This is the second installment of our seven part series on The History of the Royal Military College of Canada, by #47 LCol Ernest F. Wurtele, VD. LCol Wurtele graduated RMC in 1882, served as honourary secretary-treasurer of the RMC Club from 1892 to 1913, was the associate editor of the RMC Review for ex-cadet news, from 1926 to 1936, and was the first honourary member of the RMC Club.
Thanks to E3161 Victoria Edwards for researching this interesting nugget of College history.
The History of the Royal Military College of Canada, by LCol Ernest F. Wurtele
Major E. V. O. Hewett, Royal Engineers
The Earl of Dufferin, Governor-General of Canada at the time of the founding of the college, took a personal interest in the institution, and it was largely due to him that the Government secured the services of Major (afterwards Lieut.-General) E. V. 0. Hewett, Royal Engineers, as first commandant. The choice of this officer was in every way a fortunate one. He was both an experienced soldier and an experienced educator.
He had received his education at Cheltenham and at the Royal Military College, Woolwich, England. His father had been a distinguished soldier, fighting in many parts of the Empire, and in 1814 had led the ” Forlorn Hope ” in an attack on Oswego. The son obtained his commission in 1854, and as an engineer was for some years engaged in designing and constructing the defences of Dover and Portsmouth, and for a time employed as an instructor at Woolwich. He also saw service abroad, accompanying his regiment to the West Indies and South America. When the “Trent Affair” raised a war cloud between Britain and the United States, some fourteen thousand troops were hurried to the British North American colonies. Hewett came with these as a captain in the 18th Company of the Royal Engineers, and until November, 1867, was stationed in Canada West (Ontario) and in Halifax. The American Civil War was raging during the early part of his sojourn in Canada and he was for some time employed as an observer with the opposing armies on behalf of the British Government. He was present at the Battles of Antietam and Perryville, and he saw also the operations in the Wilderness. On one occasion Captain Hewett had his horse shot under him, and was for a short time, until identified, prisoner to the cavalry of the Confederate general, John Morgan. In 1867 he returned to England and took up work on the construction of the Portsmouth defences. While at Portsmouth he received his majority and as Major Hewett he was in 1876 appointed first commandant of the Royal Military College of Canada. The organization of the new college was no easy matter, but Major Hewett came to his task with over twenty years’ experience in the army as an expert engineer, and had had, too, as we have seen, experience as a teacher
He had spent six years in Canada, and this experience was to stand him in good stead in handling the politicians who controlled the institution and the lads who came under his authority, lads somewhat different from those to be found in English schools. He established the college on a firm basis, shaped its character, and framed its motto – ” TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR.”
In his work of organization the Commandant had the assistance of an able staff, consisting of Captain J. Bramley Ridout, Captain of Cadets; Captain E. Kensington, Professor of Mathematics and Artillery; Captain G. W. Hawkins, Professor of Fortification; and the Rev. George Ferguson, Professor of German. Hewett and his staff were greatly helped in their work by the character of the first class of students, the “Old Eighteen,” as they are still affectionately called.
They were lads of manly character, and their spirit and conduct established traditions for the institution that have been far-reaching in their influence. The first cadets joined the college on June 1st, 1876 ; fourteen of them were from Ontario, three from New Brunswick, and one from Quebec. The following are their regimental numbers and names:
1. Alfred George Godfrey Wurtele
2. Henry Cortlandt Freer
3. Henry Ellison Wise
4. William Mahlon Davis.
5. Thomas Lawrence Reed
6. Septimus Julius Augustus Denison
7. Lukin Homfray Irving
8. Frederick Davis
9. Charles Albert Des Brisay.
10. Victor Brereton Rivers
11. James Spelman
12. Charles Oliver Fairbank
13. Aylesworth Bowen Perry
14. John Bray Cochrane
15. Francis Joseph Dixon
16. George Edwin Perley
17. Harold Waldruf Keefer
18. Duncan MacPherson
More of The History of the Royal Military College of Canada will follow in the next e-Veritas.