Exercise Moccasin
Excerpts from Sgt. Dick Watts' letters home - February/March 1948
© Jean Watts 2003

Part 2

Exercise Moccasin

February 21
The last couple of days Jerry and I have been doing a bit of snow-shovelling, trying to dig out packing cases which are buried in about 10 or 12 feet of snow. Don't think I've ever shovelled so much snow before. The snow is so deep around our stores hut that it is piled up the side of the hut and onto the roof. When you look out of the window you can't see anything because the snow covers the windows.

Yesterday afternoon we witnessed a demonstration by an Eskimo lad from Chesterfield Inlet, which is about 700 miles north of here. He evidently didn't think that the snow was quite hard enough for his work, and while he was building the igloo he kept saying, "Too warm, too hot. The weather is not like in my country." Funny, because the temperature was all of 21 below zero!

Crowd watching iglo builderCrowd watching iglo builder

Eskimo from Chesterfield Inlet building an igloo. 20th February 1948

Crowd watching iglo builderThe Iglo Builder

He had on an outfit of caribou skins and underneath he had a sort of long parka made of some kind of skin. After working for a short while (not wearing any hat!) he took off his outer caribou skin because he was perspiring quite a bit. He wore nothing under his inner parka skin, or so I was told. He had a dog team (eight dogs) and a long sleigh with him, and the dogs looked as if they found the weather warm too, because they appeared drowsy, and each dog curled up into a separate little ball and went to sleep. There must have been about 70 people watching him work and I don't think I've ever seen so many cameras in all my life! Jerry and I had our pictures taken in front of the half-completed igloo.

The Igloo BuilderIgloo

The Eskimo's name was "Kililee," or something like that, and I don't think he was more than about 21 or 22 years of age. I heard that he stayed in the Officers' Quarters last night but couldn't sleep because it was too warm. He came down to here by dog team and by plane, and he covers about 25 or 30 miles a day with his dogs. A civilian doctor came along with him, and I guess their real reason for coming to here was to pick up some supplies. The sleigh he had with him was quite long (about 15 feet) and narrow and the bottoms of the runners were covered with mud covered with ice.

Husky DogIglo builder's dog team

One of the Igloo builder''s dogs -------------------------------- The Igloo builder's dog-team

Saw Colonel Wrinch today and he asked me how I liked it up here. Full of enthusiasm (it was a nice day!), I said "Oh fine, sir." Then, thinking better, I said, "Well, perhaps I shouldn't appear too enthusiastic!" The Col. said, "No, perhaps you oughtn't to be too hasty with your enthusiasm," and added that it was quite a change from being in Ottawa. I heartily agreed with him there! He took a short trip into the bush with Riddell today but don't know whether they are going out again tomorrow.

February 22
We've now got an army wireless set in our room, and although it only brings in shortwave programs, it's not too bad. The only thing is, it doesn't bring the stations in very well, and although we can get England, the programs are a bit "wavy." Still, it is better than nothing.

This afternoon Jerry and I went out into Hudson Bay with Denny Hayes, who is another sergeant in the Sigs here. The ice is certainly piled up out in the Bay; in some places it's piled up about 40 feet high. There were crevices in the ice all over the place and you could hear it cracking continuously. However, I doubt very much whether the water would be very deep out where we were, because the ice is so very thick. . . . We could see some water where there was no ice, but that water must have been five or six miles out from where we were.

February 25
Yep, Riddell does all right by us fellows here and sees that the boys in the bush especially get lots of good rations and that they are located in comfortable positions. Speaking of rations, the food here is very good and the rations are of the best. . . .

Riddell is making one more trip out into the bush, so I'm going to try to go along with him because I won't have another chance to do so.

February 26
I've seen only one papoose since I've been up here. I think you would be disappointed in the appearance of the Indians which I have seen. They all dress like trappers (no feathers!) and look very much the same. Of course, some of them wear beaded moccasins and gloves, and some wear coats of skin, but outside of that, they look somewhat like the rest of us. . . .

The latest Ottawa newspaper I have seen was the one which arrived at our home just before I left. Late papers of any sort are few and far between up here. The latest paper of any sort I have seen up here is February 18!

February 27
We have been busy the last few days with turning in equipment to Stores, something I don't mind doing, as it means we are gradually getting packed up. I think Riddell is going out into the bush next Tuesday, and he told me today that I could go along with him. He said that Jerry could go too if there was room. Don't imagine that we'll be out for more than a day or two, but I do want to go, just for the experience. I really think that we do more work around here than the fellows do out in the bush, but I don't mind, as it helps to pass the time.

Yesterday afternoon, I ran into Capt. Art Stafford, who was a QMS with me in 2nd Div. Sigs. He was also with our section (as an officer) for a few days at Frith Park. He is stationed in Edmonton with the NWT & Y System and is a good man to know. He asked me where I would like to go up north, and I told him that I didn't want to go anywhere unless there were married quarters. He said that they would be glad to have me on the NWT and Y System, as they were short of operators. Art is going back to Edmonton on Sunday.

February 29
Will be going out into the bush with Riddell tomorrow and will probably be out for a couple of days.
Was working all day yesterday assisting Denny Hayes, our carpenter, drawing rations, and last night worked until 11 p.m. helping to repair a snowmobile (I think I should mention that I'm really a wireless operator!). Will be assisting with the rations this afternoon but don't know whether we'll be working this evening or not.
There was a bingo game and dance at the Sergeants' Mess and, as usual, I went over for the eats and had a couple of beers. The affair was still going strong at 1:30 a.m. when I left. There was a five-piece "orchestra" playing for us, and they weren't too bad, all things considered!

I happened to see the Montreal Gazette for February 21st this morning (latest paper!) and noticed that, when it was 6 below and 18 at Ottawa, it was 38 below and 26 below here. Of all the places recorded (in the paper), Churchill was the coldest and Dawson, in the Yukon Territory, was next, so being up here is good training for the NWT and Y Radio System! You know, you get used to the cold weather after a while and you don't mind it. They say you have to be here a couple of weeks before you get used to it, and I think they are right. . . .

Saw the "sked" plane take off yesterday morning for Winnipeg and Ottawa. . . . You would be interested in some of the magazines we have in our Sergeants' Mess. Evidently, we get regularly Punch, London Opinion, and Lilliput, and I've even seen a late copy of the Strand. Of course, we get Time, Newsweek, Life, etc., but the newspapers aren't very recent. . . .

The last time Riddell was out in the bush, one of the fellows who was with him saw a big white wolf about 400 yards away. This chap took a shot at it, but although the wolf gave a jump it kept right on going. There were some traces not far from Neil Wiberg's camp. Contrary to my belief, you don't hear the wolves howling at night here. They seem to stay a good distance from this place, and in fact you rarely see one even at 50 miles distance. On Riddell's last trip the boys met up with a herd of about a thousand caribou, and one of the fellows was making them run all around by shining a spotlight on them. He would shine the light just in front of some of them who would be moving along and they would stop dead in their tracks. Then when they started off in the other direction he would shine the light on the other side of them and they'd stop dead again. Outdoor sports, or what-have-you! Incidentally, you're not supposed to shoot caribou.

back of tent wannegan

Tent wannegan and caribou skins ---------------------------- On the back of the "wannegan"


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