Prisoner and Escort
Written by Atlantic Branch Patron   

 Not long ago, I heard the Canadian Armed Forces allegedly has a ‘time out card’ system that is used in basic training. 

            The idea is that when an instructor shouts at someone, the recruit can hand his instructor a card that means he has to back off and reconsider what he said before reasoning with the miscreant to stabilize the situation.

I wondered if the ‘time out card’ worked both ways.  That being the case, rather than charge a recruit, the instructor would hand him a card, allow him to go away to consider what he had said or done and then return to quietly discuss the matter.

            The ‘time out card’ avoided the horrible possibility of having to charge recruits. The new approach, my informant went on to say, is much better than the  previous system since it  is far more understanding of the stress the more sensitive  recruits are under.

            Needless to say, I didn’t try to verify the accuracy of what I was told for fear the answer might upset me. 

However, after that discussion, I thought back and wondered  how a ‘time out card’ might have worked with the instructors at the regimental  recruit depot or with any number of    regimental sergeant majors and countless company sergeant majors, staff-sergeants, sergeants, corporals or lance corporals. Before that card even came out of his pocket, the soldier would have been on his way to the guard room without his feet ever touching the ground.

I would also be very curious to see how today’s Canadian Armed Forces would handle the legal problems associated with The Black Watch corporal who actually put himself on charge or the time Harry Philpitt drove Charlie Doyle to the guard room in a staff car after the company commander placed him under arrest and told him to report to the guard room.  Both incidents would inevitably lead to intense legal discussion based on the individual’s rights and freedoms which in turn probably reinforce the need for a ‘time out card.’

Then I thought about the years in The Black Watch  between 1951 and 1970 when there were often two Orders Parades a day – one in the company commander’s office and the other in the commanding officer’s and I wondered how the current system could cope with that.

The lines of soldiers without their balmoral or belt,   in the hallway adjacent to those offices sometimes were about as long as the queue in front of the local liquor store the afternoon before New Year’s Eve.

Justice was administered swiftly, usually not nearly as severe as anticipated by the accused before being marched in.  The knowledge that the company commander could put someone in the detention barracks for fourteen days tended to focus the attention of those on their way into the office under the less than gentle direction of the company sergeant major.

Then, if the company commander remanded the case to the commanding officer, things changed dramatically.  Life suddenly became much more complicated which meant those fourteen days looked pretty good.

As a soldier said, “Going in front of the commanding officer was like playing checkers with God. It was not whether you were going to win or lose.   It was simply when you were going to lose.”

There were, however, some lighter moments.

The reasons for being absent without leave gave rise to a few unusual excuses, some of which actually worked.

“A band came to see me off at the train station. They played God Save the Queen just as I was going on board so I stepped off, came to attention,  saluted, and the train left without me.”


“My dog was having pups. Since I was responsible, I thought I should stay until she had them.”

The possibility of that being true tended to boggle the mind somewhat.

The Grandmother excuse sometimes worked except when a very nervous accused said, “My grandmother died again.”

That caused the company commander to seek an explanation.

“I really meant one of my other grandmothers died.”

A soldier in the Canadian Highland Battalion in Wainwright during the rehearsal for the coronation parade in 1953 was charged and marched in front of Major Dusty Rhodes.

His defence was that the corporal called him a “stupid son of a bitch.”

The company commander’s response was not especially supportive.

“You are a stupid son of a bitch.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here!”

In Korea, Major Bullmoose Donaldson gave a pretty clear indication of what was to follow when he started the orders parade by shouting from his office  to the sergeant major who had those on charge lined up  to be marched in front of the company commander.

“Okay sergeant major.  March the guilty bastards in.”

Being an escort could almost as bad as being charged. 

On one occasion, the same escort had the duty three days in a row and then he was charged the following day for needing a haircut.  He wasn’t overly concerned. It was his first charge so  he took some comfort from the knowledge  that since the charge was not very serious, the most he could expect would be a $5.00 fine.

The company commander was generally considered by everyone in the battalion to be as thick as a two-by-four.   On one occasion, he had actually ordered all of the double soles to be removed from the soldiers’ boots because he was convinced they caused blisters.

When the time came for the sentence to be announced, the company commander stared intently at the accused. It began to slowly dawn on him that he had seen him before.

“You know, you’ve been in here far too often young man,” he said firmly. “It’s time you learned a lesson.  Fourteen days confinement to barracks!”


Once in a while, a company commander tried to be helpful.

 A company store-man in Germany, who was known for having terrible hangovers, was charged for hiding beer in the mortar tubes.

The hangover excuse didn’t even have to be mentioned. The company commander, the sergeant major and the escort all knew he had a problem.  Fact was, the morning beer was the only thing that kept him from the severe agony he suffered after a night in the canteen or in the nearest gasthaus.

The company commander thought about the situation for a few moments before pronouncing sentence. He decided, instead of punishing the soldier, he might be able to offer him some fatherly advice to make his hangovers a little less painful.

He looked up at the accused and in a somewhat kindly voice said,

 “My boy, I think  it’s time to consider Alka-Seltzer.”

Despite the fact he was standing rigidly to attention with the sergeant major’s pace stick jammed firmly in the small of his back, the accused couldn’t control himself. His eyes bugged out of his head, his mouth dropped open and, without thinking, responded.

“For Christ’s sake sir.  Please don’t send me there!!”


Regimental sergeant major Finnie, the legendary Black Watch RSM,  once marched a soldier into the commanding officer’s office and, on giving the ‘halt’ following the mark time, the escort stood fast and the accused slipped on the highly waxed floor,  and slid under the commanding officer’s desk.

It was not uncommon for want of a bible to swear a witness in on a deck of cards in an envelope which he was told was a New Testament without a cover.


Then there was the alternate charge. 

An alternate charge of a more minor nature was usually included.  It served the purpose of getting some measure of satisfaction if the main charge didn’t stick.

A sergeant in the regiment was charged with drunkenness on parade.

If found guilty, the least he could expect was a very large fine but more likely a reduction in rank, probably to corporal or very  occasionally to  private. 

Despite the best efforts of those involved, the alternate charge ended up being dirty medal ribbons.  That was a great source of disappointment to both the adjutant and the regimental sergeant major but it was the best anyone could do.

As expected, the sergeant pleaded “not guilty.” Since he was known throughout the battalion as a very glib talker, he convincingly explained to the commanding officer that he was really very tired but he was certainly not drunk.

The Colonel listened to the facts but had no choice but to decide the evidence was inconclusive. Much to the chagrin of the sergeant’s company commander, the adjutant and the regimental sergeant major, he dismissed  the charge.

The sergeant, now in a state of total euphoria, having beaten the big one, agreed his ribbons were in fact a little grubby. The colonel accepted his guilty plea on the alternate charge without comment.

He considered the situation for a moment or two.  Then he  looked up at the sergeant who anticipated a caution or a reprimand at worst, given the very minor nature of the charge.

“Guilty as charged,” the commanding officer said quietly and paused before he announced the sentence..

 Then, in a very soft voice, he said…

“Dirty medal ribbons. Reduced to the rank of private.  March him out RSM!”

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