Dai Vernon's life presented objectively

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Dai Vernon's life presented objectively

Postby BossTweed » October 2nd, 2019, 3:35 pm



What follows is as accurate a summary of Dai Vernon’s military career as I have been able to assemble. I have tried to be as objective as possible. References are identified, as are suppositions, which I have kept to a minimum. I have engaged professional military researchers to this end. This description differs in several particulars from other published accounts. In the great scheme of things, these differences may be seen by many to be minor in nature but if we are to understand the Professor, we must begin with a foundation of truth.

Much of the “legend” of Vernon’s life was first documented in Bruce Reynolds’ 1948 interview in the Linking Ring. Many of the misstatements made then and accepted in subsequent biographies, although of seemingly minor importance, mislead us from the context we require to understand his life.

The military career Vernon described throughout his life contains many inconsistencies. I don’t think we can attribute all of them to the passage of time or a faulty memory. I attribute them rather to his trying to come to terms with how his family’s expectations conflicted with the desires that consumed him as a young man.

As background we need to at least understand that Vernon’s ancestry included distinguished military ancestors on his father’s side and famous Canadian engineers on his mother’s side. Accordingly, he often made statements later in life that integrated his early days with the expectations his family had of him.

We shouldn’t rush to judgment on this or other issues. Rather, we should resist falling into the trap of those anxious to expose our heroes’ feet of clay. This is who Dai Vernon was and if he hadn’t sprung from this source, we wouldn’t have the benefit of the man so many of us idolized and justly held in high esteem.

I will use the name Dai Vernon although he was obviously known by his family name of David Verner at this time. When quoting documents, I will use the name as written.

Let’s move along.

Vernon had attempted to enter the Royal Military College (RMC) in 1913 but failed to pass the entrance examination. With the help of a good character reference from the Rector of St. John’s, he was accepted in late 1914 and attended the Royal Military College from January 4, 1915 to June 23, 1915. During the majority of this period he was 20 years old. He lasted one term and it seems clear he was not interested in his studies. I think it is also clear he attended the RMC at the urging of his father and not because of any compelling desire on his own part. As will be shown, Vernon left because he failed to meet RMC standards, not due to his parents’ desires or the advent of World War I.

On June 19, 1915 the Commandant of the RMC wrote with regard to three Gentleman Cadets who “failed to qualify for class promotion…” The Commandant was willing to allow two of the three to repeat their term but in the case of Vernon, he states: “… in the case of Gentleman Cadet Verner, I consider it would be inadvisable for him to return as he is so below the standard required here, that he has, in my opinion, little chance of qualifying even if he did come back for another term.”

On June 30, the Adjutant General approved the “recommendation that Gentleman Cadet D.F.W. Verner be allowed to withdraw from the college…” As of July 12, 1915, “D.W.F. [sic] Verner’s parents have not yet asked for his withdrawal.” On July 25, 1915, it was noted in a subsequent letter that “Mr. Verner has now tendered his son’s resignation from the R.M.College; his discharge should be dated from the closing of the College, 23rd June last.”

Vernon’s parents didn’t pull him out; he resigned because the college had informed his parents there was no point in his continuing. He was given the diplomatic courtesy of having his parents request his withdrawal. Vernon was in the Royal Military College for one term – six months.

But the story doesn’t end there. Vernon often stated he was a lieutenant in the Canadian Artillery. He was photographed in a lieutenant’s uniform. This puzzled me for years until I recently found the following article in the July 30, 1915 Ottawa Journal:

“David Verner, 88 Maclaren Street, has just received notification of his appointment to a lieutenancy in the 8th Artillery Brigade, C.F.A [Canadian Field Artillery] and to report to the Royal School of Artillery at Kingston, on Monday next.”

Now things get a bit hazy. Vernon stated he broke his arm in the military in addition to breaking his arm as a toddler and breaking both arms years later in a fall into the East River. This could have been instrumental in his being given an extended leave. He stated he was given six weeks leave, and went to New York where he stayed for six months. That he would be granted leave totaling six months in the middle of the First World War seems incredible. Regardless, Vernon says he didn’t get into trouble due to connections he had. It would seem his father must have indeed had connections that enabled him to get his son into the Artillery Brigade after the young man’s performance at the RMC.

So, did Vernon really go to New York dressed as a lieutenant, cut silhouettes and overstay his leave as he stated? It appears he did. Vernon would have had to register as a Canadian alien in the United States had he visited during the war years. He did register and stated on the forms he was a 1st Lieutenant in the British Army in the field artillery on furlough. The date for this, as best I can determine, was June 5, 1916.

There is no record of Vernon being listed as a Lieutenant during this period that my researchers could find. I surmise that something was worked out allowing him to withdraw from his lieutenancy in the artillery after overstaying his leave. He was subsequently drafted in April of 1918 as a private in the 2nd Depot Battalion. He transferred to the Royal Air Force (there was no Canadian Air Force) in June and was apparently discharged a few days later as the war was drawing to a close and there appeared to be a reluctance to put additional cadets in the Air Force pipeline.

When Vernon was drafted he referenced his time at the RMC but mentioned nothing of his being a lieutenant or the Artillery Brigade. Vernon’s total documented military experience was as a private for 65 days and as a cadet for 3 days – a bit over two months. All told, he did have a variety of training and experience in military related areas and apparently worked as a draftsman making use of his artistic ability. This allowed him to reflect back on his experience in the military both with regard to the artillery and engineering plans. This entire scenario is complicated by his relationship with his brother, which I won’t go into at this time.

Vernon made many statements that were technically correct but misleading. Others, including those regarding his brother, appear to be factually inaccurate. His military career occasionally came up when I spoke with him. I don’t recall him ever making any statements to me that were either misleading or inaccurate. In his view, the entire affair was a fiasco. He was always interested in engineering and seemed proud of the drafting experience related to engineering he had gotten if not of his military experience as a whole.

We can only understand the relation Vernon had with his family in Canada if we understand these facts objectively. At the end of the day, published records indicate he was drafted and served as a private without incident.

Richard Hatch
Posts: 1935
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Providence, Utah

Re: Dai Vernon's life presented objectively

Postby Richard Hatch » October 7th, 2019, 9:15 pm

This is fascinating stuff, thanks for posting it. Any chance we'll be seeing the other parts? I see only this one (Part 2) and Part 6 (about the Rainbow Grill/Room). Hoping for more!

Bill Mullins
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Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Huntsville, AL

Re: Dai Vernon's life presented objectively

Postby Bill Mullins » October 8th, 2019, 4:28 pm

From slightly earlier in his life -- Vernon in a centennial yearbook from Ashbury College (a boarding school). And he is fourth from the left in the back row of this photo.

David Ben wrote about Vernon's years at Ashbury in their alumni magazine here (starts page 24).

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