Cecil Bernard, soldier and scholar par excellence
A few days ago, we came to know of Major Cecil Bernard’s passing. Of him, I can immediately say he was an army officer of great distinction and of a character of singular elevation.
In trying to express, to some degree, the feelings of those with whom he served, we can safely say he was one of the closest, the most beloved and, unarguably, a most extraordinary member of the Officer Corps. He received his officer education at the British Army’s Training School at Mons. Thereafter, commencing in the 1960s, he served uninterruptedly through many decades, distinguishing himself as an officer whose skills, expertise, vision and undoubted intelligence were unmatched. In him, the virtues of duty, honour and country vied with each other for pre-eminence. And he lived its meaning.
As young subalterns, we came to observe his style and method in quite demanding situations. His was always a quest to struggle against dogmatic extremes, sterile scholasticism and isolation from the ordinary soldier. This approach earned him the respect of all ranks and, supposedly, reflected his deeply felt conviction that the leader must possess a full measure of humanity and a sense of justice and truth. As such, he maintained a quiet and stoic fight against the anti-intellectualism which pervaded the formative years. And these attributes saw their finest expression in his effortless display of intellect and lack of rigidity at critical and unsettling moments, particularly, during the events of 1970. Men of his experience, of his calibre, of his really unique capacity are not common.
Major Bernard was also imbued with a profound spirit of success. He was never content with current accomplishments. As if by nature, he constantly aspired to a greater and more durable, quality legacy. Thus, it was in his early days as an officer, he pursued a law degree, simultaneous with his military duties. This decision may have been profoundly influenced by his idea that men have a relative value in history and its powerful march demands that we remain relevant. This speaks to the mettle of his personality, his faith in ideas, his faith in examples, his belief in remaining ahead of the curve and, above all, his vision. And that pursuit, in the aftermath of his military career, became the basis of a remarkable contribution to our Republic, in the interpretation and definition of international and industrial legal issues.
It is never easy to find a person with the qualities that were combined in him. Such proof of confidence in himself, such proof of confidence in the certainty of his belief structure, allowed all ranks to gain a full understanding of the value of his example.
But he possessed yet another rare quality, not one of the intellect or courage but one of the heart. He was always the master of himself and this, I believe, allowed him the space to display an extraordinary and exquisite human sensitivity.
When we think of his life, particularly as a military officer, we remember a man of thought, of immaculate discipline, virtues which were always able to unite those around him to more purposeful action. And because of this, he has left future generations of officers the depth of his thinking and actions, which he mastered with extraordinary zeal.
It is not difficult to decide how we should honour the model of an officer who served so elegantly and without a single stain on his conduct. Perhaps, as we mourn his passing, he would be the first to encourage the present Officer Corps to continue his dedication to intelligent analysis and never to dilute the observance of sound military ethics.