It was 40 years ago next month that I decided to have a really adventurous summer. For the princely sum of $75/week, I joined the Governor General’s Foot Guards for the summer, and was in the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and took part in sentry duty at Rideau Hall.
Our basic training began at CFB Petawawa on 3 May, and the first ceremony took place on 24 June. It went on until Labour Day, and we were stationed at CFB Rockcliffe during that time. The GGFG, together with the Canadian Grenadier Guards from Montreal, formed the Canadian Forces Public Duties Detachment that was charged with organizing the event. We were all post-secondary students, all male, with some NCOs from the regular forces that had the grim duty of drilling us into shape.
What do I remember of those days? The basic training was rough, and we didn’t get our first pay until six weeks in. On the other hand, the wet mess was cheap – I do remember Canadian Club rye being sold as a premium shot for 45 cents! (That was before the CRA started forcing the Forces to pay excise duties and HST.) I also remember being compelled to donate blood for the first time, with RSM Landry exclaiming to us all, “You will give blood!” And then we went to the wet mess afterwards, because the rumour was out that the alcohol would hit the blood stream faster. I can assure you the rumour was correct, but not as it was so dramatically put. And the songs we sang – the English ones were truly ribald, but the French ones were much more musical, and this one still stands out:
- Chevaliers de la table ronde,
- Goûtons voir si le vin est bon;
- Goûtons voir, oui, oui, oui,
- Goûtons voir, non, non, non,
- Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.
- (Repeat, ending with slightly different melody, before proceeding to the next verse)
There are some renditions of this that can be found on Youtube, but they are rather slow and folksy. I would recommend ♩=90 as a good beat, with an enthusiastic crowd in the bar.
I also recall the time we staged a performance of our ceremony for the veterans that were receiving treatment at the former National Defence Medical Centre. When we were talking with some of them afterwards, it turned out that many were veterans of the Boer War. Their memories were still excellent, and one of them entertained us with his singing of “The British Grenadiers“:
- Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
- Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
- But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
- With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.
There was also the experience of being invited by the Governor General – Roland Michener at that time – to attend a garden party at Rideau Hall. A different experience for me, to be bumping into what are now called the 1%.
There have been changes since to how the event is organized:
- the Public Duties Detachment was renamed as the Ceremonial Guard in 1979, and female enlistment was permitted from that time onwards
- the Guard was given its own Band in 1981
- it is now stationed at Carleton University during the summer months – CFB Rockcliffe is no more, the land now being used by the Ottawa/Rockcliffe Airport and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum
- sentry duty is now also performed at the Town of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial
I’ve always wondered what happened to all those reprobates I was associated with back then. I’ve never heard tell of any reunions, but it would be interesting to find out some day.