Remember When: The Man Called Splendid!

With thanks to 12149 Pete Avis and the Class of 1979

When I was a boy, in the early sixties in Kingston, my mother and father would bring home all sorts of memorabilia from their experiences during the Golden Years of post-war RMC.  Hanging on my father’s study wall were many black and white photographs of military and social events, hockey teams, cadets in action, and linguistic conferences.  As a five-year-old, I was most taken by several very long (almost four feet), narrow (eight inches high) black and white photographs that seemed to float above the others. These were the notorious after-the–graduation-ball photos that I learned later had been taken with a mechanical, slow-action camera which started at one end of the 400-odd revellers and slowly ground across the frontage of that year’s party brigade. These photos were taken on the parade square (just as ours was!) at 0600 in the morning in early June every year – and the same antics were taking place within them: cadets in scarlets with their girlfriends stylishly wearing their pillboxes; staff and academics in their tuxedos holding very still (as they had posed many times before); Danny McLeod (amazing hockey coach) seated on the ground in the front rank; white chiffon ball dresses –and naval whites – contrasting with the black of tuxedos, mink stoles, scarlets, and uniforms.  But wait!  When my young eyes glanced across the crowd from left to right, the same face was beaming at me from behind his horn-rimmed glasses on the very left end … and then again on the right end!  Same face, same sherry glass!  This blew my five-year-old mind – and made it the very best picture in the collection.

Years later, when I questioned my father about it, he told me that the man with the dual identity was none other than the famous Assistant Librarian, Mr. Cliff Watt.  Each year, he would take his place and pose on the left side of the gathering and when the camera passed in front, he high-tailed it behind the bleachers, beating the camera in speed, and carefully took his position on the right-hand side, similar pose, same sherry glass!

Many years later, when we all started up in recruit term in those halcyon days of fall 1975, you may remember a tour of the Massey Library given to our recruit class by the memorable Mr. Watt.  I remember him finishing a sentence … and overhearing young, recruit Bobby North whispering. He glowered at the instantly repentant recruit and said: “Gentlemen, it is my firm conviction that ALL cadets can be made to comply with a STERN glance!” And having seized our undivided attention, he added, “Do you all understand?  [and with a graceful flourish of the hand, zestfully intoned] SPLENDID!

Still another four years later, we at RMC had all encountered Mr. Watt at some point and had a story to tell.  He had a double cabin in the north end of Fort Lasalle and so was well known, in particular, to the denizens of that residence hall.  At some point in my final year, I learned of Mr. Watt’s birthdate (possibly from my mother).  I somehow bribed my Frigate rooks to grab him at an opportune moment and ceremoniously toss him into the Fort Haldimand swimming pool as a birthday surprise!  He seemed quite cheerful and congratulated us all on a fine skylark – even blessed us with ever- enthusiastic remark, “SPLENDID!”

Several months down the road, with so much happening in the second term of ’79, I had forgotten about our little caper.  Not so the Man Called Splendid!  Exiting from lunch on a fine February day, I was accosted by whom I believe were rascally 2 Squadron rooks (Wee Robbie MacCormack may have had something to do with it!) and summarily trotted off to the pool for a dunking.  Seeing Mr. Watt in the pool area, standing on a table, presiding over the whole sordid event, I demanded to know the reason for my immersion!  Mr. Watt calmly looked down at me as I passed and said, “My dear Mr. Avis, compliance can be evoked many ways!”  And in I went.

When I raised my head above the chlorinated surface waters, I saw the final pronouncement of my mysterious trial – a double-armed flourish:

“SPLENDID!”

10 Comments

  • Mike Kennedy

    April 21, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    I do remember Mr. Watt very well from my brief time at the College.If I am not mistaken, he would have originally come to the College in the late 50’s or early 60’s, and spent his entire career there. He was a very nice man, and very kind to the cadets. Does anyone know what eventually happened to him ?

  • 10966 Michel Maisonneuve

    April 21, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Mr Watt was a complete gentleman. As one of his neighbours in third and fourth year in Fort LaSalle, I and my buds had occasion to see him and get to know him well. In today’s world, him living among Cadets would NEVER be allowed. He even sometimes participated in our water fire extinguisher fights. I even briefly dated one of his nieces…lol

  • David Hall

    April 21, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Pete, good to hear from you. It’s been a while. We were in the Frigate together. I was a year ahead of you, I believe. I also remember your Dad too. A fine man.
    re: Mr. Watt, he had a room on the top floor of LaSalle when I was there. Which was a good thing as the Senior Staff Mess wasn’t too far away for him. I remember one year playing in a staff vs Reddies hockey game. Great fun. Mr. Watt was our “coach”, and true to form, brought his own “water bottles” for us. All with “XXX” taped to the bottles. I don’t remember the score. I don’t remember much of the game. But we had a SPLENDID time nonetheless. I’m not sure that “politically correct RMC” would approve or even allow some of his inebriated behaviour now, but he was a hoot. A real fixture at RMC. RIP Mr. Watt.

  • Marius Grinius

    April 21, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    In our Third Year #8813 John D Gibson and I were co-editors of the RMC monthly paper “The Marker” Cliff Watt was our supervisor/advisor for this fun endeavour. We regularly held editorial consultations in his Ft Lasalle suite. Work-related discussions quickly over, our ensuing conversations ranged far and wide through gossip and rumours to the regrettable state of the world, accompanied of course by suggestions how to fix it. These debates were often sustained by an occasional dark rum and coke. The evening always came to an end with Cliff pronouncing “SPLENDID”.
    #8816 Marius Grinius, Class of ’71

  • Mike Kennedy

    April 21, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    I first met John Gibson when I moved to Toronto in 1997. He originally came from an old military and legal family from Hamilton; his father and his great uncle had been cadets. The Gibson’s were much like the Panet family.
    John was an RETP cadet who moved back to Toronto after he graduated and became a lawyer, while serving in the militia as a Gunner. He was the National President of the RMC Club when I first met him. Saldy, he died of cancer in 2013; I believe he would have been only about 63 at the time. He had received an honourary doctorate from RMC shortly before his passing.
    Quite a character, and for sure, we miss him.

  • 9271 Hugh McEwen

    April 22, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Having lived in Lasalle for all of my 5 years at College, I have many memories of Mr. Watt. Thank you Pete for reminding us of his inestimable contributions to College life.

  • Robert MacLeod

    April 23, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Like the other commentors, I have special memories of Mr. Watt. I remember when he showed me how to quickly photocopy pages from various books that I needed for an essay. In 1980 I left the Forces because I knew I was gay and sadly there was no place for me back then. I don’t know if Mr Watt was gay but I think he knew that there was part of me that I kept hidden. Mr. Watt is and will always be someone very unique in the history of the college.