Eyewitness Canada explores the firsthand accounts of Canadians whose perspectives were shaped by historical experience. Public and academic historians present untold stories, inviting readers to reflect on how the lessons and challenges of the past shaped the present and impact decisions made today.
Series Editor: Kyle Pritchard.
Our main exercise was over for another year. The battalion was stumbling around like a bunch of zombies. All we wanted now was to flop down somewhere, anywhere, and wait for the trains to take us back to our base. Our Sergeant came up and told us. “You two are going to take a vehicle back to the staging area.”
The staging area was where the vehicles waited to be loaded on trains for their journey back home. We were to drive an APC four klicks down the road and deliver it to the mechanics to work on before loaded it up on the train the following day. Once we completed our task, we would be free to do as we pleased until our unit caught up to us the next day.
That done, Steve and I decided to head for the canteen before having a shower set up by the engineers. Bad move! We never reached the canteen. The Sergeant Major saw us walking around, seemingly having nothing to do. Two goat-heads had been delivered into his grubby little hands. Our presence had solved one of his problems. He called us over. He had an evil glint in his eye.
Why aren’t you back with your company?” The Sergeant Major barked.
We had no choice but to tell him about the vehicle run.
Like manna from heaven, we had dropped in his lap and he was not about to let us escape. We turned to leave but he stopped us in our tracks. “Not so fast. I need two guys to run security for the ammunition convoy we are sending back tonight. Just think; you’ll be home one whole day before everybody else. You should be overjoyed! I’m doing you a favor. And don’t worry about the vehicle; it’ll be well taken care of.”
We went down to the quartermasters’ where we were issued with SMGs and 2x 30 round magazines of ammunition. He told us: “You’re going to be the armed guards.”
This was the fall of 1977 and the Red Army Faction was at its height. They were considered a terrorist organization in Germany at the time and had murdered 34 people. They had kidnapped and executed a German Federal Prosecutor, who had been a Nazi Party member and soldier during the Second World War, as well as his bodyguards and a number of policemen. They had stuffed a bullet-ridden body in the trunk of a car which they had abandoned twenty kilometres from our base. They were hardcore communists.
Normally, military personnel in peacetime are only issued with live rounds either when they are on a range or on peacekeeping missions. When they issued live rounds for security, they obviously thought the situation was serious. Logic would dictate if there was danger of an attack, you should be issued with lots of bullets; not just sixty!
In my mind, I could see the headlines splashed across the front page of every major newspaper, worldwide:
Military convoy attacked by terrorist organization. The thieves got away with trucks, full of a variety of ammunition. Two brave Canadian soldiers, fighting with great zeal and bravery, became casualties while trying to beat back the two dozen heavily armed terrorists.
I bet nobody thought about how many bullets each terrorist had for their AK-47s, or cared. This was a convoy of khaki green trucks; you would not want anyone to mistake us for something else now. Each truck was filled with military equipment. We were driving down desolate roads in the middle of the night. The only defence available was Steve and I, and the 60 rounds of live ammunition we each carried.
Now that is military intelligence! The logic was, since no one knew what was in the trucks, nothing would happen. We were just there for window dressing and to cover for somebody else. If something happened, they could say it was not their fault; the convoy was protected by armed guards. Since we could not be there to defend ourselves, the blame would have probably fallen on us.
I kept talking to my driver trying to remain alert. I was peering through the window knowing that, if we were attacked, we would not have a snowball’s chance in hell. During a brief moment of silence, I contemplated the 60 rounds in my two magazines wondering “If trouble starts will I even get the chance to use them?”
We had not slept much during the past weeks. The warm truck and the droning of the engine made it hard to stay awake. By 5:00 am I was hallucinating. By 9:00 pm the next morning, we got to where we were supposed to turn in the weapons and the ammunition. We waited, and waited. Somebody forgot to warn them we were coming. Tired, dirty, hungry and not very happy, we waited some more. Three hours later, they put us on a bus and drove us home.
Frank Reid is a veteran, author and playwright who spent eight years (1972-1981) in the Canadian Army with the majority of the time spent on overseas taskings. Frank is an expert on this military time period during the Cold War. Frank does extensive public speaking on military living history.