The bridge: Juggling responsibilities between staff and senior cadets

Pt-11

The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: The bridge: Juggling responsibilities between staff and senior cadets

In after years I have often gone through the mental exercise of trying to assess the extent to which our class would have modified the recruiting system of our own volition, if the Arnold case had never taken place.  Gleaned from informal discussions during our second and third years, I know there were many of us who felt some abuses and really unproductive aspects of recruiting should be eliminated.  My personal views were probably motivated more by selfishness than by any compassion for recruits.  I planned a career in the service and I wanted to learn all I could about leadership and man management.  On the other hand, there were some who were quite adamant that it had done us “a hell of a lot of good” and we should pass on to our recruits exactly the same treatment as had been meted out to us.  This proved to be theorizing for the powers of decision were taken from our hands.

“And how many great leaders have stuck rigidly to regulations regardless of human factors?”  Without hesitation, he replied “But dammit, Simonds, I’m not a great leader”.

The officer commanding ‘A’ Company

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As we embarked upon our senior year I personally had three major concerns.  The first was that we had to restore the confidence of the Commandant and staff in the integrity of the senior cadets, and anything underhand was out.  The second was whether we were to be denied the invaluable experience of shouldering and exercising responsibility because seniors could no longer be trusted.  These two concerns went hand in hand – if we were to be allowed to exercise responsibility, we had to prove we deserved it.  And finally, we had to train our recruits to the standards demanded by the R.M.C. and in which we took great pride, by leadership and example rather than bullying.  It might be a slower process, but it could be an infinitely rewarding one, particularly to ourselves as seniors.  I knew that I had got more from the example set and leadership given by Hartley Zimmerman than any of the other methods of recruiting.

In the matter of staff and senior cadet relationships, the year did not start well for me in my particular sphere.  The officer commanding ‘A’ Company, of which I was cadet company commander, was not an ex-cadet, and rather strained relationships developed because of his unswerving rigidity in administering “according to the book”.  Having arrived at the College in the middle of the Arnold affair, he seemed completely distrustful and ever ready to criticize members of the senior class, yet ready to spring to the defence of a recruit no matter how sloppy the latter happened to be.  During the period of Christmas exams the company commander had made a surprise spot check inspection of quarters, found the room of one of the junior N.C.O.s and a class mate not up to the standard, and instructed me to place him on a formal charge.  I strongly protested, because I knew this cadet was very fearful of failing his final year and his academic standard was precarious.  He had been studying until four, five or six in the morning, snatching a few minutes of sleep before going into the examination room, and was under intense strain.  To formally charge him, saddle him with defaulter’s parades, and inflict loss of conduct marks, would in the circumstances be a punishment out of all proportion to the offence, and could well prove to be the breaking point.  Regardless of what was written in Standing Orders, it was accepted that during the periods of examinations, standards of room tidiness were relaxed.  I told the company commander that I intended to speak to this cadet because I thought he was overdoing late study to an extent which could only produce negative results and was endangering his health, and I would also reprimand him for leaving an untidy room, and that, in my opinion was the proper way to handle the case.  My company commander quoted the regulations from Standing Orders, said that the cadet had clearly contravened them, and that as a junior N.C.O. and senior cadet he was obliged to set an example and should therefore be formally charged regardless of circumstances.  I retorted rather hotly “And how many great leaders have stuck rigidly to regulations regardless of human factors?”  Without hesitation, he replied “But dammit, Simonds, I’m not a great leader”.  We both burst out laughing.  He agreed to let me handle the case in the way I had proposed, and we got along famously from then onwards.

Fears regarding senior cadets being deprived of the experience of exercising responsibility proved to be unfounded.  Though the military staff exercised much closer supervision than had been the case in earlier years, they invariably worked through the senior cadets and not over our heads.  From the point of view of training to be officers, I think we benefited a great deal more than our predecessors.  I believe too that when the end of our senior year arrived, we had turned out as good a recruit class as any.  It is reasonable to assume that some individuals in our class on occasion infringed the orders to stop all “recruiting” and went undetected, but in all cases which came to light appropriate disciplinary action was taken.

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