The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston 1921 –1925: “Hazing”

Part 4

The second aspect of recruiting was the disciplining of first year cadets by a system of unofficial punishments administered by the senior class, generally described by the term “hazing”. The officially allowable awards of defaulter’s drills were considered too mild a form of punishment for many minor offences or oversights, and the awkward recruit could accumulate awards of defaulter’s drills which tended to make official punishment drill just another routine parade, and to which he could see no end. The “unofficial” punishments included ‘arse fannings” (canings); “general arse fannings” when, on rare occasions, a certain number of strokes would be delivered on the backside of every member of the class for a general class delinquency; “flat P.T.”, an exaggerated and exhausting form of physical training given by a senior in the dormitory, hidden from staff supervision; running a given number of times around the College track, and variants of these.


Another form of disciplining existed under the delectable name of “shit meetings”.

Another form of disciplining existed under the delectable name of “shit meetings”. The whole recruit class, the recruits of one company or a platoon depending on the unit to be disciplined, was herded into a confined space in one of the dormitories. The recruits were made to stand rigidly at “attention with their fingers stretched down” and confronted by their seniors who shrieked verbal abuse at them in the most degrading terms. In Fort Frederick dormitory, where the writer lived as a recruit, these meetings were held in the furnace room in the basement. Standing at attention on the edges of the coal piles, in a low ceilinged, badly ventilated room, in a hot and dusty atmosphere, they were not occasions to be faced with any relish. Few if any of these forms of unofficial punishments would cause any more than temporary pain or exhaustion to a physically fit young man; and during the period when they were the order of the day at the R.M.C., I am unaware of any individual suffering any lasting harm in consequence. However, some of the senior class, usually the most junior in N.C.O. rank of with no N.C.O. rank at all, were by the system vested with an authority over recruits which they were quite incapable of exercising with any discretion or proper restraint. These few displayed a sadistic streak in their bullying of recruits and would scheme to entrap them into making a mistake for the sheer pleasure of administering punishment, thereby presumably boosting their own ego.

There was no lack of opportunity for a spiteful senior to catch out a recruit. To focus recruits’ interest in the College, they had to memorize the full names and R.M.C. numbers (on joining, each cadet was allotted an individual College number) of every senior as well as every member of their own class, and the names of the “Old Eighteen”. If a recruit failed to answer a senior correctly when questioned on these subjects, punishment would follow. On going on or leaving a flat in either dormitory a recruit had to report to the senior cadet present. This meant a thorough search, for the actual senior present might be on the flat though not in his own room, and if one reported incorrectly, woe betide! All these measures were intended to keep a recruit alert and with his wits about him.

However, recruits were given to understand that there was a nemesis for these sadists. After the Graduation exercises and June Ball, recruits could throw into the lake seniors who had been unreasonably abusive, and this was regarded as a deep disgrace to the senior who earned such treatment. As recruits we realized, as with all bullies, that as the year’s end approached, seniors who had made themselves particularly unpopular would moderate their treatment of us and even suck up to us. Therefore, before the Easter break we had a class meeting to decide which seniors merited our punishment. Three names came up for consideration. For one there was a unanimous vote that he would be thrown in the lake. On the other two the class were divided and we decided to reconsider their cases carefully.

In the event, the morning after the June Ball we took revenge upon only two of our senior class. One had been exceptionally objectionable. A group of us went to his room, ordered him to dress in his full dress scarlet tunic, and marched him down to the St. Lawrence Wharf. After fanning his arse, we threw him well out into the lake, fully accoutered as for ceremonial parade. We waited to make sure he did not drown, and left as he clambered out. He was a stinker and made no better impression in later life than he had at the R.M.C.

The beneficial result of the recruiting system was that it developed in the recruit a standard of personal cleanliness, smartness of turn out, physical deportment and obedience quicker than could have been achieved by any other means. On the moral side, it quickly impressed upon individual recruits the very important lesson that there are things in life which matter a great deal more that self – the College, one’s class, one’s company, one’s platoon – all before oneself, and life-long friendships were cemented in sharing the trials and tribulations of recruiting.

But on the debit side, it was teaching to the senior graduating class a method of instilling discipline which could have no possible application outside the four walls of the R.M.C. For an institution maintained for the purpose of training officers, from this point of view it was doing a thoroughly bad job. Because of the inherent qualities of most graduates, this disadvantage was overcome by their own common sense, but much greater value could have been derived if in the senior year more guidance had been given by the military staff and a proper system of training in the art of leadership and man mastership had supplanted the rather puerile methods practised. Graduates who entered the military professions had to put out of their minds most of the “unofficial” disciplinary practices learned at the College and make a new beginning.

The really bad and damaging consequence of the conflicts over the subject of “recruiting” was the creation of a double and quite indefensible moral standard at the Royal Military College. The Commandant, under heavy pressure from parliament, the press and the public, had no choice but to suppress recruiting if the Royal Military College was to survive, and he was certainly unaware of many of the abuses which had crept in during the post World War I years. Standing orders and his own directions to the senior class on the subject were explicit, and he trusted them to obey orders. Some ex-cadets on the other hand took the stand that the Commandant had outwardly to deny existence of recruiting, but this was against his own better judgement, being an ex-cadet and having “gone through the mill” himself, and he would turn a blind eye to what really went on. Any serious thought would have revealed at once that such an attitude was totally foreign to the character of Sir Archie Macdonnell, but the wish of senior cadets to impress ex-cadets that “traditions” were being fully maintained did not encourage second thoughts. So continuation of the recruiting system had to be done surreptitiously, and recruits were given specific instruction by the seniors to lie to members of the staff in this regard. If questioned by any member of the staff, they were to deny that recruiting was being practised in any form, yet to lie to a senior was an unforgivable offence and would result in extreme severity of punishment. Actually, I never had to lie myself nor can I recall any of my class mates having to do so, for there seemed a strange lack of curiosity on the part of the staff as to what went on in the dormitories until the scandal over the Arnold case in our third year, which I will deal with later, brought the abuses of recruiting into the limelight.

Controversy over recruiting had a marked influence on my life and the lives of my class mates during the four years we spent at the R.M.C. As we progressed through the course from recruit to senior, punctuated by a series of scandals, it became clear that though many features of the practice of recruiting were harmless, to continue the system surreptitiously was totally wrong. Serving cadets had either to convince the Commandant and staff that certain aspects were beneficial, and present reasoned arguments which could be easily understood as to why they were beneficial, or they had to cease. To continue on the basis of dishonesty and deception could only bring disaster to the R.M.C.

Though public criticism of the R.M.C. during the mid-1920s centred mainly on objections to “hazing”, another far more discreditable and dishonourable practice had crept in, which fortunately for the College escaped the notice of the staff, the press and the public. I would be reluctant to mention it except for the fact that its elimination redounds greatly to the credit of my class mates and is a denial of the charge made so often at the time that cadets had no sense of responsibility. Our own class dealt with this situation without guidance from the staff or elsewhere. The offence was the systematic stealing of examination papers. In this, the staff were not blameless for their carelessness in leaving set examination papers in unlocked offices and desks, but presumably they were lulled into a sense of false security believing the ‘honour system’ dictated the behaviour of all cadets.

When or how the practice started, I do not know. I can only speculate that those who took advantage of it excused themselves on the grounds of an inherited philosophy that the academic course was an unimportant part of officer training, and as standards advanced and tightened during post World War I years, the possibility of academic failure increased. Certainly when the situation was fully exposed, the argument advanced by those who took advantage of this dishonesty was that they were not trying to cheat to get higher marks but only to pass their year. The situation came to light gradually. One would hear a class mate ask another if he would like to see some of the questions on, say our final trigonometry examination paper. When challenged on how he had such information to offer, the reply would be that by approaching ex-cadets they had got old examination papers covering a number of years and by studying these it could be deduced that certain questions would always appear. Complete exposure of the worst aspect of this whole squalid business came with over hearing remarks to the effect that if a group would together “put up twenty dollars, they could have the whole of our calculus final examination paper”.

Every institution which has to depend upon written examinations or papers for earning promotion has its proportion of candidates who are willing to cheat in one form or another if they feel they cannot win a desired qualification honestly. Indeed one only has to read the daily papers to know that cheating extends itself into the day-to-day life of our society in many forms. The R.M.C. was not unique in this respect, but cheating, reprehensible in any context, had no place in an institution maintained for the specific purpose of training officers and gentlemen, and with the motto “Truth, Duty, Valour”.

As senior of the class, I was held responsible for giving leadership in conduct and discipline. When the real situation came to light, I was determined to stamp out this dishonest practice. I was in no easy position, for I had no difficulty in competing with academic subjects – I had passed into the College with the second highest marks and maintained that standing throughout the four year course, whilst some members of our class were always hanging on the brink of failure. But if passing a year had to depend upon leaning on the crutch of dishonesty, it was better that they fail and leave. When I put the issue clearly to my class mates, I immediately received the backing of the vast majority.

Part 1

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Part 3

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