November 14, 1929
Before saying anything about our trip from Montreal by the Metagama, you might be interested in some little experiences I had before I was finished with my training in Toronto, Deseronto and Borden. Getting into the army, particularly where one is under an English Sergeant Major, is an experience that most Canadian boys did not take to very favourably. Some of us were more or less our own bosses, you might say, before joining the army, and when we were told in no uncertain language what we looked like, and what our shoes were like, and the sports on our clothes, it certainly made you see red. We had a Sergeant Major called Gridley- an Englishman of the worst type. I had been very fortunate in steering clear of fatigue duties by watching my step. This included keeping my shoes meticulously shined; my uniform brushed, and buttons shining. However, one morning on parade- and I thought I looked pretty nice-this Sergeant Major came along and looked me up and down as though he had never seen me before, then with all sarcasm asked me if I had made it a practice of brushing my clothes. You cannot talk back in the army and I had to be content with looking straight ahead without making any comment whatever. He reached down and lifted a little spot of fluff off my breeches and said that for my carelessness I would have two days in the mess-room. This meant going to the kitchen with some other fellows in a similar predicament, and looking after the serving of it to the other boys. Another of his favorite stunts was to have the bugler blow the alarm bugle somewhere around three or four o'clock in the morning. That meant that we all had to get up and rush outside and line up on the parade ground-which, very fortunately, was a nice strip of grass- in our bare feet and clad only in pyjamas. This was supposed to teach us to be always on the alert. It had to effect of making everybody very miserable and some of the boys even caught a cold through it. However, we managed to vent some of out feelings on him when he visited Borden after we had practically completed our flying training. He, by the way, remained in Toronto and only came up there with a small detachment of boys to commence their training. We made things so hot for him that he was glad to disappear for the night, and I do not know even yet where he spent that night.
You know when a bunch of boys get together- and there were about forty boys in Burwash Hall-things are liable to happen. We had one boy that had done something not according to Hoyle, and the officer asked him to report to him at a certain hour. He failed to report, but unfortunately the officer could not remember the cadet's name. This meant that the whole bunch of us had to go through a close examination again and while he was eventually found he made things generally disagreeable for the rest of us. We all but tarred and feathered him. As I remember it, we got a concoction from the Drug Store and while I cannot tell you what was in it, it smelt like eggs that were rather ancient, and looked like red paint. We gave him a thorough application of this, and he carried the fragrance with him for several days.
Going back to our friend Gridley again-several of us who possibly felt a little more antagonistic towards him than some of the others, made it a point of going up to see him after we obtained our commissions. He was, as I have said, a Sergeant Major, and it gave us a great deal of satisfaction to be able to make him stand at attention in front of us and salute, and needless to say, he didn?t appreciate it as much as we did.
Just about the day I got to Mohawk Camp, as I told you in my previous letter, there had been a very serous accident and a cadet was killed and the instructor- who, by the way you have possibly heard of as a dancer, Captain Vernon Castle, was slightly injured. The boy's name was Fraser, and he lived quite close to where I lived in Toronto. Your mother would possibly remember Hilton Avenue, the first street east of Bathurst, running from Wellshill up to St. Clair Avenue. He was taking dual from Captain Castle and when they were landing apparently he got the idea that they were going to hit one of the hangars. He was in the front seat, as was the usual custom, and froze to the controls. That means that he got both hands tightly locked on the joy stick and Captain Castle was unable to move the controls. The result was that they did hit the hangar and the front of the machine went into the roof of the hangar and the front of the machine went into the roof of the hanger just enough to pin the boy there so that he could not be extricated. The machine burst into flames, and while the mechanics that were around managed to remove Captain Castle before he was seriously hurt, at the same time they were unable to do anything for the cadet. These were the kind of things that made it difficult for the boys to learn to fly. Sub-consciously one would think of these accidents, and wonder when one was going to happen to you. We had several of these accidents at Mohawk and Borden, but the majority of the accidents were very minor and while some of the boys got their faces cut and otherwise shaken up, it was surprising what kind of an accident one could come through and still live to tell about it.
At Borden I was in Squadron 87 and our Captain's name was Bonnell. He was the most erratic individual that I had ever met up to that time, and I can truthfully say that outside of our own Major in France, he was the most excitable man that I have ever come in contact with. When I was taking a machine up one day I happened to do something that he did not approve of and when I came down he was frothing. He handed me a sickle and told me I would have the pleasure of cutting all the grass around the hangars. Being in the army I could not do anything else but obey him, but I felt like using it on him. However, I stayed there until about half past five at night and when he came out of his little hut he saw me there and asked me what in the world I was cutting the grass for. This will give you some idea as to what he was like. I told him and he started to laugh. He told me to up jump in his car and he would drive me up to the mess.