The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: Cadets be careful on who you invite to the college
An incident which occurred during the weekend of the annual Minstrel Show provided a new challenge to the integrity of senior cadet discipline and influenced the circumstances of my own graduation from the R.M.C. In contrast to the Cakewalk, staged by the recruit class alone before the staff and other cadets only, all four classes at the College pooled their theatrical talents for the Minstrel Show – a variety show to which the staff and cadets invited guests. The stage show was followed by a supper dance, and was held on a Saturday night in the late spring.
That year, when our hockey team visited the U.S. Military Academy for the third annual hockey match, the Senior Under Officer accompanied the team. During the festivities at West Point he had met an attractive American girl, whom he invited to Kingston for the weekend of the Minstrel Show. I had invited a girl from Montreal, and on the Sunday morning following the show I signed out on pass to take her to lunch and see her onto the mid-day train on her way home.
As the time for the mid-day dinner parade approached she expressed the wish to parade with the cadets wearing a cadet uniform. To this the S.U.O. had foolishly agreed.
On returning to the College, whilst signing in the leave book, I realized something had gone wrong. Groups of cadets were standing around the hallways outside the mess room engaged in earnest and heated conversation. I just got back to my room to change from walking out dress when Noel Carrington Smith, the cadet company commander of ‘B’ Company, came to see me and report what had happened in my absence.
During the morning the American girl, the guest of the Senior Under Officer, had come to the College to do a sight-seeing tour of the buildings. As the time for the mid-day dinner parade approached she expressed the wish to parade with the cadets wearing a cadet uniform. To this the S.U.O. had foolishly agreed. A uniform was found that would fit her, she changed in a cadet’s room in the Stone Frigate dormitory, and took her place on the sidewalk in front of ‘A’ Company waiting for the parade to fall in. On Sundays the Under Officers were excused the mid-day parade, which was commanded by the cadet orderly officer of the day. The cadet orderly officer, very properly, refused to call the parade with the girl present in the ranks and stated his attitude to the S.U.O. who was watching the proceedings from the side of the square. The S.U.O. gave him a direct and personal order to proceed, the girl fell in with the cadets, marched with them into the MacKenzie building, and had lunch in the N.C.O. room with the S.U.O. and some other cadets. Noel Smith told me that he and the rest of the senior class were furious over the incident. Having lived through the harassment of the R.M.C. over the Arnold case the previous year, they now saw the prospect of another scandal looming up. Noel had an understanding with the officer commanding his, ‘B’, Company that he could at any time discuss any problem with him “off the record”. He had sought the advice of his company officer on this basis, who had already heard rumours of some impropriety during the luncheon parade and advised that the S.U.O. should report the matter to the Commandant without delay.
I just had time to get this outline of events from Noel Smith before receiving a message that the officer of the day wished to see me immediately. I went to his office and he told me substantially the same story I had already heard, but added that reporters from the local press had been recognized among the spectators who watched the parade. The officer of the day had not been present on the parade square himself, but he had had reports of what had occurred and confirmation from members of the sub-staff who had watched from the windows of the MacKenzie building and then gone to investigate. He expected the story to break in the Monday papers and though, of course, he was giving a detailed account of the episode in his routine report, he considered he ought to report the matter to the Staff Adjutant and Commandant at once, so they were forewarned.
I told him that I and the members of the senior class not involved were indignant over the whole affair, that we intended to take action immediately and I asked him, in the interests of staff-cadet relationships, to give me time to act before he made any report. To this he agreed, and I went back to meet with Noel Smith again.
I felt I was in an unenviable and very distasteful position. Though many of my own class had made it plain that they considered it an injustice that I had been overstepped for S.U.O. in our senior year, I had been determined to let no feelings of jealousy or bitterness sour our relationship, and had done my best to back up the S.U.O. and his policies. Now I was faced with taking disciplinary action against him, which some might interpret as being prompted by personal considerations. Further, another of my class who had been drawn into involving himself in this folly, the one who had provided the uniform and in whose room the girl had changed, though of junior N.C.O. rank, was a very close personal friend, whose family had been exceedingly kind to me during my years at the College.
But disciplinary action there had to be. The incident, though a thoughtless, stupid prank involving no immorality, was completely at variance with the spirit of the cadet disciplinary code. Cadets were punished for even minor mistakes on parade and here the whole thing had been made ridiculous at the whim of a silly girl and her escort. It could be assumed with reasonable certainty that, because of the antagonistic attitude which the press usually showed towards the R.M.C., when the story was published it would lose nothing in the telling. Disciplinary action would certainly result from the report of the officer of the day. His attitude in waiting until I returned from pass, and agreeing to defer his own report, was a generous gesture to cadets. In the interest of maintaining confidence in the sense of responsibility of the senior class which we had worked so hard and with success and given up a good many privileges to re-establish, it was, in my view, essential that action should come first from cadets themselves. Above all, whatever the personal discomforture, it was clearly my duty to act.
Together. Noel Smith and I went to see the S.U.O. I recounted my meeting with the officer of the day and the undertaking he had given me. We told the S.U.O. that we considered his proper course was to report to the Commandant at once and tell him the truth of what had occurred, rather than leaving it to us to do so. This he agreed to do. It must have been a painful interview, but he evidently gave a complete and truthful account of what had occurred so that, when the story broke in the Monday papers, the Commandant was in a position to issue a statement giving an accurate account of the whole incident and an assurance that appropriate disciplinary action was being taken.
I personally made representations to the Commandant and Staff Adjutant that punishments should be as lenient as adjudged possible, for the humiliation of those involved, in the eyes of the whole cadet body, was a stern punishment in itself. Severe reprimands were administered and there were no reductions in rank, but the prestige and influence of the Senior Under Officer had been seriously undermined by his action.
On the Sunday evening Noel Smith and I paraded our respective companies and instructed all cadets that the happenings of that day were not to be mentioned or discussed outside of the R.M.C.
The incident was reported in the Kingston papers on the Monday with insinuations that there was a great deal more to it than met the eye, but it was obscured by appearing as a late paragraph in a more lurid story about a post-Minstrel Show party in the officers’ mess at Tete-du-Pont Barracks, which went on till after daylight. Apparently being regarded as a bit of local Kingston gossip, it was not picked up by other papers, and the story petered out. The College was spared another possible attack on its conduct and the behaviour of cadets.