Saw the excellent coverage of Danny McLeod’s funeral in today’s e-Veritas. Congratulations and well done on this. He was a truly incredible man, right up there with Coggins, Birchall, Merritt, Forbes, and others (Miller and Fournier !) who were true examples of the College’s greatest sons. We won’t soon see his like again.
I don’t know whether you were aware, but some years ago in 2005 I wrote a special piece for Veritas commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. A copy of the full draft is attached, and an abbreviated version of this was published in the magazine. The text of the full version was at one time published on the website, but somehow seems to have been lost. In any event, as you will see, one of the people I interviewed for this was Danny McLeod, and if you can use it in some way, you are welcome to do so.
One other interesting story I will share with you. Not long after this piece was written, in November 2005 Barry Winfield and I hosted a group of people for a tour of RMC. While we were there, Danny McLeod came out to a luncheon on a Saturday, and gave an excellent speech that made a huge impression on the group. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this took place on 5 Nov 2005, which much to my amazement turned out to be Danny’s birthday ! It was the only time I ever met him in person, and for sure it was an unforgettable experience.
I am copying this message to Sensei Wayne Donivan, who was the senior person on the tour in 2005. Sensei Donivan came into my life at a very critical time not long after I left RMC in 1977, and much like Danny McLeod was to his cadets, Sensei Donivan was a very important influence in my development, and in a very real sense, my survival. When we visited RMC in 2005, it was the first time we had seen one another in 25 years. We have kept in touch since that time, and recently I sent him Ted Nurse’s biography of Danny.
In any event, thanks again and congratulations on the job you did. My sincere condolences to all of Danny’s friends, family, and former cadets and military colleagues. Hope you will find the attached interesting.
12570 Mike Kennedy
Article for July 2005 Veritas – FINAL DRAFT
The Greatest Generation
By 12570 Mike Kennedy
Victoria Day, 2005
Life is full of coincidences, and sometimes they can come to light in the most unexpected ways.
Last summer, while on holidays in Quebec City, my family and I had the pleasure of being hosted for dinner at the Garrison Club by 4100 Jacques Choquette and H 15200 the Honourable Gilles Lamontagne, who as it so happens was MND at the time my class graduated in 1980. Coincidentally, all three of us are from Quebec, and all of our College Numbers end with a “0”.
An even more interesting coincidence came to light much later on, when I discovered that both Mr. Lamontange and my son Shane share the same birthday – April 17 – and that the two were born exactly 75 years apart, Mr. Lamontagne in 1919, and my son in 1994.
After finishing our meal Mr. Lamontagne very graciously took us on a tour of the Club, and gave us the chance to view all manner of Quebec City military memorabilia that is now on display. Among other things, we saw a photo taken in the summer of 1940 of the officers of the Royal Rifles of Canada, one of the ill-fated units that eighteen months later fought heroically in the defence of Hong Kong, and whose surviving members later suffered the horrors of captivity in a Japanese POW camp.
Here again, another coincidence emerged. In the second row of the photo I saw the likeness of a very young officer, Lieutenant F.H. J. Royal, who surname is the same as the prefix borne by his regiment. Thirty years after this photo was taken, by then POW-survivor Royal was superintendent of the Laurentian Regional School Board at the same time that I was entering high school in Lachute, Quebec.
What I’ll remember most about that evening, however, was something Mr. Lamontagne said to my son just before we adjourned. As we were finishing our tour of the Garrison Club, he turned to Shane and said “You have a great future ahead of you as a Canadian.”
At ten years of age, my son was obviously much too young to understand the significance of what Mr. Lamontagne was saying to him. But as he grows up, one thing I do want Shane to understand is that whatever future he may enjoy as a Canadian was bought and paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of the Canadians of Mr. Lamontagne’s generation.
Between 1939 and 1945 Mr. Lamontagne, my son’s grandfather – also, coincidentally, an RCAF veteran – and over one million other Canadians like them demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination in their crusade to bring one of the most evil regimes the world has ever known to its knees. Their efforts helped to bring freedom, hope, and new opportunity to millions of people who suffered under the oppression of the Axis powers, and at the same time, profoundly transformed Canada’s sense of identity and her role on the world stage.
In 1914, the first time Canada went to war as a nation, patriotic fever spread like wildfire and men from all walks of life clamored for the opportunity to participate in what many of them thought would be a glorious adventure. In the first weeks of the Great War recruiting offices across the country were flooded with volunteers eager to fight for King and Country. It was widely expected that the war would a short-lived affair that would be over by Christmas, and certainly no one could envision the gruesome carnage that over the next four years would devour millions of lives, 60,000 of whom would be Canadian.
When war came again in 1939, Canadians were much more circumspect about the prospect of what lay ahead. For some, taking up arms once again was an obligation to be borne, a duty that was part and parcel of being loyal British subjects. For others, the outbreak of war offered an opportunity to escape the grinding poverty and despair that were the legacy of ten years of the Great Depression. No one, however, greeted the advent of the new conflict with the same naïve enthusiasm that had washed over Canada 25 years earlier.
By the time that victory was declared six years later, the Second World War had become the defining event in modern world history, and a period which was to have a profound influence on subsequent developments throughout the remainder of the 20th century. Out of a population of just fourteen million people – roughly equivalent to the current population of Moscow or Manila – nearly 1.1 million Canadians served in uniform at some point during the war. Of these, 55,000 were wounded, 9,000 were taken as prisoners-of-war, and 42,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Ex-Cadets figured prominently among the ranks of those who led Canada’s soldiers, sailors, and airmen to victory. On land, the Canadian Army owed much of its success in Italy and Northwest Europe to the leadership provided by Generals such as 749 Harry Crerar, 1596 Guy Simonds, 1633 Chris Vokes, and 1032 Tommy Burns. During the ill-fated Dieppe raid of 1942, 1866 Cecil Merritt of the South Saskatchewan Regiment earned the Victoria Cross for his heroic leadership under fire, one of two Canadian VC’s to be awarded on that tragic and terrible August day.
At sea, Rear Admiral Leonard Murray (a product of the short-lived Royal Naval College of Canada) directed all naval forces involved in protection of North Atlantic convoys, and earned the distinction of being the only Canadian officer to command an Allied theatre of operations during the war. Young naval officers such as 2184 Desmond Piers and 2576 William Hayes guided convoys across the North Atlantic through the deadly gauntlet that had been laid up by the U-boat crewmen of the Kriegsmarine, and kept secure the vital lifeline that sustained the British through the darkest days of the early war years.
And in the air, 2364 Leonard Birchall averted what could have been a second Pearl Harbor when he detected a Japanese fleet poised to attack Ceylon. His extraordinary fortitude and leadership during three years of captivity subsequently proved that perhaps more than any of us, it may be the “Slashers” who are destined to rise to true greatness.
Today, 60 years after the end of the Second World War, it is estimated that only about 250,000 veterans of that conflict remain alive, all of whom are now well past the age of 80. Were they really the greatest generation of Canadians ? Apart from the handful of Great War veterans who are still alive, and those who are survivors of the Korean War, certainly the men and women who served in the Second World War are the greatest generation whose members still remain with us. In a society that has become obsessed with materialism, instant gratification, and the illusory trappings of “success”, oftentimes it is all too easy to forget that everything we have in Canada today, we owe to the gallant lads and lasses who risked everything to stand and deliver during those six perilous and pivotal years.
Here, in their own words, are the stories of four members of the RMC Club who experienced the horrors and the triumphs of the greatest conflict mankind has ever known. They are four true Canadian heroes whose actions in battle reflect great credit upon the Royal Military College and the unique place it occupies in Canadian history.
Click here for their personal story…
S 109 Major Danny McLeod
Danny McLeod joined the South Alberta Regiment at the time it was an infantry regiment, and continued to serve with the unit after it was converted into the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment. Later attached to the British Armour Corps, he became the first Canadian to be sent to Sandhurst and was commissioned in 1943. After an initial assignment setting up a field training squadron for all recruits going into the Armour Corps, McLeod returned to his regiment and saw action in Normandy, Belgium, Holland, and finally Germany, where he earned the Military Cross for his actions in engaging several enemy tanks in April 1945.
After the war ended, McLeod remained in the Armour Corps and served with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and First Armored Division. His final posting was an eleven-year hitch at RMC, where he coached the Redmen hockey team and became the driving force behind establishing the athletics department at the College. A highly-respected and much-loved figure by cadets who attended RMC during the 1960’s, McLeod continues to remain active organizing battlefield trips to Europe and working as a car salesman in Kingston.
“On V-E Day I was in hospital, I had been wounded a couple of days before the war ended. We all knew by that time that the war was winding down, but there was no great sense of elation among us. We had lost too many friends for that.
When we finally got the news that the war was officially over, I reacted to it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt a great sense of relief because I knew there would be no more casualties. Someone was always getting killed, and in fact the last to die in our regiment was my radio operator. I was greatly relieved to know that the killing would finally be over.
But at the same time, in a lot of other ways I felt numb. I don’t recall any great demonstration of joy among the combat soldiers. After everything we had been through together, it was tough to think in jubilant terms.
In the years when I was growing up, a lot of the news coming out of other countries was bad. We heard about what was happening in Russia, in Spain with the Civil War, in Italy and Germany with the rise of Fascism, and in Manchuria, which had been invaded by the Japanese. We didn’t want to see these kinds of things happen in Canada. And so, when the war did break out, for a lot of us coming forward to volunteer seemed like the automatic thing to do. We were lucky, because we were trained by some very competent veterans of the Great War who realized that this new conflict would be a mobile war very different from the one they had fought.
It’s very unfortunate that most people in this country today don’t understand that on a proportionate basis, the Canadians who fought in the two world wars made more of an impact than the soldiers of any other nation that was involved.
In my view, the guys who came home with their health intact lived the good life, and you really couldn’t ask for anything more than that The ones I really feel for today are the kids who never got the opportunity to come home. In many ways, they are still forgotten. Just like recruits at the College, those kids became such close teammates, and depended so much on each other, that if we could I’m sure we would have replaced them with our own family members.”
– S 109 Major Danny McLeod
2761 Colonel Syd Frost
Syd Frost grew up on the move . His father, Charles Sydney Frost Sr., was a career banker who joined the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1908 at the age of 14, and who rose over the next four decades to become President of the bank. Syd Jr. was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1922, and during his childhood and adolescence his father’s career took the family to Winnipeg, Toronto, Saskatoon, and finally Saint John, where he graduated from high school in 1940.
It was probably only natural that Frost would eventually choose RMC. When the Great War broke out his father was one of the first to volunteer, and in five years of service with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Frost Sr. rose from Private to Captain, survived serious illness and wounds, and came home to St. John’s in 1919 with the Military Cross. His son arrived at RMC on August 31, 1940, as part of the last group of recruits to enter prior to the wartime closure of the College in 1942.
Frost thrived at RMC, graduating from his abbreviated two-year course as a Company Sergeant-Major. Commissioned into the PPCLI, he was destined to be among the first Canadian soldiers to see combat. In July 1943, Frost and his comrades were ordered aboard ship to proceed to a yet-unknown destination. A few days later, they learned that they were to participate in the invasion of Sicily, the largest Allied landing of the war.
The PPCLI fought all the way through Italy, and Frost chronicles their story in his 1988 book Once a Patricia. Among his close friends was Major Colin MacDougall, who in 1958 would publish Execution, a book which was destined to become the classic Canadian novel of the Second World War. The fictional story of a Canadian infantry platoon’s struggles and triumphs in the Italian campaign, Execution was awarded the Governor General’s Prize for fiction, and became a book that was studied with great interest by later generations of cadets at RMC.
After spending six months in hospital recovering from a serious wound, Frost returned to his regiment in 1945 just as the PPCLI was preparing to go into action to help liberate Holland. Along with other Canadian units, Frost and his soldiers played an instrumental role in saving thousands of Dutch civilians from starvation during the brutally grim winter of 1945. Among their many accomplishments, the PPCLI liberated the city of Achterveld just in time to prevent the Germans from destroying a beautiful medieval church. To commemorate the regiment’s heroic actions in this regard, in 2000 the citizens of Achterveld erected a plaque in honour of the PPCLI.
After the war, Frost continued his education and went on to build a very successful career as a lawyer in Toronto. He continued to serve in the militia, rising to the rank of Colonel and taking command of the Royal Regiment of Canada during its centennial year in 1962. He also remained a very active member of the RMC Club of Canada, serving as President in 1971-72, and put his talents for writing to good use by authoring several memorable books.
“When the war ended I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt, certainly, I didn’t feel in a joyous mood. I remember attending a church service shortly after the announcement came, and it was a very eerie feeling. I remember asking myself again and again, why am I here when so many others are not ? Why did God choose me to survive, when so many other good men went to their deaths ?
When I was growing up, my father was quite a disciplinarian, and people who knew him were known to remark that he never really left the army. But as I look back now, I realize he was a remarkable man who taught me a lot about the true meaning of qualities such as integrity and leadership, and about what it meant to be prepared to take responsibility. When I finished high school in 1940, I suppose there was never really any doubt that RMC was the place to which I would go.
Our recruit class was in some ways quite unique, for we were the last class to enter the College before it closed in 1942, and we knew going in that our course would be an abbreviated version of what had previously been considered the norm. When we arrived, it wasn’t long before we were subjected to the same kinds of rituals that all of our predecessors had had to survive in order to earn their place as Gentlemen Cadets.
The training at the College was demanding, and our instructors and our seniors took great care to indoctrinate us in the values that underlie the motto “Truth, Duty, Valour”. Some of these characters were truly unforgettable. They passed on to us lots of commonsense pieces of wisdom, things like “For God’s sake, use your dome !”, “Don’t just stand there, do something !”, and perhaps most important of all “Don’t lose your sense of humour !” It was tough at the time, but little did we realize just how much the lessons we learned about human nature and leadership would later help us to hold our men together during the ordeals that we would soon be faced with.
For me, the invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign that followed were pivotal turning points in the war, and I’ve often felt that it’s unfortunate that people don’t seem to understand just how important these events were. Many of those who fought in Italy would later be unfairly labeled as being “D-Day Dodgers”. The truth is, the armada that landed in Sicily was larger than the one involved in the invasion of Normandy, there were nearly 3,000 ships and over 80,000 men involved. Had the invasion of Sicily not been successful, D-Day would never have been possible and the course of modern history would have been completely different. Today, there are 6,000 Canadians buried in Italy.
When I reflect back on my experiences in the war 60 years after the fact, I think that more than anything else the thing that enabled us to accomplish what we did was the tremendous sense of fighting spirit and camaraderie that existed among the Canadian troops at the time. That’s what our training at RMC gave to my classmates and myself. It gave us the strength to go out and do what we knew needed to be done. It gave us the will to do the very best we could for the ordinary soldiers who we knew were depending on us.
In today’s world I always hear people talking about “management”. I hate that word. What RMC and the war taught me is that it’s really all about leadership. That’s the only thing that makes a real difference in any situation in life.”
– 2761 Colonel Syd Frost
H 15200 The Honourable Gilles Lamontagne
In May 1941 Gilles Lamontagne left his studies at Montreal’s École des Hautes Études Commerciales to volunteer for service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Qualifying as a pilot in February of the following year, he was soon on his way to join a bomber squadron in Great Britain. Little could he have imagined the experiences that awaited him over the next three years.
On March 13, 1943, while returning home after completing a bombing mission over the German city of Essen, Lamontagne’s Wellington bomber was attacked and shot down over Holland by a German night fighter. Lamontagne struggled to keep control of the aircraft long enough to enable his crew to bail out, and then managed to exit the bomber himself. For his gallantry in action on that night, in January 1945 Lamontagne was awarded a “Mention in Dispatches” by King George VI.
Two days after his aircraft was shot down, Lamontagne was captured by the Gestapo and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Stalag Luft III in Germany. In early 1945, during the depths of the most brutal winters Germany had experienced in 50 years, he became one of the over 250,000 other Allied POW’s who were compelled embark upon the now-infamous “Long March”. Forced to walk for days on end without adequate food, clothing, or shelter, those who endured the Long March are survivors of one of the most barbarous examples of Nazi cruelty ever displayed towards Allied POW’s.
Liberated by the British 9th Armoured Division in early May 1945, Lamontagne returned to Canada that summer and embarked upon a successful career in business while continuing to serve in the RCAF primary reserve. In the early 1960’s he was persuaded to enter public life, and subsequently went on to serve three terms as Mayor of Quebec City. Elected as a Liberal MP in 1977, he held several Cabinet portfolios, including Postmaster-General, Minister of National Defence, and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs. Following his retirement from Federal politics, he served as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec from 1984 to 1990.
Mr. Lamontange has had a longstanding affiliation with RMC. As Minister of National Defence in the Trudeau Cabinet he served as Chancellor of the College, and from 1996 to 2001 he served as Chairman of RMC’s Board of Governors. His many contributions to Canada were recognized with the awarding of honorary doctorates from both RMC in1986 and later CMR in 1989.
“On May 6, after we had been marching for about 35 or 40 days after leaving the POW camp, we got up to discover that no guards were around, apparently the Germans had decided to flee during the night. At that point, we were about 50 miles from Lubeck. Not long afterwards, we could hear the British troops approaching, and when they arrived, we knew we were finally free.
We were rushed by aircraft to Brussels, and that’s where I spent V-E Day. We were lodged in an army barracks, and told to stay there. For me, it was the first free day I had had in what seemed like an eternity.
When it started to sink in that the war was really over, my first thought was that something horrible was finished, thank God I’m here. I started to wonder about my own future, and wanted to go back to Canada as soon as possible. I started to think about my friends, and in particular, about my crew. After I was sent back to England, we had a reunion in the spring of 1945.
I spent about three weeks in England, after which I was sent back to Canada by ship. One of the things I started to appreciate was just how much the war had changed Canada as a nation. It was a period when all of us were united with singleminded determination, and everyone was talking about fighting for the cause of democracy and freedom.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the war set the stage for the dramatic transformation of Canada in the years that followed. It was an experience that gave us freedoms and opportunities that almost no other country could match. But at the same time, I think it helped us to understand that to use freedom wisely, both individuals and societies must be willing to accept the responsibilities that go with it. They must be prepared to exercise integrity, discipline, and initiative, and be willing to take charge of their own destinies.
When I think back about what we can learn through Canada’s experiences in the war, I think one of the key lessons has to be that negotiation is always better than conflict. Canadians performed heroically in the two World Wars and in Korea, but we are not a military people by nature and in fact I believe that in many ways Canada as a nation has an aversion to all things military. We have our own brand of patriotism, and I believe it is one that values compromise and consensus over armed conflict.
When you stop and think about it, Canadians have had to exist in a state of almost ongoing negotiation in order to maintain a unified country. But one thing the war did teach us was, it showed us what we as a nation can accomplish when we act with unity of purpose. That’s a lesson I really do hope will not be lost on future generations of Canadians.
I spent 27 months as a POW. Every day I thank God for keeping me alive. Every day I thank God that I am a Canadian.”
– H 15200 The Honourable Gilles Lamontagne
2759 Lieutenant Colonel Charly Forbes
His upbringing amid the harsh climate and rugged terrain of the Gaspe Peninsula gave Charly Forbes a superb preparation for his future life as an infantry soldier. Raised in the isolated town of Matane as the middle son of a lumberman, Forbes showed little interest in his father’s business and instead preferred to spend his time playing with his toy soldiers and later shooting his guns. When a family friend suggested that he consider RMC Forbes jumped at the chance, and he joined in 1940 as part of that last fateful entry class, at a time when Francophones were few and far between in the Battalion of Gentlemen Cadets, and the College didn’t always provide them with the most welcoming of environments.
Nevertheless, his classmates soon discovered that Forbes was a passionate and colourful character who lived life to the fullest and was a loyal and faithful friend to all. One of the more humourous episodes of his recruit year came not long after his seniors discovered that Forbes was an accomplished concert violinist, a talent he had acquired from his mother. Charged with serenading his seniors as they enjoyed their evening baths, Forbes diligently carried out this duty until one evening when his playing was cut short after an exasperated senior down the hall yelled out “Forbes, you bastard, stop the f******
Receiving his commission in 1942, Forbes had initially planned on joining two of his best friends who were serving in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. His plans changed when he was offered to join the Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, and after a short stint as an instructor at the officers’ training school in Brockville, Forbes found himself on the way to England. He landed in France in July 1944; sadly, his two comrades in the Parachute Battalion were destined to die that year, one on D-Day, the other during a jump in September.
It was in Holland that Forbes’ extraordinary leadership and courage under fire would emerge. On one memorable occasion at the beginning of November, Forbes’ found himself on Walcheren Island with orders to lead his platoon to take control of a causeway and secure a bridgehead on the section of the island controlled by the Germans. Advancing amid chaotic conditions, at one point Forbes’ men found themselves among enemy troops on the move, and captured seven Germans.
Ordered to withdraw at nightfall, by that time the platoon was down to only about a half-dozen of the 21 men who had moved out with Forbes just twelve hours earlier. As they retraced their steps under heavy fire, Forbes, who by that time was wounded himself, carried out one of his men who had been hit by shrapnel in the back. For his courage on this and numerous other similar occasions, in 1945 Forbes was inducted into the Order of Wilhelm (the Dutch equivalent of the Victoria Cross) and knighted by Queen Wilhelmina herself.
After the war Forbes remained in uniform and remustered to the Royal 22nd Regiment. He become one of a very few Ex-Cadets to see combat in two wars, serving with the 2nd Vandoos in Korea and on one occasion narrowly avoiding being killed by a direct hit from an exploding enemy shell. While in Korea Forbes demonstrated his bravery in battle once again, earning a “Mention in Dispatches” for his actions during the battle for Hill 355.
Forbes retired from military service in 1965 and began a new career in the financial services industry. Today, he makes his home near Quebec City and is a frequent visitor at the officers’ mess at the Citadelle, where his talent for storytelling continues to amaze and entertain those who are fortunate enough to spend time with him. Forbes is also a highly accomplished artist and painter whose works can be viewed on the Internet at www.forbesgallery.ca.
“I was in England on V-E Day, I had been wounded in December 1944 and had been evacuated shortly thereafter. I remember that when the announcement came, everything went crazy. People were all over the place celebrating. I had volunteered to the Duty Officer that day, I remember that even the defaulters who were serving time in the Detention Barracks wanted to break out and celebrate with all the rest.
I myself wasn’t really in any mood to participate in a celebration, I had lost too many of my men for that. On one level, I realized that the end of the war was a great thing. But basically, the only thing I remembered feeling was that I just wanted to go home.
Even thought I wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate myself, I could understand why people felt the way they did. I had been in England during the time of the second phase of the bombing when the Germans were using V1 and V2 bombs; the V1’s you could hear, but the V2’s you could not. People were living in a state where they knew they could be blown up in an instant, anytime, anywhere. I don’t think it’s possible for other people to comprehend what a relief it was for the British to know that they were finally free of having to live with that constant, debilitating fear.
When we were fighting in Holland the conditions we were exposed to were very harsh; the weather was very bad, and we were almost continually cold and wet. When the war ended all I could really think about was wanting to go home and do things that other people take for granted, things like sleeping in a warm and comfortable bed and eating foods I hadn’t tasted for years, like real eggs and milk.
I finally made it home in mid-August, and almost immediately, I signed up again, this time with the Vandoos. I knew I had always wanted to be a soldier, and as things turned out, I served for 27 years, eighteen months of which were in combat on the ground, first in Northwest Europe and several years later in Korea.
On the occasions when I have gone back to Europe, I really cannot help but be overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of hospitality people extend to Canadian veterans. On my most recent trip back there, I was invited to the Queen’s dinner in Holland, and I participated in a huge Canadian parade in Apeldoorn. There were about 300,000 people lining the streets; it was fantastic to see them.
Among the crowds I recognized many older people who were my age. It struck me that during the war these people would have been young men and women the same age I was, the same age as the soldiers I commanded. And here they were 60 years later, coming out to open their hearts and thank us for what my soldiers and many other guys like them did.
In 1944 I was fighting for my life in Holland; this year, I spent twelve magnificent days there revisiting many of the places I had first seen as a very young man just a couple of years out of RMC. This most recent trip was a wonderful experience. I’ll never forget the welcome the Dutch people gave us.”
– 2759 Lieutenant Colonel Charly Forbes
1 June 2005
It all began 129 years ago today when the “Old Eighteen” arrived to begin their training at the newly-opened Military College of Canada. They were the pioneers, the adventurers, the founders, the builders. Their legacy is the ideals embodied in the motto “Truth, Duty Valour”. They led the way for every generation of cadets which has since passed through the College; they set the standards to which all true Ex-Cadets must commit themselves to upholding.
For me, the process of researching and writing this article has been a fascinating, humbling, and awe-inspiring experience. The four men whose stories I have been honoured to present are great Canadians who at a very young age proved beyond any doubt their bravery in the heat of battle. All of them are clearly men of formidable intellect and tremendous strength of character, and all of them were far too modest in describing their own personal contributions to the eventual Allied victory. All of them are men of exceptional decency, sincerity, integrity, and kindness. All of them are not only distinguished military officers, but true gentlemen as well.
In short, these four men epitomize everything that an RMC Ex-Cadet should aspire to be.
What I found most overwhelming about the discussions I had with the four men you have read about was their willingness to completely open their hearts and talk candidly about their experiences in the war. At times, our conversations touched on incidents that must have brought back some very painful memories. All four expressed great affection for the comrades-in-arms who served beside them, and profound regret over the deaths of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was clear to me that for all of them their wartime service was the defining moment of their lives, and it was equally clear that all of them share great pride in what was accomplished by Canada’s soldiers, sailors, and airmen during that period in our history.
The thing that came out again and again in the discussions I had with these four gentlemen was the unique and indomitable spirit of RMC, and the vitally important role it played in helping to sustain them during the trials they faced during the course of the war. Today, one need only open the newspaper on any day of the week to see just how far the Canada of 2005 appears to have drifted away from the ideals embodied in those simple but immortal words “Truth, Duty, Valour”. So many people around us seem to want to go through life thinking only of themselves and being unwilling to accept any real responsibility; the rest of us have to live with the inevitable consequences of this behaviour. Real leadership has always been a rare and precious commodity, but as we look around at the world today, what we see suggests that it may be even more difficult to find now than it was at any time in the past.
But amid the selfishness, corruption, and moral decay that runs right through modern-day society, the spirit of RMC endures and lives on. There are times when it may seem almost imperceptible, but it is there, and it is real. And within the motto of the College lies the heart and soul of the unwritten but universally understood code of honour that has been handed down through successive generations of cadets since the day that the Old Eighteen first took possession of their College Numbers. It is the one and only gift that we can offer to future generations of young Canadians who aspire to pass through the Arch and wear the Red Coat.
Last year, I had picture of my father’s old RCAF squadron re-framed. The photo was taken at No. 1 “M” Depot in Toronto, on June 20, 1942. In the second row, third from the left, sits my father, LAC T.E. Kennedy, surrounded by about a hundred other men. At the time the photo was taken, my Dad was 26 years of age; he passed from this world into the next on April 21, 1993, a couple of years before the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.
By the time my son is the same age I am now, the photo of my Dad and his squadron will be 100 years old, and it’s a pretty safe bet that the last remaining veterans of the Second World War will have departed this earth. Will there ever be another war which will claim so many lives, and do so much to change the course of history ? Will our children ever have to face the same kinds of ordeals that the men and women of the Greatest Generation went through ? We can only hope that the answer to both of these questions will be no, but there are no firm assurances that our prayers will be answered.
But Canadians, and Ex-Cadets in particular, must do more than hope and pray. We must act. We must persevere. We must lead. We must speak out, and make our voices heard. We must remain true to the values we believe in, and do what we know in our hearts is right. We must resist the many temptations the world presents to induce us to lust after false gods like fame, power, wealth, or popularity, and resolve to stay the course through whatever difficult times life may put in our way.
And above all, we must remember. As the remaining members of the Greatest Generation enter their final years of life, we must pay homage to the sacrifices they made for us, and remember that everything we have in Canada today, we owe to them. We must remember to ensure that children like my son understand and appreciate the heroic actions of their ancestors. We must remember the lessons that came out of that terrible conflict. And above all, we must remember that we can never afford to take peace and prosperity for granted, and that the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy as Canadians are accompanied by great responsibilities that we must discharge with the courage of our convictions.
There are times when writing can seem like the intellectual equivalent of breaking rocks, and believe me, there were many times that I struggled with writing the piece you have just read. In some ways it was an emotionally exhausting experience, to say the least. So many thoughts went through my mind, there were so many things I wanted to say, that it was exceedingly difficult to express all my ideas and feelings, and certainly impossible to do justice to the true significance of the accomplishments and contributions of the four men you have read about. But I do hope you have enjoyed what little I have been able to offer you.
And so, dear friend and reader, I must end this correspondence by thanking you for your patience and by wishing you well, but also by reminding you of your duty, and of the special responsibilities that you bear in life by virtue of being an Ex-Cadet. No matter what path you choose to follow in life, it is your duty to act with integrity, and do what you can to make a real difference. This is the legacy and the responsibility that has been entrusted to all of us by Danny McLeod, Syd Frost, Gilles Lamongtagne, Charly Forbes, and hundreds of thousands of others like them who rose to confront the face of evil under the most horrific of circumstances, and whose courage, tenacity, resourcefulness, and fortitude proved beyond any doubt the greatness of their generation and their country.
No matter which College you started at, you will remember that on the day you arrived you were issued a number. At the beginning, it seemed like just a string of digits, one more thing you had to try to remember amid the chaos that was starting to rapidly unfold around you.
Over the days and weeks and months that followed, the College marched you and your classmates through a flaming crucible of excruciating pain that branded that number onto your soul forevermore. It was the end of one life, and the beginning of another. And today, the same number that once seemed almost meaningless is as much a part of your identity as the name you were given at the moment of birth. It is a symbol of memories shrouded in powerful, visceral emotions that will remain buried within your heart for the rest of your days.
And so remember: the piece of paper is what makes you a graduate. But it is your belief in the ideals embodied in the motto, and your respect and reverence for the heritage that created them, that sets you apart from the others and defines your identity as a true Ex-Cadet. What made it all worthwhile was that special closeness, that feeling of being part of something that was much, much greater than yourself, that knowledge that there can be no higher purpose in life than that of fully committing oneself to the attainment of a just and worthy cause.
With these thoughts in mind, let me close this letter by inviting you to join me in saluting that magnificent generation of Canadians who fought and won the Second World War. As we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of that conflict and celebrate the “Year of the Veteran”, let us ensure that those who still remain with us are thanked for their sacrifice and honoured for being the true heroes that they are.
Let us likewise pray that those who have departed this earth shall rest in eternal peace and tranquility with the Creator.
TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR.
It is more than just a motto. It is a calling, and one which is our responsibility, and our destiny, to answer.
Respectfully submitted & dedicated to the memory of all Ex-Cadets who have given their lives in the service of Canada.
12570 Mike Kennedy