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7776 Chris Lythgo: “If I were 16 years old, I’d do it all again!”

7776 Chris Lythgo (RRMC/RMC 1968) is, in his own words, currently “semi-retired” but that phrase doesn’t do justice to his career. The Bromley, Kent, native of England currently lives in Surrey, BC, with his lovely wife of forty years Jane and their three grown children, Christopher, Paul, and Jennifer, who all live in the Vancouver area and are all well-established in their careers. Chris currently sits on the Boards of SkyTrain and West Cost Express and also chairs the Board of Commissionaires British Columbia in addition to a few consulting assignments with previous clients.

Chris took a very roundabout route in coming to military college. In his own words, “I was born in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England, into a British diplomatic family. As my father was in the Commonwealth Relations and Foreign Office we moved frequently (similar to military service). We spent three tours in India, where I attended St. George’s College in Mussoorie. In 1962 my father was posted to the British High Commission in Ottawa, which became ‘home’ to us in Canada and my parents eventually ended up retiring there. In Ottawa I attended Fisher Park High School, graduating from Grade 13 in 1964.”

So what, then, led him to military college in Canada? “Growing up I always wanted to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force and I come from a military background,” he explained. “Several generations of my mother’s family had served in the British India Army and my father and his father had both served in the British Army during the Second and First World Wars respectively. An uncle had served in the Royal Air Force.  We lived very close to Biggin Hill Air Force base in England and we spent many days there watching the fighters take off and land. Unfortunately, when I applied to Cranwell, the Royal Air Force Academy, my eyesight was below the requirements to be a pilot.  That is when a guidance counselor at Fisher Park High School suggested I should look at applying to the Regular Officer Training Plan. I did apply to it and other universities in Canada.  I was accepted at all I applied to including the ROTP. My eyes did not meet the requirements for pilot training in the RCAF either so I joined the Canadian Army instead.”

During the application process Chris had gone through all his testing and interviews at RMC and fully expected to be enrolled there. However, it was not to be. “On 4 September 1964 I ended up at Royal Roads as a young 16 year old,” he remembered. “Traveling across Canada by train, collecting other future classmates along the way, was a lot of fun. I had never been to British Columbia before and fell in love with the province on the ferry trip from Vancouver to Victoria. All hell broke loose when we stepped off the buses on the Circle at Royal Roads with seniors immediately shouting instructions to us to line up.  Some of the recruits actually got back on the bus and were sent back home!” After two wonderful years at Royal Roads he finally went on to RMC where he graduated in 1968 with a degree in Civil Engineering.

His time at both colleges is full of memories. As he puts it, other than the “obvious” ones of having small classes and a very close interaction with the professors, and the friendships that have lasted a lifetime, there are few specific memories that stand out. “At Royal Roads it had to be the view from my cabin on the poop deck of Nixon Block looking out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the mountains of Washington State and thinking how lucky I was being at college in such a beautiful setting.” There were the usual shenanigans as well. “Also at Roads I fondly remember being woken up early one morning because the duty officer’s Porsche was found in the lobby of Nixon Block. We then had to run five miles as a wing because the duty officer could not get anyone to “own up” to the skylark – we stuck together as Cadets.” When he made the move to Kingston, he “always enjoyed home football games and the spirit of the Cadet Wing spectators.  Other memories that come to mind are the Feu de Joie ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to celebrate Canada’s centenary and the freedom I felt doing surveying exercises around the grounds of the College.”

Life at the Colleges for Chris was a fine balance between academics, sports, and military training.  “But the biggest challenge I faced,” he recalled, “as did probably most of the wing, was time management.  It was a skill that one had to master to survive and meet all the demands put on one’s time.  It was also a skill that has served me well throughout my life.”

Chris fondly remembers many of the staff he dealt with at both colleges. “Other than the professors,” he said, “there were Capt Larry Gregg at Royal Roads and Major Dan McLeod and F/L Viner at RMC. Larry Gregg, amongst the “terror” of recruit term, gathered all the new recruits in the gym and told us that the two years at Roads would be the best two of the four years of our lives – on reflection he was right – and that we should use the opportunity to grow and to get to know our physical limitations through hard work. At RMC, Dan McLeod set a great example of what sportsmanship was and helped us develop a competitive spirit. F/L Viner was my ‘squad boss’ and I always valued his counsel and advice on career issues.”

Chris Lythgo’s career in the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers began following summer training in 1965. On completion of Phase 4 training in 1968 in Chilliwack, BC, he was posted to 4 Field Squadron in Werl, Germany, as a field troop officer. He then went on to serve in 3 Fd Sqn in Chilliwack, Central Army Group Headquarters in Mannheim, Germany, and he commanded 2 Combat Engineer Regiment in Petawawa, Ontario. Other postings included the CE section in Esquimalt, the Base Technical Service Branch in Chilliwack, NDHQ, the Conventional Forces in Europe Verification Support Staff at NATO HQ in Brussels, and Operational Commander for OP Decimal, the mine awareness and clearance training program (MACTP) for Afghan refugees under the auspices of the UN in Pakistan.  Along the way, he attended the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College, the Canadian Forces College and the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, England. Chris finished his career in 1995 as Chief Engineer for the Army at St. Hubert, Québec.

“The most memorable of all these postings,” he recalled, “was command of 2 CER in Petawawa. It was one of the most rewarding because it confirmed my leadership skills and was one where I was able to leave a lasting impression on a very proud unit.” Other memorable moments of his career included his time at NATO HQ where they interacted frequently with representatives of the Soviet Union and then its successor states, being among the first NATO officers to visit Prague in an official capacity, and his tour as the leader of the multi-national training team for UNOCA in Pakistan.  “The latter was my first exposure to the plight of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and to the regime in Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal,” Chris recalled. “It was during this tour that I was able to visit the Bala Hissar Fort in Kabul, an outpost where my great-grandfather had served in the late 1800’s.”

He left the Army in 1995 for family reasons. “The last five years of my military career saw four moves, two unaccompanied. This placed a strain on my family, especially with three teenagers at the time,” he remembered.  “I was scheduled to be posted to Bosnia on another unaccompanied tour and we decided it was time to leave the Forces.” The transition to civilian life was actually straightforward. “It seemed we had no sooner made that decision than I was invited to place my name in a competition for a senior executive position at BC Transit.  I won the competition and became the Vice President, Technical Services for the provincial crown corporation.  The transition was easy as it was basically what I had been doing in the Forces: delivery of capital programs, fleet and facilities maintenance, environmental stewardship, etc. I stayed with the corporation for almost nine years.”

Lythgo’s leadership skills served him well in that role. “The most memorable moments of that time were, first, succeeding in convincing the unions in my 850-person division that management was not the enemy, which allowed us to make some very progressive changes in the way business was done, and secondly, sitting in meetings with Premier Glen Clark with other ADMs and DMs of provincial departments when we were planning the construction of the new convention centre in Vancouver. What made the latter so memorable was that a few months later I ran into the Premier in the cabinet offices in Vancouver and he actually greeted me by name – he was a very bright person with an obviously great memory for names! The move to BC was the best outcome for my family as it allowed us to put down some roots and make some very good friends.”

After leaving BC Transit/TransLink, Chris established a consulting firm that offered services in transportation technologies and alternative energy. “It has been a most enjoyable experience but one that I am beginning to wind down.  It has allowed me to work with some other graduates, Bill Lye, Pierre Ducharme, Brian Graystone and John MacKay over the years. And about six years ago, I was invited to be a member of the Board of Commissionaires British Columbia in a voluntary capacity. Last year, I became the Chairman of the Board and also a member of the National Board of Commissionaires Canada.  This is a wonderful organization that allows me to give back to ex members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.  It also allows me, as a bonus, to keep in touch with many former members of the Forces with whom I served.”

Chris has maintained his connection with the colleges over the years as well. “After leaving the Forces, I had the opportunity to serve on the Executive Committee of the RMC Club for six years and then became President of the Club. A few years later,” he recalled, “the President of the Club nominated me as the alumni representative on the RMC Board of Governors.  I remained on the Board for four years. So I was able to maintain a connection with the College for several years.  I have kept contact with my classmates through class reunions, and events such as the closing of Royal Roads, the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Royal Roads, local Club Branch events and, of course, through articles in Veritas and e-Veritas. e-Veritas is a very important tool for keeping alumni informed about what is happening at the Colleges.”

His connections give him insight into the current iteration of the military college system. “It is comforting to see that the Colleges are maintaining the four pillars of the education program and that they continue to produce excellent officers, men and women, for the Forces and that the facilities are being upgraded and added to.  It is also nice to see that CMR will be granting degrees once again.” What is concerning, he said, is that “there continues to be discussion about the value of the military colleges.  We must continue to promote the uniqueness of the colleges and the value added they provide to the education of not only new officers but to officers and NCMs already in their careers through the continuing education programs.”

After such a lengthy career, both in the military and outside it, Chris Lythgo has no regrets. “The bottom line? If I were a 16 year old again, I would apply to the ROTP program again and make a career of the Canadian Forces again. There is no equivalent in civilian life!”

5 Comments

  • Doug MacQuarrie

    August 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Chris, you have indeed enjoyed a very successful professional life. Your generosity with your time in support of the colleges and other worthy causes is an example for all. I am proud to call you a friend. Good luck in your (ahem!) retirement.
    Doug

  • Marty Playford

    August 20, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Chris, great article/story of your life in the military starting at Royal Roads and the successes you have had along the way. I remember your arrival in Petawawa and subsequent meetings over the years here in BC. Thank you for your service to Canada! Glad your decision to retire and support your family worked out so well.

    Chimo!

  • Sam Dunbar

    August 20, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Very good article, Chris, accurately expressing how many of us feel about our RMC and Military service careers. We served together for a long time and I particularly recall your time with 4 Field Squadron when I was CO, plus our contacts during your post military endeavours here in B.C. All the best from Liz and I to you and Jane. Sam