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UBC Archives Audio Recordings Collection

[Interview with Albert Laithwaite, Armed Forces at UBC Project, Part II] Specht, Allen 1974-04-20

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Mr. Laithwaite: Well we had the facilities as the university had so thoughtfully provided by the energies of the aforesaid Dr. Shrum, and we had a place that we could parade even in the rain. We could parade indoors in the armouries and we had enough classroom space to do the lecture program. We were better off than most people because we bad an officer's mess and we could have an evening meal together before the parade and that was what happened in the old days, The cadets who wished to could use the facilities of the officer's mess. We had kitchen facilities and we employed a cook and we had an evening meal before the parade in our own officer's mess.
Mr. Specht: How about the syllabus? Was this all detailed from above or?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes there was a rudimentary type syllabus, but Air Force Headquarters, of course, were governed by facilities the universities had. I must say ours were the best that I heard of. And some of the universities did not have the ability to do some of the training and were not so well off facility-wise as we were. We also had a number of other professors on the campus with service backgrounds, who wanted to carry on and do evening work and come and lecture to the troops. We managed very well.
Mr. Specht: I was wondering it you had a little more freedom in getting things set up because the unit was just starting up and possibly it wasn't so rigidly defined yet?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes, I think so. I think that by and large the Air Force was not so worried about the winter program as in the summer program as we developed and I thought the Air Force, perhaps, had a little better organization going from the point of view of the citizenship training that the Air Force was able to give to our cadets because in the Air Force, the cadets of all universities were pulled together in one place and so the maritimers could meet the westerners and we could meet the Ontario cadets. Everybody was mixed up and Canadians began to get to know one another a little better because they were all in one place. The Army did not do that type... did not follow that type of organization, they still followed the regimental idea, the unit idea, where our group of engineer trainees would go to one station and people of other trades would go to another station. Whereas the Air Force all went together to the summer program and stayed at one particular place while training. I think this was a very fine thing tor the citizenship aspect of the training.
Mr. Specht: During the winter term what were some of your specific duties?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well, the adjutant job was the one when I first joined.
End of Tape 1, Side 1

Albert Laithwaite
April 20, 1974
Interview 504, Tape 1, Side 2
The roll of honour and the book. I think these are things that should be remembered. I'm not sure that the Armistice Day function now, has the full impact that it used to have. You see, I knew about two Armistice Days, if you like, and my particular period of time, I was born during the First World War and knew all about it and was, it was a part of my life and a part of my father's life and so is the Second World War, but the new generation does not have that kind of experience at all and I think to remember what happened, how U.B,C. grew up, what these young men at U.B.C. did in their day, how they went to the war and sacrificed themselves, hung on to this little bit of land we call Canada I think is important.
Mr. Specht: What do you think it does for people when you preserve the heritage of the forces?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well, I think it's a good thing for us to know how it all, how we came to be here and in the place we are and what our forefathers did to establish this kind of a life for us.
Mr. Specht: So it needs the understanding of our present day culture because they can see some of the origins of it, how it developed.
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes. I don't think the impact of history is as apparent to the youth of the country right away. I think probably history and tradition are something which leave their mark without you really knowing, but I think to see a college like Royal military College and realize where it is built and whose feet walked on that piece of territory before and how they came to build Port Henry next to it and how the particular wars were fought and why the ships were sunk in the bay right outside the college, this ls all very, very interesting and part of knowledge which everyone should have of how Canada came to be Canada and not part of the United States,
Mr. Specht: Did you give lectures?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes. We had many lectures that went to make up the knowledge which a young officer would need. We used to try to give introductory lectures on all the service subJects in the winter time so that our cadets would be at least not complete greenhorns when they went into a station like Royal Military College where most of our summer training was done in the early days. The first year we went to London to an airport named Crumlin Airport. Crumlin Airport, London, and it's still an Air Canada station by the way, I think, although it's a year or two since I was back there. The second year we went to Royal Military College and occupied their buildings while their own cadets were out on their summer training on various units across Canada. So we also, we did see the Royal Military College cadets who were not quite finished when we went down in May to start our training so our reserve cadets got an idea of what kind of training the permanent force regular army cadets at Royal Military College were getting, and the sort of living quarters they lived in and what they did, where they spent their time and what they did for recreation. Our cadets knew aa well. which is a good thing. It gave the average reserve citizen a look at what permanent force cadets were goin through. This was good.
Mr. Specht: What topics did you deal with when you gave lectures to the cadets?
Mr. Laithwaite: Really almost everything they caae across we would cover what lectures are necessary about the admin side of life, how you house and sleep and teed a number of the armed services and his legal entanglements with the civilian population, any implications of that kind. It often did happen that some of our cadets were involved in a legal sense with the civilian personnel living around the stations. This was inevitable. Car accidents or boating accidents or whatever, things like that happened. So there were a certain number of legal lectures. There were a certain number of administrative lectures. There were lectures on how you survived on the station in the summer time. What happened when you put the uniform on. To whom were you responsible in the legal sense and medical arrangements in the summer time and Just the process of staying alive in the service.
Mr. Specht: As Adjutant, how did you relate to the resident staff officer? weren't you kind of like being in administration, would you be kind of between the resident start officer and the needs of your unit? Is that correct or not?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes. I think so. The resident staff officer was a permanent force officer, of course, and he dealt with any communication between the unit and the regular force from whom we took our administrative orders, of course and my main concern was with our own cadets and their behavior and training and their recruitment and selection so that the selection was not only done by the reserve officers, the regular staff officer sat in on the selection boards as well and helped with our induction of new trainees each year.
Mr. Specht: Do you remember in 1958, there was one resident staff officer for all three services? This was tried out as an economizing measure.
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes, I remember the economy movement, yes I do.
Mr. Specht: How did that work out?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well, I think, because of the reduction in numbers, we didn't suffer unduly. We had a number of people like Wing Commander Herbert and myself who'd been in a long time and had seen many changes and we're not thrown by problems like that. There was a move to put the administration down on Fourth Avenue and things like that that confused everything right at the end. but we were sad to see the squadron going down, because I really still do believe that the best recruiting grounds are the universities. I think that the best types of young men surely must be the university recruitment for the permanent forces officers for the country.
Mr. Specht: Do you think there are advantages to having units on campus other than the fact, of course, that you have the students on hand? I'm referring to facilities, the professors in the university who could help you.
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes I think so. I think that, for instance, if you are to give lectures on well let's say something like motivation, and leadership, that it is a god thing if you have the top psychologist available and he can talk about motivation and leadership without the stand of the military background. I think it just gives a different viewpoint from the military leader who may treat motivation and leadership in a different way... although there's slightly different angles there.
Mr. Specht: Could you elaborate also on other ways you think the training on campus would be different than the training in let's say in the regular forces? Let's say as compared to the Royal Military College. You mentioned for example... it's suggested that you would, by brining in a professor who was say head...the tops in psychology you would get a different slant other than strictly military. How about, does this carry over to other ways too? How the training would be more liberal or something?
Mr. Laithwaite: I know what you're trying to say and I'm inclined to agree with that idea, but maybe some of us didn't like the... quite the same degree of rigorous discipline as the... degree at the service colleges for example. I perhaps did not view myself as a permanent force officer in the very first place anyway and had decided by the middle of the war that I would not stay on in the permanent force... that things were perhaps too... a little too rigid for me, a little too structured. I felt that the armed forces were very wise to take a smattering of the university reserve type on in the permanent force afterwards to give another angle to the rigorous armed forces discipline problem type. I don't know how to explain it... we leavened the bread a little bit, I guess. We gave a slightly different viewpoint.
Mr. SpechtL Would there have been any friction resulting from this? Maybe with a university trained cadet who would say go into the forces after graduation. Do you think there was any conflict?
Mr. Laithwaite: No I don't really think so. I think that in Canada, it had long been traditional that... in the Air Force particularly, that the aim for all was a university degree at the officer level. It was interrupted probably and possible during the war when we needed lots of air crew personnel quickly for instance, int he early days when the push for rear gunners was so very great it was possible in 1941 to my knowledge, to be commissioned as a pilot officer as an air gunner for instance, within a short period of time, maybe six, eight, ten weeks from induction you could be a commissioned officer. Well we found that this was not really most advisable thing. The background of the people was not what the Air Force required in the long run. So I think it's always been the aim of the Royal Canadian Air Force to have people with a comparable training to university degree in the officer corps.
Mr. Specht: Yes, that pretty well explains it then that you would have really... the university squadron and training and others it really fitted in very well together then.
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes, I found so. I still think that some of the things that we taught at the air crew officer's schools and the R.U.S... in the R.U.S. The items like public spending, leadership... should really be taught now to all our young degree people at the university, if it were possible, because I they go out into positions of leadership in industry and leadership in the teaching profession, doctors, lawyers, I don't think, I think the leadership training and the public speaking aspects of the course were just great and I think they were most useful to the civilians, as well.
Mr. Specht: I did want to get to that, you've already kind of mentioned one of the values to the individual was he would have got this leadership experience.
Mr. Laithwaite: I personally felt that I did things in the service maybe because there was a war on at the time, that I would never have been able to do in civilian life 'til many years later. When you got to be a more senior member of some organization like a business firm, but int he war time we were thrown into positions of leadership as quite young men because we expanded so very, very fast to take care of the war effort. This leadership training did give everyone a chance to show whether he had any potential to stand in front of a group and open his mouth and say something intelligent.
Mr. Specht: What do you think is the value of the training they received, what do you think it does for the community?
Mr. Laithwaite: One of the things I've always been concerned about is prejudice and I see it in all its forms in today. I don't see it being very much different. There's always been a certain amount of prejudice about the armed forces. I particularly welcomed the intake of our young ladies when we... the first group of officer cadets taken in and we had fifteen girls the first year I remember, but I remember one of the senior officers making a remark at R.M.C. in the summer time that it was very nice to get the mothers of Canada involved in some knowledge of what went on in the armed services and I thought that this was a very good idea. That we would have much more support and much less prejudice about what went on in the armed forces if the mothers had been involved in some way, how some knowledge of what went on, there'd be a lot less prejudice about it. I personally found my days in the service to be of the utmost value to me. I wouldn't... I don't se the sense in some of the things that were done, but that was a good thing. All things change, I suppose. The idea of saluting has changed very much indeed. It was originally just simply that a man was showing his hand was empty and had not go a weapon in it and he wasn't going to smack you over the head with his sword while you were drinking your beer or something. People don't know this. They think there's something servile about it, but in real fact that was why it started. It was a sort of signal between men. Things like this, just the general idea of how tradition has evolved into what is done now, a general knowledge of one another from the civilian population to the service I think is good.
Mr. Specht: You were in the unit for twenty years in a way you've kind of accounted for why you have because you've said what you thought the value of the units were. What do you remember of when the government started the move to have the forces disbanded, the university units?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well...we were very sorry of course. Our association with the service was a source of great pride to us all. The services just like civilian life, there's a social side of the Air Force, a social side to the life in the Air Force, life with the Air Force and the meeting between the permanent force and the reserve officers was very gratifying. Oh, just in a general sense to be able to meet some of the great men who were in the service in the first place, Gen. Pearkes, for example, who became the Lt. Gov. of British Columbia, the association with people of that type was very gratifying to us. We were sorry to see that side of our life being curtailed a little bit. I think that we maintained some of the ceremonial on the university long... well with no connection really in a sense with our own particular unit, for instance the uniforms lent a little but to ceremonial days around the campus. We used to take part in the processions on the degree granting days, convocational days. I think to see the university did make a contribution to the war effort and we... preserving Canada for the youth of the country I think that's good. I think the university students of today should know that he could be involved in such a thing too, very easily. I was and... I think it's good for the average person to know that somebody made a contribution which made his place in society secure. I was sorry to see the services diminishing because I still think that the type of person we need as a leader whether he's in uniform or not is one with an inquiring mind and that probably our number one job is to make a person with an enquiring mind at the university. That's the way I feel about it. I thought that probably the best recruiting for the armed services would be at the universities. I still think so. And I think that also, not matter what walk of life we're in we do turn in upon ourselves a little bit and I like the idea of this group of university professors going down and associating with the permanent forces and lending perhaps a new idea or two here and there to... broaden the outlook of the permanent force too. And it certainly was a good thing for us to realize it. Many, many changes had been made in the permanent force and that the permanent force dedicated soldier is still as dedicated as ever and contrary to common belief, all is not jollity in the armed forces.
Mr. Specht: What sort of impact do you think you would, you might have had in this way upon the regular forces and can you specify a little more how you might have stimulated the permanent forces?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well I think that most of the commanding officers in the summer time who were regular force officers until the last three or four years of the program were very impressed by the quality of people who were running the reserve squadrons in the university. Of course the academic requirements were at least a Masters Degree and probably most of the men who were running the squadrons at the universities had Doctors Degrees. I think the permanent force officers were suitably impressed by the quality of people who were running the university squadrons in other words that the... scientists and the doctors and the lawyers were not all brains and no brawn and vice-versa.
Mr. Specht: In this way do you think then the military units on campus were kind of a way in which different elements in our society were bonded together, given common ground?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes I do. I think there was a tremendous range of knowledge came to the Royal Military College in the summer time. The reserve officers were in every discipline at the university. There were engineers, there were lawyers, there were men in the faculty of education, there were men from physics, they were in everything and the amount of experience and knowledge available to the services in the summertime was quite remarkable really. And... we at the civilian life now as reserve officers were given the benefit of another look at the service type program and we benefitted too.
Mr. Specht: Do you think there were any common outlooks which might have been molded somewhat by the training?
Mr. Laithwaite: Well of course you know something which it's hard for the average person to truly realize is that if you look back in history, a great many wars were fought by civilians in uniform. Probably all the wars that really mattered even if you life, the last and the biggest were really fought by ordinary people, you and me and it's going to be that way I'm afraid with the coast of the forces. It still will be although it's highly specialized now and we think we can press buttons, I think men is still the human element is going to be very strong as always. What we don't realize is that the service organizations grew from civilian minds probably just as much as it did from service minds and that the reason for drill was simply the need to move a body of men from A to B with the least possible fuss. It wasn't to make them service robots or to make them people who had no mind of their own or anything life that, it was simply expediency and probably was organized to start off with your left foot so that you could get everybody there without them falling over one another. People don't realize that its expediency rather than some service mystique that makes people do drill. And you know I thought there was something weird and wonderful about the service too, that they'd invented all the things that went on in it and of course they didn't, it was men that did it, not some particular robot mind in the service. Just men decided that was the way to do it. And a great many ideas that they still maintain in the service, the administrative set-up in the services I thought was very good and still is very good. I learned to write a concise and intelligent letter without all the garbage. Service writing was taught in our program and it made us able to express ourselves in one half page and very concisely and very clearly, to do that in half a page and I find out when I take the tape recorder out and dictate a letter it usually ends up at two pages, that type of an idea.
Mr. Specht: I'd like to ask one final question. In the 1960's you probably started to get sort of wind of the corps being disbanded, quotas were being reduced and there was a very negative attitude from Ottawa and I wonder what kind of approach, philosophy you would have had realizing that possibly the end was coming? What was your philosophy towards this, you know? I mean to do you best even though it's going to run out, just as an example of what I mean?
Mr. Laithwaite: Yes, I think we just...
End of Tape 1, Side 2


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