Flashback | Rétrospective

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Number VIII in our series on former Military Colleges Commandants.

23996 Officer Cadet Alex Cushley (RMC ’08) a.k.a “Cush” spent most of this summer working with e-Veritas.  He completed a number of internal assignments dealing with events in and around RMC.  We received favourable feedback from numerous readers on the high level of insightful reporting he carried out on our behalf.

His last “official” assignment was more daunting.  He volunteered to sit down with one of the former Commandants in the Kingston area and conduct a one-on-one interview. Following is the result of his meetings with 2816 BGen (ret’d) WW Turner (RMC ’40).

General Turner

2816 BGen (Ret`d) W.W. Turner (RMC ‘40) XXVIII commandant of RMC enlisted in the non-permanent active militia in 1938. He enrolled in the Canadian Army (Active) as a cadet at RMC and was commissioned as a lieutenant in June 1942. Having spent only two years at RMC before volunteering to go overseas, he was there in the spring of ‘43 then into Normandy in ‘44. During the second World War he served in Canada, Great Britain, and Northwest Europe as a GPO, CPO, and FOO in 4 Cdn Armd Div reaching the rank of Captain in December 1944.

On his return to Canada in July 1945, he was posted to 1 Field Regiment, RCHA before proceeding to Great Britain to attend the Long Gunnery Staff Course in September 1946. On his return to Canada, he was posted to the Royal Canadian School of Artillery, Shilo, Manitoba, where he served until March 1951 when he was posted to the 2nd Regiment, RCHA. He proceeded again to Great Britain in July 1951 as an exchange officer at the Royal School of Artillery. He returned to Canada in October 1953 and was posted to Headquarters Eastern Ontario area where he served until January 1954 when he was selected to attend the Canadian Army Staff College. After graduation, in December 1954 he was promoted to the rank of Major and appointed GSO2, Headquarters Western Command.

In November 1956 he was appointed Officer Commanding, 4 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery. He was posted to the Middle East as a UN Truce Supervisory Officer in Palestine in November 1957 and served there until July 1959. He proceeded to Germany and was appointed Brigade Major, Headquarters 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in July 1961, and appointed Commanding Officer, 3rd Regiment RCHA in Fort Prince of Wales Deilinghofen, Germany. BGen Turner returned with his regiment to Fort Osborne Barracks, Winnipeg in February 1964. He held the appointment of acting commander, 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group from April 1965 to August of the same year when he was appointed to the Directorate of Personnel Support Plans at Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa. In September 1966, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and appointed Commander, Canadian Contingent and Deputy Chief of Staff United Nations Forces Cyprus. He returned to Canada in July 1967, and was appointed Director of Operations, NDHQ. He was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College in January 1969. On his return to Canada he was appointed to the directing staff at the National Defence College, Kingston, Ont. BGen Turner was promoted to that rank in July 1973 and appointed Commandant of the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario on July 15 1973. He was commandant during the College’s centennial and during a time period when bilingualism was a predominant issue at the College. He retired from active service in 1977 and subsequently entered private industry. In September 1979, BGen Turner was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. He retired from this appointment in 1986. BGen Turner and his wife Hope, reside in Kingston, Ontario. They have three grown children: William, Hope, and John. Recently BGen (Ret`d) WW Turner invited Bill Oliver and myself to his home in order to conduct the following interview in person. When we arrived we were welcomed most hospitably by the General and his wife. During the course of the interview, I was distracted by the view of RMC. As a current cadet, the visit proved to be of immeasurable interest. Here is what BGen Turner had to say.

E-Veritas: What skylarks (practical jokes) do you recall?

BGen Turner: As commandant I recall many skylarks. Some skylarks were played in my honour. I woke up the next morning after the 100 days till grad party one year, for example, to find a boot on every single picket of the white picket fence around the commandant’s residence. The recruit class had taken all the seniors boots while they were partying.  My wife and I would have the senior cadets to the Commandant’s House for dinner during the year. We had to watch the cadets because they’d sneak off into the kitchen and spike the orange juice in the refrigerator. The next morning, the orange juice at breakfast would be laced with vodka. Alternatively, the cadets would go upstairs and make us an apple pie bed. As commandant I used to walk through the cadet mess most mornings just to see how things were coming along and to ensure it was clean, etc. Once a month I’d do a formal walk through inspection and I’d have the DAdm, FSO, Cook SM, College SM, Cadet PMC, and Cadet Messing Officer accompany me… so we’d have quite the entourage. There was a row of brand new garbage tins all painted white filled with various cereals. I asked one of the cadets to lift the lid off one and it was a seething mass of maggots in porridge. The two cadets (PMC and Messing Officer), who had had porridge for breakfast, ran out the door sick as dogs. One morning I went in the Comdt’s Bog (toilet) at the end of the hall and curled in the toilet bowl was the biggest pike you’d ever seen all curled up with its head and teeth showing. I think the cadets found it frozen in the lake and thawed it just enough to curl it and open the mouth to show the teeth. Of course there is also Brucie. When he was being unveiled I had to have someone stand guard to make sure when the statue was unveiled he wouldn’t be dressed up as God knows what. He was certainly dressed and painted many times after that.

E-Veritas: Do you have any practical tips to share? E.g. some cadets put masking tape on their pill box hats so it didn’t fall off.

BGen Turner: When I first arrived, I saw five cadets drop their rifles during a parade practice. To me, that was very serious and an automatic charge. They just picked them up and thought it was a joke. When they marched off the square there were 8-10 pill boxes lying on the square. I directed the DCdts that, from now on, it was an automatic charge if anyone dropped a rifle or pill box. Shortly after, we had a special parade for the Lt. Governor of Ontario. During the remove headdress, it was clear that there was a blob of masking tape on top of every cadet’s head to hold the pillbox on.

E-Veritas: What do you recall driving cadets crazy on campus when you were a cadet?

BGen Turner: As far as duties were concerned, lowering the flag was one of the most difficult things a recruit had to do. .The RCMP officer permanently attached to the college had the job of lowering the large flag at the point of Fort Frederick, and a cadet in the recruit class had the job of lowering the flag on the Mackenzie building. The wind whistled through there like you wouldn’t believe. In the winter, the recruit would climb some rickety old ladders to the scary, windy tower in the Mackenzie building. Now, the clock is at the top of the tower, but in those days there were circular vents. The recruit would undo the flag and try to hold it tight. If the flag got away, the cadet would be on flag duty for weeks. The Mountie would time the recruit, whose small flag had to be down at the same time as his large flag. Climbing down the ladders in the dark was also a scary undertaking. Every Sunday we fell in as 3 parties and had a Sunday church parade, rain or shine to the St. Georges’ Anglican Cathedral, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and the United church in downtown, Kingston. In the winter we marched across the ice on the lake. We “broke step” on the ice and put the flaps on our fur caps down over our ears on cold days. On clearing the ice at the bottom of Princess Street we paused to put the flaps up. Another duty was “fire picket”. Each recruit had a duty station. Mine was on the third floor of the Mackenzie Building under the tower. Two rooms here, with barred windows, housed the Leinster Plate. Many times I turned up in the middle of the night in slippers and pj’s. I used to admire the silver plate while waiting for the Duty officers to dismiss me. When I returned to RMC as commandant I started inspecting every building in turn. When inspecting the Officers Mess I came across a crawl space in the basement full of broken furniture. In a dark corner were a number of packing cases. On prying leinster_plate-1.JPGthem open I discovered the Leinster Plate, obviously packed and stored there during the war. I arranged to put the Leinster Plate in two lit corner cabinets in the mess and the museum. Every time I’m at the College, I look at the corner cabinets in horror; the lights are never on and there is less and less silver every time. Every now and again, Queen’s students would get on the causeway and try to grab some lone cadet walking back from the Scruff Shack (local restaurant) and heave him into the river. Since cadets weren’t allowed cars, taxis, etc. we walked. The cadets would assemble at the Scruff Shack and 4 of us would march back together. As we’d approach the causeway we’d grab our belts; if anyone came at us we’d defend ourselves with our belts and big heavy buckles.

E-Veritas: How did cadets (try) to impress the opposite sex?

BGen Turner: We didn’t do anything. There was an old dragon lady who sat at the door of the girl’s dormitory at Queens University, There was no way any cadet or anybody who wasn’t a female could get through the door. You just took your girl to the door and said goodnight, period! But there were some stories of girls smuggling cadets in to their dormitory. A cadet who was smuggled in, went out the window with nothing on to avoid one of the wardens doing an inspection. Since it was a cold winter night, he was frozen to the rails. Whether it was true or not, I don’t know. At the College, the Duty Officer routinely checked the cadets rooms by shining a light on you and poking you with a swagger stick to make sure you were there.

E-Veritas: How did you set the pace for your term as commandant?

BGen Turner: In mid-September, during my annual physical, a nurse said, “I see you come from CFB Kingston”. I was about to tell her I came from RMC, not CFB Kingston but didn’t have the chance because she continued on, “I have a son. He’s at RMC. He’s a bad boy. He doesn’t fire his gun because it makes the gun dirty and gives him extra work cleaning it.” When I looked at her name tag, I realized that I knew her son, who had always walked the fine line of whether or not to be charged for one thing after another. Since he had been to the house three or four times, I knew him rather well. The next day, as I walked up and down the parade square during the dress rehearsal, I found the cadet. He was in the third squadron in from the right, centre rank, fifth cadet in. After the 700 cadets fired the first round of the Feu de Joie, I turned to the Director of Cadets (DCdts) and the College SM, who were standing with me on the balcony in front of the Currie building and said, “There’s a cadet over there that didn’t fire”. They looked at me like I had flipped my lid. When the cadets went through present, commence a second time I said, “The same cadet didn’t fire again”. On the third time I turned and said, “Now he didn’t fire again. Sgt. Major, go down and charge him with disobeying an order. He’s in the third squadron from the right, centre row, fifth in.” The Sgt. Major made the fellow port arms and ease springs and clink clink clink went three unfired rounds on the parade square. The DCdts nearly passed out. The SM looked stunned, picked the rounds up and returned to the balcony on the Currie building. I never told anyone how I singled out a particular cadet from over 700 firing rifles.

E-Veritas: When you were cadet, how did cadets wake up?

BGen Turner: Every single morning at 6 o’clock, the recruits would go to the bathing house behind the Stone Frigate (where the boathouse is now), drop their towel and FS cap then swim in the lake. When the lake froze over, we’d have a cold bath. After filling the bath to the top with cold water, one recruit after the other would jump into this cold bath. The recruits would parade past the senior on duty, who usually stayed in bed, with a towel and FS cap so he could see the recruit was wet from top to bottom. Then the recruit would go dry off and get ready for breakfast parade.

E-Veritas: Who was your roommate in first year? What do you remember liking about him/being irritated by him?

BGen Turner: When I was a recruit, none of the cadets at RMC had a roommate. My class was small, in a college of only 200 cadets.

E-Veritas: Where did you live at RMC? What do you remember liking about/being irritated by the housing?

BGen Turner: In second year we had just enough cadets to all fit in the stone frigate. I had a corner room with two windows that each had to be open 50% every night. I was a sergeant (as we were organized like an infantry battalion at the time). When the snow came in my windows, I would flip it off my blankets. In the morning, I swept the snow into the hallway. Although there were old-fashioned pipe radiators in the hallway, there was no heat in the bedrooms. Every once in awhile a senior cadet would tell us to fry ham, which meant to sit on the radiator until you sort of sizzled. As commandant, I lived in the Commandant’s residence with my wife, our two sons and our daughter. Several skylarks took place at our home.   I noticed that the recruits were taking the unopened beer bottles and hiding them in our hedge during the annual BBQ that my wife and I hosted for the recruits. After the recruits left I asked my two sons and daughter to check the hedges and bring in the bottles. Later, I sat on our balcony in the dark watching as the recruits searched the hedge but did not find any of the bottles. In retrospect it would have been more humorous to have cached empty replacement bottles for the recruits to find.
Although the recruit class had only been at RMC a few weeks, I was determined that they were going to join the Cadet Wing for a Feu de Joie [shots of joy] for ex-cadet weekend. I always found ex-cadet weekend the most difficult of the year since the recruits didn’t have much time to get ready. One morning at 4 o’clock my family were awakened by a Feu de Joie in the driveway, courtesy of the recruit class.  One Halloween, my son opened the door of the Commandant’s residence to find a tied naked recruit who then rolled away as he attempted to get away.

E-Veritas: How were cadets punished?

BGen Turner: In our day, cadets would go out and run 10-20 tracks in the centre. One morning a senior woke up and saw a cadet running the track and remembered he had sent him out there at 8 o’clock the night before.
One night, two cadets went off in a dinghy, which capsized in the wind. The cadets held on all night. In the morning, the cadets could see Wolfe Island. One swam the mile there and they got the other cadet. The two cadets did defaulters for a long while after that.
Another time, two cadets were locked up for the night for taking a Military Police motorcycle for a joyride. NDHQ wanted to throw them out of the college. Since the cadets only had three weeks to go until graduation, the commandant said he’d keep them but they were confined to barracks. The cadets had to report every hour on the hour after classes. They marched the parade square every afternoon on defaulters for the rest of their time at RMC, in gaitors and full kit.  During my time as commandant the punishments were charges, confinement to barracks, and the usual disciplinary measures, including fines.

E-Veritas: Describe your recruit orientation.

BGen Turner: When we arrived on our first day, most of us wore a suit. It was fatal if you wore a hat. One member of our class arrived in a Fedora. For a week before we got our uniforms, the seniors made him wear his hat everywhere, even in bed. The first senior would turn the brims down, the next would turn it up at the front and down at the back, the next would make it square, another round, etc. It was a sight; him walking around in his fedora. Another cadet, who was a 2Lt in one of the militia regiments, arrived dressed as a 2lt so every senior cadet had to salute him. Saluting a recruit didn’t go over too well. The day he finally got out of that uniform and into a cadet uniform, the seniors got their own back.

E-Veritas: Tell us about the hazing of recruits.

BGen Turner: The “whisks and s$#t books” was a scribbler you wrote down all the things you needed to know about the college. Nearly every night during recruit year we’d be called and asked trivia questions by the senior cadets.  Since one of the questions is what is on Casey’s headstone, the recruits would have to run to where the horse 151 Major-General Sir Archibald Cameron Macdonell (RMC 1883) brought back from the war is buried. This was one of the worst places to go because, in my day, the water came up there and there were bulrushes. We’d read the headstone and come back with our answer. Although Casey’s still buried where the lower engineer-building parking lot is now, the headstone was later moved to behind the Commandant’s residence.

Q. What is on Casey’s headstone?
A. Casey For 18 yrs my faithful charger in peace and war died on duty age 33 yrs. A.C. Macdonell

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Down between where the senior staff mess and Panet House are now was a boiler room to heat the peninsula. The recruits would be told to put on our greatcoats and sweaters, grab our rifles and to do bunny hops. It was as hot as hell. As recruits we didn’t have any money. Drinking wasn’t allowed, smoking wasn’t allowed. At one time there was a still in the attic of the frigate. Some senior would tell a recruit to go see “Dollar Bill”, a bootlegger who lived over in an old shack in Barriefield, over by the Constantine Arena and come back with a bottle of gin. Where the senior got the money from I don’t know.

E-Veritas: Did you play on a RMC team/were you a fan of any RMC sport teams?

BGen Turner: I played on the College soccer team and took part in most of the inter-company sports. Now people say there aren’t enough students to fill the sports teams at RMC. In my final year as cadet, there were only 100 cadets and no senior cadets. Nevertheless, we played in a hockey league, football league, soccer league, basketball and also boxed. We also played inter-company sports and rugger but not in a league.
As a cadet we went to West Point for the hockey game and were told on no account were we to get more than 2 goals ahead because we had won every game up until then. It was the first time we lost (2-1). There was always a big ball at RMC and another ball at West Point during West Point weekend. One particular year, when West Point lost, they got on the bus and went home. The phone at RMC started ringing. The mothers around Kingston were upset because they had spent money on ball gowns, white gloves, etc and their daughters had been stood up. We rounded up every lame, blind, and deaf cadet we could find to tell them they would be at the ball that night. We managed to find partners for most of the girls, I believe. The football team had a habit on the worst days of the year, when the commandant’s field was knee deep in mud, of stopping by the commandant’s residence for a beer after practice. Although they were plastered in mud and it would drive my wife nuts, she would welcome them in. The house would be full of mud. It was always great fun.

E-Veritas: What do you recall about the social aspects of cadet life?

BGen Turner: There weren’t too many places to go in those days. The RMC cadets were honorary members of the Kingston Yacht Club, which used to have Saturday night dances. We used to go to the dances wearing white flannels, scarlet blazers and pill boxes. The main College functions were the Christmas Ball, WestPoint Ball, and June Ball. In the winter, some cadets used to skate across to Wolfe Island. The cadets would take a run at the pressure crack, then have a drink or two at Wolfe Island. When the cadets skated back, the pressure crack was quite a bit harder to clear but somehow everyone always made it. The Wolfe Island Ferry did not run in the winter so one drove over the ice to the island. The commandant used to announce Sunday tea for 6 cadets. Those who wished to go were to line up at the BSM’s door (senior cadet-CWC now but at that time they were organized as an infantry battalion). When no one lined up, 6 people were voluntold to be at the commandant’s house for tea that afternoon.

E-Veritas: Tell us about your favourite special events.

BGen Turner: Every year, we had a squadron drill competition. It would take all day. I would bring in CWOs from across the country from the various schools as judges and every squadron would come out and do a half hour of a preset drill routine. In the evening we’d have a big dinner and announce the winners. When one squadron fired their Feu de Joie, down came a dead duck – tossed off the roof of the Mackenzie building. The squadron drill competition used to be a great event because it would give the Sergeant Majors a chance to see what the cadets at RMC were made of before they graduated and went off into the CF. It also gave the cadets an unbiased grading. One year, my wife and I were invited to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mexican Military College. In memory of a war with the USA when a Captain and five cadets were killed a Captain and five RMC cadets accompanied my wife and I to Mexico. It just so happens the current commandant, BGen Lawson was one of the OCdts who accompanied me. I found the first convocation when I returned as Commandant to be quite dull owing to so many honorary degree winners on the platform. For the following years, I made sure to have some Victoria Cross winners on the platform since this always gained the attention of the cadets. Afterwards we’d go into the Fort and everyone would socialize and enjoy drinks and sandwiches.

E-Veritas: Please comment on big changes at RMC?

BGen Turner: In my day, my parents and the parents of every cadet paid for everything: room and board, uniforms, books, tuition, even pocket money since we weren’t paid when we were there. The arrangement was that first year cadets were allowed no more than $5 per month in pocket money, while second year cadets were allowed no more than $10 per month. Our parents sent the paymaster a cheque for $60 at the beginning of first year and once a month we’d have a pay parade and get a $5 bill. Now, with that money we had to buy polish, toothpaste, brasso, etc. It didn’t matter because we weren’t allowed to leave the College very much anyway. In the first year you could get a pass, if you were lucky, until 11 o’clock on a Saturday night. Second year, you were allowed out on Wednesdays until 11 o’clock and Saturdays until 1 o’clock. If you were lucky enough, you would have enough money to take a girl out to a movie. After the movie, the cadet and his date could walk across the street to the Superior restaurant, known affectionately as the Scruff Shack (now Megalo’s). For ten cents each, the couple could order a milkshake. If the girl ordered a large milkshake for 15 cents, you were stuck and it was a major disaster.
As commandant nearing retirement, my wife and I were house hunting. We were up highway 15 seeing one house and weren’t very impressed. To be polite, we asked to see the barn which was on the property as well. The barn was filled with cars; bumper to bumper, hubcap to hubcap. At this time it was known there was a car theft ring running cars into Quebec. The man showing us seemed to understand our uneasiness because he said, “these are all the RMC cadets’ cars. They have some SOB of a commandant who won’t let them have cars.” BGen. Turner then looked over to his wife in amusement.