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  • 7108 John Penney, Class of ’67 – Great memories of both ‘Birch’ & ‘Pic’

7108 John Penney, Class of ’67 – Great memories of both ‘Birch’ & ‘Pic’

7108 John Penney was born in a small town in northern England at the end of WW II to a British mother (War Bride) & a Canadian father (RCAF), he grew up in the town of Greenfield Park just outside Montreal. He attended & graduated from Royal George High School.

What was your main motivation towards applying to Milcol?

My motivation was twofold. I was interested in serving in the military. Both my mother & father served during WW II and both spoke positively about their military service. In addition, I wanted to attend university but did not have the money to do so.

When was your entry year? Where?

I entered Le College Militaire Royal (CMR) in September 1962.

My most vivid memory of Prep year at CMR is of my first day. From the time we got off the bus until bedtime was a whirlwind of activities that made me wonder if I would ever survive this whole experience.

I also remember meeting the person who became my best friend. We had attended elementary school together, but had lost contact. We met in the Mess hall on our second day and it turned out that we were in the same Squadron & in adjoining rooms. I helped him with math & he helped me with English. I can honestly say that I would not have passed English without his help. He married a friend of my wife & we are still best friends 56 years later.

Another vivid memory is working as part of the Cartier Squadron team that built a giant snow sculpture of Cartier’s ship during the annual Winter Carnival.

When was your grad year?

I graduated from RMC in 1967 with an Electrical Engineering degree. I returned to the College in 1970 in the Master’s program and graduated with a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1972.

I had several very good professors during my stay at RMC but my favorites were Ray Dignum & John Plant both of whom were fine gentlemen & excellent professors.

Two RMC military staff I remember most are our Commandant, Air Commodore Leonard Birchall, who marched off the parade square into retirement in 1967 as an honorary member of our graduating class and Wing Commander Al Pickering who was the senior Air Force staff officer.

My best memory of CMR/RMC is all of the good friends that I made. Although I have only maintained close contact with a few, I enjoy catching up with all of my classmates at our 5 year reunions.

I know that not everyone liked to march, but I did. I remember proudly marching into Kingston on Copper Sundays. I am more of a sports fan than an athlete, but I have always appreciated the fact that at CMR/RMC I was given the chance to play many inter-mural sports that I never would have experienced at a civilian university.

In May of 1967 (Canada’s Centennial Year) I was a member of the Cadet Wing that Trooped the RMC Colours on Parliament Hill. We had practiced marching on grass for 2 weeks on the soccer fields at RMC before venturing onto Parliament Hill. Performing before a large, appreciative crowd on the Hill was a great way to cap off my 5 years at CMR/RMC. The only thing that was better, of course, was our graduation parade on 2 June, 1967.

What do you consider your biggest challenge(s) while attending Milcol:

Like most cadets, my biggest challenges were prioritizing tasks & managing my very valuable time to adequately address the many things assigned to us. These are skills that have stayed with me and served me very well over the years.

Post Milcol:

I served in the CAF (RCAF) as a Communications & Electronics (CELE) officer for 16 years after graduation.

My first posting was to a Pinetree radar site at Lowther, Ontario about 50 km west of Kapuskasing. There were only 9 officers on site and we were all expected to handle multiple secondary duties. This allowed me to experience things that I never would have done on a larger base and prepared me well for my future assignments.

Following graduation from the Master’s program at RMC in 1972, I was assigned to Project SAMSON in Ottawa. The aim of the Project was to design & implement a computer based message switching system. It was one of the first major computer projects in the CAF. It was the first of many leading edge technology projects that I would be involved with in my military/civilian career.

The highlight of my military career was my assignment as the Commanding Officer of 706 Communications Squadron at Camp Borden. It was a thrill to be able to use my leadership skills to lead such a dedicated & hardworking crew for two years. It was such a rewarding experience that I hated to give it up at the end of the 2 years.

I retired in 1983 as a LCol in the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for Technical Services at Communications Command in Ottawa.

Leaving the Forces was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but at the time and in hindsight the decision was best for me & my family.

Post CAF time?  What have you been doing?

Following my retirement in 1983, I worked as an engineer/manager in the Department of Transport, the Department of Communications & at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In all three Departments I worked on very challenging leading edge high tech (at the time) projects such as digital telephony, voice mail, e-mail and a secure high speed cross Canada telecommunications network. I retired from CSIS in 2002 in the position of Deputy Director General of Informatics Services.

What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?

I have faced several major challenges both in my personal & professional life. I have dealt with these challenges by using a calm, logical, step-by-step approach to the problem.

When I joined a new Department in the early 1990’s, I was assigned to a large telecommunications project. Although the project had been underway for over a year, little to no progress had been made. Working with the members of the project, I was able to identify the roadblocks and set a new course of action. In just over a year we successfully procured & implemented a new cross-Canada network.

What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?

In 3rd year, I had the honor of winning the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s Silver Medal for the highest standing in all of the Engineering faculties at RMC.

Technology changed very rapidly during my career & I am proud that I was involved in several very challenging & successful high tech projects both in the military & as a civilian.

Who have been the most influential mentors in your life?

Certainly the most influential mentors in my life were my mother & father. Although neither was highly educated, both had a wealth of practical experience from living through the Depression & serving in WW II. That practical experience that they passed along to me has served me very well.

Also I hold in high regard 3 of my military bosses & one civilian boss who showed the highest integrity & acted in the best interests of the organization & their subordinates rather than themselves. They were true leaders who pointed me in the right direction.

What would you describe as a turning point in your life?

Being accepted into CMR in 1962 at the age of 17 was certainly a major turning point in my life. Military college life changed me from a shy, introverted teenager into a confident leader & manager. It was, without doubt, a positive life changing experience for me.

What are your goals for the future?

Since retiring in 2002, I have spent time with my wonderful family, travelled extensively in Canada & Europe with my wife Dorothy of 51 years and devoted many hours to volunteer work in our community.

Dorothy & I have a daughter Gail & a son Chris both of whom are married to RMC ex-cadets. Many of our family activities now revolve around our grandchildren Liam & Evelyne. We intend to continue to pursue these activities as long as our health permits.


  • Neil Federspiel

    May 14, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Hi John. It was interesting reading your update. I enjoyed it. Good to hear that you’ve experienced an interesting and rewarding career and are continuing to enjoy life. Best wishes to you and your family.