The following was taken during an early raid on Maisonneuve Squadron.  The assembled raiders from Champlain Squadron are: C.V.A. Colin Browne, D.W. Brady (I am not certain after sixty years!), J.F. John Clayton and T.S. Terry McCoy.

Photo caption:  The following was taken during an early raid on Maisonneuve Squadron. The assembled raiders from Champlain Squadron are: C.V.A. Colin Browne, D.W. Brady (I am not certain after sixty years!), J.F. John Clayton and T.S. Terry McCoy.

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.

To that end, I have transcribed the first three letters from September 1963 for your examination.   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.

First Letter 

Sept. 8, 1963


Dear Mom and Dad,

Today, Sunday, is one of the few days in which we have any spare time, so I’m going to write as many letters as I can.

During weekdays we get up at 6:30 officially, actually at 6:00.  It’s not too bad but I do miss sleeping in. Saturday we may sleep till 7:00 and Sunday 8:45!!  In reality we don’t sleep past 7:30 on Sundays because there is a lot of work to do.  Beds must be made with a ruler!  Blinds are open precisely 14”, windows 6”.  Books are placed just so   It’s the hardest housekeeping I’ve ever done.

Classes start on the 16th but we’ve already got our books, 33 altogether!  The subjects we will take are: physics, math, English, French, history, chemistry and military science.  The sports are entirely different from what I had expected.  We don’t take three, we take up to twenty-three, all of which are compulsory.  One good thing, we get 12 hours of fencing.  Some of the sports are: football, soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, softball, volleyball, etc. ad infinitum.

Len Sherwood made it as did several others from our group at Centralia.  It was rather funny when I got off the plane at Montreal, met an army Captain who led me and about ten others to an Air Force bus and I practically tripped on Len’s toes as I stepped on the bus.

When we arrived at St. Jeans or at least at the college we were met by about twenty older cadets who did their best to make our first moments memorable, unpleasantly so!  They jumped on us at every turn, called us every conceivable name and were generally miserable.

After this run-around we were assigned Squadrons, Flights, Sections and Rooms.  My roommate was not Charles but he does speak very good English.  His name is Normand Charrette.

As yet we haven’t got any real uniforms but we have been issued our PT (physical training) shorts and T-shirts.  We have also been given our socks: 3 black pair, 4 grey, our shirts, ten altogether, but no uniforms, blazers, slacks, etc.  We are fitted for them next week but we won’t get them until November some time.

After the first ten or fifteen weeks we become Prep Year Cadets: until then we are Recruits.  We are given few if any privileges and they can be taken away.  As recruits we must double-time (run) everywhere unless we are marching in a flight or squadron.  In the living quarters we have to march at attention (arms shoulder high).  On Sundays however we don’t have to double-time outside, just march at attention-

The food is almost as good as the food at Centralia except there is more variety here.  On the other hand we get less so it’s about even.  There is more ceremony attached to a meal here but we have less time to eat in, so often we miss dessert or even the main course.  Yet I really don’t feel hungry, only tired.

The drill here is entirely different from anything I’d learned in air cadets so I have to unlearn everything before I can learn anything.  For drill instruction we have a Regimental Sergeant Major.  He is always immaculate but he is also as tough as nails.

I don’t have much more time because I have to press pants, shine my shoes and see my CSC (Cadet Section Commander) as well as read Cadwins (Cadet Wing Instructions).


Love, John

P.S.  my address is: 

Champlain Squadron,

College Militaire Royale de Saint-Jean,

Saint-Jean, P.Q,




Second Letter 

Postmarked 16 Sep 63

Dear Mom, Dad, 

So much has happened since last Sunday that I couldn’t tell it all in less than a book.  I can only tell the major events.

My hair, to begin with, no longer exists.  It was butchered last Monday by a rather crude barber.  He can only do a very short brush-cut but he has perfected his obnoxious technique.  It takes him 5 minutes a person.

The major form of punishment has been instituted.  It is known as circle parade.  Each circle entails a run around the parade square perimeter, one-third of a mile.  A circle is given to punish any and every minor offence.  The more common are: dust on ties, wrinkles on the corner of a bed, pants with multiple creases, eyes moving on parade and other minor offences which I won’t relate (it would take too long).  The maximum anyone is allowed to run in any one day is 6.  If he has more, they are carried-over to the next day.  The parade is formed up at 10:05 every evening except Sunday and the “bad”-boys run.  So far I think I have the record low in our squadron.  I have had 4: one for leaving a light on in my room, one for not pressing my slacks to the top, 2 for not taking my gym strip to PT (physical training). Some people have had up to 40 or more but my room mate has had only 12.

We have also walked over the “assault” or obstacle course which forms a major part of the initiation race.  It is going to be difficult, to say the least!  At one point there is a creek over which we have to swing on ropes.  The difficulty is getting up on the other bank after you have swung across.  Usually you slide back in.  At another point along the creek there are two wooden logs on a wooden fence-like structure.  The logs across the creek look like this — 



The only difficulty here is the logs will be greased.  There are many others, such as: a wall 20 ft high that is climbed using a rope.   On the other side is a rope to a platform 8 feet below.  We then jump 12 ft into a sawdust pit.  Another is a metal frame which has rungs on the top like a ladder.  We have to go from one side to the other hanging like monkeys.  There are many others, about 15, almost as bad.

This Sunday we wore a uniform for the first time, our No. 5s.  That is, our battle-dress.  Very dark blue trousers, black tunic, dark blue wedge, black tie, heavy boots and white, not blue, shirt.  It looks good but it’s horrible to keep dusted and pressed.

Last Friday, the 13th, we had pay parade.  I got a measly ten dollars.  However it helps because I had to buy $9.20 worth of stuff from the canteen.  Things such as: weights for pants while wearing gaiters, shoe polish, white paint for our web belts and many other things.

Thanks for the letter.

Love, John

Third Letter 

Postmarked 25 Sep 63

Dear Mom and Dad,

Things are finally settling down to a routine.  What a routine!  It’s really not bad now; the cadet officers are almost human!  Since classes have started I don’t have time for anything but I try to write as many letters as possible between classes, study periods and general clean up duties.

To prove I am doing OK I’ll again mention the general form of punishment, circles.  The maximum anyone has had so far is 65 or 70! The minimum, as far as I know, is 5.  I have a grand total of 10.  So I’m not such a “bad” boy after all!  In fact, I have the second lowest as far as I know.  Of course, the only reason is, I don’t get caught doing what everyone else gets circles for.

To go over recent events: last Tuesday we were fitted for our good uniforms; not the scarlets but the No. 4’s.  They are very dark blue with a red stripe on the pants, silver buttons, black Wellingtons and, of course, the pillbox.  All in all it looks better, in my opinion, than the scarlet dress uniform.

Last Saturday night, actually Sunday morning, was really hectic.  There were two “raids”.  We raided Cartier at 2:30 am and they raided Maisonneuve at 4:30.  Our raid was very quiet.  We took 40 hurdles into Cartier barracks without making a sound.  We then took every piece of furniture out of their lounge.  We took tables, chairs, lamps, pictures, ashtrays, emblems, flags and everything else that was unattached.  After we got the furniture outside we packed it over to the drill-square and neatly arranged it exactly as it was in their lounge!  The only hitch occurred when someone tripped over a hurdle and woke them up.  You’ve never seen anyone run as fast as we did.  Zoom!!!  This is when the sneaky trick took place.  Instead of running to our own barracks we ran towards Maisonneuve.  Cartier fell for it and when they retaliated they took all of Maisonneuve’s furniture out to the middle of the football field, a distance of 500 yards!  Thus we were left alone to sleep from 2:30 or 3:00 onwards whereas Cartier was up all night packing furniture!  Hee Hee!!!

Talk about fitting for uniforms.  Do you know how many measurements it takes to fit a person for one?  I was standing for almost an hour while they plied a tape measure in every possible direction, up, down, around, over and under.  Gads!  They had to lengthen the sleeves of a tunic 3” for my arms and take in 3” from the waist.  At least it fits now.  We also got our great-coats, regular navy issue great-coats.  The trouble is we have to dust and press everything every day.

A little trick some of us played the other day was as follows: I typed up a note saying all Cartier recruits should report for extra PT in the afternoon, Sunday afternoon that is.  Norman translated it into French and we then put it in Cartier block on the notice board.  They fell for it!!!  That afternoon half the Cartier recruits were lined up in the gymnasium waiting for PT lessons.  When they found out it was a phony they were hopping mad.  I can’t really blame them!

I must thank you all for your letters and please tell dad I’m try and get his cartoons in the CMR yearbook.  They really went over in a big way around here.  Thanks for the money too!  There have been many minor expenses here and every little bit helps.  Thank Heavens Friday is payday: I’ll get about $40.  Not too bad at all.  As for other news, there are so many minor items I can’t remember them.  So I won’t try.  It can wait till Christmas when we can talk for days about CMR.

Study period starts NOW!!!  Gotta go.

Love, John



  1. John Zirnhelt (1965 cmr grad) on November 4, 2023 at 12:09 pm

    So many memories! I was in Champlain as a First Year during the time covered by John’s letters but life as he describes it takes me right back there!

  2. Fletcher Thomson 7530 on November 4, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks John. Your letters bring the memories flooding back. I was also in Champlain Squadron 60 years ago.

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