Cadets at RMC are few and far between who have not either had the privilege of knowing Commodore (ret’d) 4459 Ed Murray (RRMC RMC 1959), or been affected by his actions. This former Roadent first came to RMC in1957, and returned again in 1987 as only the third Commandant given to RMC by the Navy up to that time. This singular individual continues to leave his mark around the campus to this day.
by M0917 Dean Fleet
To say that he is an anomaly is putting it lightly, for starters, he is one of the few naval officers to have not only been qualified, but served, as a MARS officer, MARE officer, and Log officer. However, during the Hellyer years he was in Ottawa and forced to pick just one MOC (just one?), and MARE was his choice. After serving around the country and the world in ships and subs, he spent the last four years of his career as Commandant of RMC.
Much like our outgoing commandant MGen Tom Lawson, Cmdre Murray was a champion of skylarks. In fact, most of what we discussed during the interview process was his love of skylarks, traditions, and fond memories of life at RMC as a Commandant, as opposed to as a cadet. He noted that the “Aircraft on the parade square” skylark at CMR in the 1950’s is his candidate for the “greatest”, but there were many others that warrant admiration. His own class kidnapped the prime Minister elect of the Queen’s “mock parliament” and held him in the barracks for a whole week, turning him in to a “cadet” fit to attend morning parade and meals! From placing complete automobiles on the roof of the McKenzie Building to cannons booming in the night cadets have shown amazing imagination and humour. Shortly after his arrival at RMC, the class of 1988 was beginning the parade practices leading up to reunion weekend. The veteran of 31 years service (at the time) could not help but remark to the DCdts, who happened to be friend 8389 Brian (“Bear”) Brown (RMC 1970), as they were watching the parade square from the Commandants office, how atrocious he thought the cadets’ drill was. Well lo’ and behold, the next day when the Commandant opened up his office, a few cadets had solved the problem of the Commandant watching displeasing drill… they had papered over the windows to his office!
A few months later, when the cadets were practicing for the Graduation parade arrival of the Reviewing Officer this cheeky class had another surprise in order for their new Commandant: around the corner came a motorcade consisting of a convertible and four outriders on motorcycles all dressed up as Palestinians, with Yasir Arafat in the back seat. Well needless to say when CWC 16506 Susan Whitley (RMC 1988) stepped forward to salute the guest of honour, ‘Arafat’ greeted her with open arms and a big kiss . Regardless of the antics, or perhaps because of, the cadets duly performed their drill exceptionally well for the actual day.
Skylarks were not limited to the cadets alone. Every year the protestant Chaplains met for a week long retreat at RMC. Mrs. Murray (Gail) got to know many of them and asked if she could attend their mess dinner. Murray notes that the padres held the most enjoyable mess dinner in terms of singing and fun. The Chaplain general refused. Gail decided she would attend somehow, and chose to become a waitress for the event. She underwent training by the Head waitress, and then disguised herself including the wearing of large glasses. Dressed in the green outfit worn by waitresses at that time, she was assigned to the head table to serve, among others, the Chaplain General and the guest of honour, General Fox. Although both men knew her, her disguise rendered her undetected. As the main course was being cleared the fun-loving Commandant called for order and announced that RMC had a tradition that the Commandant thanked the waitresses at this point in the dinner. He then grabbed his wife and gave her a big kiss! The chaplains, not knowing who Gail was, attempted to take up the “tradition” with gusto and looked around for waitresses to “thank”. The ladies fled with screams.
Cmdre Murray also recalled another famous parade square incident. Squadron commander 14407 Marie-Pier Clarke (RMC 1984) was not only proud of her cadets, but determined to see them march off of the parade square and was not one to let being nine-months pregnant stand in the way. In those days the dias was opposite of where it is now, so when the dias party left, it was simply a matter of turning around and walking into Mackenzie building. As the dias party entered the Mackenzie building at the end of the Graduation parade they were met by a very pale Marie-Pier and a somewhat agitated College Sergeant Major, and the news that her water had just broken! and off to the hospital she went. Murray recalls that as the epitome of “attention to duty”!
Up until the time that this former submariner arrived at RMC as Commandant, the Prime Minister had only once visited RMC, which was when John Diefenbaker came to then NCdt Murray’s Convocation. After four years of requests, RMC was pleased to play host to Brian and Mila Mulroney on 5 Feb 1991, along with the MND and the CDS. On the morning of the visit, an RCMP Sgt knocked on the Commandants door with a German Sheppard in tow. “You have got to be kidding me?” was his response.
“No Sir, I do have to check your office for bombs,” replied the dutifully embarrassed Sgt.
The dignitaries arrived at 0930, and did not leave the grounds until after 5 PM, and even members of the press where kept at bay until that time. Murray scheduled the day such that the Mulroney’s would have the maximum possible amount of time with the cadets; this included dining at separate tables with the cadets in their mess. The PM addressed the cadets in Currie Hall and had a tour of Fort Lasalle. Murray remembers when Mila Mulroney shouted from down the hall “Brian, Brian, come see this!… look at how clean these rooms are… we have to send the kids here!” Although it had been a long day, it was far from over for this well-loved Commandant.
As the following day was his birthday, the Cadet Wing had a skylark planned for him. At around midnight his wife woke him up; she alarmingly said that it looked like something was burning on their front lawn. The Commandant ran out in his bathrobe to find the entire cadet wing formed up and to the tune of the RMC band, they broke into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday for him.
The audacity of cadets was not, however, reserved solely for skylarks. One day the Canadian flag atop the mast at Fort Frederick had become jammed at the top and needed to be sorted out. For safety reasons, the base was unwilling to fix it because they could not safely use a machine to reach it from the uneven ground within the point, nor could they reach it from the level ground outside. This went on for a few days, and when the Commandant returned to his office Monday morning, the flag was fixed. As it turned out, one cadet, who shall remain nameless, decided to climb the mast, while his girlfriend watched, and fix it. Murray spoke to that cadet face-to-face for two reasons: firstly to congratulate him on his feat, and secondly to give a blast for being an idiot.
The formal gatherings at the Commandant’s residence were a regular feature during this time. Annual ‘garden parties’ were held, to which the heads of Queens, the RCMP, the OPP, Kingston Police Dept, Bishops, the Mayor, etc, were regular attendees. Owing to budget cutbacks, those days are now gone, but Murray remembers them as a great way to interact with all of the people you may want on your side in case of trouble. He always included cadets so that they could learn how to host “At Home” events. He also made it a practice to continue the naval tradition of making formal calls to these same individuals. He also hosted numerous formal dinners for the Governor General, Lieutenant-Governor, and other distinguished guests of the College such as Peter Newman and Eugene Forsey. Cadets were frequent guests in the residence as well. What Murray liked the best about these engagements was the opportunity to connect with his cadets on a more personal level.
Two foreign military visits also marked his time at RMC: the Soviet and Japanese visits, both of which provided the opportunity to showcase examples of the talent and initiative of RMC cadets. On 7 Dec 1988, Marshall of Armour of the Soviet Union, Oleg Alexandrovitsch Losik and his entourage came to RMC. Shortly after their arrival, they were taken to the senate chamber for a presentation about the college. This former Commandant recalls how blown away the Soviets were when the briefing was not only delivered in Russian, but was written entirely in Cyrillic. This was accomplished with the assistance of OCdts 17795 Orest Babij (RMC 1991) and 17019 Andre Sochaniswky (RRMC RMC 1989) (featured in “Where Are They Now? 30 June 09), who acted as translators, and graphic designer Gerry Locklin who hand traced the Cyrillic alphabet to make the slides. Sochaniswky was previously featured in our “Where are they now?” section, and emailed in these recollections of the visit:
“The Soviet delegation visit was definitely one of the most interesting events for me while at RMC. My 20 year reunion is this year – and I have not seen Babij in that time. Cmdre Murray stands out as one of the best leaders that I have had the pleasure to serve whether in military or civilian careers. After the visit, I recall receiving brochures from the Soviet embassy on how beautiful life was in the USSR, and then a year or so later the Berlin wall went down and the USSR collapsed. Those were interesting times.”
The day included a formal luncheon where the Marshall presented RMC’s Commandant with a T34 tank model which he remarked, much to everyone’s delight, was bigger than the one which he had given to the CDS. That afternoon the Marshall presented a briefing to the fourth year class in Currie Hall about Soviet-Canadian cooperation during WWII. Following the briefing, when formal goodbyes were being exchanged, much to the shock of Murray and the amusement of the cadets, the Marshall gave Murray a big hug and Russian-style kiss!
When the Japanese Chief of Defence Staff visited in 1990, RMC was fortunate to have a cadet who had previously done a one-year exchange to Japan through the Rotary Club – OCdt 11803 Michael Black (RMC 1993). The Japanese delegation was similarly blown away when their briefing was given entirely in Japanese, even noting how the cadet spoke with an accent from Osaka.
Many cadets will also remember their Commandant hobbling around on crutches one winter owing to a broken leg. He was a regular participant in noon-hour hockey, and was excited to play in the Dec 16th 1987 NCO versus Officer annual Hockey game. As this was the day before he and his family were to move into the Commandant’s residence (it had been under renovations), Gail said to him as he was leaving to play “just don’t go doing anything stupid like breaking your leg.” Needless to say after he returned with a spiral fracture in his left leg, things were a little tense at home after that. Still, Murray learned well what it was like to be a cadet on crutches in the middle of winter. (On a side note, since 1987, he has never missed an RMC Graduation parade) Cadets of that era may also remember that during their pre-Graduation parade practices, their Commandant could be seen windsurfing in the afternoon in Navy bay.
Another memory that Murray warmly recalls is of the class of 1940. The seventeen oak trees that line Precision drive were planted by the class of 1940, one for each member of their class killed during WWII. In 1990, this class, now a part of the Old Brigade, was to have a parade and dedication ceremony. However, as Murray put it, “the rain was bouncing three feet high off of the deck” and the parade was cancelled. Regardless, the class of 1940 formed up and marched to the plinth on Precison Drive which they had had erected with the names of their fallen classmates – rain or shine this was happening! Murray and the President of the Ex-Cadet Club, another former RMC Commandant 3173 John Stewart (RRMC RMC 1953) looked at each other, nodded, and joined in the rear of the procession and marched along. As the dedication ceremony proceeded the RMC pipe band, which had been waiting at the Arch, had been told that the parade was been cancelled. While returning to the Square they saw the Class of 1940 conducting their service in spite of the weather; they gave up the opportunity to return to warm and dry barracks, joined the group and then played them back to the Square. It was a remarkable moment which brought Old Brigaders and current cadets together in a special way – one group memorializing and paying special respect to their classmates, and the other choosing to pay special homage to these fine Ex-Cadets and march with them.
All cadets have heard the story about how the present Canadian Flag was adopted. Many of them, myself included, have learned it from the plaque paced on the side of Currie Building. This plaque is a result of Murray’s efforts to increase not only the presence of the College, but also reinvigorate the grounds with a sense of its history. He viewed this as a vital piece of RMC history, and as a way to promote the college for the fundamental piece of our history that it is, and pushed for this recognition in Ottawa. He also organized the first Commandants reunion in 1989, to which all but one living ex Commandant was able to attend.
Following his retirement in 1991, Cmdre Murray taught at RMC for nine years. He has since served on the boards of the Hotel Dieu Hospital, Hotel Dieu Foundation, Univeristy Hospitals Kingston Foundation, and the Kingston United Way. He was a RMC Ex Cadet Club Kingston Branch President and is the Chair of the Corps of Commissionaires for Kingston and the region. He also busies himself with golf, which he claims he does not play often enough, but nonetheless has recently had two hole-in-ones at the Garrison Golf Club. He and his wife live in Australia during the Canadian winter, where his daughter and family own vineyards, he is, therefore, working very hard at becoming a good wine taster!
His love of RMC history continues to this day as Murray busies himself with researching the origins of many present, and lost, RMC traditions. While more will be forthcoming from him, here is a sampling of what he is looking into: did you know that not walking through the Memorial Arch is a recent tradition? It was once the main entrance to the college, and if garbage and delivery trucks could role through there, then why not pass through yourself, albeit while paying proper military respects of course. Also, the sports field by the parade square used to be saluted before entered in memory of a cadet who passed away on it, when did that practice cease?
Ed Murray can be reached at [email protected]