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

Part 3

Exercise Moccasin

Engineers Tractor TrainEngineers Tractor Train

Engineers' tractor train

March 4
Since last I wrote I have been out in the bush and back. We left at about 2:30 on Monday afternoon and arrived back last night. We had wonderful weather, clear and fairly cold. I rode nearly all the way (there and back) on a big sled, but as I was in a tent, with a stove, it was fairly comfortable. Of course, there wasn't an awful lot to see outside of snow and one-sided trees, but where there were trees the scenery was quite picturesque, as the trees were covered with snow which, clinging to the branches, made the trees look like images in some winter fairyland. The northern lights were fairly brilliant too, more brilliant, I think, than I have ever seen them.

The first night we were out I noticed a large ray of light stretching across the sky in an arc from one horizon to another, and it was really something to see. (Speaking of arcs, I have seen two partial rainbows since I have been here, but all I could see was a part of them, where they left the horizon and where they ended at the horizon. Am sure I don't know what could have caused them, as we certainly don't have any rain up here!)

The first night we made camp at about nine o'clock and were soon devouring luscious sirloin steaks with canned tomatoes, and coffee, in a tent around a stove. One of the fellows produced some beer (enough for a bottle apiece) and an English officer who was with us passed around a bottle of good rum, so we were fairly well fixed! That night I tried out my sleeping bag for the first time, but didn't sleep so well as, although I was tired, I just couldn't get to sleep. Think I must have had a touch of indigestion, and no wonder, I guess! At any rate, I sat up in the middle of the night and smoked a cigarette just so that I would feel more sleepy than ever, which I did; and I was soon fast asleep. Didn't have much time for sleeping anyway, as we didn't "hit the hay" until 2:30 a.m. and we were up again at 7 a.m.

We travelled all that day, having a noon lunch of stew and coffee whilst on the move, and made camp at about seven o'clock that evening. Saw plenty of caribou during the day, especially out in the Barrens, where there are no trees but lots of scrub under the snow. The caribou dig into the snow and eat the scrub or moss, of which they are very fond.

On the trailChurchill barren lands

On the Trail --------------------------------------------------------------- The barrens - south of Ft. Churchill.

The journey across the Barrens was very monotonous as there was nothing to look at in the way of scenery, so we were glad to see the caribou, as they helped to break the monotony. None of the caribou we saw came closer to us than about three or four hundred yards, but they would have made "nice pickings" with a good rifle. The caribou were not as large as I had expected them to be, but appeared to be the size of extremely large dogs. Sometimes they stopped and watched us, but as they soon as they got our scent they would run off in a flash - and they could certainly travel. Some of them must have been travelling around 50 to 60 miles per hour.

I saw two or three mother caribou each being followed closely by a young one, and the young ones could travel just as fast as their mothers. In one instance, I saw a young one pull up to four others as they were running along, and eventually pass them. As caribou have white hair on their behinds, they looked odd when they were running from us, as all one could see were these white behinds disappearing into the distance. Well, so much for the caribou!

Dick Watts with caribou skinJerry Bowen and snowmobile

Dick with caribou skin ------------------------------------------- Jerry Bowen and snowmobile

By the way, on our trip we carried about 15 caribou skins with us to lie down upon and they were very comfortable. There is only one thing wrong with them, and that is the hairs come out of them fairly easily. Result is we were continually picking hairs out of the stew, etc. and today I am continually picking caribou hairs from my clothes.

March 5
I guess I should continue from where I left off in my last letter, telling you about my trip. Didn't see or hear any wolves when we were out, although we did see some large wolf tracks along the trail, also the tracks of a fox. Not far from the place where we camped the second night were the remains of a young caribou which some wolf had partially eaten. I saw a couple of ptarmigan, which are large white birds, and heard but did not see some whisky-jacks or Canada jays. We had our noon lunch whilst on the move both days we were out, but had our breakfasts and suppers at our camping places. Saw [Merle] Chaffee and Wiberg while we were out and they are both sporting "lovely" beards. Wiberg has the largest beard but Chaffee's is the most distinguished looking. Think that I could give them a run for their money, though. After not having shaved for three and a half days, I had the beginnings of a good beard. Now I'm bragging!

Have been fairly busy today as usual, packing up stores, etc. Expect we will be busier next week when the boys come in from the bush. I'm certainly in better condition now than when I came up to here, as I can shovel coal (for our Sigs Stores hut) and pitch packing cases with the best of them, and it doesn't bother me at all.

The Sergeants' Mess is very quiet these days because, through some mix-up, they ran short of beer a few days ago. Now the boys sit around quietly sipping Cokes and ginger ales and reading. Seems more like an English gentlemen's club!

March 6
We were busy packing some more stores again today, and worked this afternoon per usual. Nobody else seems to work on Saturday afternoon or over the weekend, but we usually do! Still, I don't mind how much we work as long as we are furthering the cause of getting out of this place. . . .

Forgot to mention that when we were out in the bush we met up with a local trapper who was on his way to here or to Churchill. He had a team of five dogs and they were fine-looking animals, the best dog team I have ever seen, not that I have ever seen very many. We took a couple of pictures of them. . . .

Jerry Bowen and trapperTrapper's dog team

Jerry Bowen and trapper at 30 mile camp ------------------ Trapper's dog team at 30 mile camp.

The Sergeants' Mess managed to scrounge 17 cases of beer today, so the situation is temporarily saved. They are having the usual game of bingo this evening.

Saw Capt. Art Stafford again today. Thought he had gone back to Edmonton, but evidently he's been up at Baker Lake all this time, and was waiting for a plane to bring him out.


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