|By Their Nicknames – Ye Shall Know Them|
|Written by Atlantic Branch Patron|
A couple of years ago, I received a phone call from someone who knew I had served with The Black Watch. His brother-in-law had passed away and he told me that he had been in the regiment as a sergeant.
I asked what his name was and he replied, “Bruce MacLean.”
That puzzled me.
I knew, or at least knew of, most of the senior non-commissioned officers in The Black Watch but I couldn’t recall anyone named Bruce MacLean.
“Which battalion was he in?" I asked.
I had served in second battalion and that made things even more confusing since I certainly knew every sergeant in the battalion. I didn’t want to sound uncooperative but the name didn’t mean a thing to me which could create an awkward situation since a death was involved so I asked for a second initial.
“J,” he replied.
The light went on immediately. It was ‘BJ’ MacLean.
I described him just to be sure
“Short guy, Pictou Highlanders during the war, served in Korea with The Black Watch, Pioneer Sergeant in second battalion??”
“That’s right,” he said, a little puzzled why it took me so long to get the message.
I put him in touch with the secretary of The Black Watch Association who passed the word along to the members and we all grieved over the loss of another member of our regiment.
Afterwards I thought about it.
I only knew ‘BJ’ by his nickname but that really wasn’t all that unusual in The Black Watch. Curious, I called Don Reekie who I knew had served as a sergeant in Korea and asked him the same question I had been asked a short time before.
Don didn’t know a Bruce MacLean either.
Then I told him it was ‘BJ.’
There was a moment of silence on the end of the line and then Don said,
“You know, I lived in the same tent with him in Korea for over a year, and I never knew his name was Bruce.”
That didn’t surprise me.
The Black Watch related to each other by nicknames or as in the case of ‘BJ,’ by those first two initials.
Frequently, we didn’t know the person’s first name. The company clerk did, certainly the chief clerk and probably the pay sergeant, but most of the rest of us didn’t because for us, the nicknames always worked better. It was interesting that those nicknames were used by all ranks in The Black Watch from private through to the commanding officer. That frequently puzzled, and sometimes irritated, many senior officers from outside our regiment.
To the best of my knowledge, there was no rhyme nor reason to the names - some reflected the owner’s personality while others described their physical appearance and some made no sense whatever. But they were all unique.
For example, where else would you find a regiment with names like.......
Spook, Turkey Neck, Bull Moose, Faces Adjustable, Hoodlum or Hooch (he was the only one I knew that had two nicknames), Furnace Face, Gummie, Spanky, The White Rat (which he later changed to the Ivory Rodent when he got promoted), Hose Nose, Rooster, Bubble Gut, Bull, Mother, Babe, Beaky, Snag, Wish, Cyclone, Rabbit, Fat Neck, Dog, Squeaky, Pigmy, Siwash, Needle Nose, Jelly Belly, Handsome Harry, Cuddles, Moose, Duck Arse, Doc, Dirty Mouth, Smik, (I found out years later that meant Smallest Man In Kentville), Long John (there were at least two of those), John Jesus, Dog Shit, Charlie the Fox, The Silver Hornet, Lobster, Jake The Owl, Tiny, Famagusta Fats and one that always appealed to me since it perfectly described a constantly overweight subaltern - The Easter Pig.
Some went with the job. The provost sergeant was always the Sheriff, the doctor was the Chancre, the dentist - the Fang Mechanic, the drill sergeant major - the Drill Pig, the quarter- master usually had factor added to his first name i.e. John the Factor and a hut orderly was the Hut Slut or the Shack Rat. Some went with the geography of the camp – the guard room was the Piss Can or the Crowbar Hotel and the barrack room was the Shack.
The soldiers gave most commanding officers a nickname, but for obvious reasons, those were certainly never used in their presence.
Some of those are worth noting - Blinkey, The Laird, Spaniel Eyes, Gold Finger, Harry The Hawk and Cousin Weak Eyes. That one was given to a regimental depot commanding officer after he hit a parked car on a prairie highway that could be easily seen from three miles away.
There were hundreds of nicknames and they have become as much a part of The Black Watch as any aspect of our history. It was one of the things that made us different.
A year or so after most of us in the two Black Watch battalions were rebadged and became members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, along with a few hundred or so from the Canadian Guards, I had the occasion as the commanding officer, along with the acting regimental sergeant major at the time, to attend a meeting called by the Royal Canadian Regiment.
The meeting was chaired by a general.
He thought it would be nice if we could discuss what he considered to be an immensely important subject - to keep those members from the Canadian Guards and The Black Watch who had been forced into the Royal Canadian Regiment happy and contented and, in the process, make them feel more at home.
The purpose of the meeting was what to call the regimental sergeant major.
Should he be called “Mr” or “RSM” or as the Canadian Guards did, “sergeant major?”
It didn’t seem the least bit important to the two of us from The Black Watch attending the meeting. However, it was considered sufficiently significant that the item to be discussed was placed there by an upwardly mobile young general who was strongly supported by the other senior officers from the Royal Canadian Regiment, most of whom later became generals.
The acting regimental sergeant major and I were the only former members of The Black Watch there. After much, rather stupid, discussion that went on for a couple of hours, it was finally decided the regimental sergeant major should be called ‘Regimental Sergeant Major,’ ‘RSM’ or ‘Mister’ - exactly as he had been for as long as any of us could remember.
When it was over, the acting RSM and I decided to get out of there as quickly as we could. We both concluded that we had wasted the best part of the afternoon in a foolish exercise that had served no useful purpose.
As we were leaving the room, a very pompous brigadier general rather caustically noted that it was obvious I wasn’t very much interested in the subject they had discussed for at least two hours.
As politely as possible, I suggested the meeting had been a waste of time.
“Oh, and do tell me colonel,” a tone of sarcasm in his voice, “what do you call your regimental sergeant major?”
Without thinking, I replied,
“Joe The Buck!”
As we left the building, Joe turned to me and said,
“I don’t think you should have done that sir.”
“Why not,” I asked, “I’ve called you that for years.”
“I know,” he said, pointing back over his shoulder with his pace stick, “but that brigadier general is not from The Black Watch. There is no way he would understand!!”
Joe was right. He didn’t understand and he never would.
Those nicknames were one of the things that made us different. They were also one of the things that brought us closer together.
Joe the Buck knew that, and so did I.
I’ve often thought it was unfortunate the brigadier, who later became a very senior major general, didn’t understand.
That was a pity. The Canadian Forces would have probably been a lot better if he had.