Articles

LOOK OUT! HERE COMES THE SERGEANT-MAJOR

But he isn’t the roaring, swashbuckling, mustache-twirling tyrant of a soldier’s worst dreams. The modern regimental sergeant-major doesn’t blow his top. Yet Sam Heinrich still gets exactly what he wants from both officers and rankers

McKENZIE PORTER January 1 1951
Articles

LOOK OUT! HERE COMES THE SERGEANT-MAJOR

But he isn’t the roaring, swashbuckling, mustache-twirling tyrant of a soldier’s worst dreams. The modern regimental sergeant-major doesn’t blow his top. Yet Sam Heinrich still gets exactly what he wants from both officers and rankers

McKENZIE PORTER January 1 1951

LOOK OUT! HERE COMES THE SERGEANT-MAJOR

But he isn’t the roaring, swashbuckling, mustache-twirling tyrant of a soldier’s worst dreams. The modern regimental sergeant-major doesn’t blow his top. Yet Sam Heinrich still gets exactly what he wants from both officers and rankers

McKENZIE PORTER

IT IS 0800 hours at Camp Borden. It is the time most Canadian veterans recall with a shudder and some with nostalgia. It is the moment when that fierce mixture of love and hate for the Army

is incubated in a soldier. It is on this split, second that the first parade of the day is called to attention. It is the signal for the regimental sergeant-major to blow his top.

The ranker stands there, feeling the tingle of the autumn sun on his neck, staring over the rolling pine-and-sand land of this southern Ontario base, stifling a burp from his undigested breakfast, sniffing the odors of boot polish, bianco, carbolic and sweat, waiting like a waxwork for that familiar explosion . . .

“Stand still! You’re waving round like a field of wheat!”

But on this morning a new RSM, watching the parade from the rim of the great macadam rectangle, utters no sound.

The orderly sergeant turns about, marches up to an officer, crashes to a halt, salutes and reports, “Parade ready for inspection, sah!” The officer passes down the ranks, a model of relaxed authority against a phalanx of respectful rigidity. “Take this man’s name . . . haircut. Take this man’s name . . . unshaven.”

That’s a queer RSM out there. Leaving it all to the orderly sergeant. Never stamps, never foams, never shakes his silverknobbed stick in a man’s face. Yet those eyes, always those bright blue eyes, blazing from the distance, burrowing under boots for that worn cleat, boring through rifle butts for that missing pull-through,

burning on that maladjusted shoulder strap. Those eyes are incan-

descent !

He’s a Sucker For Children

This is not the RSM in cartoons. This is Warrant Officer Class I Samuel Heinrich, M.B.E., of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. This is the Canadian RSM of 1951, the RSM thousands of recruits are going to meet. And he’s never boiled over in his life.

He once shut up a regiment which was booing its colonel on parade with one word “Silence!” He once cleared a pub of malingering troopers with two words -“Get out!” He once collected 100 German prisoners with one terse sentence in their own tongue.

“Bellowing doesn’t work any more,” says RSM Heinrich. “It’s action that counts. This parade belongs to the orderly sergeant. If there’s anything wrong with it I’ll deal with him in private.”

Heinrich has 22 years’ service and has risen through every rank from trooper up. Overseas for four years with the Canadian 5th Division, he saw battle in Italy, France, Holland and Germany. He was decorated by the King with the M.B.E. for outstanding services.

At 40 Heinrich is one of Canada’s youngest RSMs. None his age has held the rank so long, nearly nine years. Good RSMs are rarer than good officers. If he hadn’t been so good Heinrich might have been an officer today.

He stands 5 ft. 10 in., weighs 180 lbs. His legs are light, slightly bowed, typical cavalry legs. His bulk is mounted above the waist so that he looks like a rearing bison. His neck is 11 V¿ in. His fists are like hams. His blond head might have been blasted out of rock so chunky are the features. But his blue eyes can twinkle with humor and he’s a sucker for children.

Heinrich saves his voice for the right moment, the regimental parade. It’s not a roar but a shrill articulate spatter of words which has electrified 3,000 men into that thud-click-wham of the perfect

present arms.

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“His voice of command,” says one sergeant, “has made me forget shell fire.” Says another: “It hits your spine like an electric shock. You jump to what he wants and stay there.” A squadron sergeant-major says: “When he called a parade once I saw birds scatter, a milk wagon horse shy, and a passing padre fall off his bike.” A regimental quartermaster sergeant says: “I’ve served with him for 20

years and never heard him tell a parade to stand still. It just doesn’t move.”

Heinrich is in the permanent army, a small, highly trained group specializing ÍE all arms, operating as the framework on which to build a wartime force if required. Most of the men joining the permanent force would become non-commissioned officers and officers ÍE an emergency.

Education standards have been relaxed since the Korea war touched off a world-wide alarm but you still need a sharp brain, healthy body and sturdy character to qualify for Canada’s Army. And these modern volunteers won’t be pushed around. The fuming, strutting thigh-whacking RSM is as dated as Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads.” Men like Heinrich, who demand and get perfection with a word oí a glance, are teaching discipline to the Army’s fighters.

“A soldier’s job,” Heinrich tells his lance corporals, “is not shouting. It’s shooting.”

A Warrant Officer I (regimental sergeant-major) holds the highest noncommissioned rank in the Army except for an obscure category known as director of ordnance. The rank immediately below the RSM is the regimental quartermaster sergeant. Then come the company or squadron sergeant-majors who are designated Warrant Officers II. Below them are the sergeants, corporals and lance corporals, always referred to as NCOs (non-commissioned officers).

The RSM is the only man without a commission who wears an officer’s-quality uniform. His insignia, worn on the wrist or lower sleeve, is a lion and unicorn in a laurel wreath.

Like an officer he carries a pistol and wears a Sam Browne belt. He can win the Military Cross, a decoration otherwise exclusive to officers. He gets more pay than a second lieutenant. But he is not entitled to a salute nor the privilege of the officers’ mess. The RSM is the grand master of the sergeants’ mess which, because it includes the unit’s quartermasters and sergeant-cooks, is generally the best place to eat in camp.

He Cherishes Ilis Corporals

The RSM’s job in battle is to bring up extra gasoline and ammunition but in training it’s actually much more important. He’s responsible to the CO for discipline and when the real test of a unit comes in battle only willing discipline holds it together as a unified fighting rorce. RSMs of units disgraced in battle have been known to shoot themselves from humiliation and shame.

Heinrich directs the morale of his unit and stands in delicate balance as a bridge and bulwark between the officers and other ranks. He preserves discipline by example to the WOs and NCOs, who pasé on his bearing to the troops. Like all good RSMs, Heinrich cherishes his corporals and lance corporals in the same way a smart fight manager encourages a promising boxer.

“Lord love me, but the lance corporal

has the toughest job in the army,” he says from his long experience in a fighting and a peacetime army.

The commanding officer of most units is a lieutenant-colonel, who exercises control through two chains of authority. His link with the commissioned officers is the adjutant (a captain). His link with the WOs and NCOs is the RSM. Apart from the ' second-in-command (a major) the adjutant and RSM are the only two men in a unit with direct access to the CO. All other officers and soldiers wishing to see the CO must first pass through one of these three.

Heinrich’s manner to company sergeant majors, sergeants, corporals and lance corporals parallels that of a lieut.-colonel to majors, captains, lieuts. and 2nd lieuts.

Heinrich addresses corporals and lance corporals by their rank at all times. In his sergeants’ mess, however, he addresses WOlls and sergeants by their Christian names. By all ranks up to his own, on and off parade, Heinrich is addressed “Sir.” By other RSMs and by all officers he is addressed “Mister.”

A Haircut for the Loot

He gives officers “Sir” at all times, even the newest baby-faced subaltern. But there are subtle graduations in Heinrich’s relations with officers. With those up to the rank of captain he can afford to be easy, even jocular. They have to handle him softly.

Although he would find no support for such action in “King’s Rules and Regulations,” tradition decrees it’s his duty to drop hints to the CO like this:

“I suggest, Sir, that 2nd Lieut. Sabre might be reminded it’s time he got a haircut.”

”1 have noticed, Sir, that Captain Breechblock is inclined to keep the men at attention too long.”

To Heinrich, however, majors and their superiors can do nc wrong. Once when the 5th Division was training in England the regiment became resentful after a series of 10-mile runs in full equipment. At the end of one exhausting course the men booed the CO.

“Silence!” cried Heinrich. The booing ceased.

The CO told the men if ever they did that again they’d suffer. Heinrich, hi •• face pulsing with emotion (the insu -ordination, he felt, was a reflection on his own capacity), told a brother WO: “If the CO had left them to me I’d have started them on another run. Then I’d have drilled ’em until I bored ’em into the ground.”

In Italy Heinrich saw an officer of the 1st Division fighting with a trooper of the 5th Division. There was rivalry between the divisions because the 1st had been in action longer. To see this expressed in fisticuffs by two men whose ranks were poles apart made Heinrich quiver. There was no other commissioned officer in sight so he was forced to infringe regulations by ordering hands laid on a superior.

He ordered the officer thrown into a guardroom and then signaled the man’s unit to collect him. A captain presented himself and enquired coldly, “Do you normally put an officer in the guardroom?”

“In my unit, Sir,” Heinrich replied with savage emphasis on the pronoun, “the problem never arises.”

Takes Cover With Dignity

Heinrich dislikes checking a man personally. He’d rather do it through the man’s lance jack. But sometimes he’s driven to the direct approach. A soldier who served in the Strathcona Horse during the war shook Heinrich by growing sideburns. He told the

man to get a haircut in such terms that next day he appeared on parade with his head shaven.

A rigid believer in the dictum— “Never tell a man to do what you couldn’t do yourself” Heinrich

groaned once in a forward area at the efforts of a trooper on sanitation duty to dig a latrine. He seized the shovel and dug it himself. As he finished the hole the enemy suddenly started shelling and it served him for a slit trench.

There is something inglorious about scuttling for a slit trench but Heinrich was famed for the way be dignified the manoeuvre. He would walk casually in the direction of bis slit trench, staring at the sky as if interested in the source of the fire and then, seemingly by accident, fall in.

At a tank harbor in Italy be fell into bis slit trench on top of two men who’d got. there before him, climbed out again, sauntered over to a truck, took shelter and saw 35 men and 16 officers killed or maimed by German mortar near the t rench he’d left.

Heinrich has a fine sense of humor, but once it boomeranged. He jokingly told a war correspondent who was getting stories about local lads for western Canada newspapers that be owned 5,000 bead of cattle and an Alberta ranch. The story was printed. Heinrich got scores of excited letters from friends and relatives. From bis wife came the terse comment: “So

you’ve been holding out on me!”

When he was posted from Calgary a few months ago to the Royal Canadian Armored Corps School at Camp Borden, 60 miles northwest of Toronto, Heinrich had to sell his house, break with old comrades, tear his wife away from relatives, change his son’s school at the tricky age of 11. All he said was “Yessir,” and got moving.

He went to a huge stretch of open country 15 miles from Barrie. The white HQ building at Camp Borden dominates miles of drill halls, classrooms, gay little houses for married personnel and lines of single men’s huts. Parade squares, lawns and flower beds are intersected by roads and ornamented with war memorials, enemy tanks and white flagstaff’s.

This is the basic training centre in which many Army branches run their training schools. Regimental SergeantMajor Heinrich was ordered to Camp Borden to indoctrinate recruits with the spirit of the Armored Corps and to maintain discipline among trained tank gunners, signalers and drivers. But recruits in all other branches of the Army will see him — and when they pass him they’ll march to attention.

A day’s work with Heinrich is like a one-man route march. After first parade he returns to his office near the orderly room and draws up the next day’s orders, detailing guards, working parties and parades for the adjutant’s signature. He thinks up ways of keeping defaulters busy floor scrubbing, furniture polishing, potato peeling, paper picking up, whitewashing.

Then be parades men accused of misconduct for the CO’s office. “Cap off! Belt off! Escort and accused, right turn! Quick march! Right wheel! Mark time! Halt ! Escort and accused, left turn! 1234567 Private Bundook, J. Absent without leave from 1600 hours on the ...” The door closes on the sheepish solemnity of military justice.

Later Heinrich steps out to watch recruits taking lessons on rifle, Bren, Piat, grenades, mines and booby traps. Junior NCOs raise their voices to impress him. Recruits sneak a timid peek at him from the corners of their eyes. Heinrich may call the NCO an t point out some man who appears to be

daydreaming. But he never bawls out an NCO in front of the men.

He prowls around cookhouses, washrooms and billets. In the single men’s quarters each iron cot has snowy sheets and scarlet blankets. A small square object above each pillow seems to humiliate Heinrich.

“Bed lamps!” he mutters. “Holy smoke, what is the Army coming to? Bed lamps!”

At noon he goes home for lunch. Mrs. Heinrich is pleased with her sparkling, modern, five-room Army house. She does her own shopping in camp. There are two movies, a swimming pool, hobby shop and schools. She’s a pretty alert dark-haired young woman, conscious of her place as leader in sergeants’ mess society.

Heinrich’s pay is $156 a month plus $70 a month subsistence allowance and $30 a month marriage allowance a total of $256. The family’s overhead is cut by its reasonable $60 a month rent. Houses for all ranks are much the same. Rents rise according to rank.

By 1.30 p.m. Heinrich is back in the lines. He usually makes a tour of the school where trained soldiers take advanced courses.

Heinrich is not expected to know as much as the instructors but he knows enough to be able to tell whether they’re doing their job.

Most nights Heinrich drops into the sergeants’ mess. His aloofness on parade gives way to conviviality and hearty humor. If the evening passes gaily he may stretch a point and order the bar to stay open. He rarely drinks spirits but loves beer. Early in his service at Camp Borden after a night in the mess he got lost in the maze of pathways, aroused a sergeant at 3 a.m. for directions to his home. Next week the camp newspaper suggested he get the engineers to draw an illuminated path between the sergeants’ mess and the Heinrich front door. Heinrich was not amused.

He doesn’t mind rough language in

the mess but abominates dirty ”language. One night he kept score while a sergeant belabored the soldiers’ favorite expletive. “In the last five minutes,” he said, “you’ve used that word 35 times. They tell me it’s a sign of an impoverished vocabulary.”

Heinrich was born in Walsh, Alta., in 1910 of German immigrant farmer parents. He grew up bilingual in English and German, and Canadian to the core. World War I was in progress when he started school and his name brought him constant insults. How to show that he was a real Canadian?

He hated farming. He ran away from home at 16, worked in a box factory in California. When he was 18 and eligible he returned to Canada and joined the Army.

In less than four years he was promoted to lance corporal after a spell as trumpeter. “In those days,” he says, “a lance corporal was feared more than the brigadier.”

In 1938 after nine years’ service he was promoted to sergeant—a record in a regiment where at least 14 years of peacetime service was expected of a three striper. He became a squadron sergeant-major in 1940, went overseas with the 5th Division and in 1942 attained his present rank.

Heinrich’s discipline was tested during the long wait in England. A squadron of tank drivers mysteriously vanished. He toured pubs looking for them. A driver tried to stop him by tearing the spark plug leads out of his truck. When he tracked down the men to the Blue Lion one private bawled, “Comeon, Sir, have a drink!” Heinrich stood in the door of the pub staring at the party. The noise subsided. “Get out!” snapped Heinrich. The pub cleared at once.

Before one English Christmas he kept his sergeants busy making mechanical toys for local children and at the subsequent party surprised his NCOs by his affection for the youngsters.

He grew a huge handlebar mustache on the British pattern for a hobby. “In wartime,” he says, “the mustache is the soldier’s garden.” When he brought his mustache home Mrs. Heinrich told him sharply to stick to petunias.

At one time in England he thought of changing his German name because the jibes still hurt. But an officer who’d fought and been wounded in Africa told him: “Whatever their politics the

Germans are great soldiers and clean fighters. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of.”

With his perfect knowledge of German, Heinrich could have applied for a commission in the Intelligence Corps and probably got it. But he stayed right behind the tanks a' Ortona, through the Hitler line and the great break-through up the Lir Valley which relieved Anzio and opened the doors to Rome. He was right behind the tanks in Holland where he shouted in German to Nazi troops holed up in a cemetery: “Don’t be

fools. Come on out. You know you’re beaten.” With these words he averted a bloody skirmish.

Later he walked up a red carpet to a dais in Buckingham Palace to receive the M.B.E., trying to remember in a heady whirl of string music not to squeeze too hard when he shook hands with the King.

Heinrich’s young lance corporals have almost lost hope they’ll ever see the day when he’ll blow his top on parade but it’s a prospect they like to discuss.

“There’s only one way to explode him,” one of them suggested.

“What’s that?” his buddy asked. “By calling him a Hun?”

“No, hut try calling him Sam.” if