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A Different Kind of Life

Heroes Remember

A Different Kind of Life

Having chosen the infantry, you know, the ordinary foot soldiers, and having seen a few videos of what they did, we found this exciting because it was very physical and for a lot of us, physical was part of it. And, so, I went into the infantry and the first summer, basically, you just do basic training, the same as a simple, as a soldier would do, about 12, 13 weeks of basic training, starting from scratch as if you’d never seen a rifle in your life, or you’d never seen a gun. You never, you never heard a word of command, you’ve never marched any military format except chasing troops marching beside our houses. We would march beside them. But other than that there, there was a . . . So, that was the first summer. Some of it was specifically designed, I think, to almost drive you to, not to breaking point but to see how tough you really were. And a lot of people just may have had a different idea of being tough and turned around and just shouted back or, or said, “I’ll have nothing to do with this kind of things. I won’t be . . .” or they considered it abuse and they just didn’t last. So I guess, theoretically, what this means, you gotta be able to take it in order to give it later. I was going to be an infantry officer, so then you get in very much more in the leadership bit and what we called “mutual instruction.” We all take our turn at the helm and protect each other to a certain extent, you know, because we know that tomorrow, if I’m not supporting this guy that’s the boss today, tomorrow will be my turn to probably be given the, you know, the short end of the stick. So, in fact . . . very . . . in retrospect, I think of this as part of the socialization which is so necessary in the military. I mean, it’s a different kind of life, and it’s not a job. It’s not a 24/7. You live it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And you, and you live it permanently, even socially. You’re with soldiers all the time, or you’re in a canteen, you’re in a mess. So all of this is part of the upbringing, and we did that in a big way. And the first year I did it was in Québec City, the Citadel, which interestingly enough many years later, I got to command. But, and then using as a training base, of course, was Valcartier which was the area that was the closest. The second year we went into Borden where the school of infantry was, north of Toronto. For some of us, this was the first time we ever went beyond, you know, the Ontario border. And, so, weekends at Meaford and weekends in Wasaga Beach and little trips down to London and to Toronto was all new, particularly for Quebecers, who were still working on our language skills, so. Then the third year, you were assigned to the unit that you were likely to be commissioned in. So, in my case, having joined a Special Force and having insisted that my only purpose was to go to Korea. As it turned out, I joined my unit for what we called a phase three which was really like on-job employment at that stage. You were employed as a young officer with a training and recruit platoon, I was. And at the end of this, if you’ve earned your shoulder pip that we used to wear, then you took off the little white band-aid that was around it, and you were a 2nd lieutenant or a lieutenant. And that was really, basically it. And at that stage,the roles were automatically reversed. You started to train 45, 50 men through the same sort of things that you’d been through.

Mr. Belzile discusses his steps through basic and officer training.

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

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