“ This is our sergeant Major as he is known to us: a man who has endeared himself to the hearts of all those who have had the opportunity to know him. The cadets definitely know that his name will go down in college history as one of the men who has contributed most to college spirit and morale.”
Excerpt from The 1958 Review of the Royal Military College of Canada
4519 L.A. (Larry) Ashley
Remembering Sergeant Major J.E. Coggins, MBE,CD
John Edward Coggins was born in London, England on 16 April, 1904. One Hundred and nine years ago. He died at his home in Kingston on February 1, 1985 after a long battle with cancer. He was 81 at the time of his death.
“Coggie”, as he was known with respectful affection by hundreds of RMC cadet who passed through the college during his 29 year reign as regimental sergeant-major, was so much a part of RMC that those of us who served on either the athletic or drill staffs even many years later after his retirement in 1958 were often compared to his work ethic and standards. Few, if any, ever did measure up.
RSM Coggins burst on the scene at RMC in 1929 for what was to be a three-year posting from the British Army as a physical training instructor. Five years later he transferred to the Canadian Army, retaining the appointment of company sergeant-major. He remained at the college until 1942 when it closed for the WW II years.
For the remainder of the war he received a commission as a lieutenant and was posted to Camp Borden as an officer instructor, establishing the physical training and unarmed combat courses there. Toward the end of the war he was promoted to the rank of captain.
When the college reopened in 1948, he gave up his commission and reverted to the rank of regimental sergeant-major to resume the life he loved so much at RMC.
“Coggie” made his early College reputation in the Old and New Gymnasia where his ability to get “one more for the King, laddie” out of a sweating cadet became legend.
There isn’t an Ex cadet who attended RMC during his time who will ever forget “Coggie” or his admonition to them as they entered the college for the first time: “I’ve seen better; I’ve seen worse, but not much.”
In 1952 “Coggie” was made an honourary member of the class of 1952, the new one hundred with whom he taught & coached since the reopening of RMC in 1948. The RMC Club also honoured him in 1970 with a lifetime membership giving him the number H10520.
The non commissioned members mess at RMCC is officially known as “ Coggins Club” so named in his honour.
On the news of his death in February 1985 the college flag was lowered to half mast in honour of one of its most illustrious servants. 3572 MGen (Ret) Frank Norman who was the college commandant at the time, recalled the days he served as a cadet under the watchful eye of “Coggie”.
“He was a friend and inspiration to every cadet who had served under his tutelage, and that spanned from 1929 to 1958 – two full generations of Canadians.”
A funeral service for RSM Coggins was held February 5, 1985 at Currie Hall which was filled to capacity. The eulogy was delivered by then, BGen Norman.
The XXXI college commandant (1982-85) closed the eulogy, as follows:
“ To his immediate family, I offer our deepest sympathy. I know how that cheery presence will be missed by you as it will by us. “Coggie’ filled a special place, and I would like to turn his words back on him – “I’ve seen worse, I’ve seen better, but not much!”
Compiled from various sources held in the archives at Panet House.