Classic Speech: Ed Murray, 107th Convocation

Ed Murray’s speech notes – RMC’s heritage


Commandant (Friday), Principal (Kowal), Members of the Academic Wing, Degree recipients and your proud parents and friends, ladies and gentlemen

May I say right at the start that, having looked at the names of those who have received honorary degrees from RMC in the past, I feel incredibly honoured to have my name added to the list.  It is a very humbling experience.


Today I want to talk about Heritage; in particular RMC’s heritage.

But first I want you to listen to the 1969 comment of Governor General Roland Michener:

“RMC, only nine years younger than Confederation, has been a powerful factor in the growth and security of the country.  Too few Canadians realize the significance and importance of the role that RMC has played in the development of their country.”

Michener was speaking of RMC’s heritage –la patrimoine du RMC.


What is heritage?  A formal definition is:

the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society

  • that are inherited from past generations,
  • maintained in the present and
  • bestowed for the benefit of future generations.

Clearly heritage is more than just history.  It consists of

  • the group’s reasons for existence,
  • traditions, accomplishments, moral basis, etc.

But for me, RMC’s heritage is embodied in the behaviour and accomplishments of its Ex-Cadets, in both military and civilian life,

in leadership and service to the nation.

RMC graduates aren’t just officers; they’re nation builders.

So let us start by examining Ex-Cadet behaviour and accomplishments in the context of Michener’s statement – the development and security of Canada;

Why was RMC created and what has been the payback to Canada for the investment?

L’Armée britannique a quitté le Canada en 1870.  Pour remplir ce vide, le gouvernement a décidé qu’il fallait mettre sur pied une institution d’enseignement militaire pour former des officiers pour occuper des postes de commandement et d’état-major dans la Milice canadienne, une force de volontaires.

  Tel était son but. Bien qu’un petit nombre de postes dans l’Armée britannique aient été offerts aux diplômés du RMC, la plupart des diplômés devaient retourner à la vie civile.  Par conséquent, le programme militaire a dû être augmenté par une éducation supplémentaire, particulièrement en ingénierie, afin que les diplômés puissent réussir dans les professions civiles.  Ce n’est qu’en 1954 que le rôle du RMC a changé pour devenir celui de former des officiers pour la Force régulière plutôt que pour la Milice.


The pay-off for investing in a military college occurred quickly.  With the outbreak of the North-West Insurrection of 1885, the call for volunteers for an Expeditionary Force went out to RMC graduates, and more volunteered than there were positions available.  It was a remarkable response.


The total number of Ex-Cadets who could have served was almost 1000.  Of those 95% volunteered to do so.

When the 33,000 men of the First Division left Quebec in September 1914, almost 1/4 of all of the commanding officers and staff officers were Ex-Cadets. 

Ex-Cadet Awards for leadership and bravery included 1 VC with 3 others recommended for the VC; 118 DSO’s; 130 MC’s and DFC’s;

The DSO was awarded for bravery or outstanding leadership under fire, ranking just below the Victoria Cross.

Almost 1/4 of all RMC Ex Cadet participants were awarded decorations for bravery and/or outstanding leadership!

152 Ex-Cadets were killed, 15% of those who served.


Almost 1200 Ex-Cadets served in WW2.

They included all 4 Chiefs of the General Staff, The Commander of the 1st Cdn Army; 2 of 3 Corps Commanders; and a number of the Divisional Commanders.

In all 147 medals for bravery and/or leadership were awarded to Ex-Cadets, that is 1 for every 10 who served.

They included 1 of the10 George Crosses won by Canadians; and 78 DSO’s (over 6% of all Canadian DSO’s);

At Dieppe alone Ex Cadets were awarded 1 VC (Merritt) and 5 of the 12 DSO’s awarded.

114 Ex Cadets, almost 10%, were killed.


Immediately after the first post-War Graduation parade in 1952 all 24 Regular Force army graduates went directly to Korea.  Four of them won MC’s, as did one other Ex-Cadet.

All of the foregoing was achieved from a College size that never exceeded 200, graduating about 40 or fewer new officers per year until 1952!!

Unfortunately the same detailed record of service by Ex-Cadets after Korea – Peacekeeping, the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan for example, does not exist as the research necessary to record their contribution has yet to be done.

But what has been presented thus far, though very impressive, is statistics.  What we must do is tell the stories of the Ex-Cadets behind the statistics,

bringing them alive, illuminating their accomplishments in all walks of life, not just the military.

Here is a small sample of possible heritage stories.

Self Sacrifice

Air Commodore Len Birchall, as CO of a search plane, accepted the certainty of being shot down to remain close to a Japanese naval invasion force in order to be sure of reporting its position.  His act saved Ceylon from invasion, changed the direction of the War and lead to his being named by Churchill as the Savior of Ceylon.  He spent the next 3 years in Japanese POW camps, always as senior officer and leader.

Air Commodore Ross was awarded the George Cross for rescuing men from a burning aircraft loaded with bombs.  He lost his arm in the resulting explosion.

LCol CEC Merritt won the Victoria Cross for leading his battalion with incredible bravery and leadership at Dieppe, the only Canadian group to achieve its objective.

In 1976, Capt Gary Fulton suffered an engine failure in a Tudor aircraft.  Rather than ejecting and crashing into an Alberta town, he headed away from the endangered area, sacrificing himself for the safety of others.  The result was the posthumous award of the Star of Courage.

One of only 4 officer recipients of the Cross of Military Valour, now second only in Canada to the Victoria Cross for bravery in the face of the enemy, was awarded to an Ex Cadet veteran of Afghan operations –Major Bill Fletcher.


Academic excellence was an early characteristic of RMC, particularly for a number of exceptional engineering graduates.  Many were great railway builders, leaving their mark in Canada, the USA, Mexico, the Middle East and South Africa.

Mais le plus célèbre fut Sir Percy Girouard de Montréal qui construisit un chemin de fer sur 588 milles dans le désert en Égypte.  Et il n’était qu’un lieutenant!  Il n’y avait pas de manuels sur la façon de faire ce travail.  Selon ses propres mots, il l’a accompli en se basant sur sa formation au RMC et avec les Chemins de fer du Canada.

Sa performance fut jugée brillante, servant d’abord comme président des Chemins de fer l’État égyptien, et puis, durant la guerre en Afrique du Sud, en prenant en charge du système ferroviaire. En reconnaissance de ses services, il a été nommé Companion of the Order of the Bath à l’âge de 34 ans!  Very rare

Churchill le nomma Haut commissaire du Nigeria, puis de toute l’Afrique de l’Est. Il a pris sa retraite mais a été rappelé pendant la Premiere Guerre mondiale par Churchill pour remédier à une production de munitions britannique défaillante.

Canal Builders

Major John Weller was the Engineer-in-Charge of the planning, surveying and construction of the 4th Welland Ship Canal.

Reuben Leonard took charge of the first hydro-electric development of Niagara Falls.


LGen ELM Burns, MC, often called the father of peacekeeping, became Commander UN Emergency Force Middle East in 1956.  Thereafter he was Canada’s principal disarmament negotiator.

Of all the possible candidates to lead the process to end the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, the British government chose Gen John de Chastelain.  His work led first to the Good Friday Agreement, and then to the seemingly impossible task of getting the IRA to decommission its arms.  It took 14 years.  He was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.

Astronauts – Canada has selected 12 astronauts since 1983.  4 are Ex-Cadets!

Marc Garneau, Chris Hadfield, Michael McKay and Jeremy Hansen

In the Business arena many Ex Cadets have shone, including:

Len Lee – creator of Lee Valley Tools, the largest mail-order tool business in North America

Jim Leach – Chancellor Queen’s University, former head of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan

Larry Stevenson –creator of Chapters Book Store

Col Britt Smith – builder of Homestead Land Holdings and community philanthropist


C’est le no°25, WT Bridges, qui a fondé le Collège militaire royal de Duntroon en Australie.  Par la suite, il a commandé l’ANZAC à Gallipoli où il a été tué par un tireur d’élite. 

L’ingénieur en chef de l’ANZAC était le no°69 Alain Joly de Lotbiniere, qui devint plus tard ingénieur en chef du Corps d’armée australien en France.  Originaire du Québec, il était très populaire auprès des Australiens qui aimaient son accent français.  Il a été cité à l’ordre du jour cinq fois et a été nommé Companion of the Order of the Bath.


RMC has produced 13 Rhodes Scholars.

Deux anciens élèves-officiers, Romeo Dallaire et Medric Cousineau, qui a reçu l’Étoile du courage, n’ont pas hésité à vraiment vivre Valoir, Devoir, Vaillance

Sentant que c’était leur devoir, ils ont tous les deux exposé leurs douleurs les plus personnelles reliées à leurs troubles de stress post-traumatique pour plaider en soutien à tous ceux qui en souffre, allant même jusqu’à écrire des livres et donner des conférences sur leurs terribles expériences.  Quel signe de vaillance !

These examples of behaviour and achievement of Ex-Cadets show that RMC’s heritage is indeed remarkable, particularly the influence this small number people have had on the development of our nation.

In the 140 years since the founding of the Royal Military College of Canada, fewer than 25,000 Cadets have attended the College, with modern undergraduate enrolment exceeding 900 only in recent years.

Is preserving our remarkable heritage and sharing it with Canadians all that important

I believe that it is important to the future of RMC that we ensure that Canadians become aware of our heritage.

Three good reasons that come to mind.

  1. To instil pride in today’s cadets and staff. The record of Ex-Cadet performance in service to the nation cannot help but engender a desire in today’s cadets and staff to at least match, and hopefully exceed, the standard of service of their forebears in all activities.
  1. To protect the College – It is important that the Government remain confident that the College is worth the investment.

RMC’s value has been questioned regularly since 1876, most vigorously after the Second World War when the government did not want it reopened, and again in 1995 when the Prime Minister closed Royal Roads and CMR, and came within a whisker of dealing RMC the same fate.

Reviewing the validity of the College continues to this day– and rightly so.

An awareness of the Ex Cadets’ record of service and contribution to the nation is important if we are to maintain the support of the nation’s leaders and the general public.

  1. Recruiting – RMC’s reputation for academic excellence and development of leadership is not well known or understood.

To assist in attracting sufficient good quality applicants, RMC’s record of producing well educated leaders who have excelled in broad range of fields should be made known.

But these outcomes depend on people knowing about our heritage.

Who is to be the keeper of RMC’s heritage?  Who is to bestow our heritage on future generations?

The answer is the RMC Heritage and Museum Committee and the Museum.

The RMC Museum has become the focus for the maintenance and dissemination of our heritage; and its impressive collection of more than 10,000 artefacts and archives is vital to this role.

For while it is the Museum’s archives which provide the substance upon which our heritage is interpreted, it is the Museum’s artifacts which bring the heritage stories alive!  Artefacts are not displayed simply for visual entertainment.

Imagine the Memorial Staircase with the walls simply displaying the names of those who died in the service of Canada. Now imagine it as it is – with the photographs of those Ex-Cadets.  Photographs are artefacts and they make all the difference in the impact of the message.

Here we sit in Currie Hall, a Memorial to the Canadian Corps, a piece of not only our Canadian heritage but that of RMC as well. Note how artefacts are used to bring life to the Hall – the unit badges many of which Ex Cadets served in and commanded, the portraits of the Corps and Divisional Commanders, the coats of arms of the cities associated with the Corps and the battles they fought, the 2 large paintings at the back of the Hall depicting the laying up of the regimental colours in Westminster Abbey.  Here on either side are the portraits of Generals Sir Archie Macdonell and Sir Henry Burstall who commanded the 1st and 2nd Divisions, both Ex Cadets.

Former principal John Scott Cowen described the College as follows:

“There is no institution in this land that is more completely engaged in nation building, where youth of the two founding cultures, and of the full diversity of Canadian society, learn to work together, to rely on one another, and to serve Canada.  The sole university owned by all the people of Canada, bilingual, and with full representation from every region, it has been engaged in nation building since its inception.”

Clearly the exploits of the graduates have been out of all proportion to their number, both in peace and war, and in Canada and throughout the world.

Clearly if we believe that it is important that RMC’s heritage be maintained and transmitted to Canadians, then a Museum and a vibrant Heritage and Museum Committee are the critical vehicle for success.  For it is the Museum which not only enables the collection, research and interpretation of artefacts and archives, but presents the results through the creation of stories, brought alive with the use of those artefacts.

I hope that I have successfully introduced you to RMC’s rich heritage, and why it is so important to the College and the country to keep it alive.

We owe it to ourselves and our country to continue to maintain and disseminate our heritage as it is an important element of the story of our nation’s development.

Ed Murray bio and more from the 107th Convocation- HERE

Flickr photos

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