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  • The way it was 1952 – 1956: Through the eyes of 3521 C.R. ‘Charlie’ Simonds

The way it was 1952 – 1956: Through the eyes of 3521 C.R. ‘Charlie’ Simonds

ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE OF CANADA

THE WAY IT WAS 1952 – 1956  

THROUGH THE EYES OF

3521 CR (CHARLIE) SIMONDS

The Royal Military College – 1952 to 1956

by 3521 Charles R. Simonds

Clearly, the Royal Military College of 1952 was not the College of today.  To put the College and Canada’s military institutions of that time into context, the Second World War and our nation’s significant role in it were still very fresh in everyone’s mind.  Every cadet had been brought up during the war and our fathers had fought in it or had been intimately involved in it in some manner.  Canada was at war once again in Korea, fighting against both the North Korean and Chinese forces.  The Cold War had recently begun and Canada had committed an Army brigade for service with the British forces in Germany and an Air Division for service in France and Germany as lead elements of our contribution to NATO’s integrated forces.  In the aftermath of Canada’s almost complete disarmament immediately following WWII, her defence forces were expanding and being re-equipped.  National defence was a growth industry, and defence spending consumed more than a third of the federal budget.

The Royal Military College was not the only Canadian Services College.  Royal Roads in Victoria, the former RCN-RCAF College, like RMC, admitted senior matriculation graduates and, for two years, provided the same basic education and training as RMC.  These cadets then joined their fellow cadets at RMC for the final two years.  Le College Militaire Royal de St Jean opened in 1952 and accepted candidates with a junior matriculation equivalent; cadets there would complete three years education to bring them up to the same standard as RMC’s second year and then, like their Royal Roads counterparts, would enter third year at RMC.  While all three colleges followed the same military and academic training standards, each college developed its own traditions and practices, so individual cadets would have somewhat different early experiences, depending upon which college they initially attended.  I leave a description of the other two colleges to those who attended them; this narrative is written from the perspective of one who spent four years at the RMC in Kingston.  Of course, the Canadian Services Colleges, like all but a few areas of the three services themselves, were the preserve only of males.  Indeed, the Colleges were the preserve of only single males; married men were not eligible for entry and marriage by a cadet was grounds for expulsion.

The College infrastructure was considerably less developed than it is today.  First, very little of Navy Bay had been reclaimed and the current entrance to the College grounds and the extensive playing fields were mostly open water bordered by marshland.  The College grounds were a pronounced peninsula with Fort Frederick at the southern tip, walled off from the rest of the College.  At that time the Martello tower was sealed up, much of the wooden interior floors having rotted away.  There was no roof on the structure so the three muzzle-loading cannon on top were clearly visible and open to the elements.  In keeping with long-standing College tradition, there was no rank among the cadets within the fort; it was a haven for the recruits and sports rallies and other social activities were sometimes held there.

Immediately to the north of the fort wall were, first, the football field surrounded by a standard 440 yard track and then the parade square, and around these two open spaces most of the College buildings were to be found.  Beginning on the east side, moving north from the fort, were the squash courts (a wooden frame building housing two courts) and the small brick firehouse, which also housed a water-pumping station.  These two structures were demolished for the building of the Senior Staff Mess.  Next was Panet House, the residence of the Staff Adjutant and, attached to it, the Old Gym, in the basement of which was a small-calibre rifle/pistol range and behind it, the St. Lawrence pier at the end of which were moored Colonel King’s aluminium-hulled yacht, Islay, and Leroy Grant’s 35-foot racing sloop, Tramp Royal, each summer.  At the east end of the parade square stands the Stone Frigate, an old Royal Navy warehouse now converted to a dormitory.  Immediately to its north are the old limestone gunsheds which accommodated the Electrical Engineering department.  Behind it, the boathouse was found; the College armada boasted a collection of dinghies (International 14s?), Bluenose sloops, whalers, a few canoes and the piece de resistance, a one- or two-man aluminium submarine.

 

Across the north end of the parade square, going from east to west, were the Old Hospital, then housing administrative offices.  Next, the Mackenzie Building, in which were located a mixture of command, administrative and academic offices, lecture rooms, laboratories and the main library.  The central staircase is the Memorial Staircase, on which photographs of all cadets who have died in the service of our country are displayed.  Attached to the west end of the Mackenzie Building is the Currie Building, whose central feature is Currie Hall, the main assembly hall.  Before the stage were rows of wooden benches, not unlike church pews, with military insignia painted on the endplates, in keeping with the decoration of the hall.  In the building were also located academic offices, lecture rooms and laboratories, including the Chemical Engineering labs in the west end basement.

Behind and to the north of these buildings were long, narrow concrete block, single storey structures, probably built by relief camp labour around 1930, in which were located the Mechanical Engineering department, the draughting workroom and the physics department.  Beyond them was a single soccer field, reclaimed from the waters of Navy Bay.

Down the western side, facing the parade square, was Fort Lasalle, a three-storey dormitory building with the clothing stores and other such administrative facilities in the basement.  A step further south was Yeo Hall with the cadet cafeteria in the basement, the main mess hall and kitchens on the first floor, and the so-called ‘new gym’ on the second floor with a simple gallery around it on the third floor.  Tucked in the back was the rather austere Senior Staff Mess.  Also located in the building was the coal-fired central heating plant.  Finally, nearest to Fort Frederick, was the very new Fort Haldimand which boasted the College swimming pool.  These three buildings, Fort Lasalle, Yeo hall and Fort Haldimand, were connected by archways with a second storey passage.

The remaining buildings on the grounds included the old guardhouse beside and back of Fort Lasalle where the road passed through the surrounding wall, the Commandant’s House, the row housing known variously as Ridout Row or Hogan’s Alley, Hewitt House and a couple of gate houses, all but the first of which provided accommodation for staff members.  Beside the guardhouse were an open air natural ice rink and the tennis courts, and tucked among the residences was another soccer field.  Up by the highway were the old stables where the Civil Engineering department held sway.  And, last but not least, the Memorial Arch straddled the road entering the College grounds; anyone entering or leaving the College, by car or on foot, would generally pass through the Arch.

Life at the College in the mid-‘50s was much more structured than today, with considerable restrictions on one’s freedom and a firm disciplinary system that was graded, becoming more lenient as one advanced through the College.  It paralleled the training system of the military as a whole which was based on the assumption that an imposed system of discipline was the best way to develop self-discipline in an individual and to inculcate in them the desired military values which were largely reflected in the College motto: Truth, Duty , Valour.  It also incorporated the principle that with privilege comes responsibility; you can’t have one without the other.  And senior cadets were given much more authority and a more active role in the disciplinary system than the present program provides.  Generally speaking, the military aspects of College life provided very real practical experience in leadership, with exposure from bottom to top of a hierarchical pyramid.

The first year, the ‘recruits’, were, of course, at the bottom of the heap; lots of restrictions, precious few privileges, lots of duties and the subject of most of the discipline.  The ‘first year orientation’ lasted the full College year, not just a few weeks.  And, yes, there was hazing, in its traditional sense of harassment with overwork.  If we had nothing purposeful to do, someone would find some purposeless activity to fill every minute of our waking day.  And while some seniors were decidedly martinets in their approach to us recruits, I never felt that we were bullied; the purpose was not to humiliate but to develop pride in ourselves.  However, we were, throughout the year, physically, mentally and psychologically challenged, intensely at first and to a lesser degree as the academic year progressed.

Singly, in small groups or in formed bodies we recruits marched everywhere as, indeed, did all cadets.  However, we also doubled the square.  On reaching the edge of the parade square we halted, stood briefly at attention, then doubled across the square to our destination, breaking back into a march on reaching the other side.  And, unlike the practice in many military organizations, we doubled (while the other years marched) directly across the square rather than around it.  And, while the cadets were in residence, the square was never used as a parking lot!  Traditionally, at midnight during the Final Ball each year, the first year cadets would escort their ladies to the west edge of the parade square and then walk with them across the square and back, another rite of passage.  From then on they need no longer double the square.

Soon after arrival at the College we were marched to the Quartermaster’s store and issued dungarees – dungaree pants, dungaree shirts, dungaree jacket – grey socks, black army boots, a black wedge cap with an RMC cap badge (which we wore from Day One), a cricket belt to hold up the pants and a leather nametag holder with nametag which was to be affixed to the button on our left breast pocket.  We promptly changed into our new fashions and the clothes in which we arrived were packed into our suitcase and put into storage until we took them home.  From that day forward civilian clothes other than underwear were taboo at the College.  A visit to the barber shop and the tailor, to be measured for our proper uniforms, were also among our early appointments.

We had arrived at the College a couple of weeks before the regular academic year began and were subjected to a concentrated course on what was expected of us in College life.  We were issued a rifle, the standard SMLE .303 Army weapon, together with a bayonet and were instructed on their care.  While when not in use the rifle sat in a one-weapon rack just inside the bedroom door, the bolt was removed and locked in a strongbox with the bayonet.  We learned very soon to leave a penny covering the muzzle of the rifle to keep out dust and dirt, greatly facilitating its cleaning.  Much of the day was spent on the parade square learning how to march in step with arms swinging in an appropriate manner.  We were introduced to basic rifle drill and heaven help he who dropped his rifle!

And we were instructed in the art of saluting.  We were expected to salute commissioned officers, whether in uniform or mufti, and all senior civilian staff, most notably the academic staff.  We should salute ladies on greeting them.  Essentially, not just at the College but within the military service generally, a salute was not just a deference to senior rank but a courtesy which was performed whenever a gentleman would traditionally tip his hat.  We did not salute other cadets, nor military personnel of non-commissioned rank.  I was once told, by whom I cannot recall, to “salute anything that moves except the Commandant’s dog and an admiral in the Navy”.  I’m still trying to figure out why the latter was excluded.  (One of my classmates observed that Admiral Nelson once directed that he not be saluted because that simply marked him as a target for enemy sharpshooters and that this may have prompted such a remark.)

Although the senior cadets had a role, our life on the parade square was directed by a small cadre of Army drill sergeants working under the supervision of Regimental Sergeant-Major C.C. Coggins.  If there ever was an epitome of the College motto, or of leadership by example, it was ‘Coggie’.  During the Second World War he was, I understand, commissioned from the ranks and rose to command an infantry company in the rank of Major.  However, following the war he reverted to non-commissioned rank to be the College RSM.  He was already a legend when I arrived at the College, famous for his comment: “Oi’ve seen bettah; oi’ve seen wohse; but not much!”  He was loved, highly respected and to some measure feared by all who graduated from RMC.

Being a tri-service institution, the College demonstrated characteristics of all three services.  The student body was the Cadet Wing, which, in 1952, was divided into four Squadrons, each consisting of three Flights.  Generally, a cadet would remain in his original squadron throughout his time at the College.  At the beginning of the 1955-56 academic year the Cadet Wing was divided into eight squadrons, the former members of #1 Sqn. being split between #1 and #5 Sqns., #2 Sqn. being divided between #2 and #6 Sqns. and so forth.  This new structure was apparently intended to give more cadets the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, given the growth of the cadet numbers in the early post-war years.  The senior cadet was the Cadet Wing Commander (CWC), who wore five bars on his collar.  His headquarters consisted of a Deputy CWC, a Cadet Wing Adjutant, a Cadet Wing Training Officer and a Cadet Wing Sports Officer, all in the rank of Cadet Squadron Leader (CSL), a four-bar position.  Each squadron was commanded by a CSL and he was supported by a deputy, adjutant, training officer and sports officer at the three-bar, Cadet Flight Leader (CFL), level.  And the flights, logically, were commanded by CFLs.  Cadet officers normally received their appointments for the full academic year.

The Stone Frigate, one of the buildings which pre-dated the College located at the East end of the parade square, was the permanent preserve of #1 Sqn. and, eventually, #5 Sqn.  Those that suffered through the colder (apparently they sometimes slept with their greatcoats on) and more isolated conditions of the oldest dormitory of course considered themselves hardier than the other souls in the Cadet Wing.  The remaining squadrons rotated between the lower two floors of Fort LaSalle, the lower two floors of Ford Haldimand and the third floor of these two dormitory buildings, from whence they could access most of the eating and recreational facilities of the College without venturing outside.

Initially, unless our duties took us elsewhere, we were confined to the inner enclosure, the area within the old wall running from the gatehouse immediately behind Fort LaSalle.  Only after we had ‘passed off the square’ were we allowed to ‘walk out’.  Passing off the square required that our seniors were satisfied that we had the appropriate bearing and standard of dress, ability to march and salute, and appropriate knowledge of the College traditions for public appearance.  We were expected to be proficient in College lore before the ex-Cadet weekend, usually four weeks after the fall term’s start, rhyming off the “Old Eighteen” or the inscription on the arch and demonstrating other such esoteric knowledge as the location of Casey’s grave (Casey being the horse of the former Commandant, Sir Archibald Macdonell).

The traditional recruit obstacle course was not run on the Ex-Cadet (or Reunion) Weekend as has been the recent practice, but in early November; it was an internal College affair, a rite of passage, not the spectator sport it has become.  This was a race, a competition between flights.  Its purpose, as it remains today, was to develop group cohesion or team spirit.  The start was staggered by flights and the determining factor was the time required to get all members of the flight across the finish line.  It began on the parade square and ran down into Fort Frederick, with obstacles outside the east side of the playing field and within the fort, and then out the fort’s gate to the finish line about half way back down the sports field.  Several of the obstacles required teamwork to get over but many could be managed individually.  Much of the time was spent going up and down the earthwork battlements surrounding the fort, usually while being hosed with water or crawling in darkness underneath a large tarpaulin to make it appropriately challenging.  There was more than one muddy pit filled with water with a log across it under which we were required to crawl.  And in and out of the moat around the Martello tower to clamber over, under or through some obstacle was on the menu more than once.

Our daily routine provided a very regimented lifestyle.  The day formally began at or about 7:00 a.m. but the sequence of morning events would vary between squadrons to accommodate two sittings for the breakfast meal.  For half it started with breakfast parade; after forming up in front of the barracks and being inspected to ensure that our dress met the exacting RMC standard, we were regularly marched to the parade square for a brief refresher in drill movements and then marched into Yeo Hall for breakfast.  Following breakfast, recruits stood by for room inspection – bed properly made with hospital corners, rifle clean, bright and slightly oiled, cupboard and dresser drawers open to show that each item of issued clothing was stored in its proper place, floor clean, furnishings dusted, everything ship-shape.  Those other than first-year would simply have their rooms checked periodically for cleanliness.  Others would have clean-up and inspection before breakfast.  Then, off to classes; mid-morning coffee break at the head of the stairs on the second floor of the Currie Building; lunch in Yeo Hall; more classes.  Following the afternoon classes we all engaged in sports: practice for college teams; a whole range of intramural games for the rest.  Then, dinner and study, often broken by a gathering in the College cafeteria in the basement of Yeo Hall.  And the day closed at 10:00 p.m. with Tattoo Roll Call, at which time every cadet stood in the hall outside their room while a senior cadet, sometimes accompanied by the Duty Staff Officer, confirmed everyone’s presence.

Regularly, on Sundays, the Cadet Wing assembled for Church Parade.  The cadets formed up in groups according to their religion and marched to their respective services – Protestants in the Currie Building, Roman Catholics to a chapel in Yeo Hall and others were generally free to go to their places of worship in town.  Perhaps once a month the Cadet Wing was paraded into town where they would march to their appropriate churches.  The Anglicans, of course, marched to St. George’s Cathedral, where they would occupy the traditional RMC balcony for the service.

To keep such a system working, cadets, throughout the four years, were assigned duties.  Not surprisingly, the greatest burden fell on the recruits.  First among their duties was Flat Runner; you periodically marched from one end of a dormitory floor to the other alternatively blowing on a boatswain’s whistle and shouting the appropriate information, beginning the day with “Reveille, Reveille, Reveille” followed, after designated intervals, by “Dress, Dress, Dress for Breakfast Parade”; “Turn Out, Turn Out, Turn Out for Breakfast Parade”; and finally closing the day with “Stand By for Tattoo Roll Call”.  Other duties included Flag Orderly (raising and lowering the flag at the beginning and end of the day) and Fire Picquet.

This last duty deserves some description.  The small fire station located just south of Panet House housed a man-powered cart carrying fire hoses.  The power to move it to the point where it was needed in the event of a fire was the Fire Picquet.  And the Fire Picquet members were instructed on how to connect the hoses to a hydrant when necessary and to operate the hoses as directed by the senior authority present at the site.  When one looks at the infrastructure existing on the College grounds at the time, this was surely sending a boy to do a man’s job but, perhaps, better than nothing.

Second year was, in terms of duties, responsibilities and privileges, the forgotten year.  I believe there was one task – Library Orderly, whose duties I cannot recall – and only rarely would your name come up.  In third and fourth year the duties, as one might expect, were essentially supervisory.

Of course life was not all work and no play.  Once we had ‘passed off the square’ we were occasionally (very occasionally, in the case of recruits) allowed off the College grounds.  In first year we were allowed something like two passes until midnight and one pass until 2:00 a.m. each month.  The allocation logically became more generous each year.  When ‘walking out’, one first applied for the desired pass or leave on the appropriate card.  Unless there were extraordinary circumstances the application would be approved by a squadron cadet officer and, on departure, one signed out in one’s Squadron Orderly Room.  On return to the College, one signed back in in the Wing Orderly Room on the third floor of Fort Lasalle – and one better do so before one’s pass expired or be found ‘absent from a place of duty’.

Walking out dress was dress blues with, if appropriate for the weather, cape or greatcoat.  Cadets were forbidden to keep cars at the College so, for most, taxis or “shanks’ mare” were the usual form of transportation into town.  Taxis had a modest – but respectable for the time – standard fare of 25¢ per person each way.  First year, however, were forbidden to use taxis unless escorting a civilian friend so generally we marched each way, which further limited our time for pleasure within the big city.  At that time, the only route on or off the College grounds was through the Memorial Arch so cadets regularly marched through it, saluting as they did so.  When in public, cadets, whether singly or in small groups, were expected to march unless in the company of a civilian; even then, one’s dress, bearing and deportment were to be exemplary at all times – no holding hands and certainly no snuggling with one’s lady friend!  And carrying a parcel or package of any kind was also forbidden.

While one could patronize restaurants or hotel dining rooms (and only the latter were licensed in those days), drinking establishments such as bars and pubs were out of bounds for gentleman cadets.  However, the B-A Hotel (a veritable respectable old establishment on the corner of Clarence and King which burned down some years later) had a small private dining room set aside for our use where one could order a grilled cheese sandwich at a very modest price and, as long as you had some food in front of you, they would continue to serve you beer.  I expect other licensed establishments had similar arrangements.  For major social functions such as dances and balls, a group of us would rent a hotel room at the LaSalle Hotel on Bagot Street (now the LaSalle Mews) where we would gather and entertain our lady friends before the event.

Technically, the LCBO stores were also out of bounds for cadets but, unless you were seen by a military staff member, you were reasonably safe because, if found by a senior cadet, he was equally at fault and was unlikely to report you.  Nevertheless, the safest course was to have a civilian friend or family member buy whatever you required.

Walking out required possession of the appropriate uniforms, which may or may not have been delivered by the time you passed off the square.  In good time, however, we found ourselves with the full array of College dress, much of which had been tailor-made:

  • Dress blues, patterned after the Army’s dress uniform, with a thin red stripe down the outer trouser seam. Piping on the cuff distinguished the year: first year, none; second year, red piping; third year: red piping with a loop on top; fourth year: gold piping with a frog loop on top.  For senior cadets, a pin with the appropriate number of bars was worn on the collar to indicate rank.  The CWC also wore a dark red waist sash with gold tassels in lieu of a belt, CSLs a dark red waist sash with dark red tassels, and CFLs wore a bright red diagonal sash (except for squadron 2i/c’s who wore a narrower dark red sash).  For informal wear, a cloth belt with a brass buckle was worn by all but the CSLs and CWC.  For formal wear, a white buckskin belt with brass buckle with a College cap badge embedded replaced the cloth belt and for ceremonial parades the bayonet was added.
  • A black cape with scarlet lining was issued for rainwear with dress blues and a greatcoat with astrakhan cap and astrakhan gloves were issued for winter wear.
  • Navy blue battledress jacket, white shirts and a black tie which, when worn with dress blue pants, constituted the routine dress of the day at the College. Rank pins were worn on the epaulettes and a squadron badge with vertical gold bars indicating the College year was worn on the upper sleeve.
  • A navy blue double-breasted blazer, grey flannels and a College tie which, with white shirt, were the so-called ‘rec dress’ for recreational or casual wear. A navy blue Burberry raincoat was provided for wear in the event of rain.
  • Footwear: black leather boots with leather soles and metal heel plates, black leather shoes with leather soles, grey wool socks for wear with the former, black cotton socks worn with the latter. Both were expected to be shone with a spit-polish.  Boots were the regular dress of the day and shoes were worn when walking out or for social occasions.  Overshoes and rubbers were issued for inclement weather. Leather gaiters were provided for wear on ceremonial parades.
  • An assortment of PT and sports gear was issued which would provide suitable dress for all athletic activities except those that required special equipment such as football and hockey.
  • Our dungarees continued to provide practical casual wear around the College grounds.

All the brass buttons and belt buckles had to be regularly polished.  A button stick – an article no longer known to the military – and Brasso, together with shoe polish, were essential items in any cadet’s grooming kit.  At modest expense one could get all brass items ‘anodized’ so that they remained bright and shiny without polishing but such a practice was taboo for recruits.

The CWC and cadets of CSL rank carried swords on ceremonial parades.  With the exception of that of the Cadet Wing Training Officer, whose sword was hooked to his sword belt throughout a parade, swords were drawn during the parade.  Cadets of CFL rank carried no weapon on parade.  All others carried a rifle and bayonet.

In our fourth year our class was issued with scarlet tunics and our wedge caps were replaced with the pillbox when wearing scarlets or dress blues.  We, the class graduating in 1956, were the first postwar class to march off the square in scarlet.  We were also the first class to have the class photograph – which traditionally would be hung around the balcony of the New Gym – taken in colour.  On graduation we kept all our uniforms except our scarlet tunics.

 

Whenever one’s conduct or deportment was found to be wanting, one could expect to become subject to the disciplinary system.  The system was carefully patterned on that of the three services and was enabled by the fact that the Canadian Services Colleges had Queen’s Regulations and Orders separate from those of the three services.  QR&O (CanServCol) gave the cadet officers the authority to discipline their fellow cadets.  This gave the cadets practical experience in all aspects of a system of military justice from being the guilty party given appropriate punishment to being the judge in a summary trial.

It was, as it should have been, a very formal system.  Offences were clearly defined in the National Defence Act and QR&O and charges, when laid, were set out on a charge sheet in some detail.  Before long the offending cadet would appear for a summary trial.  He would be marched in by the Squadron Training Officer to stand at attention before his CSL.  The Squadron Adjutant would read the charges: “Cadet Soandso is charged under Section ? of the National Defence Act with conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in that he, as a cadet of the Royal Military College, at 2030 hrs. on January 23rd, 1957, appeared on defaulters parade with improperly polished boots”; or “Cadet Soandso is charged….with absence without leave from a place of duty in that he, on January 23rd, 1957, failed to appear at breakfast parade as required at 0700 hrs and did not appear until 0704 hrs.”  The CSL would then ask whether the offender pleaded ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ and, on those rare occasions when the plea was ‘not guilty’, would hear the evidence of whomever had laid the charge.  Regardless of the plea, he would ask the offender if he had anything to say in his defence and then make a finding and pass sentence.  Punishments were also defined in QR&O and would usually consist of Extra Duties or CB (Confined to Barracks – which, among other things, again confined you to the inner enclosure unless your duties took you elsewhere).  The results of all disciplinary hearings would, of course, be monitored by the military staff to ensure that justice was being effectively served and that there were no abuses of the system.  In retrospect, while there may have been instances of injustice of which I am not aware, I feel the system was fairly and responsibly implemented.  This involvement of the cadets in a quasi-judicial system was, in my opinion, a very valuable and important component of leadership training for future officers.

Those unfortunate individuals who were awarded punishment would usually have to attend ‘Defaulters Parades’ at regular intervals throughout the day, in parade dress, sometimes with, sometimes without rifles.  These were usually held on the parade square although, in truly inclement weather or after dark, defaulters assembled in the front hall of the Currie Building.  Defaulters were inspected with a fine-toothed comb by either a senior duty cadet or the Duty Staff Officer.  Failure to attend or being late for such parades or failure to pass muster during the inspection invariably led to another charge and continuing punishment.  Since the first parade was at or about Reveille and the last late in the evening they were, indeed, punishing.

The College staff was a combination of military and civilian personnel.  The Commandant initially was Brigadier D.R. Agnew, who had led the College since its reopening in 1948.  Because of his shortage of cranial hair, he was affectionately as ‘Chromedome’, and his arrival at any occasion was presaged by the appearance of his Cairn terrier.  He was followed in 1954 by Air Commodore D.A.R. Bradshaw as the rotation of key appointments among the three services began.  Colonel W.R. Sawyer was Director of Studies; in that position he, as a military officer, was also vice-Commandant and was responsible for co-ordinating the military and academic training programs at the College.  In 1952 the Staff Adjutant was Major P.T. (‘Pip’) Nation, and he was followed in 1954 by Squadron Leader A.C. (‘Tony’) Golab who had played professional football with the Ottawa Rough Riders and became a very successful football coach at the College.  There was a service staff officer from each of the Navy, Army and Air Force in the rank of major or equivalent who acted as associate professors of military studies.  And each of the four cadet squadrons had a military Squadron Commander in the rank of captain or equivalent who provided oversight, guidance and counselling to the members of his squadron.  The group with which the cadets probably had the most day-to-day contact were the drill and physical education staffs who were generally outstanding examples of their profession, dedicated as much to the development of principled young men as to instructing in their specialty .  And there was the usual cross-section of military administrative and logistics personnel to provide the appropriate support.

Despite a severe shortage of well-qualified professors in the post war period, the College had gathered a very strong cadre of professors.  Although the RMC was not a degree-granting institution, it provided very good facilities for research which made it attractive to academics.  The academic staff, like the cadets and military staff, had a dress code and routinely wore jacket and tie.  And, to protect their clothes from the chalk dust that was ever present in the classrooms of that time, many regularly wore academic gowns.  They took a deep interest in each cadet whom they taught; they were dedicated educators who, in keeping with the temper of the times, supported the aims of the College and its military programs.  In the academic processions at ceremonial parades, in which they were all expected to participate, many wore an impressive collection of medals earned during their World War II service.

And there were, of course, many people on the staff, perhaps military, perhaps civilian, such as cooks, clerks and cleaners, secretaries, stewards and storemen, whose roles were perhaps not as prominent as those mentioned, but very important to the effective running of the College.

As RMC was not yet a degree-granting university, the academic curriculum, like so many other aspects of the College, differed very significantly from that of today.  The first two years were common to all cadets and consisted of a balanced range of humanities and social sciences, mathematics and science subjects.  The classroom schedule covered some 37 hours each week, including Saturday mornings; it was, of itself, demanding but doubly so with the military regimen superimposed.  There were two hours of Military Studies in the classroom each week; we were instructed on the organization and equipment of the three services and how they were structured and co-ordinated for combined operations.  And we had two hours of Physical Training during the week which were dedicated as much to training us to organize PT and sports activities, with or without the normal equipment and facilities, as to maintaining our own fitness.

In third and fourth years the engineering students, specializing in Civil, Mechanical, Electrical or Chemical Engineering, continued with a full classroom schedule.  “Spares” were the privilege of the arts students (I am assured, however, by an artsman classmate that during such ‘spares’ arts students were morally bound to do research in the Library or write essays in their room, but never to ‘hit the pit’ or otherwise waste such valuable time).  And the engineers continued to be educated in the humanities and social sciences; over the four years probably close to a quarter of the engineering students’ classroom time was spent on such subjects.  In parallel, the arts students received considerably more mathematics and pure science than their counterparts in a civilian university.  On graduation, all received a simple diploma in the chosen discipline, but all graduates could readily earn a degree in their academic discipline by attending a comparatively easy year at the civilian university of their choice.

Cadets who failed to meet the academic standard in any year could, if they had achieved a manageable level, repeat the year.  They could only do this once during their tenure at the College; a second failure meant that they were out.  Thus, at the beginning of each year, a class entering in any year would often acquire a few new members from the class ahead of them and lose a few members to the class behind them.

Each class had a designated senior cadet who, when the professor entered the room, would call the class to attention – in a classroom the cadets would simply sit to attention – salute the professor and report the attendance (usually just “all present and accounted for”). At the conclusion of each lecture the class senior again called the assembled multitude to attention and saluted the professor, at which point the cadets could leave.

Unfortunately, the language of instruction for virtually all courses was English.  As a result, many Francophone cadets who were well qualified in both academic and personal qualities were unable, with all the other non-academic pressures imposed, to meet the academic standards in an Anglophone institution and failed out by the end of their first year.  Whether or not they were successful, the Francophone cadets showed extraordinary persistence and fortitude.  The advent of CMR was a very significant step in addressing this problem.

It should be noted that at that time the Royal Canadian Navy was not satisfied that four years of university education was necessary for their Executive Branch officers so those cadets who had made this career choice were whisked away at the end of second year to receive the appropriate service training as midshipmen.  The Navy’s Engineering Branch officers were given a choice at the end of their second year of going off as midshipmen to attend the RN Engineering College at Manadon in the U.K. or continuing on the same path as the future members of the other two services, completing RMC’s four-year course.

During the College year 1952-53 the mess services in the cadet dining room were provided by a civilian contractor; that had probably been the practice for several years.  However, the quality of the meals provided, while perhaps of an adequate nutritional standard, left much to be desired in terms of palatability.  In 1953 the civilian contract was discontinued and military cooks were brought in and the standard of food services rose immeasurably; the meals were, for the most part, very good.  Tables were set for eight or ten cadets, and table service was provided.  The dining room and its staff were overseen by a Chief Steward, a somewhat rotund gentleman, Mr. Peacock.  He took a very strong interest in the cadets and their welfare and expected them to behave like young gentlemen when in his domain; no food fights or waitress pinching!  He was seldom disappointed.  Coincidentally, his brother was Chief Steward on the Canadian Pacific Railways trans-continental train, the Dominion, and whenever cadets found themselves on his train they received special and very favourable treatment.

As mentioned, sports were an integral part of the College program, with intramural competition in almost every team or individual sport.  At the varsity level, the College competed in the Ottawa St. Lawrence Conference, which included several large institutions such as Carleton and Ottawa Universities. Monday to Friday, after classes, found all cadets who were not committed to practice with a varsity team engaged in the intramural program, with a variety of sports going on concurrently.  Representative sports included hockey, football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, shooting, skiing, harriers and track and field.  Inter-squadron sports, organized by the cadet sports officers, usually included football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, boxing, swimming, diving, track and field, ice and floor hockey, shooting, tennis, water polo and a regatta.  Major activities like the annual track and field meet were staged on Saturday afternoon.  And the RMC-West Point weekend with its traditional hockey game was a major event.

One of the more significant annual tournaments was that between RMC and Royal Roads.  Like the RMC-West Point weekend, it was as much a social event as a sports competition but, while engaged in their respective sport, those competing took it very seriously.  Alternating between Kingston and Victoria, the two colleges competed in basketball, volleyball, swimming, boxing and shooting.  Logically, the RMC teams were limited to first and second year cadets.  With the development of CMR, it became the CanServCol Tournament, with all three colleges participating.  The winning college took home the Claxton Cup.

Cadets who felt that their health was not up to snuff would present themselves at the morning sick parade, held in the MIR (Medical Inspection Room) in the basement of Fort Haldimand.  There, minor ailments and injuries were addressed and appropriate medications provided.  The halt and lame might be put on ‘light duties’ or confined to their quarters for a short period.  The more seriously ill or injured were sent up to the Kingston Military Hospital for more extensive diagnostic or medical treatment including, if warranted, hospitalization.  Most of the College sports teams had a military Medical Assistant accompany them to both their home and away games, to minister to any medical needs.

Cadets requiring dental treatment were subjected to the ministrations of Major Duff – ‘Rough Duff’, as he was known in military circles – the Army dentist at the pre-unification Army Headquarters of Eastern Ontario Area located at what is now the Corrections Canada/Isabel Bader Centre/Tett Centre facility on King Street.  While in his manner of treatment he lived up to his name, the quality of his work was generally quite exceptional.

Certainly less regimented than other activities but not without structure were the College’s social events.  Perhaps more a cultural than social event was the annual Cakewalk, at which the first year cadets staged a number of skits lampooning the staff and senior cadets and finally, having been rewarded for their wit and good humour by the presentation of a cake, had to escape to enjoy it before having it confiscated by their seniors.

Also on the cultural menu were the College’s periodical publications.  The Marker was a cadet newspaper issued roughly once a month.  It was produced entirely by the cadets; the Editor and other major staff members were generally third year cadets, with assistants, their understudies, from the second year.  The annual Review was issued towards the end of each academic year and, in addition to filling the role of class yearbook for those graduating, it provided a summary of the College’s activities throughout the year.  Its senior editorial staff were members of the College Academic or Administrative Staff with a major contribution from a body of cadet staff members.

During the 1952-53 academic year there was some consideration given to the College operating its own radio station and, for a few months as a learning experience, the cadets were given the opportunity to take over running of Queen’s University’s CFRC station each Wednesday evening.  Cadet volunteers and some interested staff members did the programming and cadet volunteers took over the technical operations.  However, nothing further appears to have come from this venture.

And there were, of course, a varying cross-section of clubs and social organizations – the debating club, glee club and camera club, for example – to enhance the cultural development of the cadets during their evening hours.

These years also saw the beginnings of the RMC Pipe Band.  Although marching music for all ceremonial events was provided by one of the regular military bands – usually by the Vimy Band – the pipe band, as it developed, did provide the music for other occasions.

On the purely social side, such events as periodic squadron dances were organized; these were informal with ‘rec dress’ being quite in order.  For those cadets from out of town, the young ladies from the hospitals’ nursing schools or Queen’s University were often happy to accompany them.  But certainly the highlights of the social season, not just for the College but for the City of Kingston and its military establishment, were the RMC balls: the Fall Ball, the Christmas Ball, the West Point Ball every second year when RMC was hosting the other college, the Spring or Final Ball which marked the end of the academic year for most cadets, and the Graduation Ball for the graduating class.  These were very formal; cadets in dress blues or, beginning in 1956, scarlet tunics; staff and guests in military mess kit, white tie or black tie, often with an array of miniature medals; ladies in formal gowns with a corsage.  After passing graciously through the reception line in the lounge across the hall (where they were greeted by the Commandant, Director of Studies and guests of honour and their wives), couples moved to the New Gym (which had been appropriately decorated by the cadets – Pogo and his Okefenokee friends were a common theme) for dancing to music provided by one of Canada’s military bands.  After a suitable time the assembled multitude, led by the Commandant’s party, repaired to the cadet mess hall downstairs for a sumptuous buffet, the buffet tables being adorned with silver candelabra, ice carvings and an impressive array of hot and cold dishes.  They were truly grand affairs!

While military training during the academic year was limited to drill, deportment, dress, discipline and some regular lectures, the summer months were dedicated solely to training at the service schools.  The actual training experienced by individual cadets obviously varied according to their chosen branch of the military but, after three summers of training, every cadet, on graduation, was qualified to perform the role of an army lieutenant or equivalent in a unit of their respective service.  Army cadets were commissioned as Lieutenants and Air Force cadets as Flying Officers.  However, Navy cadets were commissioned as Acting Sub-Lieutenants; they spent eleven months in that rank but they did catch up later.

1952 was a milestone year as it saw the introduction of the Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP).  It was offered initially to serving cadets and members of the University Naval Training Division (UNTD), the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) and the University Reserve Training Program (URTP) at civilian universities, and then to the high school candidates for entry that Fall. It provided candidates the opportunity to receive a free university education, with no tuition expenses, together with a small monthly allowance, in exchange for a commitment to serve three years in the military following graduation.  Of the class entering the Colleges in 1952, only a handful had elected to join the ROTP at the time of entry but, four years later, more than half of those graduating had joined and were commissioned in the Canadian armed forces.  Most of those that remained as Reserve entry cadets subsequently became leaders in their chosen walk of civilian life.

Beginning in 1954 the ROTP became the principal means of entry into the Service Colleges.  This program further opened the door to a college education for many who would otherwise be unable to afford a university education, and increased the social and cultural diversity of the Cadet Wing, but closed the door to many well qualified potential candidates who had not yet decided on a career in the military.

Although to Canadian society today the Colleges’ program of that time may appear draconian and thoroughly mediaeval in nature, most of us who experienced it are thankful to have received the development opportunities it offered.  It certainly instilled in us an abiding sense of service to our country and community.  And it produced in my Class a degree of cohesion built on shared hardships, mutual respect and mutual trust that has endured a lifetime.

Acknowledgements:

The 1950 aerial photograph of the College was kindly provided by the RMC Museum.  The 1956 leave or pass card was provided by 3557, John Rutherford.  The 1956 photo of #2 Sqn. HQ in various forms of dress was borrowed from the 1956 Review; individuals shown are, from left to right: CFL I. Sherlock, CSC J. Fournier, CSC C. Robertson, CSC G.E. Wright, CFL R. Younger, CSL N. Freeman, CFL M. Stewart, CSC R. Bethel, CFL W. Niemy.  And I am indebted to many of my classmates who have identified errors and omissions in my early drafts; any that remain are entirely my fault.

– CRS

6 Comments

  • John Penney

    April 9, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading Charlie Simonds’ article about his days at RMC. I attended CMR (62 to 75) & RMC (65 to 67) and very little at the College had changed from Charlie’s era 10 years earlier. Charlie speaks about having to “pass off the square” before being able to leave the College. As 3rd year cadets coming from CMR & Roads we had to demonstrate our swagger stick drill to our CSTO before we could leave the College. Yes we had to wear 4’s & carry a swagger stick when leaving the College. I know life has changed drastically in the past 50 yrs, but I find it almost amusing that today’s cadets are in a tizzy about not being able to wear jeans downtown. 7108 – John Penney

  • J.D. Smith, 8074

    April 9, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    This is a tremendous article, thank you! As a cadet from ’65 t0 ’69 I can identify almost directly with most of the article. As a Squadron Commander / Football Coach from ’74 to ’77 things had begun to change, but again only marginally. Looking back, it was very much a character building trial, but in the same way a lot of fun.
    J.D. Smith, 8074, P.Eng., Captain (Ret’d), TDV !

  • Mike Kennedy #12570

    April 9, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    This is an interesting and very well-written article about life at the College in the 1950’s, twenty years before my time. For me, there are also a couple of personal connections here. One is that the author’s son, Chris Simonds, was a member of my recruit class, and was also one of my roommates in BOTC in the summer of 1977. I also remember Captain J.D. Smith very well, he was a Squadron Commander when I was a cadet, and when I was in the process of leaving the College in the summer of 1977, he made a point of coming up to me one day and making some very supportive comments. That was something I have never forgotten, and have always appreciated.

    As Captain Smith notes, by the time we were at the College 20 years after the author’s class had graduated, things had changed to some degree, although what is related in this article is much more reminiscent of what the College was like in my time as opposed to what I see today. What had changed to a much greater extent, however, was the Government’s priorities and the broader society around us. By the time I arrived in 1976, defence was most certainly no longer a growth industry, the Canadian Forces were almost invisible to the general public, and the Government seemed hell-bent on creating the impression that unification was actually working. It is interesting to see that during the years since that time, the services have slowly migrated back towards something resembling what they were pre-1968.

    The other issue of course was the fact that the 1960’s and early 70’s were a period of huge social upheaval, and my classmates and I were products of that era. Many of us were the sons of men who had fought in the Second World War, and by the time we arrived at the College, the last members of the wartime armed forces were in the sunset years of their careers. Being products of the era we had grown up in, many of us found it a real challenge to adjust to the discipline and highly structured environment of the College. Nonetheless, we persevered, and I think today most of us would say we are glad for having had that experience. It was certainly something we would never have found anywhere else.

    In any event, congratulations to Charlie Simonds, both for a fine and entertaining article, and for the Simonds family’s record of distinguished service to Canada.

  • Ted Couves (4830)

    April 9, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Tremendous article, life as it was at RMC in the 50’s; for me 1956-60. Should be required reading for current cadets. Tough, but character building, and everyone came out better for it. Well done!

  • Austen Cambon 3201

    April 9, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    Thank you, Charlie, for writing this splendid chronicle that reminds us of so much about the College as we knew it during our era, the early 1950’s. So many memories flow from reading the comprehensive detail you have provided. It would be good to see this article printed in booklet format, it being of historic interest, I suggest. Great stuff indeed. Bravo!

  • 4023 - Jim McPherson

    April 11, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Excellent article, Charlie. My time was all at CMR ’53-’56, but I spent a couple of weekends with a busload of CMR types getting our butts waxed by RMC athletes on the sports fields. I wandered around the RMC campus with many questions that are finally answered.