Truth Duty Valour

I wrote these words at the  The RMC Band – Reunion 15 – 16 March 2003.  They are on the website of the Class of 1966 from Canada’s Royal Military College and the words hold as much meaning as they always have done.

RMC Pipes & Drums 1965

RMC Pipes & Drums 1965


De/from Alan Burke

The banquet was held at the Ambassador Hotel [in Kingston] on Saturday, from 19:00 until past 23:00. My guess from the count of tables is that there were about 160 attendees; the majority were cadets or recent graduates.

There was a fine dedication to the Haggis, given by David Wm. Brown, who was key to the success of the reunion through his hosting of an alumni web site.

Air Commodore Len Birchall spoke after the dinner and outlined some of the early history of the band, with a rollicking description of how he and Dean Stanley had been instrumental in equipping the Pipes and Drums with the kilt in 1965. Following the concert, I requested from the Commandant, Brigadier-General Jean Leclerc, that we be allowed to post A/C Birchall’s speech here. I’ll add it to this page as soon as I receive it.

During the dinner, a cordless microphone was passed around the dining room for each attendee to say a few words. There were many humorous anecdotes. I’m afraid that I hogged the microphone for my full two allotted minutes and made the following statement:

Truth. Duty. Valour.

These are compelling and powerful words. They are concepts that lead us as graduates of Canada’s Royal Military College to put ourselves at risk on behalf of others. We know why. Others may not.

Let’s consider Truth. It has always been elusive and politicians tend to abuse this word. I owe an incalculable debt to Professor David Baird, an archetypal Scot, who taught Physics here at the RMC, for helping to define truth for me. There can be no absolute truth. But we can learn things through the use of skepticism, the root of the scientific method. It requires that we constantly challenge authority. It tests ideas in the crucible of reality. One of the enduring requirements of graduates from the RMC is the pursuit of truth.

Duty requires us, however, to delay our pursuit of truth when we must. To do so, and maintain our sanity, we must have faith that those to whom we have delegated our trust also have a dedication to truth. Leaders must prove themselves worthy of the trust vested in them by themselves adhering to truth. We have sworn as military officers to protect Canadians and our allies. We have a duty to do so; we are bound by our own sense of honour. As leaders, we must build trust that adherence to duty will not betray truth. We have a constant responsibility to require from our leaders that they speak the truth. Above the main entrance to the academic building at Royal Roads was inscribed the following quotation by Vice Admiral Lord Nelson: “Duty is the great business of a sea officer. All private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be”.

Only by understanding these requirements for truth and duty can we ask for valour, the uncommon courage to overcome any obstacle.

I fear greatly that “Truth” has been the first causality in modern politics and that we all have been sucked in to doing or at least accepting, our duty. For the military that means putting your life on the line. For must of us it means paying taxes, only to see them blown away by ill-conceived and self-serving politicians. Want a gazebo? Hmm. Let me see if I can find a G8 conference within a few hundred miles. Want science? Hmm. Sorry, the funding is all going to carbon capture and sequestration to help fill the pockets of the fossil fuel companies.

Join me in the Foyer of the Canadian centre-block of Parliament on Sep. 26 to protest about the lack of truth concerning our oil sands, exploitation plans and consequences.

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2 Responses to Truth Duty Valour

  1. Alan Burke says:

    Len Birchall said

    “Your leadership is judged not by your rank but by whether your men feel you have the knowledge, training and character that they will obey you unquestioningly, and that they can trust you with their lives. Men are shrewd judges of their leaders, especially when their own lives are at stake, and hence your knowledge, character and behaviour must be such that they are prepared to follow you, to trust your judgement and respect your decisions.”

    Are we getting any of that from our current politicians? Truth and trust must be given and earned.

  2. Alan Burke says:

    On 20 October 1897 during the attack on the Dargai Heights, Tirah, India, Piper George Findlater of the Gordon Highlanders, after being shot through both feet and unable to stand, propped himself against a boulder and went on playing the regimental march under heavy fire, to encourage the advance.

    On 25 September 1915 near Loos and Hill 70, France, prior to an assault on enemy trenches and during the worst of the bombardment, Piper Daniel Laidlaw of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, seeing that his company was shaken with the effects of gas, with complete disregard for danger, mounted the parapet and, marching up and down, played his company out of the trench. The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed to the assault. Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes even after he was wounded and until the position was won.

    On 8 October 1916 at Regina Trench, Somme, France, the company was held up by very strong wire and came under intense fire. Piper James Cleland Richardson of the Manitoba Regiment, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, who had obtained permission to play the company ‘over the top’ strode up and down outside the wire playing his pipes, which so inspired the company that the wire was rushed and the position captured. Later the piper was detailed to take back a wounded comrade and some prisoners, but after proceeding some distance he insisted on turning back to recover his pipes which he had left behind. He was never seen again.

    Music has the power to stir the soul. When we ask people to risk their lives for others, nothing reminds them better about why they’re doing it than music. It has always had that power, not of itself, but as an association that relates the truth and the duty, and therefore triggers

    Play on, knowing that you are an instrument of valour.

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