“The killing of Sgt. Schrader and Cst. Anson at MacDowell, Sask. took place just before my troop graduated. The funeral was held at the Chapel about a week before we left training. We witnessed the procession from our dorms in C Block. It left quite an impression. A couple of my troop mates have asked for the inclusion.”
“That Damn Bugle”
The year is 1970. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Looking Out My Backdoor” and Sugarloaf’s “Green Eyed Lady” are at the top of the pop music charts. Apollo 13 aborts its mission to the moon and its three-man crew returns safely to earth. Paul McCartney quits the Beatles signalling the end of the most successful and influential rock band of all time. The Vietnam War is in full swing with US domestic opposition mounting on city streets and college campuses. Pierre Trudeau is Canada’s 15th Prime Minister. Later in the year he will confront the brewing FLQ crisis head on with the infamous phrase, “Just watch me”. The federal voting age is lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. The most sought-after Detroit muscle cars are the Dodge Charger Hemi, Plymouth Barracuda 6 Pack, Chevy Camero Z28, Pontiac GTO, Roadrunner 440 Six Barrel and the Ford Mustang Boss 429. Gasoline costs thirty-six cents per gallon. Canada has not yet gone metric and seat belts are not mandatory. The summer in Regina will be hot.
In three years time the RCMP will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The Commissioner is William Leonard Higgitt, a native of Saskatchewan and a seasoned veteran of the RCMP’s Security Service. He is scheduled to carry out a ceremonial inspection of “Depot” during the coming summer.
“Depot” defines itself as a place of long held, honoured traditions and rigid discipline. There is a spartan-like, bare bones holding cell located in the Administration building’s guard room. With some regularity it is occupied by a recruit, under charge, or awaiting dismissal from the Force. The prisoner always dons brown fatigues and is marched to his meals by an escort in full working uniform. During these escorts, the prisoner is in full view to all “Depot” personnel. The shame is palpable. This place called “Depot” is not a soft place. It will shape or break its population of recruits without regret or compassion. It is an institution of purpose and those who have the responsibility for its operation know full well what waits in the larger world of law enforcement for these young men. They must be ready.
Approximately once per week, a crop of vigorously vetted single Canadian male citizens, between the ages of nineteen and twenty-nine, arrive at the guardhouse to register their presence and report for training. For most, they have been in the recruitment process for a year or more. Their relatives, close friends, employers, and teachers have all been interviewed. Their official birth and education records have been examined along with any other flagged documents such as driving infractions and court appearances. An undisclosed traffic ticket is enough to stop the recruitment before it really begins.
More often than not, these hurdles prove to be too much and an applicant decides to withdraw. While the recruitment investigation is happening in the background, the recruiters administer a string of exams from physical fitness and medical health to general knowledge and psychometric tests. Any of these present an opportunity for being disqualified. Then comes the final and decisive event, the lengthy and probing recruitment interview. All of the results and decisions are kept secret from the applicant until correspondence with the Force’s letterhead arrives in the mail. The odds of gaining an invitation to training are forty to one, against. If the results are favourable, things move rather quickly. A date is scheduled for the official swearing in, including the administration of the oath. Often these formalities are immediately followed by the provision of a train ticket and travel instructions to Regina.
They have come from all over the country. Big cities, small towns and villages. Some are students fresh from institutes of higher learning, but many hail from the family prairie farm, mining town, lumber mill community, fishing village or remote northern settlement. Their backgrounds cover the spectrum. Drummer in a rock band, farm hand, pulp mill labourer, prison guard, professional athlete, store clerk, hotel concierge, small town cop, would be-teacher, soldier. Some are immigrants looking to a horizon of promise in their adopted country. For most, their parents have weathered the depravations of the Great Depression, the horror of the Second War and the struggles of borderline poverty. The memories of those events were passed on and baked into the upbringing of their sons.
And so, it is with 5 Troop at the end of April nineteen seventy. There is still snow on the parade square as each new recruit of the yet to be assembled and unnamed troop arrives, carrying a suitcase containing remnants of their civilian life, along with the hopes and best wishes of family and friends. As the weeks progress each carries the new burden of the troop’s honour. Failure for one, means failure for all. From May through to November, 5 Troop’s complement will march, swim, run, lift weights, shoot, engage opponents in karate, choke off airways, pull hair, and manoeuvre standard shift vehicles on city streets and provincial highways. Classroom hours are filled with the study of the criminal code, enforcement methods of federal statutes, familiarization with crime scenes, and a profusion of other police related subjects, including the emergency delivery of newborn infants.
Beyond the classroom and physical training routine, the hours in barracks are occupied with the endless upkeep and adherence to the Force’s standards for kit and clothing. Spit shining boots to a mirror sheen becomes a mandatory and often elusive skill. In a regime where long and physically demanding hours are the norm, rest is a valued commodity to be taken whenever the opportunity is offered. Sunday church parades in the chapel present moments where bowed heads at prayer, are actually camouflaged sermon length “naps”.
Preparing a recruit’s barrack living space for inspection, the “pit” as it is commonly called, requires the perseverance of a big-game hunter, the sharp eye for detail of a surgeon and the solemn mindset of a funeral director. No room for error, no acceptance of excuses. Linseed oil, boot polish, cotton batten swabs, nylon stockings, a large can of floor wax paste and an industrial grade floor polisher which could have been manufactured by Massey Ferguson, all comprise the inventory of supplies and equipment needed for the task at hand. Also included is a pool of cash to pay for order-in pizza or KFC. Who knew that a properly “made” bed could enable a twenty-five-cent piece to be bounced off the top blanket? All it takes is a ridiculous amount of time to seek out and banish the smallest wrinkle, working the rough wool fabric with a metal hanger, grasping the hook like the handle of a paint roller. Back and forth, back and forth.
The subtleties of training are not immediately apparent in the first few months. Most assuredly bodies are being molded and hardened, skills taught and honed, and vital classroom knowledge imparted. As importantly, with understated intent, minds are being shaped. Attitudes are framed during the daily routine, underpinned with the cornerstones of loyalty, courage, perseverance and commitment. With the legacy experience of nearly one hundred years of Force history, the officers and seasoned instructors inculcate this ethos through the employment of the long-established entity of a thirty-two-man cavalry formation. The “Troop”. Much more than a conventional team, this body of men is 24/7, all-in. Some might draw a parallel to family. Undeniably those elements are present, but this is different. Brotherhood, future life and death decisions, obligation to the badge and its motto are in the mix. Like it or not, this will be a lifelong path and will carry each recruit into the world of active law enforcement, perhaps the post Force civilian world of private enterprise, and finally into retirement. If they make it that far. Some will not.
During each recruit’s time in “Depot”, there is an almost inexhaustible storehouse of memories being accumulated. The common thread to these memories is the link to other members of the Force, to “Depot”, to the Troop. Successes and failures, discovery and growth all happening within the confines of the group of thirty-two troop mates. In November on that last day which marks the finish of training, the newly posted third class constables of 5 Troop, set foot outside of the “Depot” gates and go to meet whatever is waiting.
Now, fifty-one years later as surviving members of 5 Troop, we are left with a sense of gratitude and pride. Grateful for the experience and pride for what was accomplished. Like others, we also navigate the twin senses of loss and disappointment. Loss for those who put on the serge but never made it to retirement. Disappointment for the state that the Force now finds itself in with the constant and unrestrained attacks on its service, its history, its character. Much has changed on the path between April 1970 and now. Perhaps one recollection captures the purpose and fidelity of our venture as 5 Troop which can’t be diminished.
Each morning, no matter how difficult, exhausting or frustrating the day before, or how many doubts lingered about the days to come, one thing was a certainty. The dormitory speaker would blast out noise from “that damn bugle”, wreaking any plan of further sleep and warning that the new day was not going to wait. Upon leaving “Depot” for the last time, we could be content in the knowledge that we would never hear that sound again.
Of course that was not true.
We would hear it again repeatedly, attached to places, people and events across the country where one of our number, brother or sister, had been lost. Even in the instances when through distance or circumstance the bugle’s notes couldn’t be heard, the memory persists. Most recently Shubenacadie. Before that Langford and Moncton and Mayerthorpe and MacDowell. The list is long and predates our service. The legacy of the bugle’s sound does what it is supposed to do. It commands reverence for one of our own now gone in the service of their oath. There and then we are reminded of our time as 5 Troop, the struggles and the successes, the bonds of purpose, the reinforcement of traditions. We remember the youthful faces and the sounds of the soles of long browns coming down hard on the parade square, echoing in unison with the ringing of spurs. In one manner or another, we were all summoned there. We answered first as individuals, then as 5 Troop.
Our lineage is long, twenty-eight thousand came before us. They answered too. In 1873 the bugles sounded on the march, to the rhythm of wagon wheels departing Fort Garry, then in the centre of tent encampments and the log stockade detachments of the northwest prairie, then among the mounted regiment’s bed rolls laid on the mud mired veldt of South Africa. Number 1 Provost Company heard the bugle call after returning home from the blood-soaked battlefields of war- torn Europe, every November 11th.
Our successors have followed their assignments to the IED trapped roads and villages of Afghanistan where the bugles blow for their military colleagues. The sound still hauntingly resonates back to 1873.
In a time of a global life-altering pandemic, with activist mobs and a vitriolic media urging on craven political figures to defund the police, the meaning of belonging to 5 Troop, and being summoned each day by that “damn bugle” is worth remembering.