By way of introduction, I entered College Militaire Royale in September 1963, almost exactly sixty years ago.
In short, as a young officer cadet at CMR, I wrote more than sixty letters to my parents throughout my Preparatory Year. My mother kept the lot of them in numbered sequence. Then, after she passed away several years ago, my sister in Vancouver mailed them back to me. Upon opening the small box of hand written letters just recently and reading many, I was struck that these notes, which describe college life and the recruits’ experience in some detail, might be of interest to younger generations of cadets for comparative purposes and to older generations for sheer nostalgia.
Please remember that they were written very quickly by a very young cadet. I say very young because I was only sixteen years old at the time. In fact, I was two weeks short of the minimum age requirement and, therefore, needed ministerial approval for admission.
Postmarked 23 September 1963
Dear Mom and Dad,
This is a very short letter but I can’t really do much better ’cause I have so much to do. Actually, things are settling down to a routine in which we have lots to do but little time to do it in. However it is enjoyable, especially at breakfast. I don’t know why, but that is one part of the day I always look forward to. Probably because it’s cold outside, and inside it’s warm, everyone is wide awake after parading outside, and the food is hot, as well as delicious. But even more likely, it is the cup of coffee. This is the only time I can have a good cup of coffee, and it’s something I do rather miss.
Classes aren’t bad, in fact, History and English are lots of fun. Unfortunately, I almost fall asleep in every Math period. It’s not that Math is boring; it’s just the first period in the morning and the room is very warm. Chemistry is easy to remain awake in. It’s also a ‘cinch’ course. I could do it blindfolded! Physics, on the other hand, is the most difficult course I have ever taken. I shudder when I think of it. French is a different story altogether. We’ve done nothing in it so far. No, I shouldn’t say that; we have been in the ‘Language Lab’. This room has about 30 little cubicles in it. In each cubicle there is a tape recorder and control panel with which you can record your voice and play it back to hear if your pronunciation is correct. The professor may talk, via the central control panel, to all of the students or to each one separately for added instruction. It’s truly ingenious. The most interesting course, however, believe it or not, is Religion. There is no real work, but we have discussed the major Protestant groups in Canada as well as the world’s major ‘living’ religions. It’s really interesting.
Drill is a formal course but it cannot be called interesting or enjoyable, only hard work. But, I don’t mind it because I know I have a lot to learn. Sports are getting tough right now because we are getting instruction in football, soccer and track and field. The football instruction involves some of the most sadistically devised exercises. The worst was tackling this great big dummy. It would not move unless you nearly killed yourself leaping at it. Soccer isn’t quite as bad, but it’s still no fun. The worst however is the track and field. We have instruction in sprinting, hurdles, high jump, broad jump, hop, skip & jump, shot put, discus, javelin and cross-country. Most aren’t too bad and some are even fun, especially the javelin. The cross-country is the worst. We have to run over three miles in this event and you can imagine what it’s like — puff-puff!!! At least I don’t collapse, only just about.
Tonight, Saturday, there was a Squadron ‘party’, sort of an informal gathering of prep, first and second year cadets. I, like a few others, was so busy shining and pressing that I didn’t bother to go. But what a noise! Afterwards we all gave one fellow a birthday present, a nice cold shower while he was wearing all of his clothes.
It’s now Sunday afternoon, so you can see I didn’t have enough time last night. Today, like every day, has been hectic. There was a wing parade this morning with an important inspection by the Commandant!! We were all spit and polish so I hope we (Champlain Squadron) beat the rest. The trouble with the inspection was that it was raining and it had to be done in the drill hall. Was it crowded!! And hot! And stuffy!! It was so bad that at least 6 people fainted. After the inspection was Church Parade, then lunch. At 3 o’clock we had a drill practice IN THE RAIN! Ugh!! You see, next week it is our duty to raise the flag in the morning and take it down at night. We practiced the whole procedure while we got thoroughly soaked.
Tomorrow we have more lessons, school, drill and sports, but who cares!!! It’s the next day that bothers me; we have an exam on logic and sets in math. I’m really studying now. I’ll write again next week.
Postmarked 6 October 1963
Dear Mum and Dad,
Last week was a hectic one! Every afternoon from 4 till 5:30 or 6 was spent doing Wing drill. You see, there was a big ceremonial parade on Saturday Oct. 5th. All the big brass was present. There were dozens of Flight ‘Looies’, Captains and Lieutenants (Navy). There were a few Wing Commanders and five or six Squadron Leaders, a few Lieutenant-Commanders and a Colonel. To top it all off there was an Air Marshall!!! So you see, it was a big affair.
The Seniors were wearing their No. 1, ceremonial dress. That is, the scarlet uniform with drill boots, gaiters, white buckskin belts and either rifles or ceremonial swords. There was more silver, gold and shining brass than in the Canadian Mint.
As for the poor old recruits, well, we didn’t have scarlets or rifles or swords. We wore black battledress with white gloves and web belts. Our drill boots and gaiters had to be perfectly shiny as did our brass, but it generally was. We managed to look pretty good even if we didn’t have the beautiful uniforms.
Oh, by the way, we are all TV stars. A Montreal station sent cameramen to film the parade for the news that evening.
After the parade there was an awards assembly for last year’s Preps and Juniors. But nothing for us. We just sat looking stupid. The big part we played was singing “God Save the Queen” and “O Canada” (in French). The only trouble was that half the French Canadians wouldn’t sing “God Save the Queen” unless they’re told to be a senior. I got a little peeved when some of them made a few uncomplimentary and unrepeatable remarks concerning the Queen, but nevertheless it was a good parade! All the awards, at least half anyway, were given to Champlain! Tea Team!!!
Another unpleasantly interesting experience of the last week is as follows: I was charged under article 14 of the CMR code. Sounds bad doesn’t it!?!? Guess what I did wrong. I left my light on in my room when I went to brush my teeth! For that I have a trial and maybe one or two days of ‘D’ punishment. You see ‘A’ is the worst. It’s demotion for cadet officers. ‘B’ is confinement to college and restriction of leave with extra fatigue duties. ‘C’ is extra duties. ‘D’ is extra parades and circles! Ugh!! Oh well, I hope you’re thinking of me when I’m puffing around the parade square at 10:00 o’clock Monday night. You will find enclosed an extra copy of the charge report I had to fill out. Notice the weird terminology that is insisted upon. QUAINT AIN”T IT!!! [Unfortunately the enclosure appears to have gone astray in the last sixty years.]
We have also got our ID cards which are good until 1968 which seems like a rather long time. The picture of me is horrible, but at least it’s not as bad as some. The photographer should, as far as we’re concerned, be shot.
Every evening we have what is called ‘shower parade’. It is for such special occasions as awards or birthdays. So far we’ve chucked three or four people in. When we tried to throw one of our Senior Cadets in, he got so scared that he nearly grabbed his ceremonial sword to defend himself. As it was, he was backed into a corner waving his birth certificate to ward us off. It’s not my birthday! It’s next June!! HELP!!! was all he could say. His roommate, DCFL Kleinstuber, was doubled over laughing and choking on a cigar. CFA Nappert was yelling “Go get him. It’s his birthday!” and total confusion reigned supreme.
So until next week, Love John.