|Joining Up - The Enlistment Experience
|by Stanley Scislowski
Perth Regt, 5th CDN ARMD DIV, 1943-1945
|Part II - Documentation and Other Embarrassments
|After lunch, my name was called out by the Documentation clerk, an expressionless fellow who went through the routine of asking me a lot of questions, like naming my next of kin, my religious denomination, sports I played, musical instruments I was skilled at, my hobbies, how much education I had, and a lot of other questions long since forgotten. Though I'd never gone to church except to funerals, I knew I'd been baptized Roman Catholic, so that's what I told the man I was. Okay, the next question was, "What sports did I play?" I named all the sandlot sports, but I told the clerk that football was the one I was best at. As for music - nothing, except maybe my being able to wield drum-sticks and come up with a recognizable marching beat. As for hobbies, I had none to speak of, except if you could call playing with chemicals in a makeshift chemical laboratory as a hobby (it was more of an interest rather than a hobby). As for the Corps of the Army I'd like to join, I told him Chemical Warfare. My second choice was the infantry. I knew my chances were pretty slim, if non-existent, to get into Chemical Warfare because I simply didn't have the required educational credentials, like a B.S.C., M.S. or a PH.D. I mentioned Chemical Warfare anyway just because my mother was hoping I'd go in that direction, not as an ordinary soldier where there was too much of a chance of me getting killed. I'd said to her a couple of days later that the only way for me to get into the Chemical Warfare Labs up in Ottawa was that I'd have to join the Permanent Force. I could see though, she wasn't all that convinced over my explanation. Ma didn't want me to go 'Active' because she knew I'd end up as cannon-fodder. You can't fool mothers.
|I might mention here, that some ten or
so years after the war, when involved in a pension claim, I somehow came
into possession of a transcript of my attestation papers, and couldn't
get over that part of the papers where it
said, 'description of soldier'. A clerk, a product of the times, had typed, "a Polish lad of average foreign appearance." I couldn't believe my eyes. Average foreign appearance? How in bloody hell do you average out a foreigner's looks? And I wasn't a foreigner anyway - I was born in Canada. Did I have the sharper features and darker complexion of the Italians, or did I have the higher cheekbones of a Hungarian? Were my eyes slightly slanted like the Chinese? Was there a strong resemblance to the Slavic people? Or was I blend of all these? What was a Polish boy like me supposed to look like? I most certainly wasn't handsome, but yet I knew there were a lot of Polish boys who were blessed with Hollywood good looks. Average foreign appearance be damned! What a stupid way to describe a person! But I guess that's the way things were in those days for anyone of European blood; we were all lumped together under the derogatory title of 'wops' even when most of us had been born over here.
|Once we were through with documentation
we were directed across the street to the mess hall where we took an I.Q.
test. The army called it an 'M' test. It was supposed to determine
the inductee's intelligence quotient, presumably so that the army could
determine how and where they could best employ the man, and whether the
man had leadership capabilities or not. I harboured an unreasonable nagging
doubt that I might fail the test, and so might be rejected from service.
Why I should have been so unsure of myself I really don't know. After all,
I had been smart enough to go through grade school in the top third of
my class, and I must have had enough to get as
far as the 4th year in Secondary school. I really had no reason at all to fear that I might fail. As might be predicted, my fears or doubts turned out to be groundless. Although we weren't given our scores, I did learn through the copies of the attestation papers that came into my hands after the war, as mentioned above, that my 'M' test indicated I had Senior N.C.O. potential. It's too bad I wasn't told this in Advanced Infantry Training or I might have asserted myself a lot more than I did. As it was, I drifted along with the common throng, firm in the belief that I was just an ordinary guy, content to go along with the crowd, do what was asked or demanded of me, but not beyond. As for taking on stripes, I couldn't see myself giving orders as a Sergeant or Corporal. It just wasn't in me. I was two people, a sort of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, too timid most of the time, but when someone got my goat a little too much, I'd unload whether that man in front of me was a Private or another NCO - it didn't matter - I'd whack him one. You just can't do that in the army, and that's why I remained a Private
all through the war even though I had a couple of chances to move up.
|The Medical Nightmare
|The next step in my transition to soldier was a medical examination by army medical officers, obviously a double-check on the civilian doctors to make sure the new recruits were free of any hidden medical problem the civvy doctors had somehow missed. I found myself in a long line-up of fellows in various stages of undress, a good many of them, like myself, showing signs of being ill-at-ease. There was no valid reason why I should have felt this way since I had showered so many times in the company of a lot of other naked bodies (male, of course) after football practises and games. I was just too damn modest for my own good.
|Taking showers with a lot of other guys was one thing, but an examination, from head to foot, of every orifice on my body was another matter altogether. Worst of all, there was no privacy whatsoever. You stood there stark naked in full view of other naked bodies while the M.O. took a close look at your genitals, probing about the pubic hair in search of crabs and other species of parasites. And then, horror of horrors, you had to bend over and pull your buttock cheeks apart while he scrutinized your rectum for piles. I was never so embarrassed in all my life, especially with the other guys standing there looking on while waiting their turn. Bent over and with my cheeks apart I fought back the strong urge to ask the doctor, partly in jest and partly as an insult, if he could see the midnight train coming. It was somewhat of a traumatic experience, something I hoped I'd never have to go through again; little did I know but that there were many more such intrusions into my modesty awaiting in the three and a half years ahead.
|As for the above examination, a story
swept through the barracks concerning a certain local yokel from somewhere
out in the county who was so dumb, that when the M.O. asked him to bend
over and pull his cheeks apart he did as he was instructed, but instead
of pulling his buttocks apart he pulled on the cheeks of his face.
He was rejected right then and there as mentally unfit. At the time, I
actually believed it really did happen. It did
not. Just another one of the many unlikely stories that made the rounds every so often.
|I came out of the final medical exam with an A1 category. From here on in I figured everything would be clear sailing. I was wrong. There was still one more embarrassing hurdle to make, and that was the short-arm inspection. Even up until the final moments before the humbling moment, I still believed that a short-arm inspection was nothing but a figment of some wise guy's wild imagination, a myth, a joke played on all young and naive fellows like myself. If there was anybody more gullible than me, I hadn't yet come across him. I'd always thought of short-arm inspections as falling in the class of the kind of trick played on a guy where you send him for a left-handed monkey wrench, or a sky hook, or a bucket of steam, stuff like that. But now I was about to learn the awful truth. No such prank. Very shortly, somebody in a white coat would be handling my genitals to see if I had V.D.
|So there I was, standing in another long
line-up, and I asked the guy behind me what this one was all about, since
we had just had our medical examination. "Short-arm inspection,"
he replied. "Short-arm inspection!" I
exclaimed with rising panic. "Oh my God! No, it can't be!" But it was, as I was soon to find out. The line of loose-trousered men shuffled slowly along the dusty hallway on the top floor to enter an opening in the wallboard
partition. As I rounded the corner I beheld a long table behind which three Medical Corpsmen, a Captain, a Sergeant and a Corporal were doing just what I was afraid they'd be doing. They were handling the genitals of every man in the long line-up, skinning them back as they scrutinized the organ for signs of V.D. I broke into a sweat and damn near keeled over in a dead faint.
|I knew I had nothing like 'blue balls' or clap or syph, or for that matter, crabs, so why I should I be so uptight? The only thing I had to be concerned about was getting one of those involuntary erections young and virile lads like me were prone to when you least wanted one. I had to think about anything that would take my mind off what was about to take place. I let my mind flit between funerals, church services, old people, trains, cows, anything at all that would take my mind off what I was about to have to face. And then, there I was, at the point where I had to drop my trousers and expose my privates. Gritting my teeth, I stood there praying the damn thing between my legs wouldn't start rising, and before I knew it, it was all over. What a relief!
|More Fun & Games
|It occurred to me at this point that every move I had made thus far was something in the nature of a minor crisis. This next move was to the Dental Office certainly, and as far as I was concerned it was one of the greater crises. Anything to do with my teeth, and my muscles wilted away into what was more like jelly. In other words, when it came to an appointment with the dentist I was nothing short of a coward. Dentists I feared with an unholy terror. I'd much rather face an operation, even without anaesthesia, than have a dentist drill or pull my teeth. The phobia I had about dental work started way back in Grade Five when I had to visit old Doc Biehn at John Campbell School, who we all suspected was a sadist of the worst kind, judging from the screams and wails that every now and then echoed through the hall on the second floor whenever he was at work. He and his successor, Doctor Deans, did more to plant the fear of dentists in a generation of kids than any doctor or strap-inclined teacher ever did. So it was only natural that on my second or third day in the army when I was motioned to the throne of pain, I had to call on every last shred of courage that was in me to walk those dozen or so steps. I was scared shitless. I couldn't back out of it, so I put on a false front to the others behind me as I sat in the padded chair to face the tortures of the damned. After a few highly tensed moments in the chair, merely an examination, as it turned out, no greater sigh of relief had ever escaped my lips as it did right then. All the dentist did was mark on a chart repairs that would be needed to bring my teeth to accepted standards.
|Now with the worrisome part of my budding army service over and done with, I hiked on down to the Quartermaster stores to pick up my clothing issue, webbing, packs, gas-mask, etc., and of course, the steel helmet. I'd never felt prouder as I did then, my arms full of army issue, hurrying up the creaky staircase to my assigned cot. I dumped the heap on the bed and after taking off my civvy wear, began dressing in the raiment known as khaki. And what a hilarious session it turned out to be! With two hundred or more other guys doing the same, the third floor bay was a funhouse of laughter and good-natured kidding. Never had I heard such shrieks and uproarious guffaws as we slowly transformed ourselves into reasonable facsimiles of what should be soldiers.
|Putting the uniform on was a 'snap'. Getting
the webbing together, however, was another matter. You'd think it was a
Chinese puzzle by the way we struggled with it, watching the successful
ones to see how they did it. Once we got everything together and our uniforms
on, we couldn't help but feel somewhat self-conscious. Though all of us
were strangers to each other, it didn't matter, we all laughed at each
other, made rude but good-natured
comments as though we'd known each other all our lives.
|The only negative aspect of my first days in the army, as I had said earlier, was the poor quality of food served in the mess-hall. Every time the bugler blew, "Come to the cookhouse door, boys, come to the cookhouse door", I didn't respond with the same degree of enthusiasm as I did a month or so along in my training. By that time I'd become pretty well adjusted to what the cooks served us - the quality and the menu had vastly improved (or so it seemed). Four hours of intensive physical exertions in the course of training can do wonders to a man's appetite, and one doesn't become as choosy or critical of what's set before him at the mess table. We were invariably as hungry as bears and would have eaten anything set in front of us.
|The first night spent in barracks was
an especially memorable moment in my three and a half years in the army,
even as insignificant as it really was. It was almost as funny as a Stan
Laurel/Oliver Hardy comedy. A three-hour laugh session, no less. From the
moment we started to put our new issue uniforms on I hadn't heard so many
quaint expressions and all 'round silly banter in my life. And when the lights were turned off you'd swear you were in the children's ward at a hospital. More guys could imitate crying babies than I had ever thought possible. It was a howler! And then you'd hear the plaintive cry of what sounded like a little boy calling out, "I want my Mummy! I want to go home!" , stuff like that. I couldn't stop chuckling. This kept up for almost a half hour after 'lights out' until a Sergeant poked his head into the bay and shouted, "Okay, okay, drop it, enough of this nonsense, knock it off, knock it off, let's hear no more!". I finally drifted off to sleep, pleased with the way things had gone. A good introduction to army life!
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