The Night Before Pay-Day
Written by Atlantic Branch Patron   

At every Black Watch reunion in Aldershot, we are fascinated by the changes in the camp.

Despite our best efforts, those of us who served there back in the nineteen fifties and early sixties have to look long and hard to find a building that was still standing when two battalions and nearly 2,000 soldiers, were stuffed into the camp.

The old dry canteen building is there, although I am not sure of its current function, and a few of the old barrack room huts, completely refurbished, still stand around the parade square. Those buildings did bring back some memories, but much has changed.

That point was really driven home when I discovered the old wet canteen, that white wooden two storied building beside the parade square, was gone.

Not refurbished – gone!

I was told a new club in Aldershot, that fills the need very well, has replaced it.

The term ‘wet canteen’ is never used now. The new club is nicely furnished with electronic games and large screen televisions. It is decorated in gentle colours and restful subdued lighting. Like just about everything in the Canadian Forces now, the club is completely unisex and politically correct in every way. No smoking, of course, which is a rule that apparently applies in any building and the over consumption of beer is frowned upon big time.

Times have certainly changed.

As I looked across the parade square where the wet canteen had stood, my thoughts went back many years to the night before pay-day. For those of us who found ourselves as the orderly officer, orderly sergeant or canteen corporal, the memory of duty, the night before pay-day in Aldershot, is still etched on our mind with the clarity of yesterday.

Much more so than pay-night!

God knows, pay night was bad enough, but it was the night before that tested the mettle of even the most zealous of those who drew the short straw and found themselves on the duty roster the evening before mid and end month pay parade. That duty tended to focus our attention like nothing else. Reading Part 1 Orders and seeing your name on the list for that day was a little like the feeling of someone who was about to be plunged into a battle, knowing the odds were strongly in favour of the other side.

To this day, the night before pay-day still seems like something of a financial miracle.

An amazing amount of money surfaced, despite the fact everyone was stone cold broke the day before. Then it was spent in that old wet canteen beside the parade square that was the meeting place every night of both battalions.

Spend the lot!

The paymaster will be on hand the next day to refill the coffers.

That night before pay-day was a major attention getter, there’s no doubt of that.

When the magic hour of closing time approached, the beer business picked up considerably. Tables were covered with filled glasses, then the race began to consume everything in sight before the orderly officer and orderly sergeant arrived.

Although everyone tried, the task of drinking all of the ‘last call’ beer was never completed before closing time.

A few left reluctantly, some smuggled beer out to drink as they made their way back to the quarters while those seated near the windows hid full glasses on the ledges to be recovered when they finally had no choice but to leave the building. Others simply sat there, figuring they could consume every beer in sight or hoped they could convince the orderly officer to give them a few extra minutes.

It was the time between arriving and closing the canteen that proved to the orderly officer, the orderly sergeant and the canteen corporal that clearing the canteen in Camp Aldershot, the night before pay-day, was an experience never to be forgotten and avoided, if possible, at all costs.

Comments were made when backs were turned, and the smart officer made a point of looking one way while the orderly sergeant looked the other. Beer was sometimes ‘accidentally’ spilled on those trying to close the place. Fights frequently had to be broken up, passed out drinkers were consigned to their mates that could still walk and an orderly sergeant clearing a table of full glasses with his drill cane to get people moving was not uncommon.

The ability to duck quickly, to avoid a flying glass intended for someone across the room, was a useful skill. There was even one memorable occasion when an orderly officer, not much more than five foot four, was hung on a coat hook by one of those unhappy about having to leave two or three beers on the table.

It always ended the same way.

The floor was covered in beer, cigarette butts and broken glass while the orderly officer, the orderly sergeant and the canteen corporal, along with the bar staff collectively heaved a sigh of relief and hoped that no one had passed out in the toilet.

One thing’s for certain, it was not politically correct by today’s standards.

A few years ago, Don Manuel and I were talking about the time when the Turks invaded Cyprus in the early 1970s while Don was commanding the Canadian Airborne Regiment during the United Nations emergency there.

I asked him how the fighting rated with other events.

He replied instantly.

“All in all,” he said, “to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as clearing the wet canteen in Aldershot the night before pay-day.”

That probably says it all.

That old building is gone, there are ‘his and her’ washrooms now and there is no longer any need for the orderly officer, the orderly sergeant or a canteen corporal (if there still is one) to ever go near the place and it would probably be considered a violation of human rights if they even entered the premises.

It’s all very politically correct and I suspect it has been a very long time since an orderly officer was hung on a coat hook.


Perhaps someone could figure out some way to resurrect the night before pay-day in the wet canteen and insert it into the Canadian Forces Training System.

As Don Manuel said, “It was a pretty good way to prepare for war.”

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