I'll start today with some nomenclature. In Canada army units are usually called regiments, and in these there can be several battalions. Often one battalion is off somewhere in the world doing its job while another battalion is at home base and maybe even a third battalion is actually a reserve unit. But it appears in the US with the Devils Brigade the naming of the structure seems in reverse... ie... at ground level there were three different regiments...all of the same name, but simply numbered 1, 2 and 3 which formed a brigade, and it earned the popular name ...the Devils Brigade.
There would be well over 3,000 men that would ultimately form these 3 regiments, half coming form the US and half coming from across Canada. The men had to be the best of the best of the best. They needed excellent credentials back in their home regiments, had to be young and VERY fit mentally and physically and willing to volunteer for the most dangerous of assignments. Rugged men were sought who had plenty of outdoors experience, the more rugged the better. They needed to be that special type that could take whatever training, regardless of the levels of exhaustion and the long hours, that could be thrown at them.
Someone thought Dick met at least some of these traits.
Dick was 25 years of age, had been born at Vancouver, but grew up in Winnipeg. When the war began he enlisted with the Royal Regiment of Canada, 2nd Bn and sent off to start his basic training at Vernon BC. He'd only been in the regiment 6 weeks and couldn't have developed too many military skills yet. But that didn't stop fait from knocking at his door. And that door was at the Sergeant's Mess. Dick was doing the typical recruit crap jobs. This one was washing dishes in the mess. Soon a soldier arrived with news that the company commander wanted to see him right away. He immediately thought that he was in serious trouble and had no idea what the demand was all about. Thinking he'd best get cleaned up and into a change of uniform first, the messenger said that he was to forget about changing and get over to the office right away. And Dick did.
On arrival he was told that a new very secret unit was being formed in the US. They were going to be doing some very tough things and even jumping out of planes, but the officer said that he didn't know where they are or what their jobs would be. The officer then said to Dick..." You are the only one in this Regiment that I think could do this.... are you interested? Dick asked for time to think about it and was given till 5 p.m. to let the officer know. He was then told to stop what he was working at and go back to bed and lay on it all day and think about the offer. Dick of course told him that if the Sergeant caught him on his rack there would be all hell to pay for it. The officer said that anyone causing him grief was to be told to go and see the Company Commander.
When Dick returned later that day to accept the challenge, he was told to go the Quartermaster stores and immediately draw out some summer uniforms and ordered not to tell anyone where he was going. he said... how can I, I don't even know where I am going!"
When asked why he joined up, Dick said that he was called up, but was way up in the Northern Yukon when he got word. He was so far north that he had to to wait till the spring thawing before making the trip back south to Winnipeg to report for duty. In his first few weeks with the Canadians he thought that the nco's and officers were pretty strict. (Actually I decided to deliberately not use his barrack-room descriptions from another time, when describing these fellows.) He then thought a change for some excitement south might be good for him and so he told his company commander that he was up for the challenge.
Soon Dick would be sailing back to Vancouver and carted off to Currie Barracks at Vancouver. There Dick saw lots of Canadians formed up and all about to go on a mission that would change their lives forever. At Currie there could have been several hundred in this elite group. (Further research shows that at least 90 of those men came from BC and three of them would be commissioned officers.)
These men would then be put on a train in short order and railed back to Calgary and from there southbound about 400 miles and crossing the Canada/US border into Montana. The brakes were finally applied when they got to a place called Helena. This would be their new home and from where they would get the start of very specialized training at a place called Camp William Henry Harrison. (It was named after the 1890's president of the day when the fort was first opened.)
The influx of over 3,000 men must have put a severe strain of the Camp. No doubt the officers of the new organization were kept quite busy but there seems to have been plenty to go around. From the wonderful internet website of the Devil's Brigade, found at... http://www.firstspecialserviceforce.net/FSSF_Members_pg1.html the nominal roll of the regiment is listed and shows that there were at least 289 officers. Six of these would hold the rank of a Lt. Colonel, 3 each from both sides of the border, there were 12 Major's, 4 from Canada and the rest from the US and 19 Captains, 5 from Canada and 14 from the US. Add to these all the rest that were Lieutenants first or 2nd grade and of course one US Brig. General. While the force was a 50 50 split between both countries it seems the at the officer level, with about 75 from Canada, the American officer strength was more than two to every one Canadian.
With a name like Hilton one would have thought his hotel accommodations would have been a four or five star arrangement, but alas, the new home was a bell-tent that would sleep six, three Yank and three Canuk, and a wooden floor to boot. It probably lacked room service as well. The area of Helena was selected because of the vast flat lands that could blend well with parachute training and further due to mountain ranges that could easily be reached for winter warfare training including fighting on skis.
At age 26 now, Dick felt like he was the old man of his platoon in the 2nd company of # 3 regiment. But there was at least one other fellow pretty close to his age. That fellow went on to earn the Military Medal that would be pinned to his chest at Buckingham Palace, and also the Silver Star from the US. His name was Tommy Prince and this Sergeant would end up being one of the most highly decorated First Nations soldiers in the Canadian Army in the war. Lots on the net on Tommy and well worth the read.
When asked about the training in Montana Dick said the days were long and tough. The men...and the officers all had to learn the same subjects... be they hand to hand combat, field survival skills, winter warfare including skiing, patrolling at night, amphibious landings, mountain climbing, parachuting, and the handling of explosives. The men were expected to be considerable better than simply proficient at handling all of their own weapons and some brought in for special jobs, but they also had to learn about the expected enemy weaponry as well. And they had to be incredibly fit so naturally there was lots of phys-ed classes and workouts and their favorite sport... route marches. Long ones with very heavy packs on their backs no doubt.
The First Special Service Force then travelled to Vermont, first to Camp Bradford and a month later to Fort Ethan Allan for still more specialized training. And from there they would be heading off to California to catch ships to take them off to war.
But I'll save that till tomorrow.