William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

HOME SWEET HOME, 1959

Billy Willbond: Home Sweet Home, 1959
I took this hootchie picture in Summer 1959 with the Kodak Brownie camera that my Mom sent me for Christmas, 1958; used it for many years
Building a poncho hootchie was one thing; living in it for a month and a half during the summer concentration in Wainwright in 1959 was another. My Platoon Sergeant, Jack Gallant, had drilled into us that sandbags around the bottom of the hootch were very, very important, not so much for protection from bullets but from grenade slivers and mortar fragments. Do they still teach these sorts of skills in the training depots today? Many are gone now, but most of our NCOs were WW2 and Korean Vets who had been there and done that and the training and instruction we received was from those who not only talked the talk, but in fact had walked the walk.

In that summer of 1959, Elvis P and Nat King C were my idols. I was a 17 year old Rifleman (having joined the Army at 13 PD on 14 Nov 1958). The summer of ‘59 concentration was one of the last large troop train movements in Western Canada with 5,000 men, their Artillery Pieces, baggage cars filled with QM Stores and weapons etc., all pulled into the sidings in Wainwright Alberta. We marched from the station to the buffalo fence and on into the training area where we slept on the ground that first night. Rifleman Gordie Stephanson and I built the hootch (shown on the above photograph) just below heart hill off red route. It was our home sweet home for the next six weeks. I was in a Rifle Platoon in (B Coy) part of 1st Battalion QOR of C under Brigade Commander Brigadier General Rocky “the Rock” Rockingham

In those days, as infantrymen we marched everywhere we went. We even hiked to Bigger Sask and I remember the sign, “New York is Big but this is Bigger”. The back roads we marched on were dry dusty dirt; clouds of dust went up from behind our marching boots and it covered the saskatoonie berry bushes with a fine film of red silt. High soaring hawks circled slowly above us keeping a wary eye out for the bush rabbits that the marching troops scared out of hiding.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip came to visit us that summer of ‘59. We lined the streets of the town of Wainwright. We had used hot sand filled mess tins as makeshift irons to press the Field Bush Jackets, and Bush Pants, shined our boots and washed the dust out of our black puttees and made ourselves presentable for viewing by the Queen.

Just got a brief glimpse of HMQE2 as she drove slowly by in a convertible staff car and then she got back on the train. It was a hot, dry, dusty summer day and what I remember most clearly was seeing a dog lift his leg and pee on the boots of the soldier standing directly opposite me on the far side of the street (as we stood at rigid attention, unflinching). The urge to laugh was suppressed (I bit my tongue) whilst the man next to me, WW2 vet Rifleman “Harry the horse” Brown, roared and shook with convulsions, which didn’t impress our Acting CSM, Kenrod “the Rod” Mick Cee, (who was always trying to make a good impression). The Rod growled: “Stand still you fuckin’ turd” which only made things worse and Brown roared even louder which set off a chain reaction and a ripple of laughter rolled up and down the line on both sides of the street. Thank God HMQE2 was by then already back on train! That was my one and only (picture on the $1.00 Bill) glimpse of the young Queen until we got our New flag in Ottawa a few years later – but, hey that too is another story.

We had just received our FN C1’s that summer but still kept our Bren Guns because the C2s hadn’t arrived from Belgium as yet. Keeping the Wainwright dust from sticking to the freshly oiled moveable parts of the gas operated newly issued weapons – well that was difficult and in a way I was kinda sad to turn in my .303. But hey, that’s progress.