – and they were well worth attending. I was billeted in the McDonald Hotel with the other member of the RCMP detachment where we lived like kings for $8.00 per week room and board.

     There was another good country hotel, The Poole, where we could have stayed for less, $6.50 per week I believe it was but we had no complaints and the McDonalds were wonderful people. I could not get used to the tremendous meals however – the best of everything and that in abundance. I tried to watch my intake but in time my weight zoomed up to 200 lbs from my usual 170. Those were Depression times in which some lived very well but it was sad to see so much really grinding poverty in the countryside. I was often in homes on a routine search for moonshine or other contraband when it was appalling to see some families with almost no food in the house and in some cases sleeping on gunny sacks, there being no beds and very little other furniture. Obviously our duties rarely took us in to the better homes and assuredly these conditions did not prevail in the houses of the people I knew socially, very much to the contrary.

   In the McDonald, a small hotel, they employed three charming little country girls who kept the place in an almost sterile state of cleanliness (in contrast to some homes where the cobwebs festooning the ceilings looked to have been hanging there for generations). In addition to a scrupulously high standard of living, the McDonald had a warm friendly atmosphere and guests, and staff, were all regarded as part of the family, and indeed a very happy one.

     The principal social events were weddings, funerals, wakes, country style dancing, fiddling contests, lobster festivals, trotting races, pre-election meetings and election day hi-jinks. The province was then under total prohibition apart from government liquor stores where spirits, wine and beer could be purchased on presentation of a note or “script” as it was called from a medical or dental practitioner. However rum-running and moonshining were (in some circles) cottage industries and there was no shortage of either commodity. At weddings there was always a big celebration following the nuptials which invariably seemed to lead to a call to the police in the early hours of the morning. The same could be said for wakes and election night festivities. Not too many owned automobiles, television had not arrived, and there were few radios, consequently there was quite a high degree of isolation in the countryside, Someone from a village a few miles away was referred to as a “foreigner” or from “foreign parts” which could also mean inhabitants of another province.

Possibly this could account for the variety of religious cults some of which could be described as somewhat unorthodox. On one occasion in the dead of winter a call came from some thirty miles away concerning the tragic death of a farmer. This unfortunate man, a member of a rather bizarre sect, had it seemed fantasized himself as ascending Heavenward in a pillar of flame which he attempted to accomplish by going out to his large barn to which he set fire having, it appeared, first cut his throat. In the ashes adjacent to what little remained of him, an open straight-edge razor was found.

     Lest a wrong impression be given it must be said that there were many facets to rural life other than the sordid which necessarily came to the attention of the police. P.E.I. was famous for its high quality trotting horses and the Montague races were attended by visitors and competitors from Boston, Massachusetts, and all over the Maritimes. The Island produces very probably the finest potatoes in the world and the Malpeque oyster was greatly prized in Montreal and New York. The province was a place of great beauty particularly in the autumn when the magnificent red maples were in their glory, which made up for the short (but lovely) summers which followed a long cold winter and an equally long cold spring. In those days there were no snow ploughs so ultimately winter patrols were made by horse and sleigh. The box sleigh was no joy, but the cutter (with jingle bells) was great fun and where a highway was impassable a new road was simply made through a farmer’s field.

     Some incidents in police routine were profoundly irritating but in retrospect could be laughable. On one such occasion I received an agitated phone call from an obviously distraught woman in a remote community who refused to divulge the nature of her complaint other than to say it was just too dreadful to relate over a public telephone. After a lengthy trip I arrived at the farm house where I was shown the ghastly evidence. The previous night (having been Halloween) some local youths had overturned the outdoor family privy!

     Some court cases could produce a little humour also. One story, possibly apocryphal but which I believe to be true, concerns an old fellow who was caught with a complete still. When brought up in court he protested that he could not be guilty of moonshining because not one drop of illicit liquor had been found on his property. The magistrate pointed out that the accused did however have the equipment to which he replied, “‘Then you might as well convict me for rape as well!”

“And did you commit rape?” asked the beak.

“No” he said “But I’ve got the equipment!”

     The citizens of “The Island” were somewhat insular in their ways but most of them retained also the old fashioned virtues of honesty and respect for God and country. It is pleasant to look back on the warm comradeship I experienced as a member of the choir of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and to recall the friendliness and cooperation I received from Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy alike, and their adherents.

     In July 1939 I left P.E.I. having purchased my discharge and returned to the West coast where as I had had several years experience prior to my RCMP service, as a militia officer in field artillery and infantry, I was invited by the C.O. to take my commission again in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. When war was declared not long after I volunteered for active service but by this time there was seemingly no place on the establishment for me hence I re-engaged in the RCMP for a one year enlistment.

     I was posted immediately to Calgary and from there to Olds, Alberta where I spent some weeks assisting the constable in charge of that one-man detachment to catch up on his heavy load of “Diary dates” (or outstanding cases). Of many cases (including an armed robbery) one stands out as unique. A local lawyer complained that a young farmer had come to his office to pay a debt to one of the lawyer’s clients. He had placed the money on the latter’s desk and on being handed a receipt then scooped up the money and departed. With Constable Dunbar (or Dunlop) we visited the farmer in question who denied the whole story. However after several more calls he enquired as to the cost of a settlement out of court. The plaintiff would not hear of this and subsequently the accused was charged under the criminal code resulting in his conviction with a substantial fine and costs.

     After service at Olds I was posted to HQ “K” Division, Edmonton and from there to Sub-Div HQ Peace River Crossing under command of Inspector Curleigh who sent me to Notikewin Detachment a one man station encompassing the settlements of Deadwood, North Star, Notikewin, Hotchkiss and the Metis colony at Keg River. Perhaps 5000 scattered settlers all told. My headquarters was at Battle River Crossing adjacent to the United Church Mission Hospital and a few farm houses (now the town of Manning, Alberta). This consisted of a small frame building on the river bank divided into one half detachment office, one quarter prisoner’s cell and one quarter living accommodation with a sort of woodshed at the back. The plumbing was out doors; the lighting was by means of Coleman lamps; and in my “bedroom” there was a small wood-burning stove and an old fashioned washtub which served as a bath. Between the prisoner’s lock-up and my bed there was hung a canvas tarpaulin, for the sake of mutual privacy no doubt. I averaged about forty crime reports a week and the only way to get them done was to work all night twice a week. When the mantle on the lamp hanging over the desk fizzled out I reverted to coal oil lamps – one on each side of the typewriter on a stack of the Provincial Statutes of Alberta.

     My immediate neighbours at the Mission Hospital were fine people – Dr. Arthur Doidge (now retired from his practice in Barrie, Ontario). Miss Bawtenheimer (matron), Miss Buckles (who subsequently spent many years in India) and Miss Leslie who was later married to Dr.Doidge. The doctor was also the district coroner and on one occasion I investigated an apparent suicide in company with the former in which the unfortunate individual concerned had gone down to his root cellar under the kitchen where he was later discovered having cut his throat from ear to ear, the straight-edge razor still clutched in his hand.

   He was a very big man and it was only by means of an improvised rope block and tackle we could get the body up the almost perpendicular stairs. He was a central European and his wife spoke no English however it was determined that there was no money to bury him, consequently this was handled by official procedure in which as I recall, the government grant for a casket was $20.00. Clergy of his persuasion stated that as he had taken his own life they could not bury him in hallowed ground hence I arranged with the United Church minister at Notikewin the Rev. Mr. Whalley, to take care of the matter.

     With Mr. Whalley and the hastily constructed casket I proceeded to the widow’s house where with some difficulty we placed the deceased in the coffin. As we were carrying him out of the house the top half of the box parted company with the lower half. Fortunately the widow and children were outside so we were able to make emergency repairs with some rope, undetected and to get our burden on to the truck without further mishap.

     There was a wide variety of cases -sordid, tragic or humorous and others just plain hard work ranging from a stallion being permitted to run loose to theft, common assault, alleged rape, complicated family feuds, obscene or threatening letters and the periodic report that some poor soul had gone completely beserk. In one such case I received a phone call stating that a man well known to me had utterly “Blown his stack” and was in the process of terrorizing the neighbourhood with a home made sword. I took the man into custody and he was eventually committed to a mental institution. I heard later that he had become extremely violent at Sub-Div HQ Peace River, and it had been necessary to confine him to a straight jacket prior to being taken to Edmonton. It was then, a matter of some surprise to me to see him busily harrowing his land a few months later.

     My working day was normally very lengthy and it was a bit of a jolt to return to the detachment late at night to find a row of wagons or other vehicles patiently waiting outside to lodge their complaints. The procedure was to enter these in the complaint book with a promise to investigate as soon as possible. Citizenship applications, requests to go on the government “Relief” roll, or for old age pensions (which involved horrendous detail) were very time consuming in view of the paltry sum eventually paid. The welfare money was issued in script to the value of $7.00 per month and the old age pension was then I think $15.00 or $20.00 per month. It was always advisable to keep an open mind, i.e. to hear both sides of the story before reaching a conclusion.

     This was illustrated one day when a group of citizens came to my office introducing themselves as the priest and elders (or managers) of an Eastern orthodox church. They alleged they were being harassed by a number of disreputable individuals who had seized their church edifice and padlocked

the same. A day or so after this another delegation appeared claiming to be the priest and elders of the very same church, and they too were being put upon and distressed by a certain unworthy and irresponsible element. Even King Solomon might have had some difficulty sorting that one out!

     Sometimes there would be a knock on the detachment door at an unearthly hour, which might be an emergency but more often was of a completely routine character. Attempting to discourage this practice I tried posting a sign on the door indicating office hours except for matters of urgency. A few days later I was awakened about 4.00 a.m. by two native Indians who wanted some sort of license, I forget which one. No doubt a trifle irritated at being aroused over such a thoroughly mundane matter I pointed to the door and said “Can you read that sign?” The spokesman for the pair grunted briefly “No!” He had me there. In fairness I would say it was my experience that most Indians had no concept of time and I am sure my visitor had no intention to disturb me unduly.

     There were times when it was very difficult to be entirely unbiased. One such instance concerned a man convicted of molesting a small child for which he served a term of imprisonment. After his release he came to me stating that the father of the little girl in the case had threatened to beat him up if he ever saw him in his vicinity again. The proper police procedure would have been to see the father and possibly to have him bound over to keep the peace. This however was a matter where “Frontier justice” prevailed. I simply said to the complainant, “Then if I were you I’d keep the hell out of his way!”

     Looking back on life in the Force nearly half a century ago I recall that we worked incredibly long hours sometimes up to 21 hours per day as I did in Kamloops (where I dropped ten lbs in weight) and on all detachments the rule was the same – a seven day work week, on call 24 hours round the clock. I will confess it irked me that during some 15 months I was on my first detachment the Provincial police, City police, CNR and CPR police each took annual leave twice whereas we had received no leave whatsoever. I did once make so bold as to apply for a week off but was informed quite succinctly that I had a job to do and to get on with it – request denied.

     It is not possible to include in one article the details of many interesting police cases. Suffice it to say that in spite of austere conditions and low pay, morale in the Force was high. There was much prestige and we had the support and indeed the affection of most of the population in addition to which we were conscious of the magnificent tradition we had inherited. It was with pride we wore the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

There was great satisfaction in knowing that we were in “A Man’s Outfit!”

Windy Gale closing block with the "Royal Navy" being added