RMC History-Arch Story

The Memorial Arch

 

The Memorial Arch is arguably the most important architectural feature of RMC.  It is fitting therefore that we review from time to time the history of this magnificent memorial and the traditions that have grown up around it. 

As a start here is the description of the dedication ceremony written by Tom Gelley, the long-time Registrar of the College, in the RMC Review of November 1924:

 The Dedication of the Memorial Arch 1924

                 The greatest event for many years in the history of the Royal Military College was the unveiling of the magnificent Memorial Arch which took place on Sunday afternoon, June the fifteenth. There were gathered from far and near high dignitaries of Church and State, relatives and Ex-Cadets who came from all parts of the Dominion and some even from abroad, and many friends of the College, forming a vast concourse of people numbering several thousands. On the1eft of the Arch were grouped the relatives of those to whom the Arch was a commemoration, and also members of the College Staff; on the opposite side were the members of the Ex-Cadet Club and the official guests; the remainder stationed themselves on the rising ground of the Riding Park, on the lower Common and along the La Salle Causeway from where an excellent view could be obtained of the cere­monies, while hundreds more witnessed the proceedings from all manner of watercraft in the Kingston harbour .

. The Memorial Arch was erected during 1923 and completed in 1924 by the Ex-Cadet Club of Canada and was paid for by subscriptions from among its membership and from other friends of the College. The cost of the splendid structure was about seventy thousand dollars. The architect was J. M. Lyle, Esq., of Toronto. This noble memorial stands within the College grounds, about thirty yards distant from the Toronto – Montreal highway. It is 46 feet high and 42 feet wide and is constructed of granite and Indiana limestone. It is beautifully carved on all surfaces and bears on the East and West sides the names of many actions participated in by Ex-Cadets. On the pedestals, both front and rear, are low reliefs, exquisitive1y carved, of ancient armorial designs The front or North parapet has deeply carved in its surface the following inscription: "To the Glorious Memory of the Ex-Cadets of the Royal Military College of Canada Who Gave Their Lives for the Empire." This inscription is flanked on one side by the Dominion and on the other side by the College coat-of-arms, superimposed on spear shafts and other ancient trappings of war; on the South parapet one may read the famous motto of the College; "Truth, Duty, Valour," and below, the appropriate verses of Rupert Brooke, taken from his poem, "The Soldier";

 "Blowout you bugles over the rich Dead,

There's none of these so lowly or poor of old,

But dying has made us rarer gifts than gold."

 Immediately beneath this extract is a helmeted head standing in high-relief from the keystone; the face on this head is extremely expressive and its parted lips seem to shout forth the splendid message carved above.

The inner faces of the archway. carry two large rectangular tablets of bronze, standing on designs in low-relief, showing forth the names of the Gallant Dead. One cannot read without emotion the script on the South tablet;

 "Hark how the drums beat up again for all true soldiers, Gentlemen."

 From all angles the Arch looms up big and massive and white. It can be seen to advantage from almost any point in the surrounding country. The grounds about the Arch and wing walls are beautifully laid out in flower beds and lawns and hedges and on the water's side there has been planted every known kind of Canadian shrub.

The ceremonies of the Unveiling began at 3.45 p.m. when the battalion of gentlemen Cadets marched up and took up their station at. the highway facing the Arch. .The battalion was preceded by the "Old Guard," over 150 strong led by Brig.-General G. S. Cartwright, C.R, C.M.G.,D.S.O., President of the Ex-Cadet Club. At four o'clock arrived the Hon. E.M. MacDonald, K.C., accompanied by Major-General Sir A. C. Macdonell, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.0., Commandant; Major-General J. H. MacBrien., CB., C.M.G., D.S.O., Chief of Staff, Major-General H. A. Panet, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Adjutant ­General and Major T. McDowell, V.C. The Minister took the Salute and inspected the Guard of Honour. They then proceeded to the draped platform erected at the right side of the Arch. Already on the platform were Mrs. Joshua Wright, mother of two Ex-Cadets who gave their lives for King and Country, who was to perform the ceremony of the unveiling, Miss Wright, the  Lord Bishop of Ontario, Monsignor Hartigan of Prescott, representing the Archbishop of Kingston, Major-General J. H. Elmsley, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Brig.-General G. S. Cartwright, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Rev. Principal S. W. Dyde, D.Sc.,D.D., of  Queen's University, Captain. the Rev. Father Nicholson, M.C., Rev. Canon W. F. FitzGerald, M.A., and Rev. S. La Flair, M.A., President of the Kingston Ministerial Association.

After the singing of "Onward Christian Soldiers," accompanied by the R.C.H.A. Band, the opening prayer was pronounced by Rev. J. S. LaFlair. He prayed for the dead who were this day commemorated; he prayed for the living that the ideals of the dead heroes might be fostered and perpetuated; he closed with the famous words of Kipling: "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,  Lest we forget, Lest we forget."

Principal Dyde, of Queen's Theological College, who followed, read from Scripture, Revelation, Chap. xxi. General Cartwright then read out the long  list of Ex-Cadets who had paid the supreme sacrifice. After the reading of the names Mrs.Wright was requested by General Cartwright to unveil the tablets

As the Red, White and Blue drapings fell to the ground disclosing to view the Roll of Honour, the battalion of Gentlemen Cadets presented arms, all officers came to the salute and the huge throng stood uncovered while the R.CH.A. trumpeters sounded the "Last Post." - For two minutes a deep silence was observed, and then broke out the solemn and reverential "Dead March in Saul," played by the RC.H.A. Band. With the dying strains of the March came the plaintive wail of the bagpipes in the "Lament," the historic skirl of the Scottish soldiers so often sounded in tribute to the defenders of the Empire. It was a scene of intense emotion. These were the simple yet solemn ceremonies to bring tears to the eye of the strong veteran, standing with bowed head over his medalled breast; of the mother whose son lay in Flanders' Fields or possibly in Mesopotamia; of all who have felt the sufferings of the War.

The Right Rev. Dr. Bidwell, Bishop of Ontario, with pastoral staff in hand, then dedicated the Memorial Arch. He prayed in part as follows:  "We give Thee hearty thanks, O Heavenly Father, for all those who laid down their lives in the war for their country and for the great cause of righteousness, justice and freedom; especially for those whom we commemorate today. We pray Thee that Thou wilt vouchsafe to them the knowledge that their sacri­fice has not been in vain. Comfort we beseech Thee all who mourn their loved ones who fell in the war and grant that the memory of the zeal and de­votion of those who made the supreme sacrifice may never be forgotten, and may bring forth in our lives a like spirit of service and sacrifice. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen: In the name of Jesus Christ and in loving mem­ory of all members of this Royal Military College who gave their lives in the war, we now dedicate this Memorial Arch, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." The dedication ceremonies were end­ed by the Trumpeters sounding the "Reveille."

The Memorial Arch was then officially handed over to the custody of the Government by the President of the Ex-Cadet Club, Brig.-General Cartwright. The Hon. E. M. MacDonald, Minister of National Defence, in accepting the glorious gift paid a great tribute to the R.M.C. and to the Ex-Cadet Club.  He reviewed the important work that Ex-Cadets were performing in all parts of the British Empire. "In forming the true lines upon which is to be built the  structure of the nation that is to be in the glorious future days of our Dominion, we must depend upon those sons of Canada who are of the stamp of those who in the days that are past have gone out from this College; and their descendants, and the long line of graduates of today and future days, to give to

Our common country that unselfish devotion and high purpose, unfettered by material consideration, which are necessary for, the welfare and upbuilding of our country." He praised the founder of the College, “that sturdy bit of Scotch granite Alexander Mackenzie." He spoke of the remarkable record of the College in the Great War; 1336 cadets had left the College by Armistice Day, and, notwithstanding the ravages of time, 982 went out to fight for the great issues at stake. Out of this large proportion, the sons pf the R.M.C. had won 2846 decorations and mentions; 206 were wounded; one Ex-Cadet won the Victoria Cross; and 170 paid the supreme sacrifice!  The Minister paid a glorious tribute to the "sons of the College who returned, some with honours, some with scars, and some sorely wounded”, and to the parent "whose light of life and pride of succession' has gone out,  and for whom the future holds out little of interest or ambition because of  the son who was his great hope and who alas is now no more" ... " But the dead have returned to us a message which is of high import in these days of complexity with after-­war problems, a message of duty, of hope, of confidence, of courage, of patrio­tism of them we can say with tear-dimmed eye in the words of the Hymn,

 “O valiant hearts who to your glory came

Through dust of conflict. and through battle flame,

Tranquil you lie, your knightly future proved,

Your memory hallowed in the land you loved."

 Many beautiful wreaths were now placed at the base of the tablets. Besides those placed by relatives and friends, were the wreaths of the Royal Military College Club of Canada, The Commandant, Staff and Gentlemen Cadets of the R.M. C., the Montreal Branch Club, and the G.W.V.A.

Two verses of the hymn; “O Lord, Our Help in Ages Past," were sung to the accompaniment of the Band. 

The Benediction was then pronounced by Monsignor Hartigan of Prescott, representing the Archbishop of Kingston. He reviewed the great history of Kingston and the R.M.C. from the time of Frontenac and La Salle. "What Canadian is not thrilled by the historic memories that c1uster in this romantic home of Canadian patriotism and chivalry. This Memorial is the symbol that linking the present with the glorious past proc1aims that in two and a half centuries Canadian bravery and patriotism have not perished from the earth, that Canadian prowess and bravery under arms have lived and shall not die." Monsignor Hartigan paid a tribute to the Commandant, Major General Sir A. C. Macdonell, K.C.R; C.M.G., D.S.O., for his efforts in fostering the best traditions of Canadian manhood. He then blessed the Memorial.

With colours flying and bayonets fixed, the battalion of Gentlemen Cadets marched through the Arch, headed by the RCHA Band playing the R.M.C. Regimental March. Formed up behind and marching in perfect formation was the solid phalanx of the "Old Guard”, representative of that splendid body of men whose generosity and zeal made possible this noble gift to the nation. Future generations will honour those who saw fit to pay high honour to their G1orious Dead.

 Later Additions

 It should be noted that the Arch was dedicated to the memory of  all “the Ex-Cadets of the Royal Military College of Canada Who Gave Their Lives for the Empire."               The names begin with No. 52 Captain WG Stairs who died during the Emir Pasha Relief Expedition 1887 – 1890; followed by No. 62 Captain WH Robinson who died in West Africa 1892.  There are then 5 names of Ex Cadets who were killed during the Boer War 1899 – 1901, followed by those from 1914 - 1918.

 On 25 September 1949 two granite pylons, one on each side of the Arch, were unveiled by the Governor General, Viscount Alexander of Tunis, on which are recorded the names of those Ex Cadets who gave their lives between 1926 and 1945.  Then in 2006 another plaque, donated by former Commandants, was attached to the East pylon. On it the names of Ex Cadets who have died on active service since 1945 are recorded.

 Location of the Arch

 The earlier entrance to the College was guarded by an iron gate erected in 1886.  With the construction of the Arch this gate was moved to the entrance at No. 2 Gatehouse, where it still stands.  This gate provided the basis for the design and manufacture of the Crerar Gates by the Mechanical Engineering Department. 

 The positioning of the Arch was a subject of some debate.  While the preferred position was beside Highway 2, then the main road between Toronto and Montreal, some wanted it placed near the old observatory on the hill just above the old gate house.  We are fortunate to have the following description of the full scale model which was built, written by 1596 G.G. Simonds (later to become the commander of the Canadian Army in Europe during WW2)

 "There was one unusual and interesting diversion towards the end of our recruit year.  The R.M.C. Club had raised the funds to erect the Memorial Arch commemorating ex-cadets who had fallen in war, and there were differences of opinion as to which was the best site for it.  Some thought it should be at the main entrance, others that it should be further along the driveway between the Commandant’s House and the gate into the Inner Enclosure.  The military engineering department decided to erect a full scale model of a light wooden frame covered with canvas on the latter site to get an impression of how it would look, and our class was given this task during practical engineering periods.  The model was almost complete, with the last stretches of canvas being tacked at the top by some of our members working high on the frame, when a sudden gust of wind started the whole structure tumbling.  As it came crashing down, our class mates seized the branches of overhanging trees and hung like monkeys until they could be assisted safely to the ground.  There were a few bruises and sprains, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.  Enough of the model had stood long enough for a decision to be taken that the arch should be sited at the main entrance."

 The Arch had been largely neglected until 2000 when a committee headed by John Stewart and Ed Murray took on the task of its refurbishment, guided by the design of landscape artist Virginia Burt.  The project was completed in 2001 at a cost of $500,000, paid for by the Ex-Cadets.  It included new paving and lighting, and the installation of the first of the memorial stones.   It's success is due in no small way  to 5218 Claude Bellerose, who oversaw the project first as a staff officer at RMC and then as BCEO of Base Kingston.  As well, key guidance was given by 4411Sam Kingdon.

 Traditions

 As can be read in the 1924 Review article above, the tradition of Ex-Cadets marching to the Arch for a ceremony of Remembrance began the day that the Arch was dedicated.

 One of the earliest traditions was the requirement for Recruits to memorize all of the information inscribed on the Arch, including the names of the 170 Ex-Cadets who died during WW1.  This and other interesting information on early College traditions can be found in the entertaining book by 2761 Sydney Frost “Once A Patricia”.

 The Arch is a war memorial, but until the early 1979 was also the “gateway” into RMC. The main entry road passed through the Arch carrying all vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  Cadets marched through the Arch on Church parades but also walked or ran through it when going to town on leave or out jogging.  Respect was always shown by saluting if on foot or sitting to attention if driving through.

 In 1979 a new entrance to RMC was made necessary by the construction of a upgraded bridge over the east end of the Causeway.  This project was guided by 3173 MGen John Stewart, then Chief of Construction Engineering at NDHQ.  The design of the new entrance was undertaken by NDHQ architects, and construction was carried out by the firm of 2652 Brit Smith, much of the cost being donated by him.   

Sometime after 1980 new traditions evolved, the first being that cadets would pass through the Arch only twice as cadets – upon their initial arrival at the College and at Graduation.  (This in fact is not accurate as cadets march through the Arch on November 11 and church parades.)  This entailed another change in that cadets were no longer to pass through the Arch when leaving the grounds, but must skirt around it by passing between the Arch and one of the memorial Pylons.  This seems peculiar to earlier Ex Cadets as the Arch was the main entrance to the College and all traffic passed through it including cadets leaving the grounds.  This “new tradition” was reviewed by the Commandant in 2008 but left unchanged although subject to further review.  It was noted that war memorials are not normally subject to such restrictions of movement.

 The second new tradition that developed sometime after 1980 is the parading to the Arch by the graduating class after they have marched off the Square for the last time.

 The origins of the above are not well known. Readers are invited to contribute any information that would enlighten.


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