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The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 – 1925: Trials & Tribulations of First Year

Note: We do our best to identify all the photos. However, a number of photos which appear (and will appear) with this series do not necessarily mean the photos were taken during the ‘exact’ time-frame of 1921-25. We believe the photo above is a group of Ex Cadets who were visiting the college for a formal ceremony around 1925.

The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 – 1925: Trials & Tribulations of First Year

Pt 8

In our first, recruit year, we were subjected to all the practices of “recruiting” described earlier in this chapter.  In the first few days at the College, two of our class mates ran away.  One of the runaways was from a family having considerable influence with a major Toronto newspaper and there was an immediate outburst in the press against the R.M.C. and “hazing” there.  It soon came to light that there had been no outrageous treatment of the two runaways.  Both had been sent to the College against their will by their parents, and neither had any desire to undergo military training.  The furore died down fairly quickly.  Through a series of “shit meetings” our class was informed by our seniors that to have two of our members run away was a disgrace to our whole class – that if we had any proper “class spirit”, the stronger would help and encourage the weaker ones, and such a thing couldn’t happen.  There were certainly others of our members at that time who were thinking seriously of quitting and making a run for it, but following the precept of our seniors they were dissuaded, encouraged to stick it out and to “Keep smiling”.

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“After a super “shit meeting”, we were ordered, a dozen at a time, to report to selected seniors’ rooms in Fort Frederick dormitory where groups of seniors, after ordering us to bend over a chair, took turns in fanning our arses.  It was the only “general arse fanning” we ever got as a class, and the only time I was caned during my years at the R.M.C.”

About two weeks after our arrival at the College, the B.S.M. sent for me.  He informed me that he had numerous complaints from both the military and civil staff regarding the performance of our class.  We were late for parades and classes, with stragglers arriving long after the appointed time, the class would be reported “present and correct” when in fact there were absentees, discipline was slack and completely unsatisfactory, and obviously the class lacked strong leadership.  As second senior I was to take over the class, and from then on the B.S.M. would hold me responsible for its conduct and discipline.  I expected this mandate to run about as long as it had with my predecessor, about two weeks – it lasted for three years.

As a recruit, I “fagged” for my platoon commander C.S.M. Hartley Zimmerman, and the “beau ideal” of a cadet.  He had a far above average intellect and was a great athlete, starring on both the first football and hockey teams.  He was a strong disciplinarian, but scrupulously fair.  His instructions to me were always clear and unmistakeable, but unlike some of his fellow seniors I can never recall him having shouted at me.  I have always considered I was very fortunate in my association with him, and he seemed to take a special interest and pride in the responsibilities I assumed and discharged during the year.

Next in the series of jolts attendant upon our introduction to recruit life came the recruits’ obstacle race, a rigorous physical test and the last event on the day of the field sports.  As it counted heavily for points in the company championship, each company picked a potential winner and a group of assistants to try to push their candidate through to win, whilst the rest of the class worked together to ensure that everyone completed the course.  It had been made very clear to us that every recruit must get over the whole course, and some of our more awkward members would never have made it without assistance, but make it we all did.

One incident as recruits none of us will ever forget.  A humorist in our class started a news sheet which he called “The Recruit’s Trombone”.  It consisted mostly of rude and spicy comments on members of our senior class.  It would be passed around the class room, with other members making additions as it passed from hand to hand.  One day in February a copy was inadvertently left in the class room, which was to be occupied by the senior class after our lecture was over, and it fell into their hands.  The following Sunday all recruits were instructed to return from pass by supper time and were to parade in the furnace room of Fort Frederick dormitory immediately after supper.  After a super “shit meeting”, we were ordered, a dozen at a time, to report to selected seniors’ rooms in Fort Frederick dormitory where groups of seniors, after ordering us to bend over a chair, took turns in fanning our arses.  It was the only “general arse fanning” we ever got as a class, and the only time I was caned during my years at the R.M.C.  At a class meeting the following day we were unanimous in agreeing that if our backsides stung a bit, the collective punishment was a masterly piece of organization on the part of our senior class.  On comparing notes, we found that before each stroke of the cane each recruit had been asked the names of those who had instigated the “Recruit Trombone”.  The names were never disclosed, proving to ourselves and our seniors that we had developed that desirable quality, a class spirit.

Another landmark in our first year was the “Cakewalk”.  This was a traditional theatrical show staged by recruits in which they were encouraged to mimic and poke fun at members of the staff and senior class.  Cakes were given as prizes to those who were adjudged the best performers.  It was part of the tradition that, when the cakes were presented, the recruit class was given a few seconds’ start, after which the rest of the cadets were despatched in pursuit to try to seize the cakes.  It was the accepted duty of the recruit class as a whole to see that no one other than a recruit got a crumb of the cakes; hence, elaborate plans were made to ensure this.  In our case, when the winners were called forward, each was followed by one of the fastest runners in our class, to which each winner passed a cake.  The runners sprinted to a prearranged rendezvous where a group of appointed “eaters” was hidden, who took over the cakes and dutifully devoured them without regard for digestion.  The rest of the recruit class ran interference, and the pursuit in the dark offered opportunities to even up the score with seniors who had made themselves particularly unpopular.

Throughout the first year, recruits were required to double across the parade square, and “double” meant not the military pace of double march but sprinting as fast as your legs would carry you.  Finally the day of the June Ball arrived and, at midnight of that evening, we ceased to be recruits and walked across the square.

By the end of the year, except for one or two individuals whom we had learned to despise, we had sincere respect and admiration for our seniors.  There was much in the recruiting system with which a lot of us disagreed, but we blamed this on the system rather than upon those who believed it their duty to enforce it.  If our initial disciplining had been by shock treatment and the standards required of us demanding, if slackness and ineptitude had been unfailingly and sometimes ruthlessly punished, overall our training had been administered with firmness but fairness.

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