Chapter 08: The Road To Chatham

posted 17 Mar 2013, 08:43 by Garry Alexander   [ updated 26 May 2014, 08:11 by Bill Bishop ]

"ON GUARD"
By Fred Kuzyk. Copyright 2001-2002, Freddy The K Communications. No reproduction without permission.

The Road to Chatham

"Driving My Life Away" by Eddie Rabbit. 
Circa 1980. One of the songs I associate with The Opera House in Newcastle, NB.

Driving My Life Away


I've Got A Secret

So Rohmer lied to us. Richard Rohmer, the General in charge of the Air Reserve, fighter pilot, corporate lawyer & author, told us a lie. At every parade & other opportunity, he fed us what we wanted to hear. How we would be trading-in our old Otters for the modern Twin Otter. Why wouldn't we believe him? The squadron at Edmonton had them and they certainly wouldn't give us Dakotas like the relics that were still flying in Winnipeg. But one day it became official. Kiss the Twin Otters goodbye. We were switching to helicopters. Tiny, hand-me-down Kiowas, to be exact. It seemed that with every new Defence White Paper, more "red ink" & cut-backs were proclaimed. With every major revision we were becoming less "Air" and less "Force". We "progressed" from fighters & jets to piston transports, and finally ARMY rotary-wing. The old Otters were getting to be too expensive to keep flying. The solution was some surplus choppers.

General Rohmer was a fiction novelist. The author of Tom Clancy style thrillers such as "Exoneration", "Separation", "Balls", etc. Political tales that dealt with military hardware & showdowns. I had some of his titles but didn't have the patience to read them. They were fiction just like the line he sold us. He could write about hypothetical military war scenarios, and make royalties, but we had to be careful about what we said - "confidentiality" and all that. Almost to a man, everyone was shocked when the choppers were announced. But not me. I had a "heads-up" months before. The General had to know the truth but he kept the fiction going for morale's sake.

Martin Shadwick was a Tutorial Leader in my Strategic Studies class at York. He was a specialist on the Avro Arrow & on the Canadian military, it's weapons & capabilities. I remember talking with him after a class about the Air Reserve & new aircraft. From his sources & for a number of outlined reasons he was positive that we would be getting helicopters. The Twin Otters were ruled out ages ago. Well, one night at the Squadron, the lads were talking about how great things would be once we get the new Dehavilland planes. Some of them worked at Dehav & they were certain a deal was due anytime & this would keep the Twin line going. So, I tell them what I've learned. Forget the Twins, welcome the egg-beaters. Well they were aghast. That can't be right! Kevin Lockett was part of the group. He begins to ask me whom I was talking to & what was said.

"You have to be careful about who you talk to about Armed Forces matters. Who is this guy? He doesn't have any security clearances here! You just can't talk to people outside of the CAF about our equipment. What's your clearance?" Lockett asked.

So I tell him what it was. It was low down on the totem pole, I can't remember exactly but probably "confidential". It certainly wasn't "secret" or "top-secret", that's for sure. None of us would be privy to information at the higher echelons.

"Just the same, you're best not to say anything to this guy's questions", said Lockett. Except that my Sergeant didn't seem to get it that my instructor wasn't prying info out of me (any deep, dark secrets about maintaining Otters that I might have) but was GIVING me some insider info. At any rate, I wonder if Lockett ever remembered this little discussion, after the news was out. I did but I didn't want to gloat. Especially since in Lockett's eyes I may have been a "security risk" from that day forward.

It's funny but all the guys who were present no longer have any kind of security clearance with the military and still are very much outside the loop. Martin Shadwick, however is now a regarded Defence Analyst. I see his name in the newspaper all the time regarding commentary on Canadian defence issues. Funny. I've come to realize that outsiders often know more about what's going on than those inside. Those that are indoctrinated into any organization are always "mushrooms" - kept in the dark & fed shit! The security ratings weren't so much to keep vital info from leaking out (we didn't have any) but more likely to keep the lower ranks from knowing too much. I had to watch what I divulged while the General was making money from military novels. Hmmm? A saying from the Fire Service comes to mind: "Rules for some & then rules for others".

Anyway, as the summer of 1980 approached, the cat was out of the bag. We were trading in fixed-wings for the rotary variety. Instead of the "hurry up and wait" business as usual attitude, it was now "we need you trained yesterday". There was a panic to get us trained in helicopters in a hurry. Summer Camp was scrubbed. Instead we were going to Chatham, New Brunswick to the 3FTTU for a three week preparation course. I had been working away with the RSU getting qualifications. I was pleased when I was told that I was not only selected to go to Germany for the summer, after Chatham, I was top of the list!

Germany? Nein!

I was on Cloud Nine. Germany was the plum posting. I got out maps of Europe & dreamed of the places I would visit. The elation lasted a couple of weeks. I forget who broke the news to me. I never got a satisfactory explanation as to why, but suddenly I went from top of the list to right off of it! Cam, Doug, Wild Bill, Colin, Tony Cardoni, Dave Cooper - a bunch from Toronto were going to Germany but I wouldn't be with them. Spots there were limited. Portage La Prairie, Manitoba was to be my new destination. Quite a comedown and my first disappointment with the unit. Off the record, I heard that Dave Cooper was really hoping to be selected for Germany that summer. "He even quit his job so that he could do it", someone said. I had only put my degree on hold for the last year while dedicating myself to Downsview. I wondered why I suddenly had the short straw? Perhaps Lockett had determined that I was a "security risk" after all? Maybe it simply came down to seniority? To accommodate Dave, the most junior man had to be bumped. No matter the reason, I was bitter. I started to suspect that this was where nepotism & family ties paid off - not RSU time & keeness. Nice guys get it in the face, or in the back. Just like in the stock market, for everyone who makes a killing, someone else gets killed. I tried to be gracious and positive about being the one screwed. I quietly put away the maps of Europe and got a road map of Manitoba. On the bright side, Portage wasn't too far from Winnipeg! And I did have relatives in Dauphin & other places to look-up! It could be a lot of fun! Who am I kidding? About a week before departing for Chatham, there was yet another change in plans for me. I was now spending "my summer vacation" at Petawawa! Can't they make up their fucking minds! If they're going to screw me, they might as well gang rape me! If they keep moving me east, I might still cross the Atlantic! The poor girls in the Orderly Room couldn't keep up with the darts that were thrown for me on a map of the world. To this day, my Unit Employment Record listed OJT at Portage for that summer, which was simply stroked out & never ammended! At least Petawawa was in Ontario. I put away the Manitoba map. Pet is close to Ottawa & Montreal and I could drive to Toronto on the odd weekend! It was getting tougher to be the eternal optimist. But at least I had a final destination. Or so I thought. Another surprise awaited in Chatham.


411 members sightseeing while deployed to the bases in Germany.
From the left - Bill Khatib, Phil Knox, Sherman Adams, and Toni Varone.


Toga party in Deutchland. 

Bill Khatib on left, and Dave Cooper from 400 on right. 

The girls are unknown to me. 




In 1981, I was offered Germany once again. By then I wouldn't trust them. I went to summer school instead and finished my degree. By then I realized where I stood. Twenty one years later I still haven't been to Europe. It's all academic now. The bases in Europe are gone. I would have treasured the memories of being there when the CF104 Starfighters still flew. The bonds between a few who went are life-long. If I went to Germany as I was promised, I probably would have made a career of the Forces. But I gained something else. The sense when I travel, it's on my own terms as to where & when - not on the whims of others. After that experience, I am the one who puts the pins in the map.

Road Trip

Some of the lads took a flight to Halifax, which was followed by a train ride to Chatham. When you leave the driving to others, you can get seriously juiced…and they did. Chip Ray was one of them and according to him, they literally poured off the train in New Brunswick. Fun as that may have been, there's nothing like a road trip with the freedom afforded by your own wheels. Travel Documents from the Squadron would allow money for gasoline & meals. I decided to go via my 1966 Mustang hardtop. The convertible was off the road. I had bought this car for $50 as a parts car but it was running & easily "safetied", so I drove it. Cam's Camaro had died, so he'd be my co-pilot in crime.

I picked Cam up at his mom's Cabbagetown apartment. The idea was to convoy with the other lads taking cars. I'd done the route four years earlier with my musician buddy Dave. Cam always had his uniforms in various places. He'd store some of them at my room on base. Anyway, we load up his stuff, say goodbye to Mom Horvath & we're driving down the 401. Cam suddenly realizes he doesn't have any of his dress or fatigues. They must have been left back at the apartment. We pull over, relay the message to the others, break off from the formation & do a 180 to Toronto. Back at her place, Mom Horvath tells us they realized that Cam's uniforms were left behind, so her partner, Al, jumps in his car & attempted to catch us on the highway. We decide to stay put. Eventually, Al returns. Thus began the adventure. Many times it seemed even the simplest things got complicated. Things already got fouled up, and we hadn't even begun to drink!

Rooms awaited us at the air base of St. Hubert, the home of the Air Reserve squadrons in Montreal. It was quite late as we approached that city. Needless to say, we packed a traveler of beer, so we were also tipsy. We were going over some bridge & Cam thinks he recognizes a car pulling a camper. He says "that's Lockett. Follow him to the base". So we follow that car as it exits the highway. We end up in some old neighbourhood down by the river. We lose the car. I look around and spy a rough looking group outside a bar headed by a guy carrying a baseball bat, but not wearing a ball player's uniform. This is not the best place for a car with Ontario plates with "maudit anglais" who are lost! I get the hell out of there. Eventually, we get good directions to the base.

The Duty Corporal was not impressed as we wake him to get keys to our room. It's about 2 AM. We stumble to the barracks room, noisily open the door, and find some of our comrades asleep in bunk beds. At least they were until The Slavs showed up. We're far too wired to sleep after the eventful evening. We stash our gear & decide to see some of Montreal's nightlife. Can't convince any of these slugs to join us. Wisely, we ditch my car & decide to get a cab. I've had enough driving, anyway. Especially after all the detours.

Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming!

So we ask the cabby if there are any strip clubs around. He states that Kojack's is nearby & it's still open for a few more hours. "Incroyable", as they say! Honest to god, I thought it was a dream. Or we must have crashed & died on the 401. We walk through the door and can't believe our eyes. There must be a dozen beautiful girls, in various stages of undress, dancing all about the room on little platforms as well as a main stage. We don't know which way to look. A feast for the eyes everywhere. Cam & I look at each other and laugh loudly. This must be heaven! Ontario had nothing like this. French table dancers had yet to arrive in our puritan province. We grab a table & order some beers. We soon figure out how this works. The girls walk around with their little platforms. If you like her, you throw her a couple of bucks and she sets up right in front of you. And nothing is left to the imagination! They all have that attractive French-Canadian accent. Although we can't touch, it seems that the girls can touch you. This one lady brushes her nipples against Cam's lips. Another drapes her panties on my mouth & nose. We close the place, having made our contribution to the Quebec economy.



Freddy K on the boardwalk in old Quebec City

 Mo, Joe Grinch, Andy, & Dave Cooper - with the Chateau Frontenac behind them





The road trip continued the next morning. A sightseeing stop is made in old Quebec City. I show the lads the boardwalk, Chateau Frontenac, and some time is spent at a sidewalk café on the narrow streets. 




Cam Horvath beside carriages




Cam seated at a cafe in old Quebe






We overnight just inside the New Brunswick border at a motel near Edmunston. There's a disco within walking distance complete with one of those Saturday Night Fever light show floors. Not much of a crowd, though. Next day takes us down the Plaster Rock Highway. This is an empty expanse of desolate road with nothing next to it. This is where things got silly. With no on-coming traffic, we drove our vehicles in tandem along the two lanes. Someone had a sunroof from which Mo stood up & was handing or throwing beers to the other cars. Yahoo! Joe Grinch had his van. Andy Gyorffy had a car. Dave Cooper & Dougy Wilkins were all there. Screaming along at 70 miles per hour. What a crew.

16 Miles Up The Miramichi

We arrived at CFB Chatham without incidence. Passing through the main gate we were greeted by a gleaming Sabre "gate guard" on a pedestal. The jet wore the golden colour & insignia of the famed Golden Hawks, the RCAF aerial demonstration team of the early 1960's. They were based here. Chatham was also an active NORAD base. They were flying the CF101 Voodoo interceptors. Wow, at last I had made it to a real fighter base!

We got our rooms at the Men's Barracks. This barracks was a bit different than the ones at Downsview or North Bay. It was an old wood building & only one floor. It stood right beside the runway but the rooms were fantastic. They were single occupancy (no roommates) with new furniture & carpeting. You could feel the old floorboards move beneath your feet, though. We were in great spirits. Getting there was half the fun and it had been an adventure. I'd packed all my usual comforts: guitar, music, and camera. Dave had one of those new Chryslers, a Matador or such, which was jet black. There had been a lot of squealing of tires during our arrival, so a "Hawaii 5-0" theme developed. A sign appeared on one of our rooms "5-0 HQ". Nicknames were assigned. Paul Tulio was "McGarett", as he looked a bit like Jack Lord with his hair. Someone else was "Danno". Couldn't have been Dougy Wilkins. The band "Doug & The Slugs was popular around that time & we called him "Sluggo" or "Slug Man". Their song "Too Bad That You Had to Get Caught" still reminds me of singing the tune with Doug. The operative phrase became "Book 'em Danno". But who was "Chin Ho"? It could have been Huey. He was part Oriental. I remember shaving in the communal bathroom with several of the lads, preparing for a night out. Hair blowers were popular back then to get your mop just right.

The Voodoo That You Do

A NORAD exercise was taking place while we were there. Pairs of Voodoos were in the Alert Hangars day & night. When they scrambled, they'd roar past our rooms. Our windowpanes would rattle and maybe some plaster would fall from the ceiling. It was annoying at night when we were sleeping but I had a feeling of pride at being part of this place & time - with those aging interceptors guarding our airspace.

The crews of 416 Lynx Squadron were a cool bunch. Besides their squadron crest with the face of a big cat, they also wore Voodoo crests.
Pilots had "Voodoo Witch Doctor" crests. Even the techs had "Medicine Man" crests. There was also the "CF One-O-Wonder" crests. Sometimes it was a wonder that the Voodoos flew. They were ancient by 1980. The CAF was among the last in the world flying them. Even the US Air National Guard units had phased them out. I recall that cracks found in the wings later grounded the whole fleet.


The first Voodoos were taken on strength in 1961. They were bought to fill the gap created by the cancellation of the Arrow and to supplement the failing Bomarc SAMs. The Voodoo was supersonic, which was an asset the CF100 didn't have. The Voodoo would equip five squadrons including 416 in 1962. They remained in service at Chatham until December, 1984, when phased out by the CF-18. In their day, the CF101s were impressive planes. They had a maximum speed of Mach 1.85 carried either nuclear tipped Genie missiles or Falcons. Voodoo was the last nuclear weapons system in Canada. Apparently the Genie missiles were stored at Chatham until 1975. After that, 416 would receive the nukes from Bagotville, if threat of war should occur. Although the nukes were no longer there, yellowed posters were still up on bulletin boards advising personnel of what to do in event of a "Broken Arrow", a nuclear accident involving the Genies. Serious stuff!

I had the opportunity to put my HAI Certificate to good use. It was possible to schedule a ride in the back seat of a Voodoo. I had a head cold at the time and declined. Mistake! I should have risked ruptured sinuses or the chance of barfing in the O2 mask! I missed a golden opportunity that would never repeat itself. Wild Bill did get up for a fright & he told me all about it. The bang of the afterburner. The feel of incredible acceleration at take-off. The sight of the land & sea as they winged out over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The sound was intriguing. Or I should say the lack of any sound. Once they were supersonic, the flight was eerily quiet, as the jet noise was behind them & couldn't catch up. All in all, a memorable experience for Bill. I was jealous of him but I felt that I had also lived it by his excited description.



Today a "gate guard" Voodoo stands at the former CFB Chatham as a reminder of all those years that they were active. I've read that they called it "the Washing Machine". I don't know why. There are times I wish I had experienced being one of the guys in the front seat.





So What's a Swash Plate?

Our numbers swelled as others from Toronto arrived. There had to be about 20 of us. Lockett, Chip Ray, Tony Cardoni, Colin Stearman, Sherman Abrams, Willie Morris, and others were there. We settled in and began our basic Helo courses. We'd learn about the intricacies of the jet engine, about swash plates and auto-rotating. The instructors emphasized how safe choppers are. If the engine quits, the main rotor acts like a wing & it glides you down slowly where you can then land, even in a small spot. Impressive. In a number of classes I found my eyes getting heavy. Maybe it was the content. More likely it was all the late nights of partying. I recollect falling asleep at my front row desk. The instructor slammed a yardstick hard on the desk with a sudden, loud bang. This startled some of the guys who were awake and they jumped. But I just slowly raised my head and wondered what was going on, as he stared contemptuously at me. Brother, this was going to be a long couple of weeks. Someone who lived on base told me that "the Miramichi River was the asshole of Canada & Chatham was 16 miles up it". Maybe so.

"Catch A Quick Fuck"

The base wasn't bad. We were finding our way around. Food & the mess were OK. The town of Chatham was no great shakes. I already mentioned the local joke about Canadian anatomy. There was a bar called "The Whooper" whose name pertained to a train motif. Our instructor warned us that it wasn't a good place to hangout. Someone was stabbed there recently. I heeded the advice. 

Doug Wilkins at Catch a Quick Fuck Park

He also said there was a good beach nearby at Kouchibouguac National Park. New Brunswick was full of places with strange Indian names. We had a problem with the pronunciation of this one, so we called it "Catch-a-quick-fuck Park"

Andy Gyorffy. One of my best photos of him


Apparently there were problems there, too. An old farmer was upset about the annexation of some of his land for the park and was known to fire his shotgun on occasion! We did find some spent shotgun casings on the beach. We went there a number of times though, tempting fate. From the parking lot you walked on a long boardwalk through grasslands & marsh to the dunes of the beach. It wasn't a commercial place like Wasaga but instead was an unspoiled, natural seashore. Very quiet & relaxing. No "nymphs of the woods" or mermaids to be found. In short, it wasn't a place to pick-up babes. For some of the lads, this was the first time they had seen the ocean & tasted salt water. Even myself, I had only played in the Atlantic for the first time four years earlier. 

Looking back at my photos of a day spent there, I'm touched by the young, exuberant faces - so joyous & full of life - young men frolicking & dancing a chorus line in the surf. Laughing, smiling and playing like kids. There's Dave Cooper sitting in sand with artificial genitalia created from driftwood & other items. 

Colin Stearman admires Dave's new genetalia 

Dave Cooper & Puppy Tags




Didn't know it at the time but this would be the last time I'd be partying with a large group of buddies on vacation, on a warm summer's day, on a pleasant beach. It felt carefree & irresponsible. Sure, there were the future times ahead with the group camping at Cypress Lake in my family's RV. Or the times with Andy at Sherkston Beach on Lake Erie some years later. But the feel was different. Not the large, united group like this. It went too quickly.

On the beach at Kouchibouquac: Freddy K, Dave Cooper, Puppy Tags.

The instructors also told us about some bad apples, the Mallet family. The one dude was up for murder charges & was on the loose. Hopefully, we wouldn't cross his path. That pretty much summed-up Chatham. The nearby town of Newcastle was larger & had more going for it. We'd begin spending time there.



St. Margaret's "Moonshot"

About the only place we visited in the town of Chatham was the RCAFA Club. They had a Ladies Night early on during our stay. A bunch of us went to check it out. It had been pretty sedate & last call was upon us. I noticed one lady who had sat quietly alone the whole evening. She nursed her drink & declined any offers to dance. I thought I'd see if anything was wrong. We made small talk. She was about thirty. Not a beauty queen but not coyote ugly either. Something was bringing her down but she wouldn't discuss it. I really didn't have anything in mind, other than being a Good Samaritan by offering her a ride home. She accepts & says that she lives nearby, just down the road in St. Margaret's. She seemed to perk up now that she had a ride. I'm sure I hear some of the boys snickering "he won't be back in the shack tonight".

We're driving along out in the middle of nowhere for what seems like forever. I don't know the lay of the land & don't have a clue where we're heading. I ask, "how far is it". She replies that it's "just a little further". Out of nowhere she says, "stop the car. Pull over". I do and I wonder if I've missed a turn. She asks suggestively if I'd like to park for awhile. Well, say no more! We begin to neck in the pitch darkness. I fondle a breast. The vibe is getting right. Headlights illuminate us for a moment from a lone passing car. I'm getting aroused when suddenly she proclaims, "this isn't good here. Let's keep going". Against my protest that this venue is perfect, she's adamant about relocating. So I fire up the six cylinders and we continue on. We pass some kind of Canadian Forces radar station, the only thing that's visible on this road. Once again, she has me pull over in an empty clearing. And once again she seems receptive for amour. I'm a little more cautious now but begin to relax as fingers begin to stroke my hardening appendage. A finger or two of mine slips past panties into her wanting pussy. Before too much more happens, she bolts up, checks her watch and exclaims, "No, this is no good. Take me home!" I'm dumbfounded. I'm getting irritated with this psycho bitch who turns on & off like a light bulb.

I start the engine again and a short distance later she tells me to turn off the headlights. In the pitch darkness she has me turn carefully into a black laneway. I'm thinking she'll ask me in for a coffee & we'll continue inside. Instead she opens the car door, gives me a curt "bye" and goes into the dark farmhouse. I'm paralyzed for a moment or two. I'm in a daze about all this & confused by her mood swings. Anger takes hold. I throw on the lights, slam it into reverse and tromp on the accelerator, throwing gravel from my rear wheels. I miscalculate the turn at the road & quickly find the headlights pointing at the treetops and there's the sensation of gravity pulling me into the back of my bucket seat. Turns out there's a huge ditch beside the driveway. The car is resting on its rear bumper on the bottom & the floorboards rest on the sides of the ditch. The front  wheels are turning in air. "Aww shit, I'm fucked"! I've got no choice but to go to the run-down farmhouse & get help.

I knock on the door. It's dark on the other side of the windows. There's no answer. She must hear me. She only went in a minute ago. I'm not expecting any coffee now or least of all any nooky - I just want to use the phone. She should be grateful for the lift. I bang louder. Then louder still. Finally the door opens a crack & she blurts out "Quiet, they're all asleep!" I tell her the car's stuck in the ditch & I need to use her phone. She says "NO". "No? Why not?" "They're asleep", she says. "Who?" I ask. "Everyone", with that the conversation was over and she slams the door! Never mind the "asshole of Canada" analogy, I'm in the middle of hell or the Twilight Zone. I bang on the door again but it's no use. Black thoughts come to your mind when you feel trapped with few options. I could get my tire iron and start smashing windows. "Everyone" would be awake then! I've got a lighter. I could start this old dried-out porch on fire! No, that's not good. My car is stuck out there. Too much evidence. Then I envision awakening an army of inbred mutants with weapons. Those folk from the movie "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" could very well live here. I could end up in the trunk of the Mustang buried in a local bog, never to be found. Time to hoof it.

I remember the military installation we passed down the road. It's a mile or two walk on the dark, lonely road. I get to the guard shack at the gate. I show the guard ID & tell him this airman needs a tow or a ride to CFB Chatham. He tells me that I'm not likely to get a tow truck out here, especially at this hour. He says I can catch a ride with the fellow, who makes the 4AM run to the base, if I want to wait the hour or so. This sounds like a plan. We arrive at Chatham around 5AM. I crawl into my bed for an hour or two of sack time.

In class that morning, I relate my sad tale. Some of the guys figured I'd get fucked but not quite like that. There had to be a dozen of us crammed into Joe's van. They volunteered to miss lunch to make the recovery operation happen. In the daylight, you couldn't miss it. Joe thought it looked like a rocket to the moon, with the angle it had. Jacks weren't required. Sheer brute force manhandled the car out. There wasn't any damage to the old girl, other than our pride. I was grateful to the lads. We could see curtains move in the house. Someone watched us but nobody dare come out. Some of the guys hurled curses at the house. I think even a rock or two was pitched at the dilapidated wood before we left. They were pumped & welcomed a confrontation. Perhaps these people would then think twice about messing with a member of the 2 Air Reserve Wing! I was just exhausted.

Joe Grinch's name "the moonshot" for this operation stuck. I'd refer to the ordeal as "St. Margaret's Syndrome". I'd be wary in future of the women I'd let into my car. If I felt like I was getting stuck again, "get out" would work. I should have made the psycho bitch walk after the first stop. But then I wouldn't have this memory or the male bonding that occurred with the salvage operation!

Newcastle Nights

Newcastle had a decent movie theater & over the 3 weeks we saw a few flicks. The "Get Smart" movie & "Mad Max" were a couple. I couldn't imagine that Mel Gibson would go places! The town also had a disco called "The Opera House". This was a nice club & we'd spend a lot of time here. It looked like a barn inside with wood columns & beams. Wood stairs led to a second floor that had tables overlooking an open center area to the dance floor below. The name of the place, "Opera House", seemed appropriate to me, as in the "Grand Ole Opry" of Nashville. Country music predominated in this part of Canada. I commented that it was like they had a direct line to Nashville. All the local radio stations played country. It was the music of choice in the snake pit at the Mess, too. I'm glad I had a cassette deck in the car. I'd go to the "Circle of Sound" shop & get tapes like Blondie to escape all the "hurtin' music". The Opera House played their share of country but also did dance tunes. I remember Eddie Rabbit's tunes were popular (Drivin My Life Away & I Love A Rainy Night). But the song I associate most with the place was the disco tune "Funky Town" by Lipps Inc (Won't you let me take you to Funky Town). This was the theme song for the three girlfriends.

But the "Airman's Prayer" also comes to mind while on deployment - we wanted beer, pay, girls, and airplanes: since we were now beginning with helicopters!

The Airman's Prayer



FreddyK sings The Airman's Prayer






Big Injuns

One night at the Opera House I was sitting with my buds. We were having a good time. A Micmac Indian woman asks me to dance. I seldom refused requests, so we're on the dance floor. I make some conversation. It's apparent that she's tipsy. A very large brave approaches us & says something to the woman. She stops dancing & I'm left standing there awkwardly. They begin exchanges of "You're drunk". "No, you're drunk". Then "fuck you". "No, fuck you". I notice that all "My buddies" have stealthily left the dance floor & our tables! I decide to leave these two to their loud conversation and I sit down. I'm having my drink & a smoke and this couple now join me at the empty table. They bum a smoke & then continue their argument. Before I'm made a member of the tribe, I too decide to leave. I find some of my "friends" outside, laughing. "Thanks a lot", says I. The men who so valiantly came to rescue my car on the "moonshot" caper, ran at the first sign of "Indian attack". Perhaps when the chips were down, don't depend on the "bruddas" of the Reserves!

Debbie & Company

Brand loyalty to beer & other consumer products was huge then. I smoked Craven Menthol cigarettes & detested others. Probably as much as other people detested menthols, so they never bummed smokes from me. When it came to beer, there was a committed following amongst our group, particularly with the Cooper Clan, for Molson Export. Cam & I were loyal to Labatt's Blue. Andy didn't have any favourites. He didn't drink. Many times he would be our designated driver when we clowns were polluted. Different regions have their own beers. Here in NB we would try the dominant brews, which were Alpine & Moosehead. It was on one of our first nights at the Opera House, drinking those new brews for the first time that we met Debbie and her girlfriends. We danced with them to Funky Town. The girls were thrilled to meet such a large group of nice guys from Toronto. And they became taken with specific members of our band of merry men. 

Debbie was the ringleader & the one I remember best. They were all nice, unattached girls of around 20 years of age that worked in shops or restaurants. The military was the biggest employer in these parts but thankfully they weren't "base broads". Debbie was blonde, quiet, and a serious lady that wore glasses. Suzy who worked at a bakeshop was dark haired, and bubbly. They were all pleasant looking but Rosemarie, the light brown haired one, was the most beautiful. We got to know the girls. They became attached to various guys. Debbie was smitten with Cam. Suzy liked Colin Stearman, while Rosemarie had a hankering for Joe Grinch. As a result, we always had a group of girls to dance with.

Debbie with her young relative, at a Newcastle fair

Debbie enjoyed the company of our group & began to invite us over for frequent parties at the house at 99 Petrie Street that she shared with her mother, Madame Mallet. Mallet...suddenly I remember the words of our instructor about those local bad-asses. It turns out that they're not related to them, as the name is the Miramichi equivalent of "Smith"- quite common. It became the norm on many evenings for Debbie & Madame to entertain a dozen or so of us. Their home became the off-base party place. Madame was Acadian, fluent in French with the typical accent when she spoke English. She was tall & stately, a proper lady, and always the charming & gracious host. When I had made my previous trip to New Brunswick, we had visited my buddy Dave's Acadian relatives a little further north in the Tracadie, Val-Comeau, and Riviere-du-Portage areas. What kind people they were. And Dave's cousins Dione & Jean-Manse were beautiful. I should have looked-up Dave's family again but Debbie & her mom reminded me so much of these wonderful Acadian people.

The girls were getting to know their favourites better, to various degrees. They wanted the party to continue. I remember them staging a clambake for us on a beach. Sadly the party did conclude at the end of the course. It was during the last few days of the course that Lockett tells me my final destination: forget Petawawa, I'm to report to Gagetown, NB on Monday! It was a bloody good thing that I had brought my car, seeing that I was to remain marooned in this maritime province. I wouldn't be alone, however. Andy & Sherman also got their marching orders for the big "grunt" base. I think this was the moment I realized where I stood in the Squadron pecking order. I knew I wasn't one of "Lockett's Boys". Andy certainly wasn't, even though he was Aircrew. He was the Hungarian that didn't party (drink) who was overly serious. And Sherman was the black guy from 411 Squadron. If a measure of a man is the company he keeps, or those he's lumped with by others, then I knew my station. I was with the "anti-social" Hungarian & the "token", going to a shit-hole army base. It spoke volumes about how we were perceived.

Some of the group went home. The lucky ones had left that weekend for Germany. Their travel plans had not changed! Just the three of us were left. Actually, it was only myself, as Andy drove Sherman back to Toronto, so that Sherman could pick-up his car & return with it. We three were all surprised & inconvenienced by the change in events. So, as the "sole survivor", the girls asked me over. It was like attending a funeral wake. No matter how I tried I couldn't relieve their funk. They sat & moped. "I miss Cam". "I wish Colin was here". "And I really miss Joe". Then the chorus would repeat after a sigh. Indeed, things were different. We went to the Opera House which now was dead & boring, or so it felt. The pain of their loss was overwhelming me! I considered Debbie a friend. I appreciated the hospitality extended to us. We exchanged contact info & we'd write & call while I was down south. My leaving on the Sunday was a blessing, as I couldn't take their being down any longer. I'm sure the three would be writing their beaus nearly everyday. Debbie & Suzy's thoughts would be with Cam & Colin in Germany, while Rosemarie dwelt on Joe back in Toronto. Later, we'd see some of the girls again.

Photo from the CNE when Debbie came to Toronto. Joe Grinch at center. On left is Joe's wife Meg. Left rear is Carmine Naccarratto. Freddy K at right rear. And Debbie as the flapper on right.

Today the base at CFB Chatham is closed, like Downsview & others. No longer does the sound of jet fighters like the Sabres & Voodoos reverberate above the Miramichi River. The economic consequences must be devastating to the area. Perhaps some of the residents can still hear the echoes of those planes in their memories & remember the better times.








Chapter 9:  THE GAGETOWN BLUES 

Rank The Road To Chatham

Messages Received On The Road To Chatham