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The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: The military side of things

 

Pt 6

The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: The military side of things.

On the military side, a great deal of the organization and day-to-day administration and interior economy of a unit was learned by being a living part of it.  The cadets were organized in a battalion of two companies each of two platoons, a cross section of every class being represented in each unit and sub-unit.

The cadet battalion commander was designated “Battalion Sergeant Major” or “B.S.M.”, though during our third year this designation was changed to “Senior Under Officer” or “S.U.O.”  The companies were commanded by cadet “Company Sergeant Majors” or “C.S.Ms”, later also changed to “Under Officers” or “U.Os”, and the platoons by more junior “C.S.Ms” which, with the changes of title in our third year, also became “U.Os”.

 

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“…It was only over the subject of “recruiting” that at times an invisible iron curtain fell between the two levels and led to mutual distrust.”

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For administration and discipline, the established channels of communication between the staff and senior cadets were through the B.S.M. (or Senior Under Officer) receiving directions from and reporting to the Staff Adjutant, and by two Company Commanders appointed from officers on the staff, charged with similar responsibilities at the company level vis-à-vis the C.S.M. (or Under Officer) Cadet Company Commanders.  Apart from the Staff Adjutant, few of the officers on the military staff were ex-cadets, most having been appointed because of distinguished records of service with the Canadian Corps during World War I, including one holder of the Victoria Cross.  All were expert in their particular fields of instruction and were respected by the cadets.  But because they were career officers, their appointments to the R.M.C. were of limited duration, normally for three or four years at most.  In the civilian departments were a number of ex-cadets, who had graduated before World War I, had served overseas during the war, but afterwards had taken civil appointments with long tenure at the College.  Outside of classes in their own departments, the civil staff had no direct responsibility for administration or discipline of the cadets.  Yet, whether it was because they were ex-cadets or because of long-term association – probably a combination of both – some of the professors on the civil staff had a better rapport with the cadets than many of the military staff, and in a completely informal way were a strong influence for good.

In the writer’s experience, over the course of four years, relationships between staff and cadets were very good and a mutual respect developed which continued in later years after graduation.  It was only over the subject of “recruiting” that at times an invisible iron curtain fell between the two levels and led to mutual distrust.

The meticulous standard demanded in dress, in care of rifles and standard tidiness of rooms, checked by daily inspections, seemed endless chores at the time, but were in fact a valuable part of officer training.  It established standards of excellence.  A cadet learned by experience the time and work involved in doing these things, and later when he became an officer knew the limits of what were reasonable and unreasonable demands upon his men and could show them how to do things in the best and most labour-saving way.  This experience of being at the “receiving end” of regulations and orders, which is an important part of leadership training, can only be acquired by service in the ranks or at a cadet college.  The regimental officer who has not had this advantage can either demand too little and have a slack unit or demand too much and generate a spirit of rebellion.

The excellence of drills and exercises on the parade square and in the gym was probably unsurpassed anywhere in the world.  Major “Jeff” Jeffries, the infantry instructor, and Sergeant Major Faulkner, his assistant, were perfectionists and nothing would satisfy them but the ultimate in precision and steadiness on parade.  In the gym the announcement by Sergeant Major Preston “’Uggins” or “’Uggett” that “Today I am going to give you young gentlemen a bending” meant just exactly that.  In this standard of perfection in drills and exercises cadets took a great and justifiable pride.

With the beginning of our lessons in the riding school, my boyhood training stood me in good stead.  I became a competent horseman, and in our third year won the “Spur and Crown” for the best equestrian in our class.  I was detailed as leading file for the riding demonstrations which were put on public display at the military tournaments in Montreal and Toronto.  I lost the “Crown” for an inexcusably bad performance in mounted sports at the end of our final year.

During the last two weeks of each year the cadet battalion went on what was known as “the Trek”.  In full infantry marching order we marched to a site in the country some twenty miles from the College, set up camp and so learned by doing how to live in the field.  Daily we moved out of camp to carry out a series of tactical exercises on the ground, including manoeuvres in attack and defensive formations evolved as the result of experience in the first World War.

Over the span of four years we were given complete instruction in the rifle, bayonet fighting, and the light and medium machine guns then in use, and were required to qualify on the firing range according to regular army standards.

In the spring term of each year there was a “Cavalry Week” and an “Artillery Week” when the battalion was reorganized as cavalry and artillery units respectively and learned how the roles and drills of these arms differed from the infantry.  For Cavalry Week additional horses to mount a complete squadron and for Artillery Week equipment and horses to form a complete battery were borrowed from the R.C.H.A. Brigade stationed at “Tête du Pont” Barracks, now known as Fort Frontenac.

In the artillery department we were taught the details of the equipment and organization of that arm and the basics of the application and control of fire.  Some thought we spent too much time learning the details of World War I equipment which was already becoming obsolescent, but this work did impress the importance of knowing thoroughly the capabilities and limitations of the artillery weapon whatever it may be, and of knowing how to make immediate repairs in the field.

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