Impressions of a New “Old Brigadier”
27 September, 1963 –
(Article – First appeared in the 1964 Review)
“On a toujours vingt ans dans quelque coin du coeur”
Bishop and Leonard and Templeton were the founders of the “Old Brigade” and they builded better than they knew. For those of us who, in the Thirties, made occasional pilgrimages to the Stone Frigate where we used to freeze, to the Parade Square where we sweated, and to the Educational Building where we absorbed the rudiments of a military career, the annual ex-cadet parade was a pleasure, even though we noticed that it was quietly being infiltrated by friends of ours wearing nice blue berets and badges. They had a certain air of mystery about them when questioned which implied that they were in on something a little distingué in being members of the “Old Brigade”. As they did not enlarge about it, the feeling spread amongst their juniors that here was something to aspire to, something a little secret, a little mysterious to which in God’s good time we should be admitted and would then also march at the head of the parade at a pace that would be sure not to fatigue the young lads bringing up the rear.
Well now, that time has come. We all did not make it – no Class ever does – but something less than half our Class, the Recruits of 1913, have ploughed through vicissitudes of life and are now entitled to the salutation of “Old Brigadier”. What a happy club it is to belong to. It has something of the eternal about it. RMC Classes are noted for their solidarity, they remain one. However, with the passing of time, they feel the ravages of War and Peace, the numbers decrease, the survivors find the ring growing smaller. It’s all a bit sad; but not with the “old Brigade”. We are taken out of the ruck by all those young faces and slim waistlines. And so, each year, are gathered the crème of the ex-cadet body; les anciens laden with rank and honours and accomplishments in peace and war; the sires and grandsires of young people trained for this swift new age. We become merged with those who, themselves no longer burdened with responsibility, from a group, in age spanning three decades, who are mellow and who are understanding of the physical frailties which beset us all, a group to which there will be no end so long as the College flourishes. New recruits will pour in to join us. The casualty lists are high – not unlike Vimy – but our reserves more than fill the gaps each year. There is always someone to talk to, someone mature, born in the reign of Queen Victoria, who knew the Empire, who remembers when the red on the map covered over a quarter of the globe. Here is the gathering one can always go back to – even in the end. Its ranks are continuously reinforced by men home from the ends of the earth.
This is a Club within a Club at RMC. Everyone is sought out and invited to be on a parade, thanks to No.5999, Leary Grant who has acted as adjutant so ably and has borne the brunt of the detailed work for so many years. Great and sincere are our thanks to him for carrying on after No. 487, Fred McParland and No. 647, Bob McKnight passed on.
And it was under his auspices that the Recruits of 1913 sat down to a delicious dinner. Ten of us out of 22 above ground, No. 1012, Cochran, No. 1028, Harrower, No. 1029, Morrison, No. 1019, Murchie, No. 1003, Mitchell, No. 1005, Pope, No. 998, Ross, No. 1006, Turnbull, No. 990, Wurtele, and No. 1026, Wardrope, were introduced to our worthy seniors by Shrimp Cochran in a memorable little speech. Significant later events were the presentation to the College of the Class gift of an oil painting of the old “Stone Frigate” by Captain H. E. Cochran, C.B.E., M.C., on behalf of the Class, and received by Commandant, No. 2364, Air Commodore Len Birchall, O.B.E., D.F.C., C.D., A.D.C. the saviour of Ceylon; the conferment on Lieut.-General J. C. Murchie, C.B., C.B.E., C.D., our most distinguished classmate and a former Chief of the General Staff, of the honorary degree of Doctor of Military Science at the Fall Convocation; and the presentation of a completely equipped 25-Pounder Gun by Mrs. H. O. N. Brownfield in memory of her husband, our late classmate, No. 1022, Major-General Hal Brownfield, C.B., C.B.E., M.C.
It was a pleasure to have with us Gerty Wurtele’s brother, CDR A. C. Wurtele, RCN (Retd.), who had attended the Royal Naval College of Canada at Halifax while we were at RMC, and it is a pleasure to single out Marjorie Turnbull from among the wives present for being our honorary photographer and presenting us with such a happy record of our Fiftieth Anniversary. The whole affair was a grand show. It was particularly inspiring to see and to feel the solidarity of cadets and ex-cadets in a world that seems bent on splintering itself apart. I shall be happy to go back and meet the “Old Brigade” again.
No. 1029, Brig. Morrison, was presented with this short poem by a young veteran; thoughts:
Fresh are the thoughts of memories old,
Stirred by the trumpets blare;
Out come the medals and old beret
Of the marching legionnaire.
Back to the tread of marching feet,
Back to the beat of the drum;
For many it won’t be as brisk a pace,
But still withal they come.
Hail the march of the Old Brigade,
Pilgirmage of the Vet;
Now hear the thanks of a silent grave,
“They’ve not forgotten yet”.
No. 1003, A. M. Mitchell