The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: Future U.S. Chiefs of Staff Visit RMC as West Point Cadets
At the beginning of our second year at the R.M.C. I was officially confirmed as class senior and held responsible for its conduct and discipline. This year was one of consolidation. The academic course was intensified and became more interesting as we began to move into the application of some of the pure mathematics and science studied in our first year. There were no crises and, with one notable exception, no particularly remarkable events. The exception was an invitation from General Douglas MacArthur, then Superintendent at West Point Military Academy, addressed to our own Commandant asking the R.M.C. to send a hockey team to West Point to play a match. The hockey team visited West Point in the spring of 1923, thus initiating the series of annual games between the two military institutions.
As in our first year. I continued to serve in ‘B’ Company, and lived in Fort Frederick dormitory, and in administering the class had found it necessary to have a responsible deputy in the dormitory on the other side of the square, the Stone Frigate. This role of deputy in ‘A’ Company eventually evolved upon Jack McMahon, another old Ashburian, whose integrity was unquestioned and who was highly respected by all our class mates. At the end of our second year when the “stripe list” (cadet promotion list) was published, I and Jack McMahon were both appointed lance corporals in that order of seniority, I to continue as class senior for the third year and Jack being confirmed as class second-in-command.
“I have seen mutiny on the high seas, and it’s mutiny I read in the eyes of you two”.
Sir Archie Macdonnell
Our third year ran smoothly enough until the “Arnold case” erupted in February of 1924. A recruit by the name of Arnold ran away, making a pretty hazardous crossing of the ice to Cape Vincent on the United States shore and thence joining relatives in New York city. There he started to make statements to the press about the maltreatment he had received at the R.M.C. which were quickly picked up by the Canadian papers. Within days after the story broke, the whole senior class was placed under open arrest, and I and Jack McMahon had to take charge of the cadet battalion parades whilst disciplinary action against the senior class was under consideration. Our own class was told nothing and knew nothing of the details of the case other than what we could read in the daily papers. Faced with attacks on the R.M.C. based on the allegations made by Arnold, General Macdonnell was forced to make a statement to the press which denied some of the accusations made by Arnold and his father. In the light of the public statement made by the Commandant, the action taken against the senior class seemed to us drastic and unreasonable. It seemed incredible to us that all the staff were totally ignorant of any of the recruiting practices which had been going on, in spite of the efforts made by the seniors to conceal them, and that all the blame for whatever abuses there had been were being unjustly heaped on the latter. Class mates suggested that I and Jack McMahon should go and state these views to the Staff Adjutant whom, in the circumstances of being responsible for the cadet battalion whilst seniors were under arrest, we had the right to approach directly.
So we went to see Major Eric Greenwood, the then Staff Adjutant, in his office and stated our view of the situation. He went scarlet in the face, said “wait here”, got up from his chair and strode into the Commandant’s office next door. Within moments Eric Greenwood reappeared, and we were marched into the Commandant’s office to face Sir Archie Macdonnell. Eric Greenwood said “Simonds and McMahon here accuse me of knowing everything that has been going on”. Sir Archie’s opening words were “I have seen mutiny on the high seas, and it’s mutiny I read in the eyes of you two”. But then he went on to tell us why the senior class were being severely disciplined. When the case had first broken, he had called upon the senior class, whom he trusted, to tell him exactly what had happened to cause Arnold to run away. The seniors had not told him the truth or the whole truth. His, the Commandant’s, statement to the press was based on the information given to him by the seniors. Arnold and his father had been able to refute details of this statement, which had placed him in a most difficult position and was very damaging to the R.M.C. in the eyes of the public.
It was unfortunate that the senior cadets did not make a clean breast of the situation from the beginning, for the incident was allowed to snowball into a scandal out of all proportion to realities. It must be presumed that the seniors acted under the assumed obligation of having to protect the system of recruiting by any means, deceit if necessary. Certain it is that the individual seniors most concerned were in any other context fine and upright characters. It is significant that during the official enquiries connected with the case, Arnold’s own class, the recruit class, sided with their seniors against Arnold. At one stage it was suggested that Arnold might return to the College. I believe this would have been impossible, for his own class would have ostracized him, and made his life there unbearable.
One outcome was clear beyond any doubt – the confidence of Commandant and staff in the reliability of the senior cadets had been severely shaken and we who were to become seniors the next year were bound to be affected by the repercussions. Measures were taken at once to see that all recruiting ceased. Rooms in the dormitories were allotted to officers of the staff, and officers of the day lived in cadet dormitories during their tour of duty. The practice had been for the officer of the day to notify the cadet orderly officer when he was going to make night rounds and the two would make them together. This was stopped, and the officer of the day made his rounds at unexpected and unnotified times. Every step was taken to ensure that not only was recruiting forbidden, but that it could not be continued surreptitiously. All the senior class were reduced in rank (though their original ranks were restored the day before they graduated) and additional members of our own class were promoted to lance corporals.
The Arnold affair was still under investigation when the hockey team from West Point made their return and first visit to the R.M.C. To save face, the senior class were “released without prejudice, subject to rearrest” for the weekend. On Sundays we mounted a formal quarter guard on the Inner Enclosure and I was detailed to command the guard on the Sunday of the West Point weekend. We went through the ceremonial surrounded by West Point cadets as spectators. As it was an occasion when mistakes would have let down the College in the eyes of a sister military institution, I had arranged several extra unofficial rehearsals. Major Jeff Jeffries, our infantry instructor, was officer of the day who mounted the guard, and he made a meticulous inspection. He afterwards congratulated us on our turn out and faultless drill. It is of historic interest that the Superintendent of West Point who took the initiative in inviting an R.M.C. team to the U.S. Military Academy was General Douglas MacArthur, and among those who accompanied West Point hockey teams to Kingston were those who later were to become Generals Maxwell Taylor and Matthew Ridgeway – a coincidence of which they informed me in later years – and both became U.S. Chiefs of Staff.
Whether it was because of our “mutinous” visit to the Staff Adjutant, or because of “guilt by association”, having been N.C.O.s when the Arnold case broke (actually as N.C.O.s of the second class, we had had nothing to do with “recruiting”), when the promotion list came out at the year’s end both I and Jack McMahon were passed over. Having led them for three years, most of my class expected I would be appointed Senior Under Officer (B.S.M.), and Jack McMahon, having received a stripe and official recognition as second-in-command at the end of our second year, would be appointed Senior Company Commander. Howard Fair was appointed S.U.O., and I was appointed Senior (‘A’) Company Commander, and Jack McMahon was appointed Senior Platoon Commander in ‘A’ Company. Many class mates expressed resentment at this turn of events, but I was determined to give the S.U.O. the same loyalty and support he had always given me and I told them I expected them to do the same. Anticipating events a little, after I had graduated and was serving as a subaltern with the R.C.H.A. in Kingston, Sir Archie Macdonnell, who had retired and was living in Kingston, asked me to tea one afternoon. In the course of conversation, he said that I and Jack McMahon had been quite right to come to the Staff Adjutant and himself when we did, and come right out with what was troubling us rather than letting rebellious ideas fester in the cadet body. I assume that the overstepping of both of us was because of strong representations to that effect on the part of the staff, whom he felt he had to back up.