3316 George Skinner (RRMC 1952, RMC 1954)
The following are excerpts from an oral history interview held during Homecoming in September 2007 where Mr. George Skinner describes his RRMC cadet experience to Royal Roads University oral history coordinator, Karen Inkster (Karen.Inkster@royalroads.ca). The Ex-Cadet Oral History project is part of an initiative at Royal Roads University to preserve and document its military heritage.
I’m George Skinner. I was in the class that graduated in 1952, and that means I entered Royal Roads in 1950, in September. I came from London, Ontario. I particularly wanted to come to Royal Roads, I’d heard of Royal Roads when I was an air cadet. And the young cadet who was telling us all about it did such a good sales job that I said, “I want to go to military college and I want to go to Royal Roads. I don’t even want to go to Kingston.” So I came out to Royal Roads a very willing cadet. I’ll have to admit, during the first week I wondered why I was here [laughs] because it was rough. They were fair, but we were doing a lot of things that I had never expected we’d be doing. There’s a picture of the beautiful uniform that we wore for the first month. It was a set of navy dungarees and a black hat. And those dungarees got a good workout. As did the rest of us!
The class I was with was 80-some-odd. And one of the things that was really significant about our class is we really only lost one member during the whole year. At the end of the year there were people who had to do repeats, but as far as someone who had to leave the college ahead of time, we only lost one. And it was a sad case because he was the only son and his father died and so he had to go and be the man of the family.
Our college day was a pretty active one. We certainly had lots of studies to do, and lots of physical activities. Some of the anecdotes that I remember, I was in one of the dorms, and I had the top bunk, and the bottom bunk was occupied by a chap by the name 3320 Jack Swayne. And Jack was one of the buglers who, every now and then when he was duty bugler, he’d have to get up and wake us up and blow the flag up and also for flag lowering. Well Jack was one of the worst buglers I ever heard in my life, and the interesting part about it is a lot of times when he was blowing reveille, taps, the lights out thing, it was so awful we just couldn’t keep from laughing. [laughs]. And of course, that was what the seniors were looking for because we were all supposed to be quiet. So we had the odd time when we had to get out of bed and go back at it again just because Jack had put us all in stitches. But he became a very good friend and as a matter of fact, unfortunately he’s no longer around. But he was one of the people that dropped out of the course at the end of the year. We did lose some good people. But it was usually academics. I’ve never heard of any of them that failed out because of physical or anything to do with the drill.
There was some really good seniors of that year, but there was some we didn’t like at all of course, and that’s natural. But the one that we, as a junior term had a very high regard for was the first cadet wing commander, and his name was 3132 Dutch Holland. And he was the cadet wing commander for the first term and for the last term. The last term is where you really know who’s the cream of your year. And Dutch, poor guy, he ended up unfortunately as a CF100 pilot that crashed into Lake Nipigon.
So, what else was there? Once a week we had to line up, and it was alphabetical and the next week it would be reverse-alphabetical. Being ‘S’, I always wanted the reverse one, but, we had to line up, step forward smartly, salute, stick out our hand and receive our pay – 75 cents – salute again, and the seniors are there, they’re checking salutes. That’s what it was all about. But it was something we found extremely annoying because it took up our time.
The academics here – I’m reasonably strong in academics – one thing I wasn’t very strong on was French and I got through by the skin of my teeth. And I think through the good graces of my French teacher at the time who we used to call “Bon Bon McKenzie”. And “Bon Bon” was a good type, but I had Ontario junior matric French when I came here, and when they assessed me, they said “Right, beginner’s course” [laughs]. And so I started over again. And I had a rough time. But I say, he was a good man because he asked me at the end of the year, as I prepared to study, what I wanted to do and I said I was going to go to RMC and take chemical engineering and he said, “Oh, you’re not going to take French?” and I said, “No way” [laughs], and he said “Okay,” he says, “Well I’ll see that you get through, but just don’t tell anybody that you passed French”. [laughs] And that’s right, I got 50. Not one mark more.
We had to play every game whether we excelled in it or not. I can always remember one of the things when we were playing soccer or something in the lower fields, you always played very hard because the losers had to do the long way home. And after you’ve played, you know, soccer and have to run all the way around the territory here. So that’s why we all really tried very hard. But one of the things that I became very interested in and really liked was the rifle team. And, as a matter of fact I so enjoyed it, I was with it for the two years. I was on the rifle team that was part of the Claxton trophy team when we shot against the RMC boys when they came to this place. We had shoots against the RCMP and the navy. And I wasn’t a bad shot, in fact the second year when I was here, I won the trophy for being the best shot in the college. So I liked rifle shooting. We were using the standard Lee Enfield rifle, but they had been bored out for a .22 shot. So, it was not an easy rifle to shoot. But nevertheless we had some good shots. And I kept it up right through college, right through until the end at RMC. And again I won the trophy there. So, that was one of my major extra-curricular activities, the shooting.
I was involved in a lot of the flight sports. One of the things that we did was play hockey. And a lot of people could never understand, but I came from South western Ontario and London Ontario, and we were in, quotation marks, “the banana belt”. So I never really learned to skate. So when I came out here I joined my compatriots from BC as part of “the BC All Stars” as they called us. And I know the other cadets who could skate and the rest of it, they usually loved to watch this game between the BC All Stars and the staff. And the reason being is most of the staff at least could stand up on skates, most of us couldn’t. And we’d end up half the time crawling along the ice to grab for the puck. [laughs] So it was a very humorous game, and even us who were members of it used to enjoy it. But to play hockey we had to get up early to get in there because, you know, we were not getting privileged time on the rinks, so we were in there about 6:30 in the morning.
So, you may have heard, there were no cadet blocks in our time. We all lived here in Grant Block and the top floor was the dorms. And part of the routine was at the end, particularly when you were a junior, just before the rounds led by the officer and the senior duty cadet. We’d be all getting ready and then there’d be “Stand by for rounds”. And then he would go through and do an inspection, make sure that everybody’s there and we’re all standing rigidly at attention beside these beds. Then as soon as he went through the senior in the dorm would say, “Alright, into it!” And you know, we had to be into the bed in something like ten seconds or fifteen seconds or not slow…”too slow”, “not fast enough” “out you get and do it again”. So, you know we learned, but unfortunately in my dorm where I was there was a chap by the name of Trent, Dave Trent (3327). Everybody in the class knows Dave. But Dave, he could not move fast if his life depended on it. And I can recall one day one of the senior cadets would say, “Alright, out you get. Now this time, Trent, we’re going to time you with the hour hand.” [laughs] And everybody got a big laugh out of that. But that was part of the system and then there was another one of our cadets who was named Downs (3274), and I don’t know if he got slapped on the wrist or something for it, but when he was the junior cadet – what happened was the junior cadet would lead, and he’d say, “Still for rounds, Still for rounds” – well, as he was going through he was saying “Still for Downs, Still for Downs” [laughs]. And then I think one of the cadet officers got him and said “Hey, wait a minute.” So, oh yah, some of those little anecdotes.
There’s now a chap who’s just retired as a judge in the interior government, and his name is 3302 Russ Merredew, one of our members. And one of the things we loved doing was pulling the leg of the navy officer, particularly senior navy cadets. Now I remember one time we were in the junior dorm and there were a couple of navy senior cadets there and one of the ships came in and he says in a very loud voice “Oh look, here comes a boat”. You see, well the last thing you want to call one of Her Majesty’s Canadian ships is a boat, ‘cause a boat goes on a ship. That’s what we were told. Anyhow, Merredew was told “Get down there on the square and you will now run a circle and at every ten steps you will stop, and at the top of your voice you will say ‘SHIP'”. It was Sunday, and as he was going by, it sounded like something else was coming out, and so that was stopped pretty quick ‘cause it was a visitor’s watch. [laughs] But yah, yah, that was Merredew. And I’m not sure he was saying it or not, but it sounded like it. [laughs] Very obviously. So, there’s some little anecdotes I remember of the time there. I enjoyed Roads. You know, globally. And I never regretted coming here.
Ed: Karen Inkster is now on vacation (travelling to London, Poland and Scotland) and will be back the week of May 18th. She has graciously submitted three extra interesting articles which we will spread out for your reading pleasure until her return.