Above: The Graduating Class of 1961 marches off the square for the last time.
Article by 5045 Ralph Awrey
Moving from CMR to RMC in 1960 was a shock to everyone. The shock was even bigger for the Francophone cadets as they had to take all their classes in English. We used to joke that they even took French in English. Part of the shock was because we were big wheel seniors at CMR and became plebian third year cadets at RMC.
My first memory of RMC was the run to Fort Henry and back. I had very little stamina for cross country running and struggled mightily. Jack Granatstein and I stumbled along together, walking most of the way back. I managed to sprint at the end to nip Jack for second to last place. Jack has become one of Canada’s preeminent historians and is certainly our number one military historian. I can take some credit for this. At CMR I won the military studies prize and this must have driven Jack to wipe away this shame by becoming an historian of great note. I also kept Jack from failing at CMR. After recruit year everyone had to take the first two years of the engineering curriculum. When we entered RMC we could branch out into other studies if we wanted to, such as history, English, and the ever popular general science. Jack was failing engineering drawing primarily because he couldn’t draw arrow heads – arrow heads that delineate the start or end of measurement lines. I became his arrow head drawing tutor and with my help he improved enough to pass engineering drawing.
Between third and fourth year a platoon of RMC cadets went to Mexico City as Canada’s military representatives in celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Mexican Independence. After summer training the call went out asking for volunteers who would give up their summer leave to partake in this exercise. Let’s see now, my choice was three weeks languishing in Hamilton or a trip to Mexico. Being a smart Hamilton lad I volunteered but almost didn’t make it there. Even though I knew that a brush cut (now called buzz cut) would get me into trouble I had the barber give me one anyway. Upon arrival at RMC Dick Byford, who was appointed Cadet Wing Commander, the top cadet pooh bah, had me confined to RMC until my hair grew in and I had a part on the proper side of the head. He also wanted me to be kicked off the Mexican trip but Captain Ed Bobinsky insisted I go because there was barely a quorum as it was. Ed was assigned to accompany us as the senior military commander. John Lawson was our cadet leader and parade leader. He carried a sword. The rest of us went without weapons. We were the only military group in the big parade without rifles. This, added to our red tunics, made us the darlings of the Mexican crowds – and they were big crowds – lining the parade route. We flew from Trenton to Mexico City in a North Star; packed on canvas bucket seats like sardines with gear between our legs. This was when I learned how noisy the North Star was. It had four Rolls Royce Merlin engines and no noise insulation. My current hearing deficit can be traced to the many hours I flew as a navigator on North Stars.
Our barracks included cadets from many Central and South American countries, and the United State Air Force Academy. We mixed with the Latinos. The USAF Academy cadets were snobs. They even looked down their noses at us, their fellow gringos. I don’t remember exactly how many days we spent in Mexico or all of the activities. Meals were in a military mess and we did some practice for the parade although we didn’t need a lot. Our job was to march for several miles in very hot temperatures in our very hot red tunics. The heat and the marching were made more bearable given the rock star treatment we were given by the spectators. A night or two we went into Mexico City. I remember visiting bars in our uniforms and never having to pay for a drink.
After the parade there were two notable events. We were flown to Acapulco for a day in the North Star. It was only a short trip from Mexico City so it was bearable. We didn’t have to wear our dress uniforms. Blazers and slacks I think. We were given a tour of Acapulco including seeing the cliff divers. Shortly after returning from Acapulco there was a fancy dress ball for all the cadets and a lot of Mexican Army officers. We were set up with “dates”, the daughters of various Mexican bigwigs. No hanky panky though as there were chaperones everywhere. Again we were a big hit with our dress red tunics. My date was the daughter of a very senior general in the Mexican Army. He was a dour old bugger who, along with his wife and the chaperone, kept a close eye on us. After returning to Kingston I exchanged letters with this woman. Her first name was Elsa I think. She addressed me as “my proud cadet”. Naturally the correspondence eventually stopped. I think my wife Joan threw out all the letters. Many of us got Montezuma’s revenge while in Mexico but the symptoms didn’t appear until we returned to RMC. One had to stay close to the heads.
In fourth year at RMC I was assigned to Moose’s flight along with ten or so other quasi-rebellious senior cadets. We were not seen as cadet leadership material but were academically too bright to be deep sixed. Our regular forces mentor Captain Ed Bobinsky struck a “you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you” deal with us. For being reasonably good boys and showing up for parades on time we would be given a few days warning of snap room inspections. And believe you me we needed the warning. Under section leader 5046 Mike (Moose) Black the crew consisted of; 5061 Dent (Fils) Harrison, 5196 Rob Martin, 5132 Alex Bialosh, 5192 Brian Macdonald, 5178 Gary Hodgson, 5167 Roger Buxton, 5021 Bill (Circe) Lee, 5122 Al (Swines) Germain and myself. I remember Rob Martin and Macdonald playing cricket in the hallway using their rifles as cricket bats. Rob became a renowned constitutional lawyer and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario Law School. He has written an outstanding book about the Supreme Court of Canada entitled; The Most Dangerous Branch: How the Supreme Court of Canada Has Undermined Our Law and Our Democracy. This is must reading for all thinking Canadians.
Rob Martin and I trade e-mails today but I lost touch with him for many years after graduation. I do remember visiting him in hospital shortly after graduation (perhaps when I was at Trenton). He was in a car accident and broke his neck. I’m sure that there is a more descriptive medical term for his injury but it was serious. In hospital he was immobilized and I can remember a caliper like device hanging from holes in his head with weights on the end. The purpose of this treatment was to allow for broken vertebrae to mend properly. It wasn’t a pleasant sight and I’m sure Rob was in a lot of discomfort. But he was in decent humour and wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. This was a display of courage which he must have inherited from his father, Major Ivan Martin, who was killed a day after landing on Juno Beach on D Day. More than 40 years later I had lunch with Rob in Toronto on one of his visits to Osgoode Hall. He was a Bencher. Some time before this Rob suffered a stroke and the left side of his body was partially paralyzed. Nothing wrong with his brain though. And again, he displayed no sign of self pity and was in good humour.
My special pleasure was tormenting Dent Harrison by visiting his room while he studied and butting my cigarette into his water glass. The boys got back at me with some childish but effective pranks. A piece of cheese hidden in my radiator which stank up my room so much I was taking four showers a day. And my chair tied to the inner door knob and out the window. When I opened the door it was jerked out of my hand and the chair went rocketing three stories down to the ground and smashed into many pieces. We stole a chair from another room to replace it.
Somehow some of my friends and acquaintances from CMR avoided assignment to Moose’s flight. 5135 Peter (Dummy) Dumbrille and Dean Smith were given 4 bars as C.W.O’s and 5051 Dick Byford was appointed Cadet Wing Commander. Of course we thought that brown nosing was the strategy used by these lads to get appointed to such lofty (they thought) senior cadet positions. Even 5072 George Knill got one stripe as a lowly flight leader of third year cadets. George was a floor below us which didn’t prevent me and others from annoying him with requests for math help. He became our unwilling, unpaid math tutor specializing in statistics. George blossomed in mathematics at RMC. Buried deep within was a math gene waiting to emerge. I like to think that by harassing George for tutoring I helped him along this path. After leaving the navy George became a High School teacher and math text wizard. Many of his books are used in Ontario High Schools today. Well done for a poor kid from the east end of Hamilton.
My brother Bill was at Queen’s medical school and graduated from Queens the same year that I graduated from RMC, 1961. He tried to get me kicked out of RMC several times. Bill and Jugs Johnson (who became an Ontario Court Judge) invited Mike Black and myself to watch the1960 Grey Cup at the interns residence at Hotel Dieu hospital. Mike preferred soccer but the beer was cheap. We all had a snoot full. Bill and Juggs (who both played football for the Queens Golden Gaels) drove us back to RMC. He drove through the Memorial Arch (a real no – no) up onto the lawn of the Commandant’s residence, through two soccer nets and back onto the roadway. With soccer netting draped on the hood of his car he screamed through the gate – scaring a Commissionaire – and dropped us off in front of our residence. Then he drove back to the parade square to steal a flag and then back into Kingston. The next day the hunt was on but we survived Bill’s escapade.
His other notable attempt to get me kicked out of RMC involved beer and women. At a break during a mess diner I returned to my room for some reason. As I traipsed down the hallway I heard giggling and laughing. Entering my room I saw Bill with three nurses. They were playing with my rifle and my sink was full of beer. After much begging and pleading I convinced them to get the hell out. The nurses, being more sensible than Bill, took the hint and dragged him away. They left by the Martello tower exit. It required crossing a ditch. One nurse fell in and broke an ankle. I’m sure Bill thought that this was funny.
Then there was the Van der Smissen-Ridout Award. An award given to the graduating cadet deemed to stand highest morally, intellectually, and physically at RMC. That’s me right? Well maybe morally and intellectually, but physically was a problem. Irregardless, as Charlie McGregor used to say, unnamed cadets started a vote Awrey campaign in the College newspaper taking out paid ads to do so. Vote you ask at a military college? Yes indeed, in this case. The V.R. was voted upon by senior and third year cadets, with the administration having some level of voting. Much like Putin’s Russia I imagine. In the end, the award was given to Al Pchajek a tall blond fellow who starred in track and field and football. Big deal! There was skullduggery afoot though. At our fifth year reunion a Professor revealed to us that I, The Ghoul, had won the vote but that the administration was having nothing to do with awarding it to Awrey. So Pchajek got the glory instead. Never mind, I’ll go to my grave knowing the truth.
Nearing graduation I bought an old 1956 Chevy from Don Delorme who was a Medical School classmate of my brother Bill. After a spin around the block I was given my driver’s licence. The morning after the Graduation ball 5172 Hugh Colquhoun and I planned to drive it to Winnipeg and Gimli Manitoba. I was to finish off my navigation training at Winnipeg and Hugh his pilot training at Gimli. We drove through Ontario to Detroit or Sarnia and then through the USA, planning to cross the border to Manitoba in North Dakota. Nonstop was our strategy. We’d take turns driving while the other slept. This was more to save money than to get to our destinations speedily. A few times the passenger would wake up to find the driver asleep and the car drifting across the highway. We stopped this foolishness somewhere in North Dakota and pulled into a motel for 12 hours of sleep. Then it was on to Gimli to drop off Hugh and finally to Stevenson Field in Winnipeg. Hugh used to kid me about being a navigator while he was in the more glamorous and exciting pilot trade. The joke was on him. Hugh spent his air force years at a God-forsaken RCAF base in northern New Brunswick flying jet interceptors after phantom Russian planes under the control of NORAD computers. I spent my years flying around the world seeing the sights that tourists spend lots of money to see. Years later at an RMC reunion, Hugh admitted that he got the short end of the stick.