The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: Rating the Profs
I was not so naïve as to believe that those who would descend to stealing and trading in examination papers would necessarily obey an order from me to stop doing so. We detailed all night guards on each flat to ensure that no one left between lights out and reveille during the periods when examination papers were likely being set. There was also the possibility that individuals returning from late pass would visit offices in the Administration Building before signing-in in the leave book in their dormitory, and this presented a more difficult problem. If we patrolled the building and a cadet encountered one of the officers of the staff on late rounds, how was he to explain what he was doing there?
“I don’t care who you are, or where you come from, if you do not work for me, you will fail”.
We arranged that night patrols in the Administration Building would always work in pairs, properly dressed in blue uniform wearing side arms (bayonets) and heavy ammunition boots – about the last kind of kit anyone would select for a cat burgling expedition. They were also instructed that far from trying to conceal their presence, they should make it as obvious as possible, marching up and down the corridors. If they encountered any member of the staff, who asked what they were up to, they were to say that I thought I had seen lights in the building and had sent them over to investigate. I also made it plain that if any member of the class was caught trying to steal examination papers, I would charge him before the Commandant with “Conduct Unbecoming” which could lead to his dismissal from the Royal Military College with disgrace. Further, I reiterated what had been stated in the earliest days of our recruit year – that those of us who had a high academic standing would always make ourselves available to give extra coaching and tutoring to those who experienced difficulties, and I believe that the leaders in our class lived up to this pledge. The stealing of examination papers was stopped.
From what I have written so far about the Royal Military College of Canada, the uninformed reader might judge that it was worse that represented by its sternest critics. Such a judgement would be very far from the truth. It was a magnificent institution to which, in common with many others, I personally owe a great deal. But an honest picture should include “warts and all”. If I have painted the “warts” first, in proper perspective they were only insignificant blemishes on the total picture. But without the foregoing description of the background of the recruiting system in the mid-twenties, the general reader who was not an ex-cadet would find difficulty in understanding the later parts of this chapter.
From an academic standpoint most of our professors were excellent teachers in the true sense. They made teaching and the balanced development of the cadet their main interest in life, accepted the cadet as an individual, and tried to assess the potential of each one. Those who showed special aptitude they encouraged to extent their studies and they laboured patiently and painstakingly with the laggards. All the staff, military and civil, took keen and lively interest in aspects of College life extending beyond the range of their own immediate departments.
In our first year Ivor Martin – whose name had become synonymous with academic education at the R.M.C. – was still professor of mathematics and, by his own self-election, professor of “morals and manners” as well. He would interrupt a lecture on mathematics to give a dissertation on morals or manners, usually expressed in exaggerated, sardonic terms. “Always remember you are a Gentleman Cadet of the Royal Military College of Canada, the crème de la crème de la haute societé. When in your immaculate scarlet uniform you are on leave in Montreal or Toronto and are waiting to get on a street car, with an elderly lady with her arms full of parcels ahead of you, assert your rights, push her aside and jump in the car first. Never offer to give up your seat to a lady – she will recognize at once that as a gentleman cadet your superior precedence entitles you to it” – and so on. At the end of our recruit year Ivor Martin was succeeded by “Dizzy” Dawson, lacking in Ivor’s flamboyance but very thorough and painstaking in his teaching.
No one who was exposed to his methods in the chemistry department will ever forget Professor “Frankie” Day’s oft reiterated injunction “I don’t care who you are, or where you come from, if you do not work for me, you will fail”. He was probably the best lecturer at the College during our time there and could rivet the attention of his class.
Colonel “Schmid” Schmidlin headed the engineering department with an exceptionally able team including “Leary” Le Roy Grant, Horace Lawson and “Tiff” Macklim, all graduates of the pre-war R.M.C. Together they ran probably the best school in practical civil engineering that Canada had at that time. In our earlier years the engineering department was probably weighted too much towards the civil engineering side. This was corrected during our last two years when courses in mechanical and electrical engineering and machine design were introduced, and the first steps towards specialization in the curriculum of the R.M.C. were taken in our final year. Cadets who were heading for a career in mining engineering were able to specialize in quantitative and qualitative analysis in the chemistry department. During every summer of my cadetship I worked on survey parties, partly to make some money and partly to get practical experience. For two summers I worked on railway engineering projects and one year with a geodetic survey party in Nova Scotia. Whilst on these survey jobs, leaning on the instruction I had received at the R.M.C., I never had difficulty in handling any assignment, from instrument work in the field to calculating and plotting results in the office, and I was in each case invited to rejoin the same company the following year – a testimony to the quality of engineering instruction we received. I got an insight into how cadets were regarded by some outside the world of the R.M.C. At the end of one of these summer working periods my boss told me that he would always have jobs in his department for graduates of the R.M.C. and he preferred cadet trainees on his field survey parties. He went on to explain that trainees from other sources when detailed to a job would usually come back with a barrage of questions as to where they were to get instruments, equipment and so on, whereas the cadet would say “Yes, Sir”, bustle to find out for himself where to get what he needed, and report back with the job done efficiently and quickly.
Later, during my career in the service, when I took advanced technical courses involving the mathematics of ballistics, the chemistry of explosives, electronics and mechanical details of design of modern weapons, I was able to take them in my stride, all on the foundation of my earlier education in these subjects at the R.M.C.
Schmid and Leary Grant especially had interests, including the general atmosphere and well being of the College, extending far beyond the confines of the engineering department, and Leary in particular with his humane sense of humour and quiet philosophy of life endeared himself to every cadet who attended during the time he served on the staff.
In the French department, Professors Vatier and Marion struggled to teach the language on a conversational basis, but classes tended to be dominated by those of our class mates who were already bilingual. By coincidence some of these also happened to be given to clowning, and conversational classes would tend to become informal to a degree which verged on the disorderly. On graduation I received a rating of “Distinguished” in French, but I believe this was more for maintaining a semblance of discipline during classes than for linguistic ability. I spoke better French at the age of eight, tutored by a French governess, than I ever did later.
Professors Bill Bridger and Tom Gelley conducted our English classes. Both were devoted to the R.M.C. and followed the tutorial and individual methods of teaching which prevailed throughout the College. As a graduate, I felt critical of the English department because they did not make us write enough, and improve our written expression by detailed criticism of frequent papers. Later, when I served on the staff of the R.M.C. myself, I realized this criticism was unjust. The department was woefully undermanned. With classes of forty to seventy cadets, it was almost impossible to set written papers, conscientiously criticize their content and expression, and get them back to cadets before they had become stale memory in which they had lost interest. No matter how hard one may be willing to work, burning the midnight oil, only so much of the constructive correctional work can be done in a single session. An attempt to continue beyond the point of keen perception can only result in deterioration of constructive criticism. Clear and incisive expression in speech and writing is a very important aspect of officer, or for that matter any professional, training, and in our time the understaffing of the English department at the R.M.C. was a poor economy.
The worst deficiency in the general academic course during the four years we spent at the College was the complete lack of any study of systems of government, of politico-military relationships, or of international affairs.