Training troops at home for war abroad

This story originally ran in the November 11, 2011 edition of The Guide


It was a rainy, cold and dreary night during a long West Coast graveyard shift that finally hoisted Roy Rozander into the infantry during World War II.

He had tried once already to join – and failed because of health problems – but things were to go differently in 1944.

“I was called up in 1943, but I was rejected because I had a hernia,” said Rozander, now 89 years old. “Then I went to work in the North Burrard Shipyard, on a riveting gang. I was working along with a guy called Wally Lund, and we were working the graveyard shift, and one of us said, ‘The heck with this. Let’s join up.’ It was cold and miserable and raining hard.”

Rozander had been born in Transcona in 1922, and was living in rainy B.C. because his family had moved to Vancouver when he was just six or seven, in search of a better climate and more work. His dad was a carpenter during the depression, and there weren’t a lot of jobs around. 

“We met up at the Vancouver Hotel at around 9 a.m. the next morning,” continued Rozander. “We went in, and told them we wanted to join the army. They said we were to report to Little Mountain, the #11 District Depot, the next day. We were free and easy, and didn’t care. We just got down to Little Mountain and the first thing we had to have was a medical. The room that we went to was a long, narrow hall, with rooms on each side, 10 by 10. When we first went in, we were given a smock or a kimono or something, and we had to start on one side of the hall and go all the way up one side and down the other. There was a circle painted on the floor, with two footsteps painted inside it. They examined us from the top of our heads to the bottom of our feet.”

The doctors discovered the hernia once again, and told Rozander that if he was willing to sign a consent form for an operation to heal the hernia, he could join up. He signed it.

“I went in right away, to Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver. I was in there for a few days, and then they sent me to Victoria to convalesce, at Gordon Head, for a week or so. There were lots of other guys there with injuries – not from the war. We played a lot of sports, and did a lot of exercises and route marches, very gingerly. Then it was back to Little Mountain, which was an army camp.”

A couple of weeks later Rozander was being shipped out to Alberta for two months of basic training.

“A truck took us down to Granville Street, and then we marched from there to the CPR station for a few blocks. They wanted to show us off.”

Along with many other young men, Rozander boarded a troop train headed east.

“There were hundreds of us, and other guys going across Canada. We went to Calgary, and then we changed to another train and went north to Wetaskiwin. The troop train had old wicker seats, and when we slept we just flaked over on one side. We were grumbling, but we were taking it as it come.”

After arriving at 6 a.m., the soldiers were given breakfast, then divided into companies and assigned to huts. No time was wasted.

“Then we started training, right away,” said Rozander. “The first thing they taught us was how to salute – the longest way up, and the shortest way down.”

Rumours flew that some fellows might be chosen as officers, but Rozander’s schooling history let him down – this time.

“It was rumoured that they had picked out five guys for potential officer training,” he said. “I was one of them. But one of the first questions they asked me was how far I went in school. I said Grade 8, and I was out. Grade 10 was the minimum.”

That autumn, Rozander was transferred to Shilo for advanced training. He was to see soldiers die by accident, and to earn his first ten-cent stripe.

“Three guys were killed in training. We were putting on a mock attack, and we had rifles with no ammunition in them, but we had bayonets with eight or 10-inch spikes, or spears in them. One guy was going over a fence, and he put his rifle down to break his fall, and he fell on his bayonet. It was bad. It went through his midsection and he died 20 minutes later. They sent the mobile hospital over, but they couldn’t do anything.

“Two others were killed. We were warned about going out on the grenade range. Some of them didn’t explode, and they were called ‘blinds.’ Two kids went out to maybe get some, for souvenirs. They used to make lamps out of them. They weren’t thinking. They were both killed that night on the range when they blew up.”

Once again Rozander was noticed by superiors, and given another chance at promotion. It kept him in Canada for the rest of the war.

“I was picked out from other potential NCO’s (Non-Commissioned Officers), and given a white stripe. My $1.10 a day went up to $1.20. I got an extra 10 cents a day for having that white stripe. I was pretty proud of it.

“And this meant that I would be a trainer. They told me I would stay in Canada as a Basic Training Instructor. I knew I wouldn’t be going overseas, although I had volunteered to go. I was sent to Dundurn, Saskatchewan, in 1944, and then I was teaching the guys the same things I was taught. I was a Lance Corporal since I got the stripe.”

Dubbed Rozie the Corporal, Rozander had no clue that his new his nick-name was about to change for the worse.

“There was myself, a sergeant, and a lieutenant, and we were doing an obstacle course. Some guy shouts out that he could do it better than me, so they put us side by side, and he beat me, by quite a bit. He was a real athlete. After that they called me Rozie the Cripple. That’s what I was until the end of the war.”

Some other soldiers were not so light-hearted.

“I slept in a cubicle at the end of the barracks, and the soldiers were in the middle,” said Rozander. “Some guys would sob at night. This was their first time away from home; some of them were only 18 or 19. One guy slept with his eyes open. One guy wet the bed – they called him the ‘water boy,’ but he took it in good sport. Sometimes I would go talk to the ones that were crying; but we were told not to baby them, but to ‘make men of them.’”

Rozander taught basic training all that last year of World War II, and it was a good time of his life.

“I loved getting the guys out on the parade square,” he said. “I had a commanding voice, and they liked that. You bring it up from your stomach. I had a platoon, that’s 30 guys, for two months. I would get close to quite a few of them each time, and when they left you kind of missed them. I never heard a thing about them, and only met one guy later. I kind of enjoyed it, really. I was halfway between the guys and the officers, and I got on good with Sergeant Spence, my superior. We hit it off real good.”

When the war ended in November, 1945, Rozander was confined to barracks along with all the other soldiers and personnel.

“They figured we’d get into Saskatoon and start tearing the place up,” he said. “They had a banquet in the drill hall for everybody, and they gave us a big turkey dinner. That’s how we celebrated the end of the war. We ganged up in the canteen and celebrated. But we were still in the army – it was just a little relaxed.”

Rozander was posted to a holding camp in Nanaimo after the armistice, to process returning soldiers.

“We had a lot of Hong Kong vets. My job was to put guys through the ‘camp clearance,’ where they give up their rifles and whatever else they had. They were able to keep their uniforms, their greatcoats, and boots. Then we would take them to the ferry in Nanaimo, and they would go over to Horseshoe Bay and someone would meet them and take them to Little Mountain for their discharge. I was there for a couple of months, and then I put myself through camp clearance and went to Little Mountain for discharge. I was tempted to stay in the army, and I sometimes wish I did. I ended up a full corporal, with two stripes. That was another 10 cents a day.”

Roy’s brother George was also discharged from the army, after surviving a nearly fatal throat-cutting when he went through a window screen during a crash. The two were looking for a bit of fun, and they found it.

“We rode freight trains for four months, stopping and working in different places, said Roy Rozander. “We got into a lot of scrapes, and got chased by cops. Then we went back to Vancouver, and George got a job at Well’s Labelling, doing fish tins. I started working there too. It was coming up to New Year’s Eve, 1946/47, and George and I decided we should start looking around for a date. We thought we’d ask Alice and Edna – they were a couple of girls who worked there. I took Alice, and up until then I had only seen her in white coveralls and her hair in a babushka. 

“I took my Model A Ford and picked her up. She was wearing a black satin dress, and a nice white coat, and she looked pretty. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. We went to the Cave Supper Club, and it went real good. We were dancing, and some guy tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey mack, they’re playing God Save the King.’ We hadn’t noticed and were still dancing.”

Roy Rozander asked Alice to marry him the following June, and she said yes.

“But the one thing she said she would like to do was come to Killarney, where her parents lived on a farm in Saunders District. She wanted to get married here, and we got married in the old farmhouse where she was born, on November 1, 1947.” 

Roy Rozander went on to work on road construction in Manitoba and Saskatchewan until 1957, when he got a temporary job at the Killarney post office. He stayed, and promotion followed over the years, until 1974 when he became postmaster there. Roy and Alice recently celebrated a happy 64th anniversary. His voice remains ‘commanding’ to this day, according to rumour.

10 CENTS A STRIPE – A hernia nearly kept Corporal Roy Rozander out of the army. But he underwent surgery to correct it, after joining up in Vancouver in the summer of 1944. With his powerful voice and a good manner with soldiers, he gained two stripes (and 10 cents a day for each one) to become a Basic Training Instructor in Dundurn, Saskatchewan. The late Roy Rozander is pictured (back in 2011) with two of his Attendance Record books (he took attendance each day of his platoon of 30 men on the parade square), his dog tags and pay book, his 1939-1945 Star, and his CVSM – Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, both commemorating his two years of service with Infantry K 6614.

BASIC TRAINING – Roy Rozander, Army Basic Training Instructor, circa 1944.