12286 Commodore Nigel S. Greenwood, OMM, CD (RRMC 1975-79)
Cmdre Greenwood entered Royal Roads Military College in 1975 and was among the first class to complete the entire four year degree here. His current appointment is Commander, Canadian Fleet Pacific. Effective March 13th he will be promoted to Rear-Admiral and will be going to Ottawa as Deputy Chief of the Maritime Staff.
The following are excerpts from an oral history interview held in 2008 where he describes his RRMC cadet experience to Royal Roads University oral history coordinator, Karen Inkster.
Karen – So what made you decide that you wanted to come to Royal Roads?
Cmdre Greenwood – Well I joined at the same time as my twin brother (Cmdre Richard Greenwood, 12287, RRMC 1977, RMC 1979) – we grew up in Powell River and we were brought up through the Sea Cadet organization. My dad was a schoolteacher and introduced Royal Roads as an option so that he could see us off to university without necessarily having to pay the shot. That dovetailed nicely with our interest in maritime affairs through Sea Cadets.
I think we must have heard some time in May that we were both selected – and that was a cause of concern in our house – my mum and dad were concerned that maybe one of us would make the cut and not the other, but we were both selected.
The enrolment ceremony was down in Vancouver and that was in the first week of August and we went down as a family – my brother and I and my parents and my younger brother (Capt(N) Kevin Greenwood) and we had to do all the final paperwork at the recruiting section before we went to the enrolment ceremony in the afternoon. And at one point they asked, “Who’s had any kind of illness since they had their medical in January?” and I had to put up my hand because at that point I was ill with mononucleosis and so – and I remember this quite clearly – they hustled me out of the room as if I had the plague, sat me in another room for about an hour while they worked over this problem, and then they came back and they told me, “Sorry, we can’t take you.” And so I had to go back to the hotel and explain this to my mum and dad. The upshot of it all was that, that afternoon, my brother was enrolled and I wasn’t and I had to go home and wait for another couple of weeks until I was better. In fact the commandant of the day who was Capt(N) [RCK] Peers (RCNC 1946), called home in kind of the third week of August and said, “Well, why don’t you send him down – we’re ready for him now” and that’s when I actually came. So my brother, always from the beginning of our military career, has had two weeks’ seniority on me!
Karen – So what was it like arriving at Royal Roads?
Cmdre Greenwood – What had happened in the interim is that they had all come and they were two weeks into the recruit term of which you’ve probably heard quite a bit. My brother would phone home occasionally and he said, “Oh well we’re doing this and that” and we would say, “Well that sounds nuts”. I didn’t realize how strange it was until I actually arrived here and it was like being parachuted into a parallel universe because everyone else was walking around and fully indoctrinated into the routine and some of the strange protocols of the recruit term. And it caught a lot of people by surprise because my brother and I are twins, and the resemblance is quite striking, so they had to account for the two of us then in two different flights and two different squadrons and I was struggling for a couple of days to catch up on all the weird protocols.
Karen – So what were the first few weeks like for you then?
Cmdre Greenwood – There was a huge amount of formality. We were served at the table [in the dining room] and there was absolutely rigorous attention to table manners in the most excruciating way. And so if you were not deporting yourself as a young officer and gentleman, then you know you’d find yourself mustered in front of the flight commander to explain your excruciatingly bad table manners and to be assigned a few circles to run.
So they had six flights and these six long tables with about 15 cadets on either side. And I was in Fraser Flight, One Squadron, which I think was probably the first table and my brother was in McKenzie Flight, Second Squadron so he was third table down and I had come into this scenario and I didn’t know what to make of it for the first couple of days. They set the tables formally with the side plates close to the edge of the table and on the first day, fumbling for my knife I put my elbow on my side plate and knocked it off the table. And the second day I did the same thing but almost caught the plate and then made it worse by kind of flipping it across the table so that it landed and broke and at that point my flight leader stood and yells down the hall: “Can I trade you my Greenwood for yours?” So that kind of put me on a back-step for a little while as well. So there were a few funny moments like that. I can tell that with a laugh now but it was excruciating at the time.
I remember something that I did think was strikingly different and kind of novel about the college was the formality of the discipline in the sense of the rigid hierarchy of the flights and squadrons and then the use of what we called at that time, “CADWINS” which was the cadet wing instructions and that was treated as kind of a you know a system of military law unto itself and then managed in a similar way as the formal military system is now. And I found that a little bit daunting at first.
Karen – Sounds like a different world….
Cmdre Greenwood – Yes, a very closed world in many respects and of course there was the formality of the dress. When we first came in all the cadets got measured and uniforms tailor-made for them: the scarlets, the high collar blue serge tunics, the blue blazer and grey flannels and then the CF uniforms as well and then we were fitted with kind of our daily uniforms on top of that. So up until Christmastime in my first year we were only permitted to ‘go ashore’ if we were wearing our number four which was the high collar, blue tunic with a pillbox hat and with a short, scarlet lined cape – which was significantly conspicuous on the streets of Victoria in 1975 I can tell you! It didn’t help very much getting into bars underage, I can tell you, not at all!
Karen – Did you ever play any pranks?
Cmdre Greenwood – Because the rooms [in the Nixon Block] had double-sliding sash windows one of the favourite pranks was that you’d lean outside the window and you could take a bag of water and lob it in through the top sash into the room below. But with the carpets going into the block they said that’s an end to it, and so a couple of days before they actually started the work there was kind of the water gronch to end all gronches and it started with one of the flights on the top floor got one of these 49-gallon garbage bins on wheels, filled it with water and propped it up against door of the elevator and sent it down a floor with the doors open and the thing fell over and just inundated the room across the hallway. It escalated from there to the point that water was just cascading down the main steps of the block and being kind of swished out the front door with brooms. And that was the end of the water gronches.
Karen – What was your favourite part of attending Royal Roads?
Cmdre Greenwood – It’s hard to say. I guess in the end I guess I appreciate the very broad liberal education I got at the place. I appreciate the friendships I made, many of which I’ve retained over the years. The thing that strikes me as I look through the yearbooks is how many of those people I still recognize immediately and I can call their names even if I hadn’t seen their faces for 25 years. I think while I was here one of the things that was a significant release and diversion was being part of the band. We used to practice two nights a week in between dinner and the start of study hours in the room up at the top of the castle and it was an opportunity to get apart from the rigid hierarchical routine and discipline of the college and just sit in a room and everyone within the room was a bandsman first and you know, first, second, or third year after that.
Karen – So how did Royal Roads impact the rest of your life?
Cmdre Greenwood – I have to say that for several years after I left Royal Roads I wouldn’t have been able to give a detached and complimentary answer to that question because I found that as good as the broad, liberal education that I received here and the military orientation and the kind of introduction to military discipline and hierarchy are concerned there wasn’t a lot that I learned at the college that materially enhanced or assisted me in learning a naval officer’s trade and succeeding in the business at sea. So that didn’t dispose me to think very highly of the kind of leg-up the college had given me.
In hindsight that was a mistake in judgment because – quite apart from the friendships that I formed who have turned out to be you know my leaders, peers, or subordinates throughout my career – I think the very solid academic grounding that was not just a scientific degree but that had electives and English and history and philosophy and the like, give you a very good grounding to go forward into a military career. And this education becomes more and more relevant the further you proceed from more technically oriented things towards challenges that are oriented towards policy, strategy, human resources and that level of engagement. So, in hindsight I think that the military college education has been a very valuable start for me and has served me very well.
Help to Preserve the History of Royal Roads
My name is Karen Inkster, and I have been a staff person at Royal Roads University for the past 4 ½ years. Just over a year ago I had the privilege to start interviewing ex-cadets and recording their stories about every-day life as a cadet. This is part of an initiative on behalf of the university to document and preserve the military history of Royal Roads. So far I have conducted over 60 interviews with ex-cadets, staff and faculty – primarily people living and retired in the Victoria area. Through this I have learned a lot about Royal Roads and gained a lot of respect for military life. As a non-military person, however, I constantly have questions about acronyms, words and practices, some of which pertain to the military and some which may be military college or even Royal Roads specific.
In addition to sharing these interviews with the ex-cadet community at large, I hope that by submitting these articles to e-Veritas I will be able to get some feedback from “Roadents” and others who might be able to help explain these military college traditions, and in turn, help preserve an important part of our history. It also gives me an opportunity to connect with and get stories from ex-cadets who may not live close enough for me to speak with in-person. This week I am sharing an interview that I conducted with Commodore Nigel Greenwood, and in it he mentions a few things that I am hoping to get more information about. So, if you get a chance, please help me by leaving comments here explaining some of the following, or by emailing me at Karen.Inkster@royalroads.ca :
GRONCH – What is a “gronch”? What is the origin of this word, and when did it start being used at Royal Roads?
CADWINS – What were the CADWINS? Were these instructions sent out ahead of time, or not until you arrived at the college? What do you recall about the CADWINS?
MARCHING BAND – When did the marching band start at Royal Roads? At what types of events did the marching band play? Were there specific songs that were Royal Roads-specific, or military-college specific? Who was the bandmaster, and was that his/her only role at the college?