Story and Photos by Ken Warren (ISN)
June 9, 2013 Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the fourth article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article Ken shares his experiences with the RCMP and memories of his real idol Corporal Shank.
Besides being a member of the Masonic Lodge, a life member of the Kinsmen Club, and manager of both the Kindersley Klippers Hockey and Baseball Clubs, my dad was also the Gladiola King of Western Canada. However, amongst his keenest competition was RCMP Corporal I.C. Shank, the only Mountie in a tough railway town.
There are several reasons why I mention Shank, though the first is somewhat embarrassing. What happened was that I asked my dad to roll me a cigarette. I was five and he rolled and lit me one, privately hoping that I’d get sick. However, I went over to Shank’s house, where he was working in the garden, and said to him: “I’m smoking, what are you going to do about it?” “Nothing,” he said. “Have a good time with it.” I doubt that he even called my dad, because he probably knew what my dad had in mind. I never got sick. Too bad, because later in life I became a heavy smoker.
It wasn’t until I actually joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police myself and took ‘History of the Force’ that I learned how important then Inspector I.C. Shank (soon to be Superintendent I.C. Shank) was to the RCMP. The Force had only two members that they considered ‘town breakers’ and I.C. Shank was one of them. A town breaker was considered to be a solo member who could singlehandedly bring about peace in a tough, out of control town. Kindersley, with its roundhouse, coal docks and water towers, was the end of the branch line for Saskatchewan and was loaded with railway men. It had been such a tough town when Shank replaced the two Mounties who had run the detachment there in 1939. By his no nonsense approach, and his Gordie Howe toughness, Shank tamed the town. Later, an even bigger railway town, Melville, needed taming, and that became Sergeant Shank’s newest posting. As a reward, or at least in recognition of his abilities, Shank was put in charge of security for the 1951 Royal Visit of Princess Elizabeth and her husband Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The other town breaker was Sergeant-Major Primrose, a huge man with a handle-bar moustache who I met during my Depot Division training in Regina. “Where did you get that black eye?” he asked me. “In boxing, Sergeant-Major,” I replied. He smiled kindly, happy I think to learn that it came from training and not from any Regina rowdies who hated us recruits dancing up a storm with their Regina girls at the Trianon Dance Hall.
Speaking of boxing, Corporal McGuire was our boxing and police-holds instructor. He was about 5’10”, 200 lbs with a massive chest and thick arms. A self-confident man, he paired us off on our first boxing session with partners roughly the same weight. He asked if any of us had previous boxing experience and nobody responded affirmatively. One pairing that really interested me was my two best friends in the troop, Doug Husband and Alfie Vaughan. Doug was the 18-year-old guy who rode the train with me from Vancouver when we joined up, and Alfie was my pit partner. (That means we shared a work area between our beds to polish our brass and boots, and shoot the breeze.) Doug and Alfie were both 184 lbs, but Alf, from Ontario, was 21.
So, they went at it. Alfie was on the offense, with Doug mainly blocking his shots. Alf pressed and pressed; Doug backed up but managed to put up a pretty good defense. Then Alfie scored a blow to Doug’s nose that rocked him. Doug backed off, checked his nose with his glove to see if it was bleeding, and then bobbed and weaved towards Alf. He scored a solid right to Alf’s ribs, feinted a left hook, and nailed Alfie’s left cheek and jaw with a hard right. The 21-year-old had a really puzzled ‘what just happened’ look as he caught himself from falling.
“Okay, stop right now,” demanded Corporal McGuire. “Husband, you’ve had boxing instruction, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Corporal,” Doug said, looking guilty.
“But I asked if anybody had training, and you said nothing.”
“I’m sorry, Corporal. I was told I’d have to fight you if I admitted to any training.”
“Well you were told right, Husband,” the corporal said, as he put on boxing gloves.
McGuire and Doug fought. At 6’2″, Doug had a longer reach than McGuire, and each time the corporal threw a punch, Doug blocked it and nailed McGuire on the nose. Within a few minutes, the corporal’s eyes were watering and his nose red and bleeding. He called a halt to the fight.
We didn’t know really what to say or think about what we had just seen occur, but the next time we had boxing, McGuire was standing in the gym with boxing gloves on and said: “Husband, get some gloves on.”
“Oh, oh,” I thought. “Poor, Doug. He’s got a tiger by the tail this time.”
They fought and the same thing happened again. Doug whipped the corporal again.
When the top boxers out of the 270 trainees in Depot Division fought in a tournament in December, the best boxer wasn’t allowed to fight. Doug was made a referee.
Doug and I had joined on August 27, 1956. At any one time there were as many as ten troops training in Depot Division, Regina, and another four or five at Rockcliffe in Ottawa. Each troop had anywhere from 27-32 men depending on how many found the training too tough and purchased their way out and returned home, or were simply sent home as unsuitable. Training lasted about ten months and by the time your troop got to be the senior troop, you were afforded a respect, even from staff, that had never been the case prior to becoming the most senior troop in the division.
This respect was historically the case for every senior troop in the RCMP training divisions. Special status when you become the most senior recruits. All junior recruits aspired to be in your boots. They knew one day that they would be admired and treated special too. Well, that special status was the case for every senior troop except one.
‘G’ troop had been bastards to the troops beneath them all through training. As a unit, they picked on individuals in most junior troops mercilessly. Don’t get me wrong, hazing is a good thing if it’s done to change negative behaviours. There were no women in the Force in the 50’s, and I feel that many of their sexual abuse complaints are probably hazing or joking complaints. How lucky these women are that they didn’t know G troop ’56. These rascals baited especially new recruits who were alone waiting for other arrivals so that a new squad could be formed. Generally they egged a recruit into a fight and then announced that to fight one member of the troop, you have to fight the whole troop. The result was that the whole troop would take the one or two individuals into the showers, douse him, black ball him, and leave him. They had treated so many junior recruits this way, that when “F” troop graduated and were gone, the hated “G” troop became the senior troop and expected to be accorded all of the special treatment that goes with the honour.
They were given that special treatment one Sunday morning in January when, as a troop, they had early morning stables to clean. Troops H, J, and O were waiting in ‘G’ troop’s barracks room, and troops L, M, and N snuck in behind the G troop members as they mounted the outdoor stairs to their barracks. Troops K and P had secretly entered the stables from the riding arena and were filling the huge horse troughs with wheel barrow loads of horse shit.
Despite fighting valiantly, every member of G troop was taken over to the stables and dunked in troughs of soupy water and fresh horse manure. The stench was terrible and recruits who had been treated ill by this band of ne’er-do-wells laughed loudly as they sunk these seniors to the bottom of the soup and held them there. The temperature was 45 below in Regina that morning and any G-trooper who bitterly complained of his treatment as he returned soaking wet and covered in crap to his barracks got returned for a second dunking. Joy reigned supreme for the eight troops which had exacted revenge on G troop the rest of the day that historic Sunday.
That night, however, every member of G troop with their riding crops in hand went into the H troop barracks and beat up every man as they slept in bed. Broken jaws, broken arms, many ambulances hurried to Depot Division that night, but the press was kept in the dark. The Regina Leader Post had a small write-up saying that all the ambulances heard last night was from a “friendly scuffle” at the RCMP training centre and a small number of recruits were accidentally hurt. For the next three weeks many of us had guard duty for G troop members who were jailed at Depot and had to face numerous trial dates. Surprisingly, only two G troop members were discharged. One had won his weight division in the December Boxing Tournament.
My troop, ‘N’ troop, was selected to take Second Phase training in Ottawa. That meant no more equitation, more advanced courses like studying the ‘Criminal Code of Canada’, Explosives, Drugs, Espionage, and Survival Techniques. My mom and dad came to see me in Ottawa, having just been to Winnipeg to Jim and Joan’s wedding. Jim was now a fully qualified medical doctor, but he had decided to immediately set about further studying to become an orthopedic surgeon. Based on my equitation in Regina, I had been recommended for a future musical ride, had scored the highest marks ever awarded by my Criminal Code instructor, Staff Sergeant Graves, and had “completed training in the top five of my troop,” as reported by the Inspector who assigned us to various RCMP divisions. I asked for ‘F’ Division, Saskatchewan, as did my friend, Alfie Vaughan, and was assured that I would be posted there. So I was really quite happy as my troop and I prepared to attend our graduation dinner. The dinner was in a hotel in downtown Ottawa and included only members of the troop. We had each invested a months salary in the festivities. The dinner turned out to be one of the saddest experiences in my life.
Because of what occurred around that graduation dinner, I was released from the RCMP and had to hitch hike home from Ottawa to Vanderhoof, BC. My release was occasioned by me being picked to drive 21 miles in the middle of my troop’s grad dinner to pick up one of our old instructors from Regina. One of the guys said Corporal Canning, our swimming instructor, was at a beach spot outside Ottawa, and should be invited to our party. I was picked because Al Anderson and I were the only non-drinkers in the troop, and I had rented a U-drive that night to be designated driver for any of the guys who went overboard in their celebrating. BEING A NON-DRINKER WAS ONE MISTAKE I MADE, AND TAKING ANDERSON ALONG WITH ME WAS ANOTHER. The party had already begun when Anderson and I left to pick up Corp. Canning. Supper would be served while we were driving to get him. We had so much more invested in this dinner than just money that I wanted to get Canning and get back to celebrate with my buds. However, the corporal wasn’t where we had been told he’d be, and according to the people there he had never arrived. A wasted trip. I’ll admit that I sped where I could on the return trip. Then we were slowed to a crawl when the car in front of me hand-signalled to make a left turn; as I went around him, the car in front of him slowed down when he saw me on his right, so I sped up and pulled in front of him. That car turned out to be an off-duty RCMP Constable Scott Coxen. He took my licence plate down and tracked me through the U-Drive company to the Rockcliffe barracks. He bawled me out and asked me who was in the car with me. I told him Al Anderson.
It so happened that two of my buddies in the troop, Weldon Armour and Peter Whitehead, were duty guards at the administration office, and they risked discharge themselves by looking up my file to see what was going to happen to me. They made a copy of Al Anderson’s statement in which that chicken shit liar said I was driving erratically, and too fast, and he kept telling me to slow down or let him out. I was driving fast because I wanted to get to the grad party with my friends, but Anderson never once cautioned me. He was saving himself by firmly putting the noose around my neck.
I had no pictures from training and all my troop members were gone to their postings, so I threw on my red serge, breeks and boots and asked some fellow to take my picture – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Before I left Ottawa, I went to Parliament Hill to see six of the fellows from my troop who had been posted to the Hill. I saw four of the guys and they felt quite sad for me. I met Scott Coxen there, too, and he asked me why I had encouraged the fellows from my troop to bump into him on the stairs and pretend it was an accident. I couldn’t believe he was serious. He also said they made snide remarks to him and would laugh behind his back. I assured him that I had nothing to do with it, but secretly it didn’t bother me that it was happening. I guess it was my guys way of saying: “You better not treat me the way you treated our buddy.” Thanks, Guys!
I loved most of the guys I trained with, not just those guys on the Hill. Funny though, Vanderhoof had a small 3-man detachment and I knew them all well. One day Const. Doug Doig saw me on the street, pulled his squad car over, and asked me to get in.
“Guess who’s been assigned to this detachment,” he said.
I shrugged. “Who?” I asked.
“Scott Coxen,” he said.
Imagine that. The whole of Canada to place that bastard, and they choose 3-man Vanderhoof’s detachment.
I wrote an appeal letter to Commissioner Len Nicholson, asking that my case be reviewed. He replied that I had been too immature at 18 to have joined the force, but gave his permission for me to reapply after I had reached 21. THANK YOU, SIR!! My dad kept the letter in the CNR safe for me, but it somehow got lost. No matter, I got a copy of it and more from the RCMP based on my ‘Freedom of Information’ request.
However, I had joined the RCMP with only a general Grade 10 education. In Vanderhoof, Principal Pete Diemert allowed me to take grades 11 and 12 in one school year, including Grade 10 French, so that I could qualify for university. It necessitated me taking a full slate of courses, working in the science lab by myself for Chemistry, and taking four courses by correspondence. In addition I would have to complete the Grade 10 French by Christmas, so that I could take the Grade 11 French by correspondence during the last half of the year. Thanks to my mother’s strict rules, I became the student I didn’t know I could be.
It’s definitely a good thing that I never rejoined the RCMP, because UBC graduated me with a BA, UVic with a BEd, Carleton with a year of post grad Journalism, and UVic and Stanislaus U. in California with most of a Masters in Special Education. I completed 30 years teaching high school English, Social Studies, and Special Education in BC, and seven years English in seven different provinces of China. Besides, the kind of RCMP that I wanted to serve with was the RCMP of I.C. Shank and Sgt-Major Primrose; not the RCMP of tasering innocent and/or drunken men to their deaths, or even kicking men in the face when they are clearly giving up.