AN ADDRESS BY Air Commodore L. J. Birchall, O.B.E., D.F.C., C.D.,


The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Nov 1965

CHAIRMAN The President, Lt. Col. E. A. Royce, E.D.


Mr. Moderator, Mr. Controller, Honoured guests, gentlemen:

A proud mother once wrote to James I of England asking him to make her son a gentleman. King James was essentially a practical man and he replied, “My dear Madam, I could make your son a nobleman but God himself could not make him a gentleman.” This rather pessimistic view is not shared by R.M.C. for with complete optimism, each student on arrival becomes a gentleman cadet automatically–happily the end result usually justifies this hopeful approach.

Our speaker today is, of course, a schoolmaster and one of his colleagues in replying to the enquiries of a fond parent as to the progress and safety of her son wrote “Dear Madam, such time as your son does not devote to self-adornment is spent in the neglect of his studies.” Since both the studies and the adornment are supervised with some care at R.M.C., it seems likely some other institution was involved!

On the first of June, 1876, the Canadian Military College–it was not yet known as Royal-opened its doors to a class of eighteen cadets. The first Commandant was an engineer, Lieutenant-Colonel E. O. Ewart of the Royal Engineers, and the enabling Act of Parliament stated, “This institution is set up for the purpose of imparting a complete education in all branches of military tactics, fortification, engineering and general scientific knowledge in subjects connected with and necessary to a thorough knowledge of the military profession and for qualifying officers for command and for staff appointments.” Ten years later, Sir Charles Tupper wrote to the Minister of Militia: “I regard the Canadian Military College as one of the best of its class in the world. The training and results are in every way of a high order and the Americans themselves, I understand, say better than at West Point.” It might be well to mention that a military college was first suggested in 1816 so that a mere sixty years lapsed between the suggestion and the realization and I hope you will pardon me if I mention that, meanwhile, Royal Schools of Gunnery were established at Quebec and Kingston to antedate the Military College by five years. These batteries still exist as units of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. One additional comment may be interesting in this regardwhen Sir John French as Inspector General of the Imperial Forces carried out a thorough investigation of the Canadian Militia at the request of our government in 1910, he was highly critical of almost everything. There were two exceptions–the Royal Military College and Petawawa Camp!

The Royal Military College has had its problems but apart from one isolated bad patch in the 1890’s, its record has been one of excellence and its Commandants able, dedicated men to whom Canada owes a great debt of gratitude. Those of us who learned our soldiering in the old pre-war Militia may well regard ourselves as stepchildren of the College for our minute Regular Army was officered almost entirely by a tiny band of graduates from the College. These were the men who worked with us at Royal Schools and Provisional Schools and Summer Camps and week-end exercises to give us some idea of soldiering. Without these men Canada could never have made the effort she did in 1914 and again in 1939. May I suggest that no expenditure of public funds in our history has yielded greater benefits to Canada than those devoted to the maintenance of the Royal Military College for without its graduates and their Militia proteges, we would have been entirely dependent on other countries for the training of our staff officers and commanders in two great wars.

Our speaker today requires little introduction. He is a career soldier, educated at the Royal Military College. He has represented Canada in Washington, Paris, and Japan where he was a member of the prosecution team in the Japanese war trials. The great opportunity of his service career came on that momentous day in 1942 over the Indian Ocean when he saw the Japanese fleet spread out below him -a fleet fresh from an unbroken series of victories and on its way to what it confidently believed to be the conquest of Ceylon as a first step to seizing India. Commodore Birchall passed his message of warning and was immediately shot down; it must have been weeks and months before he learned in his Japanese prison camp that his action had resulted in the first serious reversal to Japanese arms and the salvation of Ceylon. However, there is more to the story–Hemingway, that great writer, described courage as grace under pressure and there is no doubt it takes a special sort of courage to maintain not only one’s own morale but those of one’s associates and subordinates in the atmosphere of a prison camp where news is non-existent, conditions wretched and punishment severe. Our speaker had greatness thrust upon him when he saved Ceylon but he achieved another sort of greatness as a prisoner-of-war–his devotion and example earned him the O.B.E.

The motto of the Royal Military College and its sister colleges is “Truth, Duty, Valour”. I am sure no one in the long and glorious history of the College has better epitomized these qualities than our speaker today. It is my privilege to introduce Air Commodore Birchall, O.B.E., D.F.C., C.D.


Mr. Chairman, honoured guests, members of the Empire Club: It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to be here today as your guest speaker. I had the honour of speaking to your Club shortly after my return to Canada in late 1945 and at that time I tried to give a description of my experiences during 31/a years as a prisoner-of-war in Japan. Since my topic today is to describe the purpose and operation of the Canadian Services or Military Colleges, my trend in topics is in direct opposition to that of television where horror programmes are on the increase. Nevertheless, I trust that you will bear with me in my role as Dr. Jekyll rather than Mr. Hyde.

No one will deny the fact that it is essential to have, within the officer cadre, a hard core of well educated, highly trained officers from which to draw our commanders and senior staff, and the purpose of the Military Colleges is to produce junior officers for the base of this core. It is necessary, therefore, to have a look at this type of officer for a moment.

Today, not only must the junior officer be able to train and lead his men, he must also have a very intimate knowledge of government, politics, national and international affairs, economics and science if he is to give sound advice to his superiors. This is only part of the problem. The Services must compete with the professions, as well as with big business for the best brains in the country and only by offering a career of comparable challenge can the Services attract applicants of high standard. Again, to maintain a high standard of physical fitness in the Services, an officer retires at a relatively young age, and he must be adequately equipped to change to civil life at the end of his service. The final factor is that he is likely to spend much of his career in the prevention of, and preparation for war, but while he may not actually have to fight a war, he must be ready at all times to do so. During the time he is not fighting, he must play his part in the social, professional and intellectual life in his community, and must therefore have an education standard equivalent to the leaders in that community.

Such education is also essential to keep the officer’s mind alert, exercised and fit to absorb, as well as to use, experience effectively. In essence, the Service officer’s mind must be disciplined, enquiring, and above all, creative.

This is the junior officer of today, but the recruits entering the Colleges this year could still be under retirement age by the year 2000 A.D., and who knows what the future may hold. With this rather sobering thought, I shall now describe what the Military Colleges have done and are doing about this very important task.

After the achievement of Confederation, the British regular units were gradually withdrawn from Canada, thereby making it necessary to create a Canadian Permanent Armed Force. The most imperative need was a source of professionally trained officers, and the government took steps to remedy the situation by establishing the Royal Military College in 1876.

From the beginning until the College was closed during World War II, cadets entered the College and paid their own way. The curriculum had a heavy emphasis on military training in all three Services and at the same time gave the academic equivalent of about three university years in Arts, Science and Engineering. There was no commitment to join the Permanent Force upon graduation and all graduates who joined the Permanent Force did so voluntarily. There were 41 % who did so and many more would have joined but were prevented by the limited number of commissions offered by the Services.

Then came the Soviet nuclear threat and the Korean war. It now became evident that because of the nature of modern strategy and weapons, a future war would be so immediately overwhelming and devastating that there would be no time to mobilize and train Reserves. It would be necessary to fight with forces in being and so our defence policy became one of having a much larger Permanent Force. Another and perhaps more important consequence was that with modern complex weapon systems and strategy, a larger number of officers educated to university degree standard were required.

As you know, universities, industry and many branches of government are all providing financial assistance in the form of scholarships, bursaries, gifts and loans to further the university education of outstanding students. This competition made it necessary for the Services to inaugurate the Regular Officer Training Plan, or ROTP, under which cadets are given a university education with the government paying all costs for tuition, uniform, books, board and lodging, either at a Military College or a university. The cadet is also given about $65 monthly take-home pay. For this the cadet, upon graduation, undertakes to serve a minimum of four years in the Permanent Force. The only subsequent change in this Plan is that now up to 15% of the intake can be what is known as “Reserve Entry”; these cadets pay their way as before and have no obligation to serve in the Permanent Force after graduation. They must, however, attend summer training with their Service at which time they are paid as officer cadets.

There is good reason for the Reserve Entry. Many young lads today would like to take advantage of the excellent education and training in the Military Colleges but are not certain enough about making the Service a career to commit themselves so early. Under the Reserve Entry they can give it a try and if they like it they can transfer at any time to the Regular Plan with all its benefits.

As an indication of the value placed on this Plan, the Ex-Cadet Club, or alumni, have started a Foundation Fund and one of its aims is to provide three $1,000 scholarships each year for Reserve cadets. The first scholarship was awarded this year, very shortly after the start of the Foundation Fund, and the recipient was a lad from Toronto. He is an outstanding cadet in all respects and gives every indication that he will be one of our superior graduates.

The selection procedures and standards are the same for all candidates, either Regular or Reserve Entry. A candidate must be a Canadian or a British subject; have reached his sixteenth but not his twenty-first birthday on the first day of January preceding entrance; be single and remain single until graduation, and have passed his junior matriculation for College militaire royal de Saint-Jean or senior matriculation for RMC and Royal Roads with a minimum average of 64%. Following these more or less mechanical screens, he is processed through selection teams whose task is to identify those with the intellectual and emotional ability to meet the demands of the officer role. The selection is divided roughly into two parts, firstly, a joint medical-psychological examination designed to eliminate candidates unsuitable on physical, emotional and intellectual grounds; and secondly, by a series of interviews and test banks to assess military and leadership potential. Since an officer spends his entire career working in close association with others, one of the most important factors is how well the candidate gets on with and influences other people. The tests are therefore aimed at determining how well he can use his verbal, practical and planning skills in contributing to the solution of a group problem; and how well he can co-operate with other members of the group, persuade them to work together, and above all, persuade them to accept him in the role of leader.

There are two approximately equal streams of cadets in the ROTP; one through the civilian universities and one through the Military Colleges. There are about 40 Canadian universities involved in the ROTP and three Military Colleges: Royal Roads on the West Coast, College militaire royal de Saint-Jean in Saint-Jean, Quebec, and Royal Military College in Kingston. Royal Roads accommodates about 200 cadets, with a yearly intake of about 130. Entrance qualification is senior matriculation and it has a two year university course. CMR accommodates about 400 cadets, with a yearly intake of about 175 (60% French and 40% English-speaking). Entrance qualification is junior matriculation because there are many places in Quebec and other Provinces where a student cannot obtain a senior matriculation locally. CMR has, therefore, a Prep Year to bring the recruits up to senior matriculation standard, followed by a further two years of university studies, making a three year course in all. RMC accommodates 550 cadets, has a yearly intake of about 75 cadets, an entrance requirement of senior matriculation, and gives a four year university course. The reason for the small intake is that all cadets, upon graduation from Royal Roads and CMR, come to RMC for their last two years, making a third year class at RMC of over 200 cadets.

The main difference academically between the universities and Military Colleges is that in the universities the curriculum and standards are at the discretion of the university, whereas in the Military Colleges the curriculum can be adjusted to meet Services requirements, provided the basic standards for a university degree are met. For example, in the Military Colleges, all Arts students are given 865 hours of mathematics and science as against the civilian Arts student who takes very little, if any, of these courses. All Military College engineering students take approximately 500 hours of humanities compared with approximately 200 hours given in a Canadian university. French language instruction is mandatory for all cadets during the first 3 years in the Military Colleges, bringing all cadets to a fair level of bilingualism. In addition, four years of military studies are an important part of the curriculum.

There are, however, many advantages in maintaining ROTP cadets in the universities. For one thing, it keeps the military in the eyes of the civilian students while at the same time the cadets establish a very close relationship with future leaders in Canadian industry, the professions and government.

The Military Colleges have a double aim, to educate and train, that is, to provide cadets with a mental, moral and physical stamina. Regarding education, in addition to those differences I have already discussed, 15% of the curriculum is devoted to military studies, drill and PT. The military studies encompass a wide range of subjects, dealing with Service customs, roles and organization of the Services, military history, the employment of forces, leadership and man-management. Apart from this formal training and living in a military atmosphere at the College, the cadet looks to the ten-week summer period spent with his Service each year as the primary source of specialized Service training.

I would now like to discuss the training aspect which is perhaps the most important task of the Military Colleges. There is one quality which can be identified as fundamental to any successful enterprise: namely the willingness of each member to subordinate his own desires to the best interests of the organization. In the Services this quality reaches its maximum during war when the military demands the ultimate in subordination of self-the surrender of life. A leader can only get his men to do this if they can identify themselves with a higher loyalty such as to country, Service, ship, station or unit. That is why, as leaders in training, the cadets start as men in the ranks, live a restricted life and are under strict discipline. This system subjects them to ways and means of developing the ability to forego personal pleasures and desires through the creation of a higher sense of achievement in promoting the greater well-being of the whole unit.

Thomas Huxley, one of the greatest scientists, lecturers and educationalists, once wrote: “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.” Our system is aimed at the acquiring of this ability.

Training is given by daily routine and athletics. The daily routine starts from the second the cadet puts his foot into the College as a recruit. Reveille is at 6:15 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. there are sports on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and tutorials and non-athletic activities on Tuesday and Thursday. 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday is reserved for private study with lights out every night at 11 p.m. Saturday, they can sleep till 7:15; sports and drill in the morning, with the afternoon and evening free. Sunday they sleep till 7:30 a.m., church parade at 10 a.m. and the afternoon is free. A very full schedule, but necessary in order to get everything done. Perhaps many of the things they do find time to do would be better left undone. Last year a visiting Royal Navy Frigate which anchored in the harbour had the College letters painted on its side during the night in three-foot letters of red paint and a Greek freighter suffered the same fate this year. At our last Convocation, I arrived on the parade square with the Minister of National Defence to be confronted by a large sign on one of our dormitories which was undergoing repairs, saying: “Demolition for Coeducational Purposes-Condemned”. I suppose if you are going to raise tigers, there is no sense in having them tame.

From recruits on through the four years, it is a progressive system in which responsibilities are added and commensurate privileges granted, such as passes, week-end leave and lights out when desired. The seniors, or fourth year cadets, have responsibility for command and control of the Cadet Wing and they have a command structure the same as at a normal unit. There is a Wing Commander with his headquarters staff and each of the five squadrons has its Squadron Commander and staff. They are responsible for discipline through proper orderly room procedures, standards of dress, deportment and drill, management and supervision of all sports, dances, entertainment and other College activities. This, of course, is under the regulations as laid down and the immediate supervision of the College staff. In this way the cadets get invaluable training in discipline, leadership and man-management. The two main guide lines are:

He who will not accept orders has no right to give them.

He who will not serve has no right to command.

The second part of training is athletics. Cadets do PT, aquatics to Red Cross standards, sports fundamentals and skills. In the sports programme there are 24 intramural sports in which all cadets are taught the basic skills, rules and organization. During the afternoon sports periods, four of the squadrons play against each other while the fifth organizes and officiates. Each cadet must play at least one body-contact and one individual sport. In the extramural programme we have teams in 17 sports and this past year we won 8 firsts, 5 seconds and 2 thirds, giving us top rating in 15 out of the 17 sports. Over 200 of our 500 cadets participated in these sports, mainly in the Ottawa-St. Lawrence League of 10 universities such as Ottawa, Loyola and Carleton, whose registrations are in the thousands.

Perhaps you are wondering just how the new policy of integration will affect the Colleges. Unlike Military Colleges in the United States, the Commonwealth and other countries, RMC and its sister colleges have always been operated on an integrated basis. It is really only when the cadets graduated and were sent to their respective Services that they became Service oriented. Clearly then, the integration of the forces is a welcome boon to both staff and cadets. The common training, experience, background and friendship developed during the College years make the cadets ideally suited to the new concept of integration. The cadets themselves are enthusiastic and excited about the challenges presented by this modern approach to defence organization and are proud that Canada is the world leader in this field.

One immediate result of the present integration which is of importance to us, is integrated recruiting. This, as you know, has just been inaugurated the past year, but already its effects are being felt and will provide a sounder basis for selection of recruits. As experience is gained in this field and integration progresses, efficiency can be further improved. The integrated Training Command is another advantage as it will enable the Colleges to deal with one agency, on training matters, not only in the Colleges but during the summer, instead of three as in former years. These and many more advantages will be attained under integration.

How successful are the Military Colleges? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the Military Colleges, over and above academics, cadets are failed for lack of physical fitness, for lack of officer-like qualities, and in military studies. Yet, for every 100 students who enter RMC, 66% graduate, whereas at the Canadian universities approximately 48% graduate. In the past two years we had three Rhodes Scholarships and this is all the more remarkable when you consider that out of over 25,000 graduates annually in Canada eligible to compete for 11 of these scholarships, only 190 are from RMC. We have also had three Athlone Fellowships and 19 other top Canadian and United States scholarships in the same period of time. This high level of academic success is possible through being a small residential College with a first-class faculty dedicated to “The Pursuit of Excellence”.

The next important question is “How many remain after their Service commitment?” The latest figures are that approximately 54% of the university graduates remain, and approximately 70% of the Military College graduates remain. Considering for a moment those who do return to civilian life, it is interesting to note that many have been highly successful and made valuable contributions in all walks of life. Many are, or have been, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, or held other high positions in government. Several of our largest industries today have graduates as directors or presidents.

Gentlemen, I hope I have been able to give you an insight into the production of junior officers for the Canadian Armed Forces by the Military Colleges. History records that the graduates of the Military Colleges have played important roles not only in the history of Canada but of the Empire and the Commonwealth. I am certain that this will continue and that you, as Canadians, can be proud of those who will in the future be the leaders of our Armed Forces and the defenders of our way of life.