The Apprentices

(as written by JD Murray)



In the “good old days,” Canadian boy-soldiers were known as barrack rats, stable boys, and many other military epithets but their history is as old as any component of Canadian military service.  In 1803, as recorded in the history of the 104th Regiment of Foot (New Brunswick Fencibles), boys were enlisted as buglers, trumpeters, and drummers.

More than 125 years later, according to General Order No. 74 of 1930, “Boys of good character between 14 and 18 years of age may, subject to parent’s or guardian’s consent, be specifically employed in the Canadian Corps of Signals.”  Openings in other units of the Non-Permanent Active Militia as signallers, drummers, buglers, and trumpeters are also recorded in this order.

The post-World War II version of “boys” in the military is quite different.  Although the apprentices were recruited at sixteen years of age their duties and responsibilities were much more involved than that required of a drummer or a bugler.  “The purpose of the Soldier Apprentice Plan is to train selected young men as soldier tradesmen and to provide them with a background which will enable them to advance to senior non-commissioned rank in the Regular Army.”[1]

Early in the 1950s, it was realized that the army was facing a potential shortfall of qualified senior NCOs.  At that time, many of the NCOs in the Canadian Army, lacked an extensive academic background because, in many cases, they had been recruited before their scholastic training was completed and been sent off to fight a war.  After hostilities ceased, veterans returning to civilian life were offered attractive “resettlement” packages.  One of the options offered to veterans of World War II and Korea was subsidized educational upgrading.  Unfortunately, those veterans that remained in the military were not given that same opportunity.  Thus, although they achieved excellent credentials as soldiers and tradesmen, many lacked formal academic training.  One of the proposals implemented to fill this void was the Apprentice Training Program.


Regulations and Orders

One of the methods used to attract recruits to the program was the wide distribution of a booklet entitled “The Way To A Fine Future.”  This brochure, produced sometime after the inception of the program, is a simplified and easily readable summary of CAO 256-8.  Three extracts from the booklet follow.


Soldier Apprentice Plan


            The Soldier Apprentice Plan leads the way to a fine future for young men of 16, interested in a lifetime army career.  The plan provides an opportunity for educational advancement and technical training, combined with the right amount of military training and the finest comradeship a man could have.

            This great career opportunity costs neither you nor your parents a cent.  In fact, as a Soldier Apprentice you are paid from the day you commence training.  In addition, you are supplied with uniforms, comfortable accommodation, a well balanced diet, excellent sports and hobbies facilities, complete health care and ample leave allowances of 30 days a year with special Christmas leave.

            At the Corps School to which you are first sent, you receive an ideal combination of academic, trade and military training, especially designed to give the individual a real sense of personal accomplishment.

            The primary aim of the academic training – conducted by civilian teachers of high school standing and supervised by the Provincial Departments of Education – is to raise your educational standards in many subjects, including Mathematics, the Sciences and English, two years above your enrolment level.  Teaching above the Grade X level is directed towards trade training, with instruction equivalent to existing provincial courses in technical and vocational schools.

            The trades training aims to qualify you in a basic Army skill by the time you have completed your two years training.  In all there are 22 different trades ranging from radar technicians and artillery surveyors to accounting clerks and transport operators, each offering you a lifetime advantage over non-skilled men.

            The military advantage of the training provides you with a sound background for future advancement to non-commissioned and warrant officer rank.  This plus further trades training, continues following graduation from Corps School and your acceptance as a Regular Soldier in a Regular Army Unit.

            During your training period, you live, study and work with other members of your class in your own school.  Your original instructors and teachers remain with you throughout this time, supervising your routine and always ready to advise or aid you with any problems that might arise during the course.

            Included in your schedule is a carefully planned athletic program, designed to ensure your physical fitness and mental alertness with emphasis on team sports.  Hockey, basketball and volleyball teams compete in league play with neighbouring high schools and local teams within your own age groups.

            Opportunities like this cost a lot of money.  What does the Army itself hope to gain from all this outlay?

            Its gain is an ever-expanding group of keen young soldier tradesmen who will be the skilled technicians – the Sergeants and Sergeant Majors of tomorrow.


How to Become a Soldier Apprentice


General Conditions


            To be eligible you must:

            be a Canadian citizen, or meet citizenship requirements

            be 16 years of age, but not have reached your seventeenth birthday on the date 

            you enrol;

            have completed Grade VIII schooling;

            be of good character;

            provide proof of consent by your parent or guardian;

            meet Army test requirements (including physical fitness).


Other Points To Remember



            As a Soldier Apprentice you receive all the benefits of a Regular career soldier – including pension protection and 30 days paid holiday every year.  In addition you get a special Christmas season holiday while you are taking Apprentice training.  In certain circumstances, the Army may also help pay travelling costs to your home once a year.


Basic and Group Pay

            While you are still 16 years of age, you receive half pay – and come on to full Regular Army pay on reaching your seventeenth birthday.  Over and above this basic pay you will normally receive a pay increase when you qualify as a tradesman and are sent to a unit.  This is known as “Group Pay.”


Period of Service

            You enrol for a period of seven years.  The first two are spent in training as a Soldier Apprentice – the last five as a fully-fledged Regular Soldier.  At the end of the fifth year – that is, when you are 21 or 22 – you will have the option of release, if you wish.  However, if you are like the great majority of Soldier Apprentices you will, by that time, want to stay on and establish a worthwhile career for yourself in the Army on a long-term basis.


French-Speaking Entrants

            Young men who speak only French, or whose knowledge of English is not sufficient to absorb training in that language, will be trained for the first year at the Canadian Army Training School in Camp Valcartier or at the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps School in Montreal.  During that period they will receive English language training to the extent that second-year training may be given in English.  Academic training and military training to the all-arms recruit standard will also be given.


This brochure certainly painted a rosy picture for sixteen-year-old boys who were indecisive about their vocation or career aspirations.  However, as parental consent was a necessity, “the folks” had to be convinced that the program was sound.  One of the worries of many mothers concerned their sons being sent off to war.  Annex A to CAO 256-8 calmed their fears with the statement, “No soldier apprentice under the age of seventeen shall be: enrolled during an emergency; or subject to overseas service.”

In a similar vein, the same CAO points out that, “A soldier apprentice is subject to the Code of Service Discipline but should not be awarded a sentence which includes the punishment of detention.  Where an offence is committed which is sufficiently serious to warrant a punishment of detention, consideration should be given to effecting the release of the individual.”

The following corps participated in the Canadian Army’s Apprentice Training Program:


Royal Canadian Artillery;

Royal Canadian Engineers;

Royal Canadian Corps of Signals;

Royal Canadian Army Service Corps;

Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps;

Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps; and

Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.


One of the enrolment requirements stated above was, “be 16 years of age, but not have reached your seventeenth birthday on the date you enrol.”  This was a very significant criterion.  The following example illustrates the importance of the age difference:


Applicant A was born in June 1939 and enrolled on 1 June 1956, while he was still sixteen.  On beginning his training in September 1956, he was seventeen years and three months of age.


Applicant B was born on 1 September 1940 and enrolled on his sixteenth birthday in 1956.  When he reported in for training a few days later, he was at the minimum age of sixteen.


With age comes maturity!  An age difference of fifteen months, especially at sixteen, brings with it different levels of development in mind and body.  This is the primary reason some apprentices appeared to be much more “grown-up” than others recruited in the same year.  The older student certainly had an advantage.  A question on the enrolment questionnaire was, “Would you rather play with boys or girls?”  The answer, of course, depended on the age of maturity.

As the apprentice training course was two years in length and recruiting was conducted on an annual basis, there were both junior and senior students in residence at all times, except for the first and last years of the program.  The rivalry between first and second-year apprentices was very similar to that which exists at our high schools and universities.  While both are pursuing the same program, the more advanced group tends to assume a “superior” position vis-à-vis their juniors.  The official supervision of juniors by selected second-year apprentices will be covered later.

Apprentices were different, there is no doubt.  For a fourteen-year period from 1953 to 1967, they were affectionately referred to as “the little green monsters” from the green bands worn on the shoulder to distinguish them from the “more mature” members of the army.  The following is reprinted from the Camp Borden Citizen, No 253, dated 26 February 1953.


Apprentice-soldiers, newest and youngest additions to the Canadian Army’s growing forces are being outfitted with regular uniforms and personal equipment but will have distinctive identification insignia.  The “student soldiers” will wear a light green silk cord band seven eighths of an inch wide on both shoulder straps of all orders of dress, including greatcoats.


Eventually, all of the corps adopted a single green band for first-year and a double band to identify the second-year apprentices.

“The waist is a terrible thing to mind and the mind is a terrible thing to waste!”  The apprentices were not concerned with either portion of this mangled proverb.  First, at sixteen and seventeen years of age, they were still growing and because each day was filled with well organized and extensively planned physical activity, an extremely small number suffered from any weight problem.  Second, sixteen-year-old boys inherently have a limitless thirst for knowledge and the curriculum in both academic and military subjects coupled with the many extra curricular activities were never enough to satisfy their need.  They soaked up all this knowledge like a sponge.   “The best two years of my life.”  “I would like to do it all over again.”  “As a graduate apprentice I would like to go back, as an instructor.”  These quotes were common from a cross section of apprentice graduates.