A Brief History of RCSCC John Travers Cornwell VC

Submitted by:  Phillip Bingham (1972-1978)

First photograph of Boys Naval Brigade cadets and instructors, October 1920.


RCSCC John Travers Cornwell VC is one of the oldest, most famous, and its Alumni would argue, the best Sea Cadet Corps in Canada.

The Winnipeg Boy’s Naval Brigade, as it was known at its inception, was formed on May 28, 1920 by the Naval Veterans Association. Boys wishing to join the brigade were asked to report to the Edward Building on Portage Avenue, opposite Eaton’s department store (now the MTS Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose hockey teams), on the evening of Friday, July 1, 1920. Training for the Cadets included: seamanship, gunnery, swimming, navigation, drill, ships routines, first aid and wireless telegraphy. The brigade’s first public appearance was on October 21, 1920 (Trafalgar Day), when sixty Cadets participated in the Navy League fundraising drive. The picture above is of those Cadets, on that day, posing on the steps of the Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Portage and Main.

In 1923, due to the anti-military posture then evident in the country and the drive by nations for international disarmament, it was deemed advisable to change the organization’s name; so, the Boy’s Naval Brigade became the Navy League of Canada Sea Cadets, or the Winnipeg Sea Cadets for short. The Corps moved from the Edward Building to Minto Armories and then to the RCNVR barracks in Norwood in this decade. Boys 14-18 years of age, meeting the minimum height requirement of 5 foot 5 inches, paraded Tuesdays and Fridays from 1945-2115 hours (7:45 PM - 9:15 PM), with the band parading in separate quarters due to space.

In March 1927 an event took place which was to eventually result in the Winnipeg Sea Cadet Corps adopting the name John Travers Cornwell VC. Capt. J.L.R. Sutcliffe, 10th Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps presented a scale working model of HMS Hood to the Corps. On accepting it, on behalf of the Corps, LCdr. J.R.K. Millen renamed the model HMS John Travers Cornwell, in memory of the heroic 16-year old boy seaman who won the Victoria Cross during the Great War for continuing to “standing his station” while fatally wounded, even though the remainder of his gun’s crew lye dead or dying around him.

The formation of a corps band, though discussed on many occasions, was made possible only through the untiring efforts of LCdr. J.R.K. Millen. A drum and bugle squad was formed soon after LCdr. Millen took command in the spring of 1926, however, it was not until the end of that year that the formation of a full brass band became a reality. The Corps, throughout the following decades, and still today, has been known for its outstanding brass band.

The Corps was on the move again in the 1930s, following the RCNVR to a larger site on Gertrude Avenue; and for the first time ever, the band was able to parade on the same nights as the remainder of the Corps. By the end of the 1930s, the Corps, now accepting boys 12-17 years of age, with a minimum height requirement of 5 foot 3 inches, was the largest Sea Cadet Corps in the entire British Empire. It would retain the distinction of being the largest Sea Cadet Corps in the British Empire throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

By 1942, the Corps was 600 strong and required more space, therefore, they divided into three ship’s companies, two parading at Kelvin High School and one parading at Machray School. The senior Cadets, due to the high demand from the war effort, received intensive training in wireless telegraphy during these years. During the Second World War, at least 600 Cadets and Officers from the Corps joined the Canadian armed forces.

In 1943, King George VI gave his consent to add the prefix “Royal Canadian” to Sea Cadet Corps across Canada; so, it is at this point that the Corps takes on its current name: Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps John Travers Cornwell VC. RCSCC JTCVC is now over 900 strong so a fourth ship’s company is added. No. 1 and 2 ship’s company are still parading at Kelvin, but No. 3 ship’s company moves from Machray to St. John High School and the new No. 4 ship’s company is now parading at Sir Isaac Newton School. Then in 1945, all four ship’s companies take over the former RCNVR barracks on Ellice Avenue, when the RCNVR moves to their new home at HMCS Chippawa. This year also sees the Corps rise above one thousand Cadets and No. 5 ship’s company is added. The Officer’s roll that year included 70 names.

As the war ended, the RCNVR had reduced needs, so the Corps joined the RCNVR at HMCS Chippawa in 1946. The Corps strength began to fall after war’s end and by 1948 the Corps was reduced to about 500 Cadets in two ship’s companies; and they returned to their pre-war practice of parading on Tuesday and Friday evenings. The Corps strength fluctuated between 300 and 500 Cadets throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the Corps eventually returned to one ship’s company, parading at HMCS Chippawa on Thursday nights.

With the 1970s came the Corps’ 50th anniversary. Many activities were undertaken to celebrate the 50th anniversary, but the one project that has proven to be invaluable to the Corps to this day, was the research, writing and publication of a history of the Corps’ past 50 years (see the Alumni website for the contents of that history book). The 1970s also saw a couple of substantial changes. In 1975, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, including RCSCC JTCVC, allowed both girls and boys, 13 to 18 years of age (no height restriction), to join. Then in 1979, the blue and white square-rig uniforms, worn since the Corps inception, were replaced with a green uniform common to all three elements (Sea Cadets, Army Cadets and Air Cadets). In 1993, the green uniform would be replaced by the black uniform worn by the Corps today.

1998 saw the Corps on the move one final time, when the Navy decided to demolish the old HMCS Chippawa and build a new building in its place. For two years the Corps paraded out of a hangar at the CFB Winnipeg. They returned to new HMCS Chippawa, their current home, in 2000. The Corps strength suffered during those years and has fluctuated up and down throughout the 1980s, 2000s and 2010s; it currently sits at about 110 Cadets, 7 Officers and 4 Civilian Instructors.

Over the past century, Cadets from RCSCC JTCVC have won countless local, provincial and national awards and competitions. In that time, the Corps has been awarded the Navy League of Canada’s best Sea Cadet Corp in the country, too many times to count.

Tens of thousands of boys and girls have passed through the ranks of Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps John Travers Cornwell VC over the past 100 years; and you will find JTCVC Alumni in all walks of life, in any province in this and other countries. To a person, all of them will say that their experience with JTC has left them a better person, a better citizen, someone that is better prepared to take on life and its challenges.

Stand your station,
The JTCVC Alumni Team




R.C.S.C.C. John Travers Cornwell, V.C.
Distributed by Greater Winnipeg Branch of Navy League of Canada
c. 1960
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