They gave me a pack that weighed a ton ... Told me how to eat grasshoppers, bulrushes and rabbits... Turned me loose in the wilderness in two feet of snow ... and
RCAF PILOTS claim that for talking back to a service policeman you get tossed in the guardhouse for a week, hut if you talk back to the commanding officer you get sent to survival school. No one expects you to believe it, but the fiction does reveal how airmen rank the RCAF’s two most notorious sources of discomfort and misery. The guardhouse is a poor second to Edmonton’s Survival Training School.
As a guest of the RCAF I attended the school and took most of the course to learn how airmen are trained to survive after crash landings in the north. It has been called the toughest two weeks of military training in the world: the students are handed emergency food kits, special clothing, guns and axes, taken into the bush when the snow is two feet deep and the temperature frequently forty below and told, “Okay, now survive.”
How a Maclean’s editor took the RCAF winter survival course and, somewhat to his surprise, came back alive
When I reached Edmonton a classmate whispered: “If you’re alive at the end of the course,
you’ve passed.” I started lingering hopefully in draughts but failed to contract a disqualifying case of sniffles. On the zero morning I awoke apprehensive at heart but discouragingly healthy of body.
I survived despite the cold, the blisters on my heels and the shocking discovery the third night out that the icicles in the bottom of my sleeping bag were my own toes. For five days, at one point, I survived on a few packages of emergency X rations that would fit in my parka pockets. I slept outdoors when my breath built a white halo of frost around the neck of my sleeping bag. And I discovered to my amazement that the RCAF’s winter bush-survival course was actually fun of
a sort, in spite of the discomforts, aches and pains.
I learned that, as part of Canada’s stepped-up northern defense preparations, survival training has become a top priority subject in the RCAF. Every flyer is now scheduled to receive three two-week courses on how to fend for himself, for weeks if necessary, if his luck or gas runs out and he has to come down hundreds of miles from the nearest restaurant. The courses cover winter bush survival, summer bush survival and Arctic tundra survival. Survival training’s main aim is to save lives, but the RCAF is also convinced it will give Canada better northern flyers by eliminating the fear every city-bred pilot feels when he looks out over his wingtips and sees nothing but forest or tundra reaching from horizon to horizon. From 1948 to the end of 1952 about three hundred and seventyfive airmen a year received the training. The school, reorganized and enlarged, is now graduating two thousand a year.
In my stretch at the school I picked up a lot of bush lore that every Canadian camper, hunter and amateur flyer might wisely tuck away in the back of his head for the day when, lost in the woods, his life might depend on how well he knows the rules of survival.
During the war hundreds of Canadian and U. S. flyers lived through crash landings on the Arctic tundra or in sub-Arctic bush, and then died of exposure and starvation. At least one man in the RCAF knew the majority of these deaths were unnecessary. He was Squadron Leader Scott Alexander, a strapping red-haired bush and Arctic expert who had spent ten years in the far north
as a Mountie and who joined the RCAF in 1942 as an adviser on Arctic problems. Caught once in an Arctic blizzard, Alexander dug a hole in the snow, roofed it with snowblocks, and stuck it out for three days and nights with nothing to eat and only melted snow to drink.
Alexander is officer commanding the Survival Training School and, largely as a result of his urgings, every aircraft Hying over uninhabited regions now carries emergency food and equip-
Living off the land is the key to survival in the far north
ment. Developments in survival equipment have included some of the postwar period’s most ingenious defense research accomplishments. The lifesaving gadgets range from edible and nutritious candles (if you don’t need them for light you eat them) to a radio about twice tue size of a cigarette package which has a transmitting range of two thousand miles. The :.tdio, recently developed at the Institute of Aviation Medicine, Toronto, will soon be included in every flyer’s survival kit. Other items: concentrated and fortified food packets, sleeping bag, a rifle that slides together like a telescope, fish net, waterproofed matches.
The first three days of the course are spent with lectures at Edmonton on hunting, fishing, shelter building and recognition of emergency foods available in the bush. On the fourth day the class is moved by bus to a base camp in the forested foothills one hundred and sixty miles west of Edmonton, where students live in shelters of spruce boughs and parachute silk while more practical training is given. On the ninth day they are issued emergency rations, shoulder their packsacks and trek six or ten miles into the bush for five days of realistic survival living.
I missed most of the first three days’ lectures, but attended enough to discover that the instruction is starkly practical and frank to the point of repulsiveness. If your hand freezes accidentally to your axe blade or a piece of metal at fifty below the only way to free it without tearing the flesh may be to urinate on it. A stranded airman’s only source of vitamin C may be in the stomach contents of caribou or rabbits he kills. Toasted grasshoppers make a good emergency food, but pick ofF the legs because they stick in your throat like fishbones. Flight Lieutenant Reg Goodey, the school’s chief instructor, a burly ex-Mountie who once spent five days stormbound in an igloo with only a discarded seal head for food, passes on such delectable tips with a face as expressionless as though he were talking about shrimp cocktails at the Chateau Laurier.
The temperature was around zero when the school adjutant, Flying Officer Len Beasleigh, took me to the supply depot to pick up my outfit. “You sleep outside no matter how cold it gets, I suppose?” I asked, trying to make it sound like a routine news-gathering question. He replied: “You’ll get
a good story. People always like to read about the sufferings of their fellow men.”
We entered the supply depot. The corporal in charge tossed me a pair of mukluks, enormous things with black rubber bottoms and waterproofed white nylon tops that looked like water buckets. Then came duffel socks of inch-thick wool felt to wear inside the mukluks, ordinary woolen socks, a red lumberjack shirt, long underwear, mitts, ski cap and parka. The underwear wasn’t red and the lining felt like chestnut burrs. They warned me I’d lose ten pounds—apparently the underwear rasps the flesh off. The parka was heavy enough to serve as a mattress.
I got a sleeping bag the equivalent of about six
down-filled comforters, a packsack big enough to crawl into for a tent, and a saw-toothed hunting knife. Then a mess kit—plate, cup, frying pan and billy can. The vague smell of smoke about them was encouraging, for I gathered that some previous victim had survived to turn his kit back in again.
I dumped everything into the packsack, hitched it onto my back and staggered outside. “Better walk to your hotel,” Beasleigh advised, “you’ll need all the conditioning you can get.” He wished me luck. After half a block the packsack felt as though the supply corporal had crawled inside it when I wasn’t looking. I called a cab.
At 5.30 next morning I called the hotel desk to ask what the outdoor temperature was. It was ten below. I took a lingering look at the electric blanket on the bed and pulled on the long underwear, then yanked it off because it felt like smoldering cigarette butts. I tried it again with a pair of soft cotton longies underneath and felt more comfortable. It took me twenty minutes to get into the shirt, trousers, sweaters, lumberjack socks, duffel socks, mukluks, parka, woolen mitts, leather mitts and cap. After all the buttons, snaps, zippers and laces were done up I felt as wide as I was tall. I pushed the sleeping bag and everything else left over into the packsack and stepped into the lobby. Only one person roared with laughter and I felt somewhat relieved. Then I noticed that only the night clerk was there.
At the airmen’s mess I did my best to eat enough bacon and eggs to keep the body going eleven days. Outside where the bus waited in the cold predawn it took us ten minutes to load the rations for eight
instructors and five minutes to load the rations for thirty-five of us.
Six hours later the bus stopped at a desolate spot that looked like an ideal site for a secret atomic plant. A lumber trail rutted in the deep snow meandered off through spruce and poplar forest, and a sturdy RCAF power-wagon was there to meet us. The rations were transferred from the bus, then Chief Instructor Goodey said: “Okay l>oys,
the camp’s six miles in. Everybody carry his own pack.” Then we understood. The power-wagon was for rations and the instructors. We walked.
After half a mile my pack felt as if the supply corporal had crawled into it again. The powerwagon passed us, then stopped ahead, and Goodey looked back at me, shaking his head. I staggered and bent forward under the pack as far as I could without taking a header in the snow. Goodey climbed out and above the thumping of my heart I heard him say: “He’ll never make it.” He pulled the pack off my back, tossed it onto the powerwagon, climbed back in without a word and drove on. I felt like a blitz victim who had just had a ten-story building dragged off his back. To the other boys, still carrying their packs, I explained that I needed my arms free to take pictures, and began snapping my camera in every direction.
The minutes and my feet dragged along. After three quarters of an hour the sweat was cascading down my chest. I unbuttoned everything that would unbutton and the breeze blew in like an Arctic blizzard. I either had to be too hot or too cold. My feet were burning and my thigh muscles aching. So I told the Continued on page 45
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
other boys I thought they needed a rest. They weren’t very interested, but they finally agreed.
It was then one of the airmen noticed I had been issued with two left mukluks. I asked if anyone had any distress flares. Flight Lieutenant Jim Wynn, a Korea airlift pilot who was highestranking officer on the course and had been chosen course leader, assured me that after another mile or two I wouldn’t know one foot from the other anyway. Furthermore, he said, we
were thirty-six miles from the closest town and twenty miles from the closest telephone, so I might as well plod on for camp.
We plodded on. My legs were stiffer than crutches, and I was now shivering under my sweat-drenched clothing. It was rolling foothill country with the Rockies prominent on the western horizon. The forest was predomi-
nantly open stands of second-growth poplar where the snow lay two feet deep, with denser patches of spruce and pine where the snow was shallower. We finally reached camp.
There were four shelters, large enough for about eight men each. Each looked as if the builders had started out to construct a log cabin, given up halfway through and turned it into a combination Indian tepee and spruce-bough wigwam. We broke up into four camps —one for each shelter. I joined a six-man camp headed by Wynn.
Stripped to the Gooseflesh
There was Flight Lieutenant Peter Cribb, a soft-spoken Briton who has been in Canada two years and is a week-end flyer with Toronto’s reserve Vampire squadron. Cribb has a DFC and bar for eighty operations with Spitfires for the RAF during the war. Flying Officer Bob Mortimer was a lanky twenty-one-year-old from Vancouver now flying Sabre jets out of Bagotville, Que. Flying Officer George Zlatnik, twenty, was a husky six-footer from Glenside, Sask., a pilot with the photo and mapping 408 Squadron at Roekcliffe. Fifth member of the camp was Leading Aircraftman Glen Graham, a safety-equipment technician at Centralia, Ont. Graham, a rugged two-hundred-pounder with a snub nose that makes him look like a pugilist, is a former cowboy, rodeo rider and circus barker from Nevis, Alta.
We moved our packs into the shelter. It was too low to permit standing upright. The floor was covered with a thin tramped mat of spruce boughs. In the centre was a ring of blackened stones for a fireplace with a hole directly above in the parachute roof where smoke could escape. Numerous holes in the spruce-bough walls looked suspiciously like emergency windows where previous tenants had pushed their heads through for fresh air when the smoke grew too dense inside.
The thought of stripping off bare to shed my wet underwear started a spasm of shivering, but I had to get a fire started and dry out before the night cold really set in. I looked around for a pile of newspapers and a can of coal oil. 1 might as well have looked for the electric blanket that kept tormenting my memory. I whittled shavings off a piece of kindling and after several misfires got a fire blazing. The shelter filled with smoke in thirty seconds. We discovered that you lived in the shelter on your hands and knees because only the area two feet off the floor was free of smoke.
I finally got stripped to the gooseflesh
and dressed again in trousers, shirt and dry socks. I hung the underwear and wet socks on the roof poles over the fire and they started steaming like a geyser. I pulled on the mukluks and parka and stepped outside where Sergeant-Instructor Bob Sproat was beginning a demonstration on using an axe.
When my turn came for a try-out the axe seemed to be off balance. 1 couldn’t hit closer than six inches to the spot at which I was aiming. Sproat yelled for everyone to stand back.
We had to climb a hill to find a tree
for a tree-felling demonstration and Sproat showed us how to climb, locking the rear knee stiffly at each step to take the weight off the thigh muscles. “You can walk twice as far in a day that way,” he said. I tried it and fell like a storm trooper doing a reverse goosestep. I gave up. I had walked far enough, anyway. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to walk twice as far.
Next, Flying Officer Jim Gourley, another ex-Mountie with years of Arctic experience, gave us a demonstration on shelter building and pointed
out. that a parachute was a downed airman’s department store. A parachute can provide shelter, a raft sail, emergency clothing, rope, fishlines, a packsack, boot material, metal for hand-made knives and elastic bands! for a catapult. I gathered that if you ever jump from a plane it is wise to make sure you have a parachute with you.
Then Chief Instructor Goodey told us very apologetically that the emergency food packets were in short supply and while at. base camp we would have to survive on ordinary groceries such
as pork chops, bacon, eggs and fresh vegetables. Nobody could raise a tear.
We drew rations, went to our shelters for the night and ate a supper of tea and bacon sandwiches, lying down to keep below the smoke.
The temperature dropped to around zero. Everyone was exhausted and felt like going to bed, but no one wanted to move from the fire to do it. We spread sleeping bags out on the sprucebough floor and waited for someone to make the first move. Graham, the big ex-cowboy, went first. He was stripped to his underwear and inside his bag in thirty seconds.
“It’s colder inside than out,” he yelled.
Graham appeared to be still breathing. FIncouraged, we all dashed for our bags at once. My underwear and socks felt almost dry so I took them with me and shoved them down into the bag where, according to the RCAF’s textbook on survival, they would complete drying out from my body heat.
I was tempted to crawl in wearing everything I had, including the parka, but this is a survival taboo. The books say strip down to your underwear. I took stock and decided my bed clothing was going to be limited to woolen shirt, a sweater and socks.
I pulled off the parka and immediately became chilled through. My bare legs were shaking so wildly that they missed the sleeping bag and jabbed into the spruce boughs underneath. 1 aimed again and this time got them inside, squirmed downwards and pulled the top of the bag up around my neck. I tried straightening out slowly but my knees touched the wet bundle of socks, underwear and trousers in the bag beside me and bounced back up to my chin.
My legs stopped shaking and started aching instead because of their cramped position. I tried rolling over but the movement opened the top of the sleeping bag and a blast of air shot in. In one second I lost all the heat I had taken five minutes to produce. 1 had to choose between being kept awake by the leg cramps of my doubled-up position or being kept awake by the glacier which seemed to be waiting in the bottom of the sleeping bag whenever I tried straightening out. I straightened out. My feet felt as if they were in an ice pack. I can’t say that I felt comfortable any time that first night, but at least the degree of discomfort changed a bit for the better and my tense shivering limbs slowly relaxed. I fell asleep, but seemed to waken again immediately. The fire was out now except for a couple of small embers, so I must have slept close to an hour. I straightened out and dozed off again.
The rest of the night broke itself up into hourly intervals of waking up with
leg cramps, straightening out, falling asleep, knees creeping chinward again, then waking with a new session of leg ciamps an hour later.
The thermometer on the instructors’ shanty that morning read eight below. My underwear had completed drying during the night in the sleeping bag and I pulled on the heavy woolen longies, keeping the lighter cotton longies in reserve. The woollies still felt as if they were lined with smoldering cigarette butts, but at eight below they were very comforting.
My legs were so stiff and sore I thought I had become an advanced arthritic overnight. I forgot the arthritis promptly and prepared myself for an attack of double pneumonia when I rolled up my sleeping bag and saw the shape of my body outlined in thick white frost on its bottom surface where body vapor had permeated through the down filling and frozen against the spruce mat on the ground
Survival was never quite as tough again as that first night. Lectures continued for five days but we learned most from experience. We learned to make ourselves more comfortable at night by loosening up the spruce boughs under our sleeping bags and adding fresh ones every day or two. We learned the trick of rolling over inside the bag so that the neck didn’t open and let the heat out. And we learned to keep a pile of kindling close so that we could start a fire in the morning without getting out of bed.
1 also learned that RCAF research and experience have produced a mass of knowledge that every angler and hunter should salt away for the emergency when, lost, stranded or injured, he might have to use it to save his own life. In sub-zero weather the greatest menace to survival, surprisingly, is your own sweat. Damp clothing loses its insulating properties and after sweating you can freeze to death easily. If sweating can’t be controlled it is always safer, regardless of the temperature, to strip and dry underclothing over a fire than to leave it on damp, especially socks, for once crippled by frozen feet your chances of surviving long are lost Don’t rub frostbites with snow. It does more harm than good. Thaw out frostbitten parts gradually with warm hands and gentle massage.
One of the first RCAF survival rules is build a camp and stay with the downed aircraft. It. applies equally to anyone lost in forest country. Aimless wandering reduces the chances of rescue and uses up strength you should save for hunting to keep yourself fed. Climb the closest hill to reconnoitre, but don’t travel long distances unless you are certain you know where you are going and have the strength to get there. If you do travel, and nine times out of
( MIDNIGHT TRAIN
I TO DAWN
The long, slow shrieking bannered out Beneath a quarter-mile of smoke Trailing the engine’s trumpet-shout Far, far behind.
Yet, when it spoke Immediately, we seemed to hear The metronomic, wheeling rush Like time, itself, more loud, more near Than warning whistle.
Now the hush
Of soundlessness. The falling snow Will carry hours down the night As steadily as wheels that flow In rhythm, from the dark to light.
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
ten you shouldn’t, blaze a trail behind you and leave notes telling where you are heading. Don’t let yourself get exhausted.
On a beach or clearing lay out signal fires of green boughs that will smoke heavily. Have them close to camp where they can be fired quickly if an aircraft flies over.
Rabbits can be easily snared with shoelace loops in their runways, but a week on solid rabbit diet will make you ill. They’re too lean. Eat any greens you see rabbits have been eating, bulrush roots, the soft inner bark of poplar (not too much, it’s laxative), but avoid berries you don’t recognize as edible.
In the bush always be prepared by carrying a compass, a hunting knife or small axe, matches in a waterproof container, snare wire, a fishing kit, fly dope and a map of the area in which you are traveling.
Deer Were Not Cricket
On the fifth afternoon we were issued X rations and received instructions for the trek to begin next morning.
“This is where you’ll have an opportunity to put your survival knowledge into pract ice,” Chief Instructor Goodey told us. He made it sound as if he was offering us two-week vacations in Florida. “Each camp will get a civilian guide and trek into the bush, make shelters and live there five days. You’ll have one box of X rations per man per day and for the rest of your food you’ll have to snare or shoot game. Shooting big game like deer is not permitted, but you’ll live fairly well off rabbits, partridge and roast porky.” My ears pricked up momentarily, then I realized he meant roast porcupine.
“Some of the emergency food is none too palatable,” Goodey went on. “It’s designed to give maximum nutrition in a minimum of space. We wouldn’t sacrifice twenty calories to make a thing taste good. Eating is largely habit anyway. A healthy man can live ten or twenty days easily without food. On actual survival you should fast the first two days because you don’t need food for a day or two and to eat then is only wasting what might save your life later.” Our rations could be carried easily under one arm.
We assembled at nine next morning. A fresh snowfall of several inches had filled in the trails and our packs were considerably heavier now with rations, cooking pots, axes, guns and ammunition. But we were hardened veterans now—or so we thought—and the packs didn’t feel half as unmanageable as they had during the trek in from the bus.
Our guide was Mike Kelly, a short husky Athabaska trapper who figures he’s walked fifty thousand miles on his trap line during the past thirty years. Our camp was joined now by Joe Smith, an Edmonton doctor on the RCAF reserve squadron there.
Kelly took us north on the lumber trail and for the first two miles the walking was fairly easy. Then he said we had to head into the bush. We turned onto a narrow foot trail single file, Kelly leading. It was filled in with new snow, but the old snow beneath had been packed down by previous parties. The trail was less than a foot wide, on either side was two feet of soft snow, and every half-dozen paces one foot would slip knee-deep into the snow at the side. It was like walking a greased tightrope. If Blondin had wanted to try something really tough he should have tried his tightrope stroll across Niagara Falls wearing two left mukluks and a heavy packsack with a frying-pan handle jabbing between his shoulder blades.
After hair an nour the sftoulder straps of the packsack had practically amputated both my arms. Kelly was plowing ahead at at least fifteen miles an hour. Doc Smith asked him if he was trying to reach Montreal for lunch. Kelly said unless we got cracking we wouldn’t reach the McLeod River, half a mile away. But we did, and stopped for a rest. I asked Kelly how many miles more. He said we’d done about four miles. I didn’t have the wind to start an argument, but I knew it was at least fifteen. Then he said the walking was a bit hard on account of last night’s snow. I guess he thought we hadn’t noticed. “Maybe we’d better camp,” he suggested.
With frying pans and spruce boughs we shoveled out an area of snow for our shelter and erected a framework of poles so that a parachute would fit as the roof. We concluded it would be a tight fit for five, so Smith and I started work on a lean-to of our own. Kelly was building his lean-to a hundred yards away because he was on regular rations and the RCAF figures morale might suffer if instructors eat their steak and onions in front of students nibbling on dried meat bars.
We had the framework erected when it was lunch time. Each of us opened our first X ration box. On the top was a suggested menu for breakfast, morning lunch, noon lunch, supper and evening lunch. The RCAF doesn’t do any kidding—there wasn’t a word about dinner.
The box was packed tighter than the toes in a woman’s shoe with a package of cocoa (milk powder and sugar included), an oatmeal block to be eaten as is or cooked into porridge, chocolate bar, a packet of biscuits, two dried meat bars, two tea bags, chicken noodle soup powder, six sugar cubes, a small package of hard candy, salt, a box of “windflamer” matches, and a small plastic spoon. It weighs one pound, twelve ounces, yet contains twentyeight hundred calories—eight hundred more than the RCAF considers a man needs to sustain life indefinitely.
The most nutritious items are the meat bars which contain a thousand calories alone. They are seventy percent fat, thirty percent meat, harder than a hickory axe handle, and represent a pound of beef and a pound of pork dehydrated into six ounces. The biscuits, ten of them, are brittle as shingles and about as tasty. The candy is excellent—you can’t taste a trace of the fat and vitamin C with which they are fortified.
According to the menu, I was supposed to eat half a meat bar, two biscuits, a piece of candy and one third of my cocoa. The meat bar looked like a piece of varnished wood and tasted like sawdust, with a faint flavor of last Sunday’s roast. I understood why they recommend fasting for two days. You have to starve yourself before you can eat more than the first mouthful. I put the meat bar back and started to work on the biscuits. I wondered if all the chewing such iron rations required wouldn’t use up more energy than they provide. The doc and I heated up a billy can of cocoa and finished off with a candy. According to the RCAF book on survival I should now be satisfied. I always knew my stomach couldn’t read.
We threw spruce boughs on our lean-to framework until we had a roof a foot thick and packed another foot of boughs on the ground for a mat tress. Wynn and Cribb went out to set rabbit snares. The rest of us spent the next two hours scouring the vicinity for firewood. I found where beavers had girdled and killed dozens of poplars. The trees were well seasoned; they were also a quarter of a mile away
through two-foot snow. Doc said it would be easier to dig a coal mine. But it was getting very cold—we guessed it for zero—so we dragged in firewood until it looked as though we had enough to steam up the Queen Mary.
Our legs and backs felt as if we had dragged the Queen Mary along as well, and my long-since-empty stomach was making noises like a tomcat in a tin drainpipe. It was getting dark when we assembled for supper. The menu called for chicken noodle soup, half a meat bar, two biscuits and cocoa. The soup was excellent, but it vanished in thirty seconds. I looked sceptically at the meat bar and figured I had to do something with it. I decided to stew it. 1 shaved it up with my knife, covered the shavings with water and hung it over the fire to boil. I added the biscuits for dumplings. Doc said it couldn’t possibly taste as bad as it looked, but it did. However, after the first three spoonfuls the inside of my mouth was coated so thickly with the fat that I couldn’t taste anything afterward. 1 was still hungry, but my stomach had become less vocal.
Doc and I walked across to our lean-to and started a fire. We crowded close and our mukluks steamed and our shins toasted while our chilled backs rippled with shivers. It was the coldest night yet. The instructors had assured us that there is little danger of freezing to death in your sleep, in spite of the traditional warnings. Cold always wakens you before it freezes you, they said, unless you are exhausted. I was sure I was exhausted. I told the doc to crawl in and get some sleep; I would get into my sleeping bag and stay awake to keep a fire going. I’d waken him in an hour or two and then he could tend the fire while I slept.
We got a hot fire blazing and removed our outside clothing. We wormed down into the cold sleeping bags. It was the last thing I remember. I awoke with a start and noticed that the east was grey with approaching dawn, the fire was black out and the neck of my sleeping bag was rimmed with frost from my breath. But down inside the bag I was as cosy as a baby kangaroo in his mamma’s pouch. Both of us had slept all night without waking once. The thermometer back at camp that night dropped to fifteen below.
We started a fire without getting out
of the bags. I intended to boil up my oatmeal block into porridge, but I tried a nibble raw and found it tasted like an oatmeal cookie. It was so tasty I ate it that way and used the melted porridge water for tea instead. I finished breakfast in bed. By drinking plenty of weak tea I was able to get down two biscuits and a quarter of a meat bar (the menus said I should eat half a bar).
For the next hour my stomach felt flatter than the frying pan. Then the hunger pains suddenly cleared up and I didn’t experience anything more than a mild stomach discomfort during the four days of X rations that followed. After about twenty-four hours of rumbling rebellion our stomachs adapted comfortably to a quarter or third of the food normally eaten. Goodey was right. Eating is largely habit.
That morning 1 borrowed a shotgun and a pocketful of shells, promised bear steaks for dinner and went hunting. I didn’t even see a snow flea. The game must have gone into hibernation en masse the night before. I waded snow for an hour and had just decided that I was three miles from camp when I came across a man track. I studied his trail and noticed at once that the unfortunate chap was wearing two left mukluks like me. I figured he was lost and decided I’d better trail him down. Ten minutes later his trail was joined by another chap, and the other guy was wearing two left mukluks too. Now I had two lost men to rescue. Ten minutes later the trail was joined by the tracks of a third man, also wearing two left mukluks. 1 stopped and began to apply my seven days of bush experience to the problem. 1 knew that even the best of woodsmen sometimes walk in circles without knowing it, so I followed the trail backwards for a brief reconnoitre. I landed back in camp in two minutes. I hadn’t found any game because I hadn’t got farther than two hundred yards from camp the whole morning. I told the boys there wasn’t a game animal within ten miles, and five minutes later Wynn and Cribb returned from their hunt with three rabbits and a partridge.
The Meat Bars Survived
That evening we tossed everything into a pot and had a very satisfying meal of rabbit - partridge - meat bar -chicken-noodle stew thickened with oatmeal. Doc demanded that we include the rabbit and partridge stomach contents for vitamin C. The rest of us said firmly we preferred scurvy.
It had turned milder during the day and that night we went to bed warm and with a pleasantly full feeling around the middle.
We spent two more days and two nights in the camp, snared and ate a couple more rabbits, but most of the time we strictly followed the first rule of survival—conserve energy—by diligently steaming our mukluks beside the fire. Yet somehow we came out a lot tougher than we went in. On the last day we trekked the four miles back to base camp, then the six miles out to the bus at the highway, and felt we could turn around and do it over again if we had to.
I survived, and I didn’t eat grasshoppers either. I can light a fire in one minute flat, I can hit the same spot twice with an axe, and I can make a bed out of spruce boughs that will keep me warm at fifteen below. But I have six meat bars left which survived too. They still taste like sawdust.
If I ever have to survive on X rations again I hope it will be summer so that I can eat toasted grasshoppers and save the meat bars for fish bait. ★