Camp memories still painful
Cadets’ money-making scheme didn’t pan out.
Following my unpleasant experience at Camp Carmel, I avoided summer camps for many years. The ban was finally lifted when I was in air cadets and had a chance to go to camp at CFS Greenwood. I had never been off the island so this was a chance to go all the way to the Annapolis Valley.
On the first morning of camp we fell in for an hour of drill before we went to breakfast. I had stepped on a nail a week before but didn’t tell anyone for fear I wouldn’t be allowed to go. When the sergeant saw me limping he sent me to the medical centre where the doctor gave me a tetanus shot and a note excusing me from drill . When Mike learned about this he began a desperate search for a board with a nail in it.
On the second morning I was assigned to cleanup duty which involved sweeping the floor of the Greenwood Gardens, the base’s rink, where we went for breaks. I soon realized that the sweepings held a fortune in cigarette butts, a golden money- making opportunity for Mike and me.
On the third morning, and again on the forth, Mike pretended to faint and was soon excused from drill. With the team back together we hatched a plan to collect cigarette butts and hold on to them until close to the end of camp when money was short and the addicted would be willing to buy cut-rate smokes. Ever the schemer, Mike developed a keen sense of timing and would holler “fall in” just as many of the guys were lighting a second smoke. This guaranteed prime butts.
On the fifth morning Mike found a black marker in the broom closet and drew sergeant stripes on the sleeves of his shirt. I was soon promoted to corpo- ral. Mike was quick to take command of the cleanup crew, now expanded to six, including Pierre, from Shippegan, N.B., who spoke little English. We spent hours with him learning how to curse in French.
Ever vigilant for investment opportunities, we soon opened a shoe-shining business and recruited Pierre as head polisher. He had come to camp with no money so welcomed the opportunity to make 25 cents a pair. We never told him we charged 50.
In the final days of camp business was brisk, just as Mike had predicted, and by the last day we had a tidy sum in the kitty. As we exchanged our summer uniforms for the winter ones we had worn on the trip from home, the corporal at the desk told us to report to the drill sergeant’s office.
“Probably wants to buy some smokes,” Mike said with a giggle.
The sergeant was a giant of a man who we had come to fear in our short drill career. We were marched into the office where he stood ramrod-straight, holding a khaki shirt in each hand.
“How do you explain this,” he demanded, unfolding the shirts to expose black sergeant and corporal stripes: “Defacing Her Majesty’s property is a serious offense.” We were too scared to speak. “You’ll pay for these shirts before you leave or we call your parents,” he said, as he tossed the shirts into the wastebasket.
We passed over our cigarette and shoe-shine money and were released from custody in time to board the bus for home. As we passed through the gate we saw Pierre coming from the canteen with a pop and bag of chips. With no money for lunch, all we could say was “Tabernoush!” I’m just sayin’...
David Muise practises law in New Waterford. He welcomes reader comments and suggestions at email@example.com. His column normally appears in the Cape Breton Post every second Monday.