AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The detailed analysis of leadership and command in the Canadian Army continues to progress after decades of academic drought that saw little serious consideration or publication on the topic. In addition to the recent release of two well-known volumes, Generalship and the Art of the Admiral and Warrior Chiefs, a handful of articles have surfaced in related journals such as Canadian Military History, Canadian Military Journal and The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin. (1) While certainly valuable contributions, these publications are also noticeable by the remaining gaps they identify in this particular field of study. Essentially, the majority of analysis to date deals with the period of the Second World War and after. Canada's First World War leadership has received only passing academic attention from Canadian military historians, and the period prior to that, say from 1855 to 1914, is given even less consideration. As a result, many questions about the history and nature of leadership and command in the Canadian Army remain unexplored. (2)
Much of the literature on army leadership and command that has been produced to date concentrates either on the theoretical aspects of the topic or a single biographical analysis of a senior army officer. Few publications, if any, examine the army officer corps as an institution or the organizations that fed it during its early years. Less still examine the role of that institution in wartime. (3) The aim of this article is to examine the role of The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in providing officers for the Canadian Army during the South African War (1899-1902). By examining both the institution and the army officers it produced, a number of important issues related to the military and political tribulations of training and assigning leadership and command in wartime are revealed, some of which continue to be present in the Army today.
A MILITARY COLLEGE IN CANADA
In 1869, a Canadian government commission on military education requested a report on the feasibility of establishing a military college in Canada to provide a source of professionally educated and trained officers for service in the British Army and the Canadian permanent force and militia. The existing military schools in both the United States and Great Britain were examined for their feasibility as a role model for the Canadian military school for officers. Though the Dufferin Commission (named for the Canadian governor-general who initiated the study) favoured the British schools, both Colonel Patrick Leonard MacDougall, the adjutant-general of the Canadian militia, and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Bland Strange, then the senior British officer commanding the Gunnery School at Quebec, proposed that the college be modeled after the West Point Military Academy in the United States. (4) Strange had visited West Point on his own initiative and then argued that the mathematics based curriculum and the fact that West Point trained all arms of the Army (Sandhurst trained the cavalry and infantry officers while the artillery and engineer candidates attended Woolwich) was the best example to emulate. With a limited defence budget and a small officer candidate pool, RMC needed to be able to qualify all arms needed for Canada's infant permanent force.
West Point believed that it was more important to train the mind than to just give it information. Mathematics was established as the basis of its entire curriculum during the late nineteenth century. This had led to many well-trained men. Unfortunately, the West Point Academy guaranteed no military employment after graduation. As a result the school saw many of its better graduates pursue civilian occupations rather than become career soldiers. (5) The Canadian government sought means to avoid this problem. One solution was to obtain for Canadian officers potential access to British postings and advanced military training courses that were superior to anything in the United States, making a military career in Canada more attractive. (6)
The decision to create a professional school of arms in Canada came from the newly elected Liberal Prime Minister, the Honourable Alexander Mackenzie, who entered office in November 1873. (7) After some consideration and planning, his Minister of Militia and Defence, the Honourable William Ross, entered a bill in Parliament in May 1874. (8) It read:
An institution shall be established for the purpose of imparting a complete education in all branches of military tactics, fortification, engineering and general scientific knowledge in subjects connected with and necessary to a thorough knowledge of the military profession and for qualifying officers for command and staff appointments. Such institution to be known as the Military College, and to be located in one of the garrison towns of Canada. (9)
Essentially, the bill called for the combination of the West Point
model and the higher-level English military schools into a four-year program. This, Ross felt, would meet Canadian needs for an all-arms school that could turn out any type of officer required.
After some debate over where the new military college should be situated, a decision was made. Partially due to its rich military heritage and partially due to its suitability over the other considered site at Quebec City, Kingston was chosen as the place for the new school of arms. (10) Sufficient room and buildings were available at Point Frederick, on the peninsula next to Fort Henry, to be converted for the college's use. Also a fence was built across the peninsula to control access to the officers' quarters. This fence was later improved into a stronger stonewall. The Stone Frigate was renovated and turned into officer accommodations, and other buildings were constructed as required.
The first cadets, a class of eighteen young gentlemen, reported to the college on 1 June 1876. Each cadet was issued a college number and given the temporary title of "gentleman cadet." When they had completed their studies four years later, some would become officers as expected, but not all ended up in military careers as hoped. Contrary to logic, political patronage often won out over military professionalism, and no favoritism was shown to the "old eighteen" in guaranteeing military commissions in the Canadian Army following graduation.
The issue of creating interest in professional soldiering in Canada was a problem. In spite of all the precautions taken by Colonel Fletcher, a Scots Fusilier Guards officer posted to Canada as Dufferin's personal secretary and responsible for recruiting young gentlemen into RMC, it was still difficult to attract men as there was little promise of a military future after graduation. In 1876 the size of the small Canadian regular force was insufficient to guarantee all RMC graduates a career in Canada's military. A proposition was put forward by Colonel Edward Osborne Hewitt, the first Commandant of RMC, for the creation of an expanded Permanent Force that would create futures for his cadets, but the idea was tabled for some time. When the Permanent Force was finally enlarged in 1883, it seemed that many of the available officer positions were given to unqualified individuals rather than professionally trained RMC graduates for political patronage reasons. Though this was not always the case, there were nevertheless many RMC students who graduated with no hope of ever serving out a military career in the Canadian Army. Colonel Fletcher, therefore, proposed another alternative, even though it was somewhat counter-intuitive. He suggested that RMC graduates might be allowed to apply for commissions in the British and Imperial forces. Though this would definitely attract more men to RMC, it did nothing to build Canada's own indigenous force structure. Colonel Hewitt managed to secure a number of commissions for RMC …