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Flashback 1948: The Re-Opening of the Royal Military College of Canada

Editor’s Note: The following is taken from the 1949 RMC Review.

“War is not inevitable, but neither is peace certain, and until it is, no self-respecting country, particularly one with the record as well as the resources of Canada, can afford to ignore her defences.”

These words spoken by the Hon. Brooke Claxton, the Minister of National Defence, during his address on the occasion of the Opening of the Roya Military College on the 20th of September, 1948, express the fundamental reason for re-opening the College.

These words could as well have been spoken by the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie in 1876 when he decided to found the College for the purpose of providing a steady flow of young officers, well-trained and well-educated, into the active and reserve armed services of the country. The days of 1876 were not happy ones.

There were “sore spots” in Europe. The Balkan peoples were restless. Russia was seeking to throw her mantle of protection- a word that has something in it of the meaning of absorption- over these distant cousins of hers. Then, as now, the repercussions of European political troubles were felt on this continent. The great advancement through Science in the instruments of transportation, in the instruments of modern warfare, has placed us in the same relative position to the European scene as England was in 1876. The words of Gaunt, once so true but now so dangerously false, have been quoted again and again even as late as 1939:

“This precious stone set in a silver sea,

Which serves us in the nature of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands;”

Science has changed our conception of the isolation that an ocean provides. We have taken part in two world wars and are the inheritors of the results of these two great devastations. We must look to our security. We believe that the re-opening of the Royal Military College, as one of the two Canadian Services Colleges, helps to establish in a small but important way that security.

The re-establishment of the College is more than a re-opening of an educational institution that stopped functioning during the war, from 1942 to 1948; it is a reorganization of an army college into a tri-service college. The lesson taught by bitter war experience in combined operations is here being applied in peace. The Minister humorously remarked in the course of his address that “Segregation of Services into compartments should not be started at the age of seventeen or eighteen. If officers of the three Services got on a first name basis from the day of their entering their cadet schools, there was more hope that they would be on speaking terms when they became admirals and generals and air marshals.” Pre-war graduates of the Royal Military College did enter all three Services; many of them did train in the summer with the Service of their election; but this was done without Headquarters planning . Now the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force together integrate their quotas of candidates to form the cadet strength of the two Canadian Services Colleges. It is perhaps not untrue to say that this is the first instance of its kind, and that the experiment is being watched with considerable interest by friendly states. Perhaps one day the RMC may have an opening ceremony to welcome cadets from Great Britain and the United States.

The Royal Military College is justly proud of her graduates in all three Services. The great traditions that are now being revivified were preserved and handed on by them. There are undoubtedly some who think that the re-opening of the College on a tri-service basis will give a new direction to tradition. Why should it? The RMC traditions are college traditions, not of any one Service. “Truth, Duty,, Valour”, the motto of the College, represent moral values, and are applicable equally well to everyone in the Services. Mr. Claxton spoke of tradition in his Opening Address. He said: “Real traditions are born of steadfast endeavor, and what we want to see here is that all the good and hard-worn values that RMC hands down to its newest recruits are cultivated and cherished”. Over 2,700 ex-cadets have doubled across the square, have paused at the College doorways, and have entered into every phase of a cadet’s somewhat hard life. No ex-cadet can but rejoice in the College re-opening. He may have taken a great deal out of him when he marched off the square, but he undoubtedly left behind something of himself to tie him irrevocably to the traditions of the College. No better witness can there be to this truth than that over 2,500 of them, wearing the King’s uniform, have fought on some battlefield in the service of the Country.

It is not an exaggeration to say, then, that the re-opening of the Royal Military College is an important phase in the planning of national security.

The new cadets reported to the College on the ninth of September, and for a week followed an intensive programme in preparation for the Official Opening. They had to be registered and equipped; they had to be instructed and practised in proper military bearing; and they had to be taught to command their own parade.

The official opening ceremony began on Monday morning, the twentieth of September, at eleven o’clock, when the Minister of National Defence was received with a General Salute. At the Saluting Base with the Minister were the Commandant, Brig. D. R. Agnew, CBE, ADC; Chief of the General Staff, Lt.-Gen C. Foulkes, CB, CBE, DSO; Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice-Adm H.T.W. Grant, CBE, DSO; Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal W.A. Curtis, CB, CBE, DSC, ED; Chairman of the Defence Research Board, Dr. O.M. Solandt; RMC No. 13 Maj.-Gen. A.B. Perry, CMG; and the President of the RMC Club, Brig. Ian Johnston, CBE, DSO, ED. Following the Salute the Minister and the official party inspected the Cadet Wing drawn up in Review Order on the square under the command of Acting Cadet Wing Senior Whealy. The Cadet Wing then marched past in column of route by squadrons, the squadrons being commanded by Cadet Goldie (No. 1 Frontenac), Cadet Etheridge (No. 2 LaSalle), and Cadet Macintosh (No. 3 Hudson). The music for the outdoor part of the ceremony was played by the band of the Royal Canadian Regiment, by kind permission of Lt.-Col J.M. Houghton, OBE.

The parade was carried out with commendable precision. As their uniforms were not yet available the cadets dressed in blue blazers and grey flannels, and despite the lack of colour their bearing and marching drew loud applause from the many spectators.

The Sir Arthur Currie Hall was filled to capacity to hear the Minister and the Commandant deliver their addresses. The indoor part of the ceremony was opened by a prayer of guidance, said by the Area Chaplain, Capt. J.F. Goforth, MC. The Commandant gave a warm welcome to the Minister, the Chiefs of Staff, General Perry, Dr. R.C. Wallace, Principal of Queen’s University, and Brig. Johnston, President of the RMC Club. He pledged himself, the staff and the cadets to carry on the best traditions of the College and to give full support to the new policy outlined for the Canadian Services College. He paid honour to General Perry, No. 13 of the “Old Eighteen”. The Commandant had words of praise for the members of staff concerned and the cadets for the excellence of the parade. He gave credit, also, to the various school cadet corps for the good groundwork of training that many of the cadets possessed.

The Minister’s address was the first lecture of the new academic year. He spoke earnestly and impressively to the cadets. The keynote of his lecture was leadership and responsibility. He said in part: “Our knowledge is to train good citizens because they make the best soldiers….The qualities we seek here are the qualities sought in all good teaching establishments. We shall insist on thoroughness and industry to achieve high standards. But more than this, we shall expect you to show and develop qualities of character over and above those usually expected of men your age. The qualities of the good sailor, soldier, or airman are the qualities of the good citizen, and in particular the essentials of leadership, high morale, and courage.”

“The quality of leadership”, he said, “comes from the exercise of responsibility, from physical and mental vigour, from the determination to exercise your will, from the practice and habit of command, and from a sense of dedication to a high purpose, the service of Canada.”

The Minister laid emphasis on the importance of a knowledge of both English and French to all Canadians, but particularly to those in the armed forces. He stressed the value of commingling of cadet officers from the Service Colleges and the universities. He urged the cadets to seek a high standard both in their studies and n their private conduct and so make themselves worthy of public responsibility.

Following the Minister’s address, the Commandant introduced Dr. R.C. Wallace, Principal of Queen’s University. Dr. Wallace in a short and witty speech expressed the good wishes of the Canadian universities to the Canadian Services College. He welcomed back RMC into the field of inter-collegiate athletics and into the social life of Kingston.

The ceremony over, the Commandant and the official party moved to the upper landing where the staff, cadets, and many of the guests were presented to the Minister and had an opportunity to chat with the Chiefs of Staff and other officials. The Minister and the official guests had lunch with the staff and the cadets in the Dining Hall at one o’clock. At two o’clock the cadets were in class and the academic year had begun.

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