We Remember: Farewell to a Leader – CWO (ret) Denis Fournier, CD, 1938 – 2003

Challenge to Ex cadets (all three military colleges)

Last edition we ran an article on Sergeant Major J.E. Coggins who served at RMC from 1929 until 1958 except of course when the college was closed from 1942 – 48. This time we highlight the late CWO (ret) Denis Fournier, CD, 1938 – 2003 who served at RMC as Drill Sergeant Major  from 1976 to 1979, and who later returned as College Sergeant Major from 1986 to 1990

We invite other Ex cadets (and current cadets – if they dare) to submit similar impressions of their RSM’s & / or drill instructors during their eras as cadets.

We have heard various names mentioned over the years i.e. McManus in the 1960’s, Slaney in the 70s, Tripp in the early 80’s and again in the early 90’s, Gino Moretti, Brent Mills, and so forth. We believe what it goes to show is, the Drill Staff really taught cadets something about real soldiering.

Leave a comment and better still – send us along your drill instructor story. (Keep in mind that this is a family friendly read newsletter, so please no exact quotes)

Farewell to a Leader

In memory of CWO (ret) Denis Fournier, CD, 1938 – 2003

Just after Thanksgiving weekend, the College bade its last farewell to a man who was both a great leader and a true friend to many cadets who passed through RMC during the late 1970’s and late 1980’s. On 14 October 2003, CWO (ret) Denis Fournier, who served as Drill Sergeant Major at RMC from 1976 to 1979, and who later returned as College Sergeant Major from 1986 to 1990, passed away in Kingston at the untimely age of 65.

Born in Sainte Camille, Quebec on 23 February 1938, CWO Fournier served with distinction for the better part of four decades in the Royal Canadian Armour Corps. His military career began on 21 November 1956, when he commenced training at the RCAC School in Borden. Graduating as the top recruit on his course, he spent the next twelve years serving with the 8th Canadian Hussars at various locations in Canada and Germany.

Fournier rebadged to the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada when the regiment was restored to the regular order of battle in the late 1960’s. In 1979, at the end of his first posting to RMC, he returned to the regiment, where he earned promotion to the rank of CWO in 1982 and subsequently served a two-year tour of duty as RSM. Posted to Wainwright in 1984, he served for two years as the base CWO, following which he returned to RMC in 1986 for a four year period as College Sergeant Major. His final posting in the CF was as Academy CWO at the CF School of Leadership and Languages, from which he retired in 1993 after 36 years of service.

I will remember the first time I saw Sergeant Major Fournier if I live to be 100. It was the first Sunday in September of 1976. By that time our recruit class had been at the College for all of two weeks, but it was already becoming clear to many of us that Rook Camp was destined to turn out to be a lot more that we had originally bargained for.

I remember on that fateful Sunday we were practicing for our first official parade. “N” Flight, of which I was a member, marched out from our quarters in Fort Champlain onto the Square and made a right wheel, heading towards the Stone Frigate. At the end of the square we made two left wheels in quick succession, which left us marching back towards Fort Lasalle directly in front of the Mackenzie Building.

Suddenly, as we wheeled away from the Frigate and headed back towards the opposite end of the Square, into our field of vision came one of the most terrifying sights I had could ever have imagined. Right by the side of the Square was a seemingly gigantic figure with handlebar moustache, standing rigidly at attention, pace stick in hand. It was my first glimpse of Sergeant Major Fournier, and an image which has remained frozen in my mind to this very day.

The most frightening moment was yet to come, however. As our flight marched past this seemingly all powerful and Godlike figure, what do I hear but a thundering voice with a French accent, booming from directly behind me, commanding “GET IN STEP, YOU !”

It was my first encounter with a man who many of us have no doubt remembered as being one of the most forceful and inspiring leaders we ever met during our time at the College. Colourful and profane, Sergeant Major Fournier was a tough and exacting taskmaster on the Square. He demanded the utmost effort from his cadets, and on more than one occasion that I can recall, when we didn’t quite manage to measure up to his standards we quickly learned what it was like to feel the full force of his wrath.

But at the same time, it didn’t take us long to figure out that beneath that seemingly harsh and exterior there lurked the heart and soul of a lion. Sure, Fournier would give you hell, but he would do it to your face, and there was nothing personal about it. And as tough as he was on the Square, there is nothing he would not have done for his boys when they needed him. I will go to my grave believing that if we had ever come into any danger he would have put himself right in front of us, and never thought twice about it.

Like young recruits of any generation, when our class first arrived at the College many of us were terrified of our Drill Instructors. But as they got to know us and we got to know them, it wasn’t long before our fear was replaced by feelings of great admiration, respect, and affection for them. Sergeant Major Fournier and men like him might not have had a lot in the way of formal education, but I will nonetheless remember them as being the best teachers I ever had, anywhere.

As a cadet I only knew Sergeant Major Fournier for a brief period of time, as regrettably at the end of my first year I was obliged to leave the College and move on to other pursuits in life. But what a year it was ! And perhaps it is only a great many years later that I have started to appreciate the full significance of what he tried to teach us.

It was perhaps an interesting twist of fate that 25 years after leaving the College, which by that time was during the last year or so of Fournier’s life, the two of us got back in touch by e-mail. Over a period of several months we had a long and very interesting conversation via the Internet, during which we talked candidly about our lives both at RMC and since then. I remember that at one point, he practically had to order me to call him by his first name ! And the more Fournier told me, the more I started to realize just what a remarkable life he had led.

As a young man in 1956, Fournier had entered the service during a period which many observers now remember as being the Canadian Army’s golden years of the postwar era. During our various transmissions he described some of his own instructors to me, such as Charlie Levesque, his first Troop Sergeant during recruit training, and a guy who Fournier recalled as being “the best man I ever had the privilege of serving under.” He also told me about how during his career he had met several of the greatest combat leaders Canada has ever produced, men like “Fighting Frank” Worthington, the father of the Armour Corps in Canada, and Jacques Dextraze, who distinguished himself in both World War II and Korea, and who years later as CDS was the reviewing officer at the parade on 2 October 1976, at which my own class was formally promoted from recruits to First Year cadets.

I will never forget Sergeant Major Fournier. In many ways, I believe that he and men like him represented the last of a very special breed. He was one of those flamboyant and irreplaceable characters who pushed us beyond the limits of what we thought was possible, and in doing so, added an extraordinary amount of richness to our lives. He was a man who had faced great adversity at certain points in his own life, but who rose above it and always conducted himself with the utmost sense of integrity and honour. He was a professional soldier in the very best sense of the word, and one who taught us by his own example what it meant to be a real man and a real leader. He was a guy who demanded a lot from his cadets, but at the same time, a guy who cared very deeply about them.

He was taken from us too soon, but his spirit will remain with us forever. And as I look back today on everything that we went though together all those years ago, all I can say is, what a great honour it was for us to have known him.

Farewell, Sergeant Major. Farewell, Denis. Farewell, comrade, and rest in peace.

Soldiers know real leadership when they see it.

TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR.

12570 Mike Kennedy

 

Tidbits from Mike Kennedy

 

1. I noticed that Coggins was born on April 16, 1904. My son was born on April 17, 1994. He turns 19 today. They were born 90 years and one day apart.

2. My son is also exactly 75 years apart from Gilles Lamontagne (born 17 April 1919, turns 94 today) who was the MND when my class (1980) graduated.

3. Fournier joined the RCAC on 21 November 1956. I was born a year and a day later, on 22 November 1957.

4. Under English common law in the Middle Ages, if a serf fled from his master, and managed to remain at large for a year and a day, he was granted his freedom.

5. Finally, if you run the article on the coming Monday (22 April), you can report that exactly two months ago (22 Feb 2013), at 55 years of age, I was awarded my blue belt in judo. This is two levels below a black belt. My current plan is to carry on with judo for as long as I can, and hopefully earn the black belt one day.

6. In the event that I ever do get the black belt, my next goal will be to go looking for my former Rook Flight CFL !

5 Comments

  • 10838 Marc Grondin

    April 22, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Thank you Mike, for this capsule and your priceless tidbits…
    I first met WO Fournier during BOTC at Chilliwack in Jul 72.
    I support your evaluation of CWO Fournier as a true leder who made many of us better soldier, better human being.
    Thanks for bringing his memory back to us…
    Marc

  • Bob Kompf

    April 22, 2013 at 11:17 am

    CWO Sininger (after Coggins)

    As I recollect.

    Was RCE

    Planned Grad ’61 early (Presentation and Retirement of Colours, Trooping the Colours and Graduation). Segments were rehearsed beginning in Fall ’60. About two hour Wing Drill Parade every Saturday AM.

    Seemed about 2 X 3hr rehearsals daily for at least two weeks immediately prior to Grad. Brains boiled in the sun. Chin strap “non-tanned” line took months of summer sun to catch up.

    Staunchly defended integrity of pay clerk who had been ‘encouraged’ to approve ‘irregular’ academic travel expenses. Road from Guardhouse to basement of Haldimand where Accounts were housed had pot holes alleged to derive from his heel strikes as he approached his interview with head of Finance. Pay clerk posted away.

  • M0135 Don McLeod

    April 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I really appreciated Mike Kennedy’s comments on CWO (ret’d) Denis Fournier. Denis was my DSM from 1977-79 and when I returned to the College for my son’s graduatiuon in 1989 Denis was then the CSM. Denis asked me what I was doing at the RMC Grad. When I told him my son was on the parade square for graduation, he said “I wish I had known that!” He was more than my DSM, he was my friend who helped me a lot as a former NCM at MilCol. After his retirement Denis and I became close friends in Halifax and I saw him regularly up until his passing. He was indeed the last of a dying breed, one who knew what leadership was all about and how to bring it out in potential leaders. He will never be forgotten!

    M0135 Don McLeod

  • Lionel Boxer

    April 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Well said Mike. One of my strongest memories of RMC is Denis Fournier – he was a great man and taught us all a lot. As officer cadets, we were privileged to have had his guidance.
    Lionel Boxer
    12506

  • Bernard DeGagné

    April 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I also greatly appreciated Mike’s article and assessment of Mr Fournier. My exposure to him also began in 1976 as I arrived in Kingston from St Jean as a Third year. His drill classes were truly amazing and as I served as CWTO during the second term of my Fourth year I got to know the man even better as I spent a lot of time in his company and under his and Mr Slaney’s tutelage for the numerous parades we worked together. A true character and a legend.