Reminiscences of the Royal Military College By One of the Old 18

The Way It Was

Reminiscences of the Royal Military College


One of the Old Eighteen

(Excerpt from the 1938 review)

In the fall of 1875 I went down to the Old Fort in Toronto for my entrance examination, and there met L.R. Irving and S.J.A. Denison. I got my first shock when Col. Denison, D.C., told me to go into the next room and take my physical examination. The doctor told me to strip down to the pelt and walk around the room. He advised me that while I was small (I stood four feet three inches in height and weighed about 110 pounds) that I was healthy and I would pass. The following June, 1876, the three of us reported at the college and were received by Maj. J.B. Ridout (Captain of Cadets), and were shown to our quarters on the top floor of the Stone Frigate. I roomed on the top floor my entire four years.


In 1876 the top floor and the east half of the second floor were used for cadets’ sleeping quarters, and each had a room to himself. The west half of the second floor was occupied by Maj. Ridout and family. On the first floor, to the left of the entrance, was a reading and recreation room, and at the east end was one large recitation and study room. The rest of the floor comprised offices for the Commandant, Captain of Cadets and Staff Sergeant. The west end of the basement floor was used for our mess room, and the balance of the floor was used as a kitchen and quarters for the caterer and staff, Mr. Irving (Fagan). The college buildings were lighted by kerosene lamps placed in brackets on the walls, with a reflector behind each lamp.

We were not permitted to leave the college grounds until we were outfitted with our uniforms. So it was nearly a month before we got over to Kingston to swagger up and down King and Princess Streets and to call on our friends in the city.

Cadet Fairbanks’ father was a large oil operator, at Petrolia, Ont., and in September, his parents, on their way to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, stopped at the College to take Charles with them. The Commandant informed them that Charlie was now in the Queen’s service and that only by permission of the Minister of Militia, could he leave the College, but he would not recommend the application, unless Mr. Fairbanks would take the entire class, as he was not in favour of any favoritism. To make it up to Charley, they installed a piano in his room, which he played very well and out of which we all got some pleasure, playing and singing with him.

Someone gave us a small bear cub, which was kept chained up, near the entrance to the Stone Frigate. Cadet Irving and Keefer would wrestle and box with him, but in a year the cub got rough and tough, so he was chloroformed and stuffed. The last time I saw him, he was doing sentry duty at the head of the stairs in the Educational building.

When I attended my first sick parade, Dr. Yates said, “What is the matter with you? Let me see your tongue, open your mouth wide” and he filled it with dry calomel powder and stood in front of me till I had swallowed it. I decided then that I would not attend another parade unless I was very sick.

L.H. Irving was appointed Sergeant Major and could hand out two days of C.B. at his will and pleasure, though he had to make out a daily report of the same to the Captain of Cadets.

I got over to Kingston very seldom in 1876, as I was put in most of my time doing pack drill, much to the disgust of Sergeant Major Mortimer, who had to see that I duly paraded.

The staff in June, 1876, consisted of Col. Hewett (Ramrod), Commandant, Maj. J.B. Ridout, Captain of Cadets (our best friend and kindly nurse when we were sick), Maj. Kensington, Professor of Mathematics (the best mathematician in the British Army at the time, as his record proves), Capt. Fairclough (Fatty), Professor of Drawing and Artillery, Prof. Ferguson (the Reverend), French and German, Sergeant Maj. Mortimer, Instructor in Infantry, Sergeant Maj. M.I. Leader, Supplies and Record Clerk, and Dr. O. Yates, Surgeon. The following year, I think, the staff was enlarged by the addition of Col. Oliver, Maj. Walker, Prof. Baine, Dr. Duvall and Sergeant Major Morgan. All of the staff were invited to become members of the officers’ mess of the A. Battery, and most of them dined there at least one night a week. If Dr. Duvall had been there, upon assembling of his French class that evening, the following procedure usually occurred: The doctor would order one of us up to the blackboard to write the following sentence in French: “Be virtuous and you will be happy.” By the time this had been done the doctor would be dozing in his chair and we never disturbed him.

We were outfitted with the old Snider-Enfield rifle and I had a hard time in handling it to the satisfaction of Sergeant-Major Mortimer, who informed the company one afternoon on parade that “I don’t want to be calling out ‘There you go again, Mr. Davis.’ So from now on I will only say ‘There you go No. 8 in the rear rank,’ as I do not want to hurt any gentleman’s feelings.” However, when we were finished with the Martini Henry rifle I could handle it so that he didn’t have to mention No. 8.

In the fall of 1876 we were taken down to a small island in the St. Lawrence for two weeks of camping out under canvas. When we got to the camp I was detailed as one of the cooks, and we decided to have an Irish stew for supper, to which I added a whole bottle of Currie powder. When the officer of the day came around to see how we were making out the boys complained they could not eat the stuff. The officer tasted it and said: “It sure is good, but awful hot.” When he reported to the Commandant it was decided to send for the caterer and staff, and they were established in a large marquee tent and I was relieved from cooking duties. However, I was not relieved of my sentry duty. The sentries’ beat was a path across the island that passed just beyond the marquee tent occupied by the caterer, and upon my tour from two to four a.m. at each half-hour I would stop at the tent, lift the flap, and inform them “Half past two and all is well.” The next day I was relieved also from sentry duty and the Guard was informed to let the caterer and the staff sleep undisturbed.

Orders read on Saturday stated that the Roman Catholic Church parade fall in at 9.45 a.m. and the Episcopal at 10.15 a.m. Sunday morning, Sergeant-Major Mortimer was on hand Mr. Spellman fell in for inspection. The Sergeant-Major told him that when returned from church he could spend a little time to advantage on pipe claying on his belt and shining his shoes; that as he would be alone coming back he could carry his swagger cane for protection. At 10-15 the rest of us fell in and were inspected by Sergeant-Major Irving. Then Maj. Ridout took command and we were marched over to St. George’s Cathedral. We had the front seats in the west gallery and A Battery were seated in the opposite gallery. When the services were over Maj. Ridout often took the organ and played a Recessional. And what music he could get out of that organ! I think I can still hear it. When we fell in to be marched back we had the right of the line and when the senior officer present had given the order to march off the column started down King Street. When we marched a couple blocks, if Captain Wilson was in charge of the battery he would wheel down the side street at the Double to try and get ahead of us so we would not get the first salute of the Guard at the Tête de Pont Barracks gate. But we could not also double and I do not remember that he ever succeeded in beating us to the salute.

In August, Col. Hewett gave a ball for us at his house in Kingston to introduce us to society and as an invitation from him was the same as a command we all attend. As I had not learned to dance, Denison kindly stated he would teach me. So every evening he gave me a lesson, the two of us waltzing up and down the hall on the top floor. On the evening of dance Mrs. Hewett asked me to dance with her. I quickly found out that dancing with her was quite different to dancing with Denison. She said “Mr. Davis, I am going to have Miss K. take you out on the veranda and give you a few lessons,” which she very kindly did. Miss K. soon got tired of my walking on her feet, so I retried to the to the neighborhood of the refreshment booth and spent the balance of the evening very pleasantly. It took me at least two days to get over the effects of the champagne cup.

The winter of ’76-’77 a toboggan slide was constructed on the glacis of Fort Henry, opposite the college, by the Staff and Officers of “A” Battery. A row of small pine trees was set up on both sides of the slide, to keep the snow from being blown away. The toboggans were hauled up on a path alongside the trees.

On Saturday afternoons especially, a large crowd of Kingston people would come over to enjoy the sport, driving over in their cutters upon the ice-frozen bay.

When the ice formed it left a ridge of rough ice from two to four feet high and this had to be chopped down at the foot of the slide. One Saturday afternoon Col. Hewett was over and someone suggested that he would get a faster ride if he went down on the path alongside the trees. He lay down on the toboggan and when he hit that ridge of ice at the bottom he was catapulted out onto the ice. Fortunately he did not break his neck, but he did not show up at the college for ten days or longer, by which time he had forgotten who it was suggested that he take that ride.

One Saturday afternoon a widow and her two daughters drove over and one of the girls wanted to go down the slide standing up on the toboggan. She persuaded me to take her down and she stood up behind me, holding on to the rope. When we got down onto the level ice she turned round to wave to the people at the top of the slide, lost her balance, and the next thing I saw was a pair of red flannel clothed legs coming over my shoulders, as she landed in my lap. She picked herself up and ran over to her mother’s sleigh, amid the plaudits of the spectators. I did not see her again for several months.

At our June graduation ball in 1880 when dancing with Miss K. she said “If you have improved as much in your studies as you have in your dancing your folks will have no cause for complaint.”

In June, 1877, Col. Hewett sent for me and said, “Davis, in looking over your conduct record it appears you have enough bad marks to entail your expulsion, but in examining the record I do not find anything against you but boyish pranks, and, as we will have a number of new cadets coming in soon, I do not wish these juniors to become seniors to any of the present class, so I am going to give you your Lance-Corporal Stripe, and I hope you will retain it.” When I graduated I was sergeant, and I think I was as well disliked as any non-com. could be.

I remember the college and corps being inspected by Lord and Lady Dufferin and the Marquis of Lorne and his wife (the Princess Louise), who handed us our certificates. When the presentation was over we formed a Guard of Honor from the hall down the stairway to their carriage. I was standing on the landing half way down the stairway to their carriage. I was standing on the landing half way down the stairs and when she reached that point she turned to her lady-in-waiting and said, “Please give me a cigarette,” which she lit, and proceeded to her carriage. That was quite a shock to me as at that time none of the ladies I knew smoked. However, it is different in 1938. A short time ago I  discharged a negress cook for coming to work intoxicated. She informed me that when I engaged her “I did not ask her if she drank, and that all the ladies nowadays drank and smoked.” So the habit has no extended from the princess to the negress.

In conclusion I will say that upon my graduation I stood five feet eight and a half inches in my stocking feet and weighed 140 pounds, showing what regular hours, plenty of exercise and good food will do for a non developed youth, to say nothing about the fine educational advantages of the Royal Military College of Canada.

March 12, 1938 Fred’K. Davis, No. 8.


One Comment

  • William Mortimer

    August 3, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Sergeant Major John Mortimer was my Great Great Grandfather…. It is great to find such personal information regarding his time at RMC, Kingston.