Diary of a Snake Charmer 408 Sqn RCAF By M. Ridgeway

Diary of a Snake Charmer 408 Sqn RCAF  By M. Ridgeway

Manning Pool, where good boys were made better

Manning Pool , or Manning Depot , makes no never mind, was located in the mouldering pile known as the Agricultural Buildings in the Exhibition Grounds, Toronto. A place to cause the strong to know fear and turn the weak into gibbering idiots. The former occupants of cattle, sheep and swine had been hastily evacuated but their memory lingered on. The floors had been hastily scraped and scrubbed and it ‘s endless corridors would soon echo to the commands of gravel-throated NCOs as they began whipping civilians into airmen.

It was just at the beginning of the Canadian National Exhibition and the show ring, the Tanbark, was still in use and it was advisable to watch one’ s footsteps when entering corridors leading to the Tanbark or one could  end up palling horse hockey. The concrete floor having been the recipient of years of animal droppings, gave off an odour which no amount of deodorant could cover, while an all-over aura of gloom and doom seemed to pervade the entire atmosphere. Truckloads of rookie airmen arrived to vanish into the dark depths of Manning Pool , some never to be seen again, lost and wandering in some forgotten corridor, their names perpetuated only on some faded “Absent Without Leave” roster.

We recruits soon came to expect the same treatment as given to the former inhabitants, we were to be herded like cattle , shorn as in sheep and hauled around by the nose as befits swine. Manning Pool taught us the true meaning of the proud Air Force motto, “Per Ardua ad  Astra”, had we poor miserable rookies only realized the great amounts of “ardua” we would encounter , we would have hauled our astras to parts unknown and that, right speedily. Morning reveille was accompanied by great amounts of coughing as tortured lungs tried to expel the dust from manure laden air. This phenomena was known as, “Manning Pool TB” and the only known cure was a posting.

Sanitary facilities were most rudimentary, and such facilities will hereby be known by their service appellation, the “Ablutions”. Consisting of a long rows of johns which flushed intermittently , it has been Known f or the occupant of the farthest john to receive an extra lo ad of goop while meditating during the flushing process.

These crappers were minus the usual wooden saddlery and murder to ride during frigid weather. This of course had been deliberately planned by the Officer in Charge of Works and Bricks, to condition hitherto as pampered butts  to the rigours which might be encountered during their service career. Officer’s Ablutions, and I stress, this is merely an unconfirmed rumour, were comparison in Air Force blue plush , while for  Group Captains and above , nothing would suffice except the softest of beaver pelt. Washing and shaving were performed  At long tin troughs under a dim light and murky mirror for admiring one’s face. Battered tin basins were available for the early risers, otherwise you shaved whatever face was closest to your razor. Many bloodstained visages were apparent as this would be the first time for many to have ever had recourse to the bane of daily shaving.

Still in our civilian clothes we learned such basics as proper deportment, the use of kitty litter has already been adequately described. All such training was done by number, and each segment became a “Parade”. It became a parade to the Medical Officer to be injected with dread diseases end undergo the humiliating, “Short Arm Inspection. ” During short arm inspection, the M.O. made  careful scrutiny of your most intimate apparatus while whistling off-key. It should be inscribed i n the Canadian Bill of Rights  that no Medical Officer should be allowed to whistle off-key such a grand old classic as the Mill’s Brothers, “You always hurt the one you love” , while conducting  short arm inspection. Rookies possess no rights, no Union Rep. can threaten strike action and Heaven remains the only recourse, but not to place too much trust in Divine intervention if you miss out on any parade on Station Orders. A further parade to the Station Warrant Officer in charge of discipline could well come about . The punishment meted out to raw recruits generally -consisted of “policing”, this term does not mean to put on an armband and check people in and out at the Main Gate, it is on par with the usual military sick joke of sending out a recruit with a bucket to whitewash the Last Post. To police the grounds meant to pi ck up garbage and soggy cigarette butt s while kitchen police washed great mounds of  tin plates in the Mess Hall.

Arms and shoulders still stiff from the “nocks “, a parade to Stores to be outfitted as becomes an airman, to shed the last vestige of civilian life, had been de creed. There will be only the two sizes to choose from, too large and too small , but somehow you stagger away from stores laden with such items as:

Caots, Great warm, airmen for the use of.

Tunics, melton, blue, ditto. Boots, ankle , leather .

Ties, cotton, black, two in number.

Shirts, flannel , grey, two in number.

Knives , clasp.

Knives, clasp proved something of an enigma, it was equipped with a huge blade and a toad stabber, those From Western ranch land said it was a Ferrier’s knife for paring horse’s hooves and the stabber for removing stones from same. The people from the Great Lakes region averred it was a naval type for cutting and splicing ropes. What ever the origin, all agreed some supplier had made a killing on knife’s clasp.

Heavily laden we rookies had to run the gauntlet of a swarm of hustlers. For a fee, these wise lads would sew on your Foo Birds, paint warlike designs on kitbags and insert extra cloth into the pipe stem trouser legs so the feet would protrude sufficiently to receive the boots, ankle. Most of the rookies took advantage of the services offered, we all wished to appear as veterans of at least two weeks and jeer at those still clad in civvies. Most of all, we wanted to be issued a pass, no uniform, no pass.

Recruit passes were always in the small economy size , 48s and more being reserved for Officers and Clerical Staff. With the pass came added responsibilities, conduct becoming an airman must be maintained at all times, the words of the “Purple Garter” song must be fully memorized to be sung at Double Forte on t he last tram back to depot. The charms of the Burlap Sisters of Hogtown must not be taken advantage of, Sister sy-Phyllis especially. As a  Incentive to fore go the pleasures of the flesh ,extra short” arm inspections took place . During such inspections, a curious phenomena n. it seems as t he embarrassed blush is not confined to the face alone, there were those who had survived this procedure many times who turned not a hair, and there were also those whose standard equipment sported a bluish tinge , doubtless from some medication

Here we have a patriotic display never seen in public, red, white and blue. These very colours grace the sides of aircraft in the form of roundels , could there be any connection? Naw, just coincidence!

Assembled in “Flights” under a tough NCO we were made known the ritual  War Dances of the military minds .  Costumed in stiff blue serge we did such strange manoeuvres as: He ads right. Heads left. Stamp your feet. Swing your arms. Shuffle. These rituals are known as “Foot Drill” and are designed to show the left foot from t he right.

“Not that left foot , dummy, the other one!”

We were drilled in units of one and in columns of bunches to the accompaniment of ribald shouts from off -duty onlookers, “Anyone here from the West? “.,and let no homesick rookie respond for he would be invited to perform a most difficult and obscene act with the Western Provinces. For the music lovers, there were band concerts on the Parade Square. The bandsmen blew great quantities of wind for short periods and then right-wheeled off the square into such places where bandsmen hide and we, poor slobs, were left to “pick ’em up and set ’em down” on a route march.

A military courtesy between officers and enlisted men which dates from from any position ,to the front or to ,the side, on the march, riding a bicycle or sitting in a bath tub, but , ONLY IF YOU ARE WEARING A HAT. The salute is taught by number , “Longest way up, shortest way down, at the count of three••.• •••.•• SALUTE!. On the salute to the right, the thumb must be held rigidly and not let stray downwards to the nose in that disgraceful gesture known as “cocking the snoot”, no matter how richly deserved and the temptation almost unbearable. Salutes are given on the march to officers, of course, but mainly to pretty girls. On the command, EYES RIGHT, the head and eyes are turned smartly to the right. With the command, EYES FRONT, the eyeballs will be returned with a click. In actual practice, the clicking can be produced by the tongue, eyeball clicking is a nuisance and only practised by budding disciplinarians who have never been known for their keen powers of observation. To salute is to honour the commission the officer represents but fail to salute and it will not be a piece of parchment which tears off a strip but a frustrated man in a flat hat.

At least once during the chrysalis stage, the Articles of War, especially the Riot Act will be read for your benefit. In the measured tones of the King James Bible, it lays out and lovingly describes the tortures which may be inflicted  to a transgressor. Each chapter and verse begins “Should an airman, whilst  on Active Service, commit the crime of [here would follow the description of the crime, such as spitting on the sidewalk] he shall be dealt with as in this act mentioned. The reader, generally the S.W.D ., then rolls off his tongue such delights as:

Burning at the stake.

Drawing and quartering.

The embrace of the Iron  Maiden.

Thumsc:rews and the rack.

During all the readings, the Medical staff were kept on full “Red Alert ” to quickly revive some rookie who had Fainted during the gruesome recital. Revivals were swift so not one delicious turn of the thumbs crews would be missed.

Many lectures of a moral nature had to be endured. Our generation had been brought up in the strict Victorian code of “spare the rod and spoil the child”, the use of profanity was punished by washing out the mouth with strong soap and the closest we had come to Capital L “Life” was taking a peek at Nudist Magazine in the Library or looking through the Police Gazette at the barbershop. This is not intended to presume that we were all as pure as the new driven snow, although some mild necking in the back seat of a car had occurred on occasion, but we were not nearly so sophisticated as today’s modern youngster. The lectures as delivered in Manning Pool could have been lifted, chapter and verse , from t he serious talks given to small boys before Confirmation by Anglican ministers. Little boys who played with themselves went to Insane Asylums, there would be no reprieve, you went bonkers .

In the earlier days of the Air Force, there were no service cooks and a large restaurant chain catered to Manning Depot . The shareholders of the chain became Filthy rich on the amounts of Food which had to be tipped directly into the swill barrels. We “Spraggs” (another term For rookies), kept body and soul together by hamburgers, hot dogs and chocolate milk from the “Y” canteen.

By this time we had been taught our left From right Foot , how to salute, and some very basic Foot drill . It became time to move on to greater glory. Daily Routine Orders were checked nightly to see if your name had appeared. Our flight of prospective Instrument Makers drew the Repair Depot in Ottawa and we were not unhappy to leave Manning Pool and it’s brand of TB, a little apprehensive possibly but we climbed aboard the midnight train to Ottawa laden with kit to learn further ways of becoming airmen of his Majesty’s Blooming Air works.