The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: Graduation and eventually off to World War Two & More
Over the past 13 Issues, e-Veritas we reproduce a series of excerpts from an unpublished 1596 Guy Simonds autobiography. The excerpts covered mainly his time “warts & all” as an officer-cadet at Royal Military College of Canada from 1921 to 1925.
We wish to acknowledge the kindness of 3521 Charlie Simonds Class of 1956 (photo right), the son of Guy in providing access to these very interesting papers.
We appreciate too the positive feedback that we received from many of our readers.
On graduation I received the Sword of Honour and the Victor Van der Smissen Award, certainly up to that time a circumstance unique in the annals of the R.M.C. The Sword of Homour was the highest award for conduct and discipline that the R.M.C. could bestow, its recipient was determined by the Commandant in consultation with the staff, and it was usually awarded to the S.U.O. (or B.S.M.).
The Victor Van der Smissen Award was given to the cadet adjudged “the best all-round cadet, mentally, morally and physically, the S.U.O. (or B.S.M.) being excluded by virtue of his office” and decided by the popular vote of the whole cadet body on a secret ballot. In regard to the latter, I wondered at the time and later if the cadets would have voted the same had they known I was to be awarded the Sword of Honour (I did not know this myself until just before graduation), or whether they would have cast their votes in favour of other equally deserving members of our class. Be that as it may, the obviously warm, genuine and enthusiastic acclaim of my class mates left no room for any speculation to embitter these tributes.
I also received a diploma with Honours, and the Governor General’s Silver medal for second place in academic standing in our class, and other class prizes including first for military studies, and the artillery prize.
To such professional skills as I developed during my service, two educational institutes made decisive contributions; the Royal Military College at the beginning of my career, and later the Staff College at Camberley. Their values may be better assessed in long range perspective than perhaps was appreciated at the time. Though I record them in relation to the military profession, many have equal application in any walk of life.
At the R.M.C. we had done everything which a man in the ranks has to do, and we had been taught and made to do it to a standard of perfection. This gave immense confidence in assuming commissioned rank and the responsibility for leading, administering and training the rank and file. We had also had an insight into the role of those vital intermediaries which link commissioned officers and the other ranks – the warrant and non-commissioned officers who live twenty-four hours of the day in the close company of the rank and file and are at the same time responsible for maintaining the disciplinary and training policies of higher authority.
- We had learned the importance of discipline and that there are things in life which must rank in importance before oneself.
- We had learned the meaning of loyalty and responsibility, and that these are both two way streets. One has a loyalty and responsibility to those one has to lead and a loyalty and responsibility to higher authority, and these can sometimes come into conflict. When they do, the course of action taken must be justifiable to oneself and others on its rightness, even if some individuals have to be hurt.
- We had acquired, perhaps subconsciously, what for want of a better term I will call an “executive attitude” – a realization that if things are going to be done, someone had to take charge, direct and coordinate them, and that after giving orders or directions, there has to be a follow-up to see that the desired end is being achieved.
And on top of these character-building qualities, for those who applied themselves, we had an excellent foundation of education in mathematics, science and engineering.
I believe I was the only one of our class, certainly one of very few, who had entered the R.M.C. with the specific intent of making a career in the military service. On graduation, a high percentage of our class took commissions in the British or Canadian Armies or the R.C.A.F., but most made their decision to do so after spending some time at the R.M.C.
Though I was determined on a military career, I had not, when I joined the College, made a final decision as to whether I would ask for a commission in the British or Canadian Army. It was during my early years, on becoming aware of the record of the Canadian Corps during World War I, that I made my decision to join the Canadian Army. I was flabbergasted to hear one Canadian Army Officer, serving on the staff at the College, say that he thought this an unwise decision, and advise, “If you really want to soldier, take a commission in the British Army”. I ignored this advice.
Having decided on a career in the Canadian Army, a combination of my father having been a “gunner” and my own aptitudes in horsemanship and artillery work led me to apply for a commission in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
Some time before graduation, I went to have my interview with the then Commanding Officer of the R.C.H.A. Brigade in Kingston, Lt. Col. C.F. Constantine – familiarly known as “Consie” and with a great reputation for his record during World War I. As events turned out, Consie was to be appointed Commandant of the R.M.C. before I actually joined the regiment. He retired as a Major General and Adjutant general of the Canadian Army. About halfway through the campaign in Sicily I received in the mail a rather strange-looking parcel and on opening it found a fly switch and a note from Consie. The note was to the effect that fly switches seemed to be de rigueur for general officers in the Sicilian theatre – he had seen a photograph of Monty holding one – that the one he was sending me had been made from the tail of his favourite charger during World War I, and he hoped I would find it useful. I still have it among my treasures.
On closing my acceptance interview, Consie said to me, “When you join this regiment, first come your guns; that they function properly in support of other arms is the justification for our existence as a regiment. Then come your horses – we are dependent upon them to get our guns into action, and they cannot speak for themselves. Then come your men, then come the officers, and then the subalterns”.
The class which graduated in 1924, a year ahead of us, entered the College in 1920 for a three year course which was extended to four years after they had joined. The class which graduated in 1923 were all “drops” from our senior class which entered in 1919, and had to spend four years at the College to graduate, thus beginning the transition to the four year curriculum. Our seniors’ class which entered in 1919, graduated in June 1922 after three years at the College.