20 Questions - The Young Officer - 1961
Major Al Ditter (Ret'd)
"Well you asked for it . . . from Major (ret'd) Al Ditter, with The RCR from 1969-1974 (Canadian Guards 1962-1969, 2RCR/3MechCdo 1969-1972, ERE (FMCHQ) 1972-1974, ERE/NDHQ 1974-1976 reclass PAFF 1976-1987. I actually wore the eight-pointed star for an additional three years as the Public Affairs classification was new and didn't have it's own badge until 1979 so I asked the Colonel of the Regiment, Maj.-Gen. Dan Spry, if I could wear the RCR badge and he permitted me to do so."
1. What year were you recruited?
I applied for entry into the Regular Army under the Officer Candidate Program on my 18th birthday, 12 May 1961, while a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, The North Saskatchewan Regiment in Saskatoon. I then spent the summer as an instructor on the Western Command Militia Junior NCO Course at Camp Dundurn, waiting for my call to be processed at No. 9 Personnel Depot in Regina.
2. What was your entry plan as an officer? How long was it between enrolment and commissioning for you?
The OCP plan offered young men with at least Junior Matriculation the opportunity to attain a short-service commission in the Regular Army after a concentrated period of training at the corps school of their intended affiliation. I wanted to be an infantry officer and in August 1961 I was summoned to 9PD, given the standard block of physical, educational and psychological tests for enrollment in the infantry, went back to Dundurn, wrapped up the summer camp and finally received a letter summoning me back to 9PD in early September 1961 to be sworn in as an Infantry officer cadet. A week later, I received a travel warrant covering train travel from Saskatoon to Alliston, Ontario whence I and other new entries on that train boarded a deuce-and-a-half and was transported to the Royal Canadian School of Infantry at Camp Borden, Ontario. That was on or about 15 September 1961. I was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in The Canadian Guards in August, 1962 so the total time in training was 11 months, with breaks of two or three weeks in December 1961 and April 1962.
3. Where did you take your basic officer training and how many weeks did the course run?
4. Where did you take your infantry officer training and many weeks did the course(s) run?
Both basic and infantry training occurred at the RCS of I. Phase 1 (basic infantry training emphasizing leadership culminating with section command) lasted from mid-September to mid-December 1961, after which the training staff made the decision to either release a candidate from the Regular Army as a training failure, transfer a 'deemed-fit-for-retention-but-unsuitable-for-the-infantry' candidate to one of the other Corps or Services schools where he could continue pre-commissioning training, or retain him at the RCS of I for further training. We all then left for Christmas leave and when we came back in January we were joined for Phase 2 (more of the same, with additional emphasis on command) by candidates seeking infantry commissions from other corps or service schools. Phase 2 lasted until April 1962, culminating with a watercraft adventure training exercise through the Trent Canal system, followed by a two- or three-week leave period. Phase 3 was essentially platoon commander training, at the end of which we were joined by fourth-year ROTP officer cadets from the service colleges and civilian universities and trained at up to the company level, with emphasis on platoon drill and tactics. At the end of that period we were joined by candidates from other schools in Borden to do the Young Officers' Tactics Course, a sort of Phase 4 but not called that, which was essentially classroom lectures on the phases of war and tabletop models covering advanced training on such subjects as water-crossings, defensive positions, application of The Principles of War and the latest theories on the nuclear battlefield.
5. What training events do you best remember from your infantry officer training?
The most memorable events occurred at the end of Phases 1 and 2. Phase 1 ended with Exercise Inferno, a major physical endurance test allegedly launched by Colonel Jacques Dextrase (later General Dextrase, Chief of the Defence Staff) when he was the commandant of the RCS of I, synthesizing the lessons he had learned as CO of the Van Doos in WWII and Korea. We were trucked from Sicily block in Borden to the entrance of the Meaford Tank Training Range, issued snowshoes and made to perform tactical night advances-to-contact along the length of the training area, laid up during the day, and walked the reverse route the next night. The problem was that during the lay-up, the weather got warm, the snow melted, the Meaford clay turned into a vast sucking morass, and even after shucking snowshoes and mukluks, the walk was murder -- in the days before the army had such things as combat boots. We paused at the Meaford gate and then walked a tactical route march all the way back to Borden over two nights. Not much fun, but certainly memorable. Phase 2 ended with an adventure training Zodiac trip through the Trent Canal system, at night, emphasizing navigation and leadership. Much more fun than the previous phase-ending exercise.
6. When were you posted to the Regiment, what location were you posted to, and to what Battalion, Company and Platoon?
At the end of the YOTC we were given our regimental affiliations. The strongest candidates were chosen by the regiments with the strongest influence on the career manager. We were each asked to list, in descending order, our three choices of regiment and were told that while our choices would be considered, the prime factor in making regimental affiliations would be "the exigencies of the service." I selected Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. I wound up being affiliated with The Canadian Guards, which is as good an indication as any of where I stood in the rankings among the OCP/Inf 62 class. Tom de Faye, on the other hand, asked for and got The RCR. We were given our reporting dates and locations to join our units and then went on leave, during which we took our $1,500 Officer's Uniform Grant to the regimental tailor and ordered up all our kit. That barely covered the requirements for The Canadian Guards and fell considerably short of what it cost to kit out a Jock. Officers affiliated with the Line, Light and Rifle regiments seemed to be able to get all of their kit from the grant. At the end of the summer leave period, I arrived at the Second Battalion, The Canadian Guards at Camp Petawawa, was met by The Officer Commanding the Inlying Picquet or Picquet Officer -- Guardese for what is known everywhere else as the Orderly Officer -- spent the next two weeks on the Regimental Officers Indoctrination Course -- The Couth Course -- and eventually was posted to Number 3 Platoon of Number 8 Company (more Guardese) and waited for a platoon of New Soldiers to be posted in from the regimental depot, co-located at Camp Petawawa.
7. How many men were in your platoon?
The platoon nominally contained 35 men -- platoon commander, platoon sergeant, signaller, batman and runner, and three sections of 10 men, commanded by a corporal -- but no platoon commander ever had all 35 available at the same time.
8. What vehicles and weapons did the platoon have? What was your personal weapon?
Each section had a three-man light machine gun group, commanded by the section second-in-command, a lance corporal, and a seven-man rifle group, commander by the section commander, a corporal. Everyone carried an FN-C1 rifle, except for the LMG gunner, who carried the FN-C2. The section commanders and the platoon sergeant carried a 9mm sub-machine gun and the platoon commander carried a Browning automatic pistol. Mobility was provided by foot or by the three-quarter-ton stake-body 4x4 truck, one per section and one for platoon HQ.
9. How long, on average, could you expect to be a rifle platoon commander when you joined the Battalion?
Officers could expect to spend at least two years as a platoon commander, but it was usually much more since most of us arrived as Second-Lieutenants and the position of Platoon Commander was occupied by both 2Lts and Lts. Promotion from 2Lt to Lt was generally automatic after 2.5 years but it just meant you'd be paid a little more for doing the same job you'd done as a 2Lt. Beyond that, most positions, other than Rifle Platoon Commander, required additional training and experience and you generally had to have about three years post-commission time in the battalion, plus the appropriate training course, if you expected to command one of the support weapons platoons (mortar, anti-tank, pioneer, etc.) or fill one of the senior subaltern positions (intelligence officer, assistant adjutant). But there were plenty of secondary duties (mess secretary, audit team, band officer, sports officer, etc) to be filled, as well.
Interestingly, the OCP graduating class that year were the first to feel the effects of AGI 7/62 (the Adjutant-General's Seventh Instruction of 1962), making them very much a second, and much lower, class of officer. Essentially, it said graduates of the service colleges, who arrived with a permanent commission, could be promoted to captain upon completion of the Lieutenant-to-Captain Part One exam. OCP graduates, on the other hand, had a short-service commission which would automatically expire at the end of seven years, although they could apply annually for one-year extensions, with the CO's approval. AGI 7/62 confirmed that OCP graduates could not be promoted to captain without a permanent commission but added the provision that they could not be granted a permanent commission until they had successfully completed both Part One and Part two of the Lieutenant-to-Captain exams. The intention was to make it attractive for ROTP graduates to remain in the army but it failed as ROTP graduates continued to take their free university degrees to civvie street as soon as their four-year compulsory service obligation had been met. The officer corps therefore continued to be made up primarily of OCP graduates, all of whom were embittered by AGI 7/62. That all changed with a major restructuring of the by-then-integrated Canadian Forces in September 1967. But that's another story.
10. Approximately how many young officers in the battalion lived in the barracks, and how long was it before you could request permission to move out on the economy?
"Living out' was an impossibility for any subaltern who wasn't married. All single officers were expected to live in quarters, which were provided at no cost, as were meals in the mess. There was no such thing as a 'living out allowance'. Officers could live out if they were married but they could not collect 'marriage allowance' until age 23, consequently few young officers were married and so lived in quarters. When we went to Cyprus in the fall of 1965, nineteen of the battalion's 35 officers were single and lived in quarters. We got back in April of 1966 and six months later there were but three officers remaining in quarters; 16 of us had reached our 23rd year, found the loves of our lives, took the vows of matrimony and signed on to collect the 'marriage allowance'. The entire pay and allowance structure changed in 1967.
11. What was the best aspect about being a platoon commander? What was your least favourite task as a platoon commander?
The best aspect of being a platoon commander was undoubtedly the opportunity to deal with soldiers on a personal and intimate level, to share experiences, good and bad. The least favorite task? Foot inspection.
12. How often were you expected to be at the Officers' Mess? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
Until things changed in 1967, or until we got married, we were expected to be in the mess all the time. That was not an onerous requirement because it was, after all, our home. We ate, drank and entertained there and it was the center of our social existence.
13. How often did you attend Mess Dinners? How long were you in the dining room during the longest Mess Dinner you remember attending?
The Canadian Guards habitually held at least one mess function a month, either a formal mess dinner (mess kit) or a less formal (black tie/blues) 'dining-in night'. The longest function I ever attended was with the First Battalion, The Canadian Guards in Camp Picton, Ontario when the 2nd Battalion provided a 100-man guard of honor for the Regimental Birthday Trooping of the Color. No-one could leave before the commanding officer left and he simply would not leave. The major across the table from me fell asleep in his trout, woke up and called for the steward to bring him an empty wine bottle which he surreptitiously slipped under the tablecloth and filled, got a look of blissful relief on his face and promptly fell asleep in his Baked Alaska. The CO finally left and the assembled company went to their quarters, changed into full dress and re-assembled on the parade square for the dress rehearsal. Oh to be that young and resilient again.
14. What standard of dress were you expected to maintain in your off-duty hours?
Canadian Guards officers were expected to be clad in jacket and tie at all times when off duty. At one point the adjutant was noted to be thus attired whilst washing his car in front of his PMQ, thereby setting the standard for the rest of us.
15. How much were you paid each month as a new officer?
My monthly pay as a 2Lt in September 1962 was $187 per month. Incremental raises thereafter were never very large but in September 1967 everything changed, a great many of us were surprisingly granted permanent commissions, promoted to Captain, and saw our pay immediately jump to $1,500 a month. I was then, and remain, married to an air force nurse who got the same promotion and the same raise at the same time and we instantly became wealthy, compared to what we had been earning.
16. Were junior officers often sent on additional training courses? What courses did you attend outside the battalion as a young officer?
Most Group One (basic) courses for soldiers were conducted within the battalion, be they mortar, anti-tank, pioneer, recce, bagpiper, drummer or anything else. Advanced courses, by which soldiers obtained their Group Three and Group Four qualifications where conducted at the RCS of I. Officers selected to command one of the weapons platoons were sent to the school to take the advanced course. In my case, that was the Advanced Mortar Course Feb-Apr 1965 but that was followed almost immediately by the Forward Air Controller course at Camp Rivers, Manitoba. The thinking, and I believe it was correct, was that ordnance delivered by air (close air support) was just another form of indirect fire support, albeit much longer range, and the control of it should be handled by the same person who handled the battalion's integral indirect fire support, the mortar platoon. Similarly, officers selected for appointments such as unit intelligence officer would be sent on the appropriate course at other schools, such as the School of Military Intelligence at Camp Borden. Other outside courses were designed to train officers in specialist skills, such as winter warfare at Fort Churchill, Manitoba, or career advancement courses such as the Junior Officers Tactics Course at the RCS of I.
17. What exercise or training event did you find that best promoted your development as a young officer?
By far the best development course for any officer at that time was the two sets of promotion exams, Lieutenant-to-Captain and Captain-to-major, each consisting of two parts. Part One was a series of common-to-corps written exams conducted over a week at a central location, usually the gymnasium, in each camp. The exams covered military law, military history, administration, organization, and command and tactics. They involved a great deal of self-study and officers who indicated their intention to take the exams in the spring of any given year could expect to devote all of their spare time to study. As the exams approached, units and the brigade would conduct pre-exam training to prepare the students so that by the time they sat the exams, they were as prepared as they could be. The major advantage of the Part One exams was that they trained every officer to the same standard and you knew, for example that even though you might never have previously met the captain you were talking to, he had proven his competence. Part Two exams were special-to-corps and were conducted at the corps schools in the fall and were based on tactical exercises in which candidates held command positions and their actions and reactions were compared against 'the pinks', the directing staff solution to a given problem. Captain-to-Major exams followed the same format. Officers could attempt the exams three times but a third failure would forever preclude promotion. Failure of one of the five Part One exams would not count as a failure, providing the officer passed that exam at the next annual attempt. The annual exams not only provided a single army-wide measurement of worthiness for promotion but forced officers to learn their profession in depth.
18. What type training would you have liked to do more of if you'd had the opportunity?
Additional training? Language. It always struck me as slightly subversive that the government would declare Canada to be a bilingual nation and then do nothing to make the military truly bilingual. In the same way that every officer was expected to take a year to study for his promotion exams, every officer should have been offered a year of language training. Instead, those of us who were unilingual were constantly being denigrated for our lack of ability in the second language. If it was as important as it was said to be, it needed more than the short shrift it was given.
19. Were there any particular battalion eccentricities (dress or deportment) that all officers' in your Battalion were expected to follow?
Eccentricities? The Canadian Guards was one big eccentricity, to the extent that a 200-page book -- Regimental Standing Orders -- was a mandatory piece of every new officer's kit. It was the Rosetta Stone needed to break the code by which the regiment functioned. It was forbidden to use abbreviations or acronyms in spoken communication, for example, for fear that the listener might not understand what was being said and so the CO was "the commanding officer." The senior non-commissioned officer in each company was referred to as Company Sergeant Major because the RSM was "The Sergeant Major." Staff Sergeants were Colour Sergeants and every page in Regimental Standing Orders contained so many eccentricities that the uneducated could be expected to trip over them until he had the entire book memorized. Other quiffs were not written down but you were expected to know them. If, for example, the fellow next to you at the dining room able was wearing his hat, he did not want to be spoken to. Someone else had to tell you that, of course, because you weren't supposed to talk to him.
20. How often might you normally have been the Duty Officer for the Battalion or the Base? What was the oddest duty you had to perform as the Duty officer?
With about two dozen subalterns in the battalion, you could reasonable expect to be the Picquet Officer once every three weeks or so. That rarely happened, of course, because although the Assistant Adjutant was expected to draw up the duty roster and have it published in Daily Part Two Orders, it was constantly being revised as officers went on leave, on courses or were otherwise excused duty or by actions of the adjutant in awarding extra days to miscreant junior officers by way of punishment. Each unit maintained its own Orderly Officer while the Brigade had a duty staff officer and the Camp Commandant had his own staff to look after domestic housekeeping affairs after normal duty hours. After the armed forces were integrated, the brigade units went onto the base duty roster and would perform both unit and base duties during their tour.
It was my turn on The Ides of March 1967 to be base/unit duty officer when I got a call advising that the Governor General, Georges P. Vanier, had died and CFB Petawawa would shortly be tasked to have 2 Canadian Guards provide four junior officers in full dress to stand vigil on his casket in Government house until the Van Doos, of which he was the Colonel in Chief, could take over the duty. I called the Brigade Commander, BGen Jacques Dextrase, advised him that I would brief the battalion commander and he would follow up. I left the Base HQ building, went to the 2Cdn Gds officers mess, grabbed the first officer (John Power) who came in and told him he was now the battalion and base duty officer, called the quartermaster and had him open full-dress stores and be prepared to issued the scarlet uniform to the next four officers who showed up. I then found three other officers (Dave Moon, John Harrison, Dave Frausell) who had performed public duties and thus had been fitted for scarlets and bearskins, went to full-dress stores and drew our kit, threw it into the trunk of my car and we drove to Ottawa. We stood vigil throughout the night, alternating two hours on and two hours off with four RCMP Inspectors, until the Van Doos arrived. I was back in Ottawa on 17 March 1967 as the Ensign for the Colour for the Guard of Honour we provided for the state funeral.
And, for extra credit:
21. What was the greatest number of extra duties you remember a peer getting, and, if not sworn to secrecy, what were they for?
I can also claim title to the greatest number of extra duties, an honour I share with Dave Moon. We were platoon commanders in the demo company being used by the Squadron/Company Commander's Course in the fall of 1964. We had a weekend off and asked for a pass to go to Toronto where Dave had a girlfriend (Diane, who remains his wife to this day) and I wanted to attend a concert at Massey Hall being given by a young guy named Bob Dylan. We were instructed to be back by Midnight Sunday and I was to meet Dave at 2130hrs. at The Brass Rail tavern on Yonge Street. He was late, but not by much, and we had plenty of time to get to Meaford. Except the fog rolled in and we were lucky to make 10 miles an hour. We got back at midnight plus about 20 minutes and we each had a page from the company commander's field message book on our beds, advising us that we were late and consequently awarded 15 days extra duty each once we got back to Petawawa. True to his word, once we were resettled, that section of Part One Orders containing the list of duty personnel read, under Picquet Officer, our names, alternating 30 times. Because the reading of Part One Orders is mandatory, everyone in the battalion knew we were in kaka and there arose a new regimental ditty, sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture, containing only two words . . . Ditter-Moon.