|The Bombing of Camp Aldershot|
|Written by Atlantic Branch Patron|
There was still a degree of intense battalion competition that had lingered after the two Black Watch battalions were disbanded.
It always starts with hockey.
After a few beers it moves to softball, track and field, the divisional sports meets, forced march competitions, boxing, soccer or basketball. Eventually, the argument switches to the standard of drill, shooting, fitness and even how much beer each battalion consumed on a specific day forty or more years ago.
In the end, every contest could be matched by a supporter of the other battalion who could recall an event or a competition that was matched by either first or second battalion.
Except one …
It began one evening in the spring of 1960.
First battalion was still in Aldershot, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Don McLellan and second battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bucko Watson, was in Camp Gagetown, having moved there the summer before.
The competition, in various forms, continued but with the two battalions separated by the Bay of Fundy, it was done at something of a distance.
Second battalion was involved in a change of command – Lieutenant Colonel Watson to Lieutenant Colonel Askwith.
Colonel Bucko was posted to the staff college in Kingston, Ontario where he would be faced with the prospect of training aspiring staff officers. It was not a very inspiring appointment since a great deal of tedious work was involved, much of it reviewing staff papers, like a school master, while noting the students mistakes in red ink.
Lieutenant Colonel McLellan, on the other hand, had much brighter prospects.
He would, within a very short time, be taking first battalion to Germany where they would be part of the Canadian Brigade working with the British Army of the Rhine. It promised to be an exciting appointment.
Second battalion was stuck in Gagetown, first battalion would be in Germany and Colonel Bucko was going to the staff college.
First battalion won that round hands down.
Colonel Watson’s farewell mess dinner was full of the usual trappings, much tradition, pipers, highland dancing, gallons of scotch, haggis and all the other bits and pieces that were unique to the regiment.
There were also a number of presentations, some serious and some not.
Then there was the gift from first battalion.
It was unwrapped with some ceremony. After all, it was only proper the other battalion would honour the departure of second battalion’s commanding officer.
The final bit of paper was removed, revealing the gift from the commanding officer of first battalion.
It was a gallon bottle of red ink.
Second round to first battalion.
In looking back, I am not sure if the commanding officer was amused or not. He seldom smiled at the best of times.
He picked up the jug, read the label, determined it was ‘Carters Red Ink’ and then handed it to the adjutant.
“Return this to first battalion,” he said, and blinked a couple of times which he did frequently to reinforce his point.
Geoff Corry, the adjutant, took the gallon bottle, then consigned it to the subalterns along with the commanding officer’s direction to return it to first battalion.
Enter Rusty Willett…
By the end of the evening, it was agreed that Rusty should deliver the bottle back to Aldershot and to speed the process on the way, it was agreed that he should fly it there and drop it on the battalion parade square. The cost of that operation, which was shared by the subalterns, worked out to about $10.00/hour. For about $40.00, the gallon of red ink could be returned in a fashion that would be a reminder that second battalion was still very much in the running when it came to battalion competitions.
Everyone knew Rusty had recently qualified as a pilot.
In fact, he talked about little else. At the time, he was the proud owner of a log book that reflected a total of thirteen hours solo time. That seems like a fair bit when you say it fast but when you think about it, it worked out to a good deal less than a day in the cockpit of an airplane without an instructor sitting beside him telling him what to do.
However, lack of experience never slowed Rusty down.
Rusty wasn’t sure why, but he decided he needed a co-pilot. Fact was, there were no takers (for very good reason) but finally, out of friendship, Cliff Rutter agreed to fly in the right hand seat. The fact he was also an aspiring pilot probably had something to do with the decision.
They set out late the next morning in a Fleet Canuck, rented for the agreed $40.00 from the Fredericton Flying Club.
The plan was simple.
They would fly across the Bay of Fundy, up over the North Mountain, down into the valley, over Centerville and across the apple orchards, into Aldershot via the sports field, over the huts between the sergeants’ mess to the large parade square. They would arrive at 1200 on the dot. Well, more or less.
Then, Rusty would slow the aircraft down, Cliff would lean out the window and drop the bottle on the parade square. Then, they would fly back to Fredericton in ample time to recount their adventures in the bar at 1700.
In so doing, they would have completed Colonel Bucko’s direction to return the gallon of Carters red ink to first battalion.
Unfortunately, as they approached the camp they were five or six minutes early. To further complicate things, they discovered there was a platoon drilling on the square.
There was fairly rapid agreement between the two of them that tossing a gallon of ink on the square with the possibility of driving shards of glass into thirty or so of first battalion’s finest wasn’t an especially good idea.
Instead of simply circling about for a few minutes until the square was clear, Rusty decided to show everyone how skillful he was as a pilot. He figured he would suitably impress Cliff and the two or three hundred highlanders who were now watching from outside the H huts, including the commanding officer who had just left the battalion orderly room on his way to lunch in the officers’ mess.
Assuming everyone was watching, Rusty picked some airspace above the sports field and climbed straight up to something much less than a thousand feet. The idea was that he would do a graceful pivot, turn on the wing and then go back down the way he went up. Pulling off a move like that without a great deal of height would terrify even the most experienced pilots but with great confidence, brought on by a full thirteen hours of solo flying experience, it was nothing for Willett.
He went up without any problem but coming back down presented a few difficulties - fairly serious ones in fact. Instead of pivoting the way the aircraft was supposed to, he went into a spin, barely recovering before the Fleet Canuck crashed. Cliff Rutter had a pretty good idea how close he came to being another name on a monument but he concluded that Rusty was the boss and spinning towards the ground at high speed was probably part of his plan.
They leveled off, circled a bit to use up more time and make certain they had not soiled their flying suits. The, with Rusty calling the shots, Cliff threw the gallon jug out of the window and they both watched as it spiraled down and crashed, spreading red ink from one end of the parade square to the other.
With the mission accomplished, they flew off over the barrack lines on their way back to Fredericton.
“It was amazing,” Cliff recalled later, “how much a jug of ink can spread when dropped from a couple hundred feet. I was pretty impressed.”
Colonel McLellan wasn’t.
Two days later, a charge report arrived at second battalion. It was raised by the commanding officer of first battalion. There were two charges.
“Destruction of Government Property in that ten square yards of the garrison parade square was damaged beyond repair at a cost of $100.00/ yard;” and,
“Failure of the aircraft pilot or co-pilot to salute the commanding officer of first battalion The Black Watch (RHR) of Canada who was less than a hundred feet from said aircraft on his way to the officers’ mess for lunch.”
For two days, neither Willett nor Rutter could decide if the charges were serious or not. Finally, Colonel Askwith took them off the hook and every one in second battalion began to wait for first battalion to settle the score which everyone knew was inevitable.
But, for some reason, it never happened. By July 1970, when the regular battalions were disbanded, the bombing of Aldershot had never been revenged.
Final score second battalion 1 ……… first battalion zip!!