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

Part 5

Exercise Moccasin

Snowblower in actionSgt Hayes and American "Weasel"

Snow blower in action -------------------------------Sgt. Hayes in front of American "Weasel"

March 12
I stayed down at the Sigs hut [last] night, as I was fairly busy packing up batteries. We (there was another chap there with me) didn't stay up all night, as we were in bed by 12:45 a.m.

Today I went over to the post office and picked up my parcel of clean laundry and the papers, and thanks very much for the speedy service. . . . They have a so-called laundry service here, but shirts return half their original size and socks return with holes in them, etc. . . .

Most of the fellows came in from the bush on Tuesday and the rest came in on Wednesday. We now have a pile of junk and equipment in our Sigs stores hut which is quite something. As a result, we have been busier than usual during the last few days, packing equipment and trying to sort out the pile of junk. However, we are at last making some headway, and during the next few days we'll be able to pack it all, I think. The place was in a shambles at first; you could hardly walk around the hut without falling over something and you would have thought that someone had thrown a bomb into it! I still think that we'll be able to get away by March 25th, but I certainly wish that I could make it for Easter.

As I said in my last letter, Riddell and the boys didn't have a very good trip the last time they went out, what with a two-day "blow-up" and snowmobile trouble as well. We had the blow-up here too, last Monday and Tuesday, and as the temperatures were down around 30 and 35 below with a 25- to 35-mile-an-hour wind blowing, it wasn't exactly warm. Last Tuesday afternoon (temperature 28 below, wind 37 miles per hour) two of us drove up to our stores hut, which is about two miles from here, and it was really bad going. There was the odd drift across the road and, as the snow was blowing all the time, you couldn't see for more than about five yards in front of you. However, we made the trip there and back without any trouble. . . .

Now that we have all the equipment back in our stores hut, we have to leave two fellows on duty there every night. I have only been on duty once so far, and that was last Thursday. Don't imagine I'll have to spend more than one more night there now. This coming Wednesday the Moccasin-exercise Signals are having a party of sorts in the recreation hall here, so I don't imagine that there will be very many "eager beavers" about on Thursday! As you will note from the enclosed invitation, there is a "do" at our mess this Friday.

March 16


AirfieldDakota aircraft

Airfield with camp in background ------------------------------------------------- Dakota supply aircraft

Jerry Bowen at airport

Jerry Bowen at airport

Sunday was a lovely day, and fairly mild (zero degrees) by our standards, so in the afternoon Jerry and I went for a short walk up by the airport and took three or four snaps. . . .

I went down to the stores hut on Sunday night to help a few of the boys with the packing and was also down there again last night. We are getting on very well with the packing and have now got practically everything in a box or a case of some kind or another. I think that we'll be able to have everything turned in to Ordnance so that we will be able to get away by the 25th.

Evidently, Chaffee wants me to help him out with the reports of this exercise, because tomorrow morning I shall be off the packing work and will be helping to compile reports. Neil Wiberg and another sergeant major are already helping Chaffee, and tomorrow Staff Sergeant Newnham (from the Ottawa Signal Office) and myself will start working with them. . . .

Riddell evidently hasn't forgotten that I can type, because he told a sergeant in the orderly room here that he was going to have me help with the reports . . . . Don't see how I can be of much help with the reports, as I haven't used any of the equipment in this climate, but that's the way it is! We also hope to be finished up by the 25th . . . .

Chaffee wanted to leave on his beard, but the OC here told him he couldn't go back to Kingston with it and set a precedent, and asked him to kindly remove same, which he did.

Well, guess what the weather was this morning, now that it is the middle of March and almost the first day of spring. Approximately 30 below, with a slight wind blowing. Gad, what a country! And I heard that it was 42 above this morning in Ottawa, and that it was raining there. It just ain't fair - 72 degrees difference! Do you remember I was telling you about the two-day blow-up we had on Monday and Tuesday of last week? Well, a doctor from the meteorological office here said that on Monday afternoon (March 8) the wind chill was the coldest in two years. Wind chill means the cooling effect caused by the combined wind and temperature. . . .
Speaking of chilly, yesterday afternoon about half a dozen of us drove up to a coal pile to get some much-needed coal for our Sigs stores hut. Well, the coal pile is situated on a hill and is one of the coldest spots in camp. Of course the coal was covered over with snow and was frozen as well, so we practically had to pick out the coal lump by lump, and that in a 16 below temperature with a 40-mile-an-hour wind blowing. Ah, yes, it's no wonder we have appetites when the meals are ready! . . .

Tomorrow evening we have our Signals "do" with free beer and eats! The free beer and eats are provided by the different messes and the funds are derived from the extra messing accounts. . . . Good idea, don't you think? . . .

For your information, married couples living in Married Quarters here get approximately 87 dollars per month northern allowance, and they seem to be able to save money quite easily. One married woman (her husband is a staff sergeant) says that they save 125 dollars a month, which is good going, especially in these days with a high cost of living.

March 18
Well, we are getting along very well with our reports and are knocking them off in great style. We expect to have them all cleaned up by next Monday. The rest of the fellows seem to be getting along okay with turning our stores back in to Ordnance, and Cecil Horton (who is in charge of that work) seems to feel that we'll have everything under control by next Thursday (the 25th), and that we'll be out of here on that day.

March 20
I'm not in a particularly good mood today because I am beginning to doubt whether we'll be out of here by the 25th, and am beginning to think that we'll be leaving on the first of April instead. . . . I do know that all our stores have been checked and handed over to Ordnance, so that department is cleared up, and I know also that we could have our reports cleared up in no time if only Riddell would "smarten up." . . . The trouble with him is that he likes it too well up here.

March 21
Last Wednesday night we had our Signals do, and it went off fairly well. We had a five-piece "band" in attendance, but why I don't know, as there were no ladies present; still, it helped to brighten up the proceedings a bit. I left about one o'clock (quite sober!), but a few others stayed on until about four o'clock. . . . before I went to the do, a few of us went to see The Jolson Story. . . .

On Friday night they had a St. Patrick's dance at the Officers' Mess for the sergeants. The reason they held it at the Officers' Mess was because the Sergeants' Mess is leaking in places. You see, the hoar frost gets right into the roof, and when the weather is a bit milder it melts and leaks through the ceiling in the dining room in places.

Was working down at the stores hut last night and also this morning and this afternoon. Actually, all the packing has been done; there are just a few odds and ends to straighten up down there. A few of us still have hopes that we might be able to get away on the 25th, but I'm afraid that those hopes aren't very strong. . . .
Don't think there's much chance of going out by plane, as nearly all of the available space is taken up by the permanent personnel here going out on leave. A lot of the chaps leave here by plane when going out on leave, as it saves both time and money.

March 23
I have given up hope now of getting out of here this Thursday, but we should make it by next Thursday, April 1st. . . . the CSRDE [Canadian Signals Research and Development Establishment] chaps leave ahead of us. . . . the last one of the CSRDE fellows . . . went by plane to Ottawa this afternoon.

All our stores are packed and ready but we have yet to load them onto a boxcar and ship them out of here. I don't know why the Sigs should have to do the loading, but evidently that's the way it is. At present I am working up at Ordnance helping to get the paperwork re our stores fixed up. I was working on reports until today, and as they are now in hand, Capt. Boyce wanted me to help out the Ordnance fellow who is clearing our stores. . . .

Tomorrow evening, the NCOs (sergeants and above) and the officers on our exercise have been invited to Sgt. Scheidl's place for a get-together. Sgt. Scheidl works in the Signals station here and lives in camp with his wife. I guess he feels he should invite some of us over as he attended our Sigs do the other evening.
Last Saturday morning it was 16 below here but it was 37 above, with rain, in Ottawa! It will be grand to get back to that spring weather in Ottawa.

March 25
Today we turned in absolutely all of our stores and are now clear with Ordnance, and there is now nothing to do (except to get paid and to turn in our personal belongings) from now until next Thursday morning when we leave. Wouldn't that jar your mother's preserves, or words to that effect! . . .

They tell me that the spring weather up here doesn't really begin until May, I can believe that too, as yesterday morning (for example) when we got up, the temperature was 16 below. Sure will be glad to go south for a while. Must say, though, that the weather here is certainly exhilarating!

Last evening four of us went over to Sgt. Scheidl's place to have a few beers, and it made a pleasant change for us to visit in some married quarters. We sat around and talked until about 11:30, when Mrs. Scheidl came in and made us some sandwiches and coffee. We eventually left about one o'clock.

Today we have all been very busy loading our stores on a boxcar and cleaning out our stores hut. It was a grand feeling to see our stores hut looking so empty and clean after we had got rid of everything and to see that last box deposited in the boxcar. We have practically nothing to do now until we leave, except to pass the time. Tomorrow [Good Friday], of course, will be a holiday, but I don't know about Monday.

March 27
I found out yesterday that the regulations regarding northern allowances have been changed, and any personnel who spend more than 30 days in this camp are eligible for the northern allowance. The previous regs stated that you had to be in this camp for 60 days before you could collect any northern pay. This new regulation became effective on February 19, so that means when I leave on April 1, I will be eligible for northern pay for one month and 12 days. The amount of money isn't stupendous by any means, but it will amount to 44 dollars, and one can't sneeze at that these days. . . .

Yesterday was a holiday, so in the afternoon Jerry and I and a couple of other chaps hitchhiked into town to have a look at the RC mission, as we heard that there was a museum of sorts there. The RC mission house and church are situated side by side, and in front of the buildings were eight doghouses, and on top of each doghouse lay a huge husky dog, nearly all of them chained to their houses. Not far away from these dogs, three husky pups were gambolling and playing on a small sheet of ice, and they certainly were cunning little fellows. They make lovely pets, these husky pups, as they look somewhat like large teddy bears.

The priest in the mission is a Father Lessard, who is also the RC padre here. We went into the mission house and talked to him for a few minutes, after which he took us up into the attic and showed us a rather remarkable collection of little articles which had been carved out of white whalebone by the Eskimos. The little carved figures and set pieces each depicted some phase of the life of the Eskimo, and the carving was very well done indeed. I was wishing that I could have taken a few of the carved figures away as souvenirs.
Strangely enough, there were three or four very fancy cribbage boards made out of the whalebone ivory. That's one game the Eskimos evidently play, and Father Lessard said that they play cards as well.
We stayed at the mission for only about 20 minutes, and when we left the Father gave us each an Eskimo calendar and a pamphlet containing information about the Eskimo.

After we left the mission, we wandered down to a local coffee emporium, had a cup of coffee, and then hitchhiked back into camp, arriving back here in time for supper. It was a lovely day yesterday and it was very pleasant out walking. Today has been better than yesterday, and at noon today the temperature was about 24 above in the shade, with the sun shining brightly and the air quite spring-like.

They are having the usual bingo in the mess again tonight. Unfortunately, this mild weather has caused the roof of the sitting room in the mess to leak in several places, and when I left the mess after supper, there were several large pools of water about. Don't think I'll play bingo tonight!

March 29
There's really nothing for us to do now but to wait for the train to come in. I can hardly believe that we are leaving on Thursday morning. . . . I understand that we have ten hours to kill in The Pas on the way back and that we have about six hours to kill in Winnipeg. . . . I understand that there are 45 Canadians alone going out on Thursday's train, so you can imagine what a wild trip it will be!

Exercise "Moccasin," held at Churchill in 1947-48, proved that it was practical to move small detachments of Signals living in tented camps, using lightweight communications equipment, up to 20 miles a day without excessive transport, and that there were no special difficulties in the setting up of equipment
- History of the Royal Corps of Signals, 1903-1961 (pp.253-54)

History of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, 1903-1961 contains some interesting and informative references to Exercise Moccasin and to other similar exercises. See "Signals Operations in the Arctic," pp. 251-56.

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