Back in the Day: R.M.C. Graduates Called “Prigs”

Watch it, Cadet! A Certain Degree of Priggery is Showing

Excerpt from THE MARKER 18 October, 1958 – Article written by (III Year) 4860 A.J.G.D. De Chastelain

 4860 A.J.G.D. De Chastelain

On reading a recent edition of that excellent periodical magazine, Saturday Night, I came upon three letters commenting on the granting of degrees at RMC. The writer of the first letter had very firm ideas on the type of man turned out by RMC; “… Just taking a couple letters of the alphabet behind the names of the graduates of RMC won’t make the slightest difference. That institution has long been noted for  two kinds of products. Some become fine soldiers and courteous gentlemen; others become prigs, and prigs they remain throughout Service or Civil Life.”

Not only was I taken aback, I was confused. “… Won’t make the slightest difference,’ the writer says. The slightest difference to what I wonder? Perhaps to the graduate’s character? (I may be wrong but I had always thought that degrees were honours granted to those who have qualified for them by means of achieving a certain academic proficiency). Perhaps it refers to the graduates manner, perhaps his bearing or to his speech; or perhaps it refers to the impression he creates to those around him (and if this is the intention then I must inform the writer he is barking up the wrong tree; if a cadet takes advantage of the training granted by RMC he will always make a good impression, if he doesn’t that is his own fault. The degree has nothing to do with it).

“Some become fine soldiers and courteous gentlemen”, and this is of course the purpose of RMC, but I must admit that next sentence rankled. “Prigs” What a distressing accusation. In order to be sure that I knew, exactly what we were being accused of I used a dictionary and found a definition of the word prig. “A person who effects great preciseness or propriety in matters of learning or morals, to the annoyance of others.” I’m not too sure whether this is as much an accusation as it is a compliment, preciseness is a cadet being hardly an affectionate, however my criticism on this basis is invalid since there is more than one definition of the word ‘prig’. “A smug person,” or “any person regarded with dislike” is possibly what the writer implies, and if he is correct then we must indeed look like laurels; however, I am sure that there many people in this world who are disliked by at least a few others, and I am equally sure that graduate cadets are in the majority of these.

With regard to the statement “… and prigs they remain throughout Service or Civil life,” I can only assume that the writer has actually know, and has actually been bothered by the priggery of, some RMC graduate from the moment the graduate has left the college to the moment he left the world. If such is not the case then the statement is a mere matter of supposition, and hence is of no importance.

A second letter shows what was either a bad use of words or else gross ignorance. The letter went as follows: “… Maybe when they get degrees of their own the professional soldiers will gradually lose their tendency to look down their noses at the possessors of real academic degrees.” Precisely what, I wonder, is a ‘real’ degree? I fear the implication is that the education at RMC does not merit a degree, and the adjective ‘real’ suggests that only those degrees granted at universities are ones worthy of the name ‘degree’. If this is so then the writer is not only greatly misinformed but he is also defeating his own argument. In the first place the academic staff of RMC would not dream of granting a degree to anyone who did not merit it (there is a certain number of erstwhile cadets who will verify this); in the second place no degrees have as yet been granted right here at RMC, all the ex-cadets with degrees having received them from a university, and hence an ex-cadet’s degree is no different from one received by an all-time university student. What lies behind the degree of the RMC graduate does, however, constitute a considerable difference, and it is because of this difference that the graduate is entitled to have the letters ‘rmc’ after his name. If the writer feels that ex-cadets are sometimes overly proud of having obtained their degree by going through RMC, he might well come to the college and see exactly what kind education in addition to its academic studies. All this not to suggest that cadets consider a university education inferior to their own, this would be quite ridiculous. It is the unique nature of their education of which the cadets are proud, and justifiably so.

A third letter restored my somewhat crushed feelings and allowed me to hope that perhaps our efforts at RMC do not go totally unappreciated. “Granting of academic degrees to the hard-working graduates of our Service College is a long-last step in the right direction.” To you sir, and to those like you, the cadets of the RMC extend their warm thanks. We understand the value of the education we receive here; it is nice to understand it too.

Note: The Royal Military College of Canada Degrees Act, 1959 empowers the college to confer degrees in arts, science, and engineering.


  • David Hall

    August 13, 2018 at 7:45 am

    An interesting article. re: the 3 letters mentioned above, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticize.” There have always been those that, from the outside, I suspect, will find fault with our unique institution. Interesting also, as I have been called a lot of things in my life, but never a “prig”.

    I have always been proud of my degree and the 3 letters I use after my name. I must add that I am not a “ring-knocker” and never have been, although my arthritic fingers no longer allow me to wear my ring:):)

    TDV may be taking a bit of a hit these days (AGM’s report etc), but that doesn’t change my own positive experiences and good friendships that I gained from my time at the College.

    10950 DM Hall

  • Mike Kennedy #12570

    August 13, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    As an example of an “erstwhile cadet” who attended RMC, but never received a degree from the College, nor a commission in the armed forces, I found this article very interesting. If anything, I think the comments made in the letters to Saturday Night magazine 60 years ago are illustrative of a problem that remains very much in evidence today, namely, the fact that the Canadian public has never been properly educated about what happens at RMC, or about the kind of people that it graduates.
    It is interesting to contrast Canadians’ perceptions of RMC with the way in which our American cousins view their service academies. By way of comparison, although West Point produced its first graduates (two of them) in 1802, it was not until 1933 that USMA became a degree granting institution. Nevertheless, today I do not think anyone in the United States would ever dream of suggesting that the education provided by the service academies is in any way inferior to that which may be obtained at the very best civilian universities. In this country, unfortunately, it would seem that a great many Canadians are largely unaware of the fact that RMC even exists. For those who have heard of the College, many have perceptions that are completely at odds with reality.
    After I left RMC in 1977, four years later I eventually graduated from McGill, an institution that has sometimes described itself as being “Canada’s Harvard”. All I can say is, both RMC and McGill are fine institutions, but they are two completely different environments, that offer two vastly different experiences. Looking back now, much as I would have liked to have graduated from RMC, I am also proud of being a graduate of McGill, and feel fortunate to have been able to attend both.
    I think what this shows is, we have a lot of work to do in terms of educating Canadians about what RMC is and what it does, and how the College adds value in Canadian society. If anything, this is probably even more important today than it was in 1958, as in many ways the Canadian Forces have become largely cut off from the mainstream of society, and the College must compete for quality applicants in a higher education marketplace that has become infinitely more crowded.
    I would certainly invite other readers of e-Veritas to share their views on this issue.

  • Doug (Shag) Southen

    August 13, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    It is always good to read comments from my bud and classmate Dave Hall, and from my bud and “rook” Mike Kennedy.
    Like Dave, I have been called many things, and some were probably with merit. To the best of my knowledge, “prig” was not one of the epithets, but take away that “r” and you’ll find a name I was called countless times. They may have been right, who am I to judge them?
    I have met General De Chastelain many times, starting I think when he was a BGen commanding 4 CMBG, and have always been impressed by him. Now all the more so for this witty note written in his youth. Well done, sir!