Chapter 13: Some Special Problems of the Canadian Army Overseas
A Unique Experience
Previous chapters recalled how different the experience of the Canadian Army Overseas in 1939–45 was from that of the Canadian troops of 1914–18 and from that of other armies in the Second World War.* Its uniqueness consisted in the fact that the main Canadian field force spent forty-two months doing static duty in the United Kingdom before being plunged into the bloody campaigns in Italy and North-West Europe. This long period of garrison duty inevitably produced special problems and difficulties.
One of these problems was that of providing an adequate supply of competent officers (including senior commanders) for a rapidly expanding army which was getting almost no battle experience to train and test the capabilities of its leaders. Another was that of keeping up the morale of volunteer soldiers who were denied action for three and a half years during which they were separated from their homes and families. Another, closely related to the second, was that of establishing and maintaining good relations with the people of Britain, among whom so many Canadians took up an habitation enforced during these years. This temporary transplantation of more than a quarter of a million young men and women from the New World to England is one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the Commonwealth, and was not the least extraordinary incident of a decidedly extraordinary war.
The Problem of Finding Commanders and Staff Officers
Despite the general neglect of Canada’s military forces between the wars, the country possessed in 1939 a considerable body of competent officers. The older ones had seen active service in France during the years 1915–18
* See particularly page 254.
and many had later kept abreast of military thought and availed themselves of such command and staff instruction as was to be had. Canada had no Staff College, but 45 serving officers of the Permanent Force1 had passed one of the British Army’s staff courses* and a considerable number of Non-Permanent Active Militia officers had mastered the Militia Staff Course. Thus it was possible in the beginning without too much difficulty to staff the 1st Canadian Division and the small Canadian Military Headquarters in London and to expand the army framework at home. Many of the officers appointed in the autumn of 1939 moved up the ladder of promotion and responsibility during the formative period of the Canadian Army Overseas, but advancing age or ill health forced some of the older men to take less onerous positions before Canadian formations actually came to grips with the enemy in 1943 and 1944. Among the junior Permanent Force officers, without previous war service, who were given staff appointments in 1939, were Temporary Major G. G. Simonds and Captain Charles Foulkes – both of whom were to become corps commanders and lieutenant Generals during 1944. The officers destined to command divisions during the 1943–45 campaigns were Major Christopher Vokes and Captains H. W. Foster and D. C. Spry of the Permanent Force and Majors A. B. Matthews and R. H. Keefler and Captain B. M. Hoffmeister of the NPAM The two first named were given junior staff appointments in 1939.
When the staff of the 1st Division was organized in 1939, the General Officer Commanding and the two senior staff officers came from the Permanent Force. Of the four brigadiers (the three brigade commanders and the artillery commander) two were regular officers. When the 2nd Division’s headquarters was set up in the following spring, the GOC and all four brigadiers were officers or former officers of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, but again the two senior staff officers were regulars. Thereafter, as the Army expanded and new formations were mobilized, there was a strong tendency to fill the senior appointments . in them with experienced officers promoted from within the formations already overseas. In the selection of officers for command and staff appointments in the new divisions, the recommendations of General McNaughton carried great weight.
As we have seen (above, pages 51–2), the contrast with the procedures of 1914–18, when Canadian formations drew commanders and staff officers from the British Army, is notable. The Canadian Army of 1939–45 found its commanders and staff officers almost entirely within itself. To a considerable extent the Canadian Permanent Force played the part that the British Regular Army had played in 1914, particularly with respect to senior staff appointments. As time passed and non-professional officers gained training and experience, some purely temporary tendency appeared for
* Thirty-two more officers had successfully completed gunnery courses in the United Kingdom, while 19 had obtained technical qualification in artillery and ordnance courses there.
General Staff appointments in field formations to be held by Permanent Force officers, while administrative staff appointments went to former NPAM officers,2 though this was never a matter of rule.* It should be noted in passing that many non-regular officers made great contributions in these administrative appointments. Professional and business men in civil life, often of superior education and accustomed to the direction of large enterprises, they took naturally and effectively to the tasks of army organization.
Where nobody has had much experience of actual operations, the professional soldier, who has devoted his life to the study of military matters, has a great advantage over the non-professional. But no peacetime studies can compare with battle experience as a school for either leadership or staff work; and when the army finally got into large-scale action the distinction between the regular and the citizen officer, already much blurred, soon virtually ceased to exist. Early in 1945 the staff lists of Canada’s five fighting divisions showed not one of the ten senior staff appointments (General Staff and administrative) held by a pre-war regular officer;3 and in the last months of the war, as we have noted, three of the five divisions were commanded by citizen soldiers, as were also both the independent armoured brigades. The Army Commander and the two Corps Commanders, however, were regulars.
When an army is fighting, the problem of selecting commanders tends to solve itself; success is the criterion. But when, as in the Canadian Army Overseas in this instance, an army is denied action for a long period and at the same time is expanding rapidly, so that appointments of many senior commanders have to be made, the problem is a serious one. It could have been solved, in a sense, by turning to the United Kingdom and appointing battle-experienced British commanders to Canadian formations; but Canadian opinion, both military and civilian, would not have countenanced such a solution. All that could be done was to promote the qualified officers who seemed most promising and hope that they would be successful under the conditions of active operations. In the nature of things, this hope was not invariably realized. It was necessary to appoint, as commanders of divisions and even of corps, officers who had never commanded even a battalion in action and whose battle experience, if they had had any at all, was limited to junior appointments in the First World War. Some proved triumphantly successful; others gave way to other men.
In making appointments up to the rank of Colonel, both of staff officers and commanders, the senior commanders overseas had the advantage of the advice of a carefully constituted Selection Committee composed of senior
* Here it may be recalled again that the General Staff Branch dealt with operations, intelligence, training and war organization, while of the administrative branches that of the Adjutant General dealt with personnel and that of the Quartermaster General with supply.
officers representing the divisions and higher formations as well as CMHQ The committee was placed on this basis in 1941, replacing a smaller one set up the year before. In 1942 it was split into Senior and Junior Committees, with the latter dealing in general with appointments not above the rank of major. The Selection Committees also chose the candidates to attend Staff College and similar courses. Their recommendations were normally accepted by the Army Commander and the Senior Officer, CMHQ; and their activity served to create confidence in the fact that selection and promotion were on a strict basis of merit, and (since as a rule periods of regimental duty were made to alternate with periods on the staff, and an officer who was promoted was almost invariably sent to a different formation) senior officers were discouraged from building up staffs of favourites.4
The problem of battle experience was not peculiar to the Canadian Army. Many officers who did not possess such experience received important appointments in the Army of the United States. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, though a regular officer of seniority, had never heard a shot fired in anger previous to his becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces in North Africa in 1942. But the matter was complicated for Canada by her forces’ integration with the British Army. The latter laid a very proper (though sometimes perhaps an exaggerated) emphasis upon the value of recent battle experience; and the British certainly tended to look down their noses at formation commanders who lacked it. Few Canadian civilians realize the difficulty of the position in which General Crerar found himself on taking command of First Canadian Army early in 1944. He had become a Corps Commander at the end of 1941 without having commanded any lower formation in action or indeed even under static conditions (for he took over the 1st Canadian Corps in an acting capacity at the same moment when he was gazetted to command the 2nd Division). He had seen much service in the First World War both as a regimental officer and on the staff; but the only battle experience he had had in the Second was a few weeks when his Corps was in the line on the Ortona front, which at that time was quiet. He now became an Army Commander, over the heads of British officers who had commanded Corps for extended periods of heavy action. That he was successful in the appointment under these disadvantageous conditions says much for his ability and judgement.*
Something has already been said (above, pages 248–9) of the arrangements made to give a certain number of Canadian officers and
* General Crerar had repeatedly sought opportunities for operational experience and was prepared to step down in rank to get it. In September 1943, for instance, when it was reported that General Simonds had fallen ill, General McNaughton signalled to General Montgomery in Italy proposing to send Crerar out to take command of the 1st Division for a time. “No question of seniority arises”, he wrote, “as Crerar is quite content to serve under any of your Corps Commanders”.5 There is no answer on the file and it seems evident that Montgomery never received the signal. Shortly afterwards the 1st Canadian Corps was sent to the Mediterranean and Crerar went out in command of it.
NCOs some battle experience by attaching them to the First British Army during the Tunisian campaign. It was not practicable to do the same for senior commanders, although as we have seen two Canadian officers who subsequently attained the highest distinction – Generals Crerar and Simonds –were able to visit the Eighth Army during the North African operations. But before the First Canadian Army went into action in North-West Europe in 1944, it was possible to leaven it with senior officers who had seen action in the Canadian operations in Italy. General Crerar himself, as noted, had had some service on the Adriatic front. General Simonds, who had commanded the 1st Division with success in Sicily and Southern Italy, and had subsequently been transferred to the 5th Armoured Division, came back to England to take command of the 2nd Canadian Corps. He brought with him Brigadiers A. B. Matthews and Geoffrey Walsh, who had been respectively his artillery and engineer commanders in the 1st Division, to take the parallel appointments in his new Corps. The command of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division now went to Major General George Kitching, a 33-year-old officer who had been GSO1 of the 1st Division in Sicily and had later commanded the 5th Armoured Division’s infantry brigade for a short time. The 4th Division’s armoured and infantry brigades were taken over by officers who had been distinguished unit commanders in Italy respectively, Brigadiers E. L. Booth and J. C. Jefferson; and Brigadier R. A. Wyman relinquished the command of the 1st Armoured Brigade in Italy and assumed that of the 2nd which was preparing for the Normandy assault.
All this was very useful; but the approach of the summer battles of 1944 in the two theatres still found one Canadian corps, two divisions and a number of brigades commanded by officers who had had no battle experience in this war; while the Army, the other corps, two other divisions and several brigades were commanded by officers whose experience had been on lower levels. Thus the Canadian Army’s pool of command battle experience was still small, and this valuable commodity was thinly spread across the force. The circumstances of 1940–43 are perhaps unlikely to recur; but this situation prompts the observation that, in the event of another long period of static employment being encountered, it would be desirable to do everything possible to give battle experience to commanders by arranging long-term loans of Canadian officers, of the rank of brigadier and higher, to armies engaged in active operations. Such arrangements are not easy to make, for an army does not like to put another army’s untried officers into its senior commands, nor will it want to relinquish them if they make good. However, the matter is of sufficient importance to warrant great efforts.
As the war proceeded, it became more and more evident that command under modern conditions was a task for young men. The British War
Office recognized this fact in making appointments, although it refrained from fixing definite age-limits for senior ranks. The question of setting Canadian limits came under discussion during the summer of 1941. That autumn General McNaughton recommended to the Minister of National Defence and the CGS that, effective 1 January 1942, the following maximum ages should be prescribed:
|Brigadier and Colonel||49||54|
A latitude of one to two years might be permitted, however, in exceptional cases where no other officer was available and the present incumbent was medically fit. An order in council approved on 2 December 1941 and republished as a routine order accepted McNaughton’s proposed limits for field formations and units.6 It contained the following qualifications:
“The expression ‘field formations and field units’... shall not be interpreted to include Line of Communication or Base Units.
“Where the officer concerned is category “A” and no other suitable officer is available for the appointment in question, these special circumstances may be represented to the Minister of National Defence for his consideration and decision.”
The months of January and February 1942 accordingly saw the greatest shuffle in commands that had yet taken place. A study of the supplements to Overseas Routine Orders shows that, within the Canadian Corps alone, there were changes in command in nine artillery regiments, one engineer battalion, nine infantry battalions and one divisional signals. Changes in command continued to be frequent thereafter; they were often occasioned by what were considered poor performances by the officers concerned (particularly in major exercises), as well as by the operation of the age limits, health considerations and, of course, the effect of promotions. Thus the army’s command policy developed along the line of advancing young and energetic officers whom their superiors considered the most competent available.
Age limits for junior officers came later, and after considerable discussion. Everyone agreed that young and active officers were essential in field units (for example, early in 1942 quite low limits* were fixed for officers of the 4th Armoured Division and 2nd Army Tank Brigade);7 but it was not considerable desirable to fix arbitrary limits of universal application, and the only such limits actually promulgated (in 1943)8 were comparatively
liberal. They provided for compulsory retirement of all officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel or below at ages ranging from 51 in field units abroad to 60 in static establishments at home. The similar range in the case of major generals was from 57 to 60, and in the case of brigadiers and colonels from 54 to 60. Provision was made for extensions of service in very exceptional cases.
The Problem of Morale
The long Canadian sojourn in the United Kingdom began rather inauspiciously. The winter of 1939–40 was abnormally cold (above, page 232). The Canadians of this war were spared the unpleasant experience of their fathers, who spent the winter of 1914–15 under canvas on Salisbury Plain; instead, they were quartered in the permanent barracks of Aldershot. But neither those barracks nor any other English buildings were designed or equipped for zero temperatures, and the troops, fresh from the comforts of civil life and used to central heating, were not grateful for the privilege of living in them. They probably did not realize that they got a larger allowance of coal than British troops.9 There was a great deal of sickness in January and February.10 Moreover, Aldershot had been a garrison town since the Crimean War, and its people were too well accustomed to men in uniform to make any great fuss over arriving soldiers of any nationality, And the complacent atmosphere of the “phony war” was not helpful. The Western Front was quiet, no bombs had yet fallen on England, and neither Englishmen nor Canadians had taken the true measure of the seriousness of the situation. These things had their due effect. The postal censors who read a batch of Canadian army mail in February evidently felt that the writers were going somewhat beyond the soldier’s traditional right to “grouse”:
Boredom, homesickness and a feeling of not being really needed appear to be the main reasons why nearly all these Canadian soldiers grumble. The majority of the writers warn their friends and relations not to join the Army.
The recent bad weather has made them dislike this country considerably...
The insufficiency and bad quality of the food annoys the majority of the writers. ...
The Deputy Chief Postal Censor remarked in a covering letter that nothing in this correspondence was “really more serious than the impatience of an active man cooped up by bad weather in an unfamiliar country and eating unfamiliar food”.11 General Crerar replied that “with the coming of the better weather, the Canadian troops should be in much better spirits, when most of the causes for complaint will disappear”.12 As we have seen (above, pages 233, 273) he proved a true prophet; and the warm welcome the Canadians got from the folk of the Northampton district in May was
the beginning of a better era in relationships with the British people generally. To the jaundiced eyes of shivering Canadians in that first war winter, the stolid Briton, refusing to be put out by the war, had sometimes seemed a less than admirable character. But as the eventful months of 1940 passed and they noted that he remained equally unruffled under the bombs of the Luftwaffe and the imminent threat of invasion, they formed a juster appreciation of his qualities.
With autumn drawing on and the invasion danger receding, careful thought was given to the problem of morale during a second winter in England. As early as 3 September General McNaughton pointed out that the troops might now be considered highly trained, and that too intense a syllabus of further training during the winter might only make them stale. He emphasized, accordingly, the importance of organizing an active educational programme to occupy men’s minds and also make them better citizens when the war was over. In January 1940 the policy had been laid down that army educational facilities would be provided by the Canadian Legion War Services in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Adult Education, working in cooperation with the Department of National Defence.13 In the nature of things, there was little time or need for educational work overseas during the active and exciting summer months that followed; but the situation was now quite different. At this moment General McNaughton received an offer of service from Mr. J. B. Bickersteth, Warden of Hart House, University of Toronto, who was on leave in England; and he asked Mr. Bickersteth to undertake a survey of the educational needs of the Canadian troops. When this was completed, Bickersteth remained at Corps Headquarters as personal educational adviser to General McNaughton, doing this work until the summer of 1942, when he went to the War Office as Director of Army Education.14
Dr. A. E. Chatwin was appointed Director of Educational Services and arrived in England in November 1940. An Educational Adviser (usually a civilian) was appointed for each formation, and in each unit an officer (later assisted by a corporal who gave his full time to the work) was dcsi noted as Unit Education Officer. The programme arranged for the winter included informal talks and lectures on general and cultural subjects; practical training in trades through classes or text-booklets; directed reading; correspondence courses in a wide variety of subjects; and courses in local technical schools. Unit libraries were set up, carrying both light fiction and serious books, and stocked from the headquarters of the educational services.15 Along these general lines the system continued to be conducted in succeeding years, and it certainly made a material contribution to maintaining the spirits and interest of the men during the long wait in England.
The education programme was, of course, only one of the influences working to this end. Long before it was launched in earnest the regimental chaplain* was labouring quietly among his flock and doing a measureless amount of good. Although conducting religious services and acting as friend and adviser to soldiers who sought his help were his official functions, he often found himself saddled with a great miscellany of other tasks. One unit padre stated later that he had served as education officer, mess secretary, welfare officer, sports officer and, on one occasion, as a special assistant to the quartermaster: “I have organized canteens, been in charge of broadcasts, distributed libraries, promoted shows, entertainments and dances – in fact I have done almost anything and everything to help our men and promote their welfare”.16 Visits to men in hospital and attendance at the weekly police court sessions at Aldershot as “character” witnesses or security for the 10 shilling fines levied against soldiers for minor infractions of the law were other tasks that fell to his lot. Although men dislike being “preached at”, both Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains bear witness to the fact that “almost from the beginning, friendly relations were established in units and formations and from many points of view the soldier began to realize that the chaplain was his friend – somebody he could rely on – one officer at least who was sympathetically inclined and kept his confidence”.17
It is apparent that the unit chaplain did much for the physical as well as the spiritual welfare of the men. However, an elaborate separate organization was set up to cater to the former. In November 1939 the Canadian Government announced that four national voluntary organizations – the Salvation Army, the Knights of Columbus, the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Canadian Legion – would be responsible for providing “auxiliary services” for the Canadian forces. Brigadier W. W. Foster went overseas with the “first flight” to coordinate such activities, but it was some time before adequate Canadian services could be provided for the troops. In the meantime, the men used the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteens which were a permanent part of the British soldier’s life. When Canadian units used a NAAFI canteen the regimental fund was entitled to a percentage of the profits, just as with British units. A Directorate of Auxiliary Services was established at CMHQ in the Adjutant General’s Branch, composed of serving military officers; but the “supervisors” provided
* Forsaking the system followed in the First World War, when one chaplain service functioned, the Canadian Government decided in 1939 to provide separate Roman Catholic and Protestant services. The Right Reverend C. L. Nelligan, Bishop of Pembroke, accepted the appointment of Principal Chaplain (R.C.) while the Right Reverend G.A. Wells, Anglican Bishop of Cariboo, became Principal Chaplain (P.). Broadly speaking, the number of Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains was proportioned to the strength of those religious bodies in Canada. An excellent account of the work of Protestant chaplains is Hon. Major Walter T. Steven, In This Sign (Toronto, 1948). For a personal memoir by a Catholic chaplain, see R.M. Hickey, The Scarlet Dawn (Campbellton, N.B., 1949); a parallel account by a Protestant is Waldo E.L. Smith, What Time the Tempest (Toronto, 1953).
by the four voluntary organizations for work in the units were civilians, although paid by the Government as captains and given the privileges of officers in the units to which they were attached.* At the end of March 1940 there were 15 such supervisors serving 23,228 all ranks of the Canadian Army Overseas, and the work of organizing sports and dances, and providing movies and concerts, reading, writing and recreation rooms, libraries, mobile canteens and tea vans, and establishing leave hostels and information bureaux for troops on leave was getting under way. By the end of March 1941 there were 65 supervisors serving 64,504 all ranks. By 31 December 1943 the number of Army supervisors was 268.18
The four voluntary organizations were not equally well equipped to give assistance to their supervisors, with the result that there were some complaints of uneven service, duplication of effort and competition or rivalry. It had been found from experience that each supervisor serving with a field unit required one motion picture projector, one mobile canteen, one complete set of sports equipment for 1000 men and supplies of radio sets, small games, magazines and stationery. The Canadian Government in 1941 sent Colonel the Hon. R. J. Manion overseas to investigate. He submitted in August a report19 which praised the work of the voluntary organizations but recommended a larger degree of cooperation and pooling among them, in order to provide uniform service. Even before the report was made, the organizations had begun to work along these lines. They arranged to specialize; henceforth, sports and recreation became the particular responsibility of the YMCA, concerts and entertainment that of the Canadian Legion, canteens and cinemas that of the Salvation Army and hospitality and social functions that of the Knights of Columbus.20 Pooling arrangements were made to ensure that each supervisor, irrespective of affiliation, was outfitted uniformly, and more even service resulted.
The four voluntary organizations had made a successful united appeal for financial support from the Canadian public in March 1941, but their estimated needs for the following year rose to $17,000,000. If such a sum was to be collected, it would be necessary to cease all other appeals for a time, including the sale of Government War Savings Certificates. Therefore the Government decided that, in future, the work of auxiliary services should be financed from the public treasury, although the four voluntary organizations serving Canadian servicemen would still operate. To control expenditure, an Overseas Committee of the National War Services Funds Advisory Board was set up in 1942 under the chairmanship of Sir Edward
* Scott Young, Red Shield in Action: A Record of Canadian Salvation Army War Services in the Second Great War (Toronto, 1950), Alan M. Hurst, The Canadian YMCA in World War II (Toronto, n.d.), and War Services of Canadian Knights of Columbus 1939–1947 (n.p., n.d.), are accounts of the work of three of these organizations and how they met the problems encountered.
Peacock. It comprised representatives of CMHQ, the RCAF Overseas Headquarters and the four voluntary organizations.21 During 1942–43 also the Army assumed a larger direct responsibility for the education programme, which had been tending to outgrow the resources of the Canadian Legion.22
The Canadian Red Cross Society, unlike the auxiliary service organizations, had to remain on a voluntary basis in order to maintain an international character and observe the obligations inherent in the Geneva Convention. In addition to building and equipping a general hospital at Taplow, on the estate of Lord and Lady Astor, the Red Cross provided equipment and medical supplies for the other Canadian hospitals and its workers ministered to the patients. Red Cross personnel eventually staffed four “Maple Leaf” leave hostels in London, including one for junior officers, and later went to the Continent to work behind the advancing army.23
It is out of the question even to mention here the many organizations and the innumerable individuals whose energy and generosity contributed to making Canadian servicemen comfortable and happy in the United Kingdom during these years. But even the briefest account must not fail to pay some tribute to the indefatigable activity and kindness of the Canadian High Commissioner and Mrs. Massey. Of the numerous enterprises in which they interested themselves there is room to speak of only two. The Beaver Club, in Spring Gardens close to CMHQ, a fine commodious recreational club for servicemen below commissioned rank, was established by a committee of Canadians resident in London; Mr. Massey was chairman of its board of management. It was officially opened on 23 February 1940, in the presence of the King and Queen. Although the whole cost was borne in the beginning by the private committee, the YMCA subsequently guaranteed the club’s finances to the amount of $50,000 annually.24 In Cockspur Street nearby Mrs. Massey set up in October 1939 a Canadian Officers’ Club which, under her own supervision, continued to provide lunches and a place of pleasant rendezvous for officers throughout the war.25
Merely to list the British and Canadian clubs, hostels, canteens, etc., in London and elsewhere, that served the Canadian soldier, would require much more space than we have available. And yet these admirable institutions are far from being the whole story. Many a soldier would say that what mattered most in reconciling him to the long stay in Britain was simply the kindly friendship and hospitality of individual British families. The English have a reputation for reserve, not wholly unfounded, and it took time to get to know them. In the early months, the average Canadian felt much more at home in Scotland; but he did get to know the English in due time, and in an extraordinary number of cases Canadians found their way into English homes where they were treated virtually as members of the family. What
with shortages of every sort, hospitality was difficult in wartime Britain; and yet, in the midst of all their own embarrassments, the English contrived to be kind to the strangers from overseas. The Canadian soldier appreciated the kindness, and admired the courage with which the English civilian faced the peril and misery of war. Enough has been said to indicate that in the early days relations with the British public left much to be desired. There is ample documentary evidence that this state of things entirely changed as time passed. By the spring of 1944 the censors who read the soldiers’ letters, who had often had to report that a good many Canadians were making hostile references to their British hosts, were telling a very different story. A report based on the reading of 11,652 letters during the period 6–20 April 1944 makes this very remarkable statement: “The relations between British civilians and Canadian troops continue to be very cordial, and not one adverse comment has been seen.”26 Relations with British servicemen were not so universally satisfactory, but a censorship report covering the period 16–31 May 1944 noted that of over 19,000 letters read 98 writers spoke of relations with British troops as good, while only 28 called them bad.* (Not many men spoke of relations with United States troops, but there were only 14 “good” references as against 35 “bad” ones.)27 It is notable that so few men thought it worthwhile to speak of these matters at all.
The relationship between the troops and the British public was reflected in the number of Canadian soldiers who married in the United Kingdom. There were 1222 marriages during 1940; and the number increased year by year until the total just before the Normandy D Day stood at 17,390. It was the period after VE Day, however, that produced the largest number. By 30 November 1946, when repatriation was virtually complete, 34,296 officers and men of the Canadian Army had been married in the United Kingdom.28 A few of the brides were Canadian women or women of non-British nationality; but the great majority were of course natives of the British Isles. Thus one result of the Army’s long sojourn in Britain was to bring to Canada a large group of new and in general most excellent citizens. The dependents of servicemen were transported to Canada at public expense; the Canadian Wives Bureau at CMHQ (above, page 201) handled this large task for all three services.29 All told, from April 1942 through February 1948, 43,464 wives and 20,995 children were brought to Canada under this arrangement.30 The vast majority came from Britain; similarly, the vast majority were dependents of Army men.
* Relations with the Home Guard were of course a different and separate matter. General Crerar believes that nothing did more to improve relations with the British people generally than the close connections which his Corps established with the Home Guard in 1942.
Discipline and Deportment
It would not be difficult to assemble a file of clippings from English wartime newspapers which would give the reader the impression that the Canadians were a thoroughly badly behaved army and a constant source of worry to the English police. And it is needless to say that plenty of soldiers did get themselves into trouble. A modern army is a cross-section of the nation, and every nation has its proportion of troublemakers; and “single men in barracks” were no more likely to grow into plaster saints during the Second World War than they were when Kipling wrote. But the impression sometimes created by the more lurid London papers was unjust to the Army.
The periods when morale tended to sink lowest and trouble was most prevalent were, of course, the winters, when military activity was reduced and the blackout helped to make everyone miserable. The winter of 1941–42 was probably the most difficult time of the war; not least because it was the third of a succession of uncommonly cold winters.* As in 1939–40, the state of the war tended to make matters worse. Hitler’s attack on Russia had made a German attempt at invading England seem much less probable; the Luftwaffe was busy in the east, and there was little of that bombing of Britain which had had such a bracing effect on soldier and civilian alike in 1940–41; and the outbreak of war in the Far East in December, and the Japanese victories that followed, strengthened the impression that the United Kingdom was now a backwater. These conditions were reflected in some lowering of morale; a censorship report of November 1941 made the comment that, while in general it remained good, a certain number of men were showing discouragement, and this seemed commonest in the 1st Division31 (which had of course been longest in the country). In turn, this produced some friction in Sussex. The Deputy Chief Constable of Brighton, for instance, was reported in the press as having remarked during a court case which resulted in three Canadian soldiers being fined that there had recently been “rather serious” disturbances at night: “Our men have been extremely tolerant with the Canadians, but recently they have had to draw their truncheons in self-defence”.32
The fact remains that the record shows that even at this difficult period it was only a small proportion of Canadians who got into trouble. A detailed report33 on the discipline of the Canadian Army Overseas was prepared at
* “In striking contrast with the weather of 1914–18, when wet winters predominated, the outstanding feature of the weather of this war has been the unusually cold winters. Taken together, January and February, 1942, were appreciably colder over England and Wales than the similar period in 1941, and very slightly colder than that of 1940.” (The Times, London, 13 March 1942.)
CMHQ in September 1942. It made the following comments on the question of civil offences:*
“The most prevalent offences... are those involving theft, larceny and burglary and the next mostprevalent are those involving assault.
“A total of 923 soldiers have been convicted by the civil courts during the period under review [December 1939 through August 1942]. This figure is not entirely accurate by reason of the fact that records for the early stages are not complete but is sufficiently accurate to show that the proportion of our troops involved in civil prosecutions is relatively small.”
* Unlike the United States forces, which tried all cases occurring in the United Kingdom by their own military courts, as provided in The United States of America (Visiting Forces) Act passed by Parliament in 1942,34 the Canadian forces accepted the jurisdiction of British civil courts even in cases of capital offences. Six Canadian soldiers were convicted of murder and hanged by the judgement of United Kingdom courts. The Canadian authorities took the responsibility in such cases of ensuring that the accused was competently defended and had every chance.35
At 21 September 1942, 156 Canadian soldiers were serving sentences awarded by United Kingdom civil courts. Surveying the whole disciplinary situation from the beginning, the report concluded:
“The proportion of troops committing offences has, subject to certain seasonal fluctuations, steadily decreased.
“The great majority of offences, approximately 90%, are purely breaches of military discipline.
“The proportion of troops involved in civil offences is small and has steadily decreased.”
Two circumstances somewhat qualify the statistics given. First, as stated, the figures for the early days are admittedly not complete. Secondly, the figures are those of convictions, and there would doubtless have been more of these but for the tendency of English courts to be lenient to Canadians. At the request of the military authorities, the High Commissioner had spoken to the Home Secretary asking that, in the interest of discipline, “Canadian soldiers charged with offences should be dealt with strictly on the merits of the case” and given no special indulgence.36 There is no doubt, however, that there often was some leniency in practice.
Whatever doubt may attach to the early figures, there is none about those from 1942 onwards, and they fully support the general conclusions of the report just quoted. For example, for the three months ending 30 June 1943, the total number of civil convictions was 241; for the three months ending 30 September 1943, it was 219; and for the three months ending 31 December 1943 it was 216.37 On these three dates respectively the strength of the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom38 was 201,406 all ranks, 204,981 all ranks and 171,273 all ranks (the decrease is accounted for by the dispatch of troops to the Mediterranean). This backs up the statement made in a CMHQ report, “As an average figure, 4 to 5 soldiers out of every 10,000 are involved with the civil authorities each month”.39 The statement might, it is true, have been more accurately phrased, “involved
with the civil authorities to the point of conviction”; but with every qualification allowed for, the figure is still very small.
The picture of the morale and behaviour of the Canadian soldier in the United Kingdom has its dark spots, but viewed as a whole it is remarkably bright and satisfactory. The maintenance of the spirit of the troops during this very long period of inaction, and the steady improvement of their relations with the British people, constitute together something of a triumph. On the eve of the Normandy landings the postal censors who read letters written by the Canadians in the 21st Army Group reported,40
This is a cheerful mail revealing eagerness for action, and a fine fighting spirit. These troops are confident in themselves and confident in victory. ... Regimental pride and a fine esprit de corps is evident. ... References to English civilians continue to be flattering and show a very friendly spirit.
This was written four and a half years after the first Canadians came to England.
The credit for these results must be widely distributed. A large share must go to the higher command of the Army, and to those who operated the various welfare services which the command provided and directed. A large share must go also to Britain’s brave and hospitable people. But no small meed of praise is due to the troops themselves. General McNaughton pointed this out in the course of a press conference on 17 December 1942, the third anniversary of the arrival of the first flight of the 1st Division in the United Kingdom. He then said that the maintenance of morale at the highest level in spite of many disappointments and frustrations was a great tribute to the men of the army. The result was due to the fact that “our men have good common sense”; they were a very intelligent body of men, not an army of adventurers, but men who had come to Britain to serve a cause.41 There is of course no doubt that the Canadian soldier intensely disliked the inaction which was imposed upon him so long; but he knew his time would come; and it came in 1943 and 1944, in the hard and victorious campaigns in Italy and North-West Europe.
Leave to Canada
The question of leave to Canada was certain to become important as the war continued. The psychological effect of prolonged absence from home began to be apparent in many men after two years’ absence and, of course, was most pronounced on those who had left wives at home. After three years the strain of long separation began to have its effect in many families. During 1943 the British Army instituted a system of home postings (“Python”) for men who had been abroad for six years and by the beginning of 1944
this period had been reduced to five years. By that time New Zealanders had received home leave after three or more years abroad and the United States Army was working out the details of a liberal repatriation scheme. A Canadian system of rotation leave came into effect in the autumn of 1944, when some Canadian soldiers had been overseas nearly five years.
Long before this, measures had been taken to deal with the most urgent aspects of the problem. Within a few months of the 1st Division’s arrival in England there were requests to return to Canada on “compassionate grounds”. Where such a request was granted the man was “struck off strength” the Canadian Army Overseas; incidentally, an officer usually was required to pay his own passage home. The whole question of leave came up for discussion during September 1941 and it was decided that leave in Canada would be granted “only in very exceptional cases” and not ordinarily at public expense; subsequent discharge would be considered only in cases where extreme hardship would result from a soldier’s retention in the army.42 Administrative details were promulgated in a routine order dated 24 October 1941.43 The only real complaint against the procedure now set up was its slowness. A report prepared at CMHQ on 15 April 1943 indicated that of 647 applications submitted during the period since 1 October 1942, 338 had been referred to NDHQ for investigation, but only 112 cases had been approved for return to Canada.44 Steps were taken to speed up the procedure but it was obvious that, as the period of absence from Canada lengthened, the backlog would tend to grow greater.
Beginning in the autumn of 1940 some officers and men of the overseas army were sent back to Canada for service as instructors or to take officer cadet training or staff or other courses (above, pages 136, 246). By 31 July 1944 some 944 officers and 3750 men45 had been returned for such reasons and had had the opportunity of spending some time with their families. Another and rather larger group of soldiers were sent home as escorts for prisoners of war being sent to North America (above, page 151). The first such escort sailed on 23 December 1941, and the twenty-second and last in November 1944. The total strength of these escorts was 4758 all ranks. They included from time to time a proportion of men returning on compassionate leave and men whose age or medical category made them unsuitable for further overseas service. Some men going to Canada for officer training or duty as instructors were also included in escorts; there is thus some duplication between the two sets of figures given in this paragraph.46 It is apparent that the number of men given leave by these various expedients was very small in proportion to the number of long-service men overseas.
By the early weeks of 1944 the problem was becoming increasingly serious. On 17 February the Director General of Medical Services at Ottawa (Major General G. B. Chisholm) informed the Adjutant General that the Consultant Neuropsychiatrist then visiting Canada from the United Kingdom
had suggested that men overseas were suffering from the long separation from their homes and families and that it might be advisable to allow leave to Canada for men who had completed, say, four and a half years of overseas service.47 Four days later the matter was discussed by the Military Members of the Army Council. However, “In view of the many administrative difficulties involved, including the question of provision of reinforcement replacements, it was the opinion of Military Members that such a scheme was impracticable and should be deferred until such time as there is a more definite indication of the future trend of operations now contemplated.”48
The military difficulties were indeed formidable. The invasion of North-West Europe was impending, as were large-scale operations in Italy; and to remove from the units at this moment large numbers of long-service men who in the nature of things were soldiers of exceptional experience was obviously undesirable. It has moreover been made clear that the general manpower situation had been unsatisfactory for a year past; in these circumstances, finding the additional reinforcements that a large programme of home leave would make necessary was certain to be extremely difficult. Finally, there was the question of shipping. Vessels were available to move the normal flow of reinforcements, but could enough be obtained to accommodate the much larger movement that a rotation leave scheme would involve? The fact that the shipping was not under Canadian control made this less likely. In the spring, when the Deputy Minister of National Defence (Army), Lt. Col. G. S. Currie, was at CMHQ discussing the question,* General Montague observed that his own “quick appreciation” of it was that “we would be glad to have a system for leave to Canada established, but ... it would be entirely dependent on NDHQ producing the shipping”.49 Nevertheless, the problem could not be avoided, for it was growing more pressing month by month. It presented its worst face in Italy, where the 1st Division (overseas since 1939) was serving. On 19 April 1944 General Burns, commanding the 1st Corps there, wrote to the Chief of Staff at CMHQ concerning the problem of “compassionate leave and the return to Canada of personnel with long service overseas”.50 These two subjects, he said, were closely connected in the minds of Canadian soldiers in Italy: “Many of these men have been away from home for four years and, briefly, their feeling is that few homes can be expected to hold together when the husband has been away for so long”. That he did not exaggerate is evidenced by a censorship report from the Italian theatre, covering Canadian mail read during the period 16–31 July 1944:51
The increasingly large volume of comment on the question of home leave indicates how large this problem is now looming in the minds of the troops. Those who have served for nearly five years are acutely conscious of the fact
* It had become a serious issue in the Canadian press as the result of an article in the Eighth Army News written by the chaplain of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.
that they are unable to look forward to a period of leave as a duly-earned right, and the authorities are bitterly criticised for failing to make provision in this respect. The granting of compassionate leave in exceptional circumstances, and the detailing of men for P/W escort duty, have merely tended to aggravate the question in the eyes of the remainder.
“The authorities” had in fact been working hard on the problem for months without achieving a solution. A minor ameliorative measure taken in the summer was the adoption of the British War Office’s “Tri-Wound Scheme”. As applied to the Canadian Army, this provided for returning to Canada (or, if preferred, the United Kingdom), for duty for a period of six months, men who had been wounded “otherwise than trivially” three times, or had three years’ overseas service and had been wounded twice. But the number of men who could qualify was very small.52
In September 1944, after prolonged consideration, Headquarters First Canadian Army informed CMHQ that the reinforcement situation appeared to warrant putting a leave scheme into operation. Shortly afterwards the Minister of National Defence (Colonel Ralston) returned from a visit to Italy convinced of the importance of such a scheme. It was calculated at CMHQ that the reinforcement position would only justify giving leave to 500 men per month, since to give a man thirty clear days at home would involve his being lost to his unit for three months. On 1 November a firm plan, agreed upon by the Military Members of the Army Council, was submitted to the Minister; it cautiously provided for a quota of only 250 men per month. Generals Crerar and Montague recommended an increase to 450, and on this basis the scheme went into effect. Eligibility was limited to officers and men with “five years satisfactory continuous service overseas”, but each completed month of service in an active theatre of operations (the Mediterranean or North-West Europe) counted as two months.53
The first drafts sent under the scheme – 200 officers and men from Italy, 250 from North-West Europe and the United Kingdom – sailed for home at the end of November and early in December 1944. Later drafts were larger, and 1428 all ranks were embarked during February. Although it had been planned that Rotation Leave men would return to duty overseas, few actually did so.* Of the 1992 all ranks making up the first three monthly quotas, only 53 were sent back; and in the early spring of 1945 NDHQ placed the scheme on a new footing. It was decided that men returning to Canada on the rotation quota would normally be retained there; and all returns to Canada were categorized under one of four headings: (a) Rotational Duty, mainly for long-service men; (b) Specific Duty (attendance at courses, etc.); (c) Long Service Leave; (d) Miscellaneous
* The immediate manpower problem had of course been considerably eased by the decision to send NRMA men overseas and by the fact that casualties had been fewer than expected.
(medical or compassionate reasons, etc.). Men under (a) and (d) were to be retained in Canada. Those under (b) would return overseas, as would those under (c) at the end of thirty clear days’ leave. The men in this last category were those who would normally have been eligible for Rotational Duty, but whose services overseas were required for special reasons. After the new scheme became effective at the beginning of April, practically all long service men going back to Canada went on Rotational Duty; all told, only 26 all ranks went on Long Service Leave.54
Down to 21 June 1945, when the rotation programme ceased to operate, merging into the general process of repatriation, a total of 626 officers and 9603 other ranks were returned to Canada on Rotation Leave, Long Service Leave, or Rotational Duty (387 officers and 6022 other ranks coming under the last-named heading).55 Though the figure was not large, there can be no doubt that the introduction of the programme had a material influence in keeping up the morale of the overseas army during the final months of the war. It was a pity that it had to begin so late, and to be on such a limited scale. The separation of families was not the least of the disasters caused by and inseparable from the war; and Canada paid a heavy price in social misery and broken homes for the long sojourn of her troops overseas.*
* It is worth noting that approximately 370,000 all ranks had gone overseas from Canada to Europe by 31 May 1945, when the repatriation programme was getting under way; during the same period approximately 70,000 all ranks were returned to Canada.56 Medical reasons were the commonest cause of return, accounting for 32,489 cases.57
Repatriating the Overseas Army
That getting the overseas troops back to Canada would be a large and complicated task was of course obvious, and the authorities were making plans for it long before the fighting ended. The great difficulty was going to be shipping, and there was bound to be some international competition for the available bottoms, and some conflict between the needs of repatriation after the end of the war in Europe and those of “redeployment” in preparation for the final phase of the continuing war against Japan.
In March 1945 the Canadian Prime Minister visited Washington and in conversation with him President Roosevelt agreed that servicemen not required for occupation duty should be brought back from Europe to North America in strict “chronological priority”, i.e. those who had been overseas longest, whether Canadians or Americans, should be brought back first. Whether the President did anything along these lines before his death on 5 April does not appear.58 At the end of March the British War Office indicated that it might be possible to move about 90,000 Canadian service
men home during the six months following the defeat of Germany. This was not a satisfactory prospect, and on 20 April the Canadian Government instructed the High Commissioner in London and the Chief of Staff at CMHQ to press the United Kingdom authorities for an allocation of shipping sufficient to bring at least 150,000 men back during those six months. It appeared for a considerable time that this minimum might not be met; on 4 July, nearly two months after VE Day, the Department of National Defence issued a press release indicating that in spite of strong representations in London and Washington the prospect was that it might not be possible to move more than 126,000 Army and RCAF men during the second six months of 1945.59 However, this forecast proved pessimistic. The actual grand total of Army and RCAF personnel repatriated during those six months was to be about 192,000.60
Demobilization planning, long in progress, was accelerated early in 1944. In February it “became policy” to set up a demobilization directorate at Ottawa for each service.61 Within the Army overseas a Demobilization Committee had existed at
CMHQ since early in 1943;62 and, as we have seen,* a Director of Reorganization and Demobilization was appointed there in September 1944, when it seemed possible that Germany was about to collapse. An Army plan for releasing men under a point-score system based on length of service had been accepted in principle in August. The Cabinet War Committee at Ottawa agreed on general principles governing repatriation and demobilization on 23 September, and a special cabinet committee approved a more detailed plan on 19 April 1945.63 In February work began at CMHQ on drafting a pamphlet to explain the scheme to the troops. It could not be put into final shape until information was available on the basis on which the Army’s Pacific Force was to be formed, and this was not known until after Mr. King’s statement in Parliament on 4 April (see below, page 514). The pamphlet was then revised and printed and, by great efforts, was published on 11 May, only three days after VE Day, under the title After Victory in Europe.64 The plan described in the pamphlet was, speaking very broadly, based on the principle “first in, first out”, but it was explained that the needs of the service made it impossible to observe this principle to the letter. Japan still had to be defeated, Germany had to be controlled, and the administrative framework of the army had to be maintained. Subject to these requirements being met, “priority for individual release” would be based on “a point score system” under which one month of service in Canada counted two points, and one month of service overseas counted three; while the scores of married personnel, or widowers or divorcees with dependent children, were increased by 20 per cent. As for the process of repatriation,
* Above, page 200.
the highest priority for return went to those who volunteered, and were accepted, for the Pacific Force; these were to have “thirty clear days’ leave at home before undertaking any further service”. Thereafter, the men with the highest point-scores (so far as they could be spared) would be returned to Canada in drafts. The third stage would be the return of major units in the same general order in which they came overseas. The units thus returned would be composed basically of their own lower-priority personnel, so far as these came from the units’ home districts, supplemented by men from those districts drafted in from other units. Questionnaires were distributed in mid-May, every individual being allowed to indicate his or her preference: service with the Pacific Force; service with the Occupation Force in Germany; or “reallocation in accordance with individual priorities and the requirements of the service” – in other words, discharge.65
The movement homewards began sooner than might have been expected. A large allocation of shipping unexpectedly became available for the month of June; haste was made to take advantage of it, and a total of 15,665 men and women of the Army left the United Kingdom for home that month.66 This included the whole of the 1st Parachute Battalion, which was sent because it was available in England in spite of the fact that it contained some low-priority men; it thus became the first unit to return to Canada as such.67 In July, 33,775 Army personnel moved towards Canada.68 Notwithstanding the speed with which the repatriation mill had begun to grind, one unpleasant incident took place among the troops awaiting return. There was rioting in Aldershot on 4 and 5 July, and much damage was done to property (by 31 March 1946, Canada had paid $41,541 to meet damage claims). This would have been deplorable in any circumstances; it was particularly indefensible in that it took place so soon after the end of hostilities and at a time when the movement back to Canada was developing rapidly. General Montague expressed the opinion that the ringleaders in the disturbances were certain Pacific Force volunteers “whom I cannot describe otherwise than as racketeers”. (There was a suspicion that some men were volunteering for the Pacific Force merely as a means of getting back to Canada at an early date.) In fact, of the six soldiers convicted by courts martial as a result of the riots, three were Pacific volunteers. Most of the six had long records of misconduct.69 The citizens of Aldershot magnanimously forgave the many the misdeeds of the few, and on 26 September conferred “the freedom of the borough” on the Canadian Army Overseas.70
On VE Day (8 May 1945) the strength of the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe was 281,757 all ranks.71 Between that date and the following 31 December 184,054 Army men and women left that zone for Canada. A few hundred, chiefly individuals
whose services were urgently required in Canada in connection with the Pacific Force or otherwise, were sent by air. Every sort of available shipping was utilized. The great mass went by troopship; but a small number went by “berth ship” (i.e. as passengers on cargo vessels, etc.), and a larger number by hospital ship; and nearly 3000 were taken back, during 1945, in Canadian naval vessels.72 By 31 March 1946 Canadian troops in the United Kingdom numbered only 17,745 all ranks; on the Continent there were fewer than 800 apart from the 17,000 men of the Canadian Army Occupation Force.* During the spring and summer the troops who had formed the CAOF, and those who had staffed the Repatriation Depots (the former Reinforcement Units) in the Aldershot area, were returned to Canada. The strength of the overseas army at 31 January 1947 was down to 630 all ranks.73 Headquarters, Canadian Repatriation Units, had ceased to exist on 22 July 1946; the last Repatriation Depot was disbanded on 21 February 1947. Canadian Military Headquarters itself, once so huge, had a strength of only 20 officers and 45 other ranks at 31 March 1947; and during the following month it changed its name to Canadian Army Liaison Establishment, London, and formally embarked on a peacetime career.74
The repatriation of the Canadian Army Overseas was a tremendous administrative task and a great administrative triumph. There has been no room for the details here, but the rapidity and smoothness of the movement reflected great credit on those who organized it, on the Continent, in Britain and in Canada. It is probable, however, that the task could not have been. so rapidly completed had it not been for the Japanese surrender in the late summer of 1945. The period of largest movement was. December 1945 and January 1946; during these two months 82,474 all ranks of the Canadian Army left the United Kingdom.75 The shipping for such a movement might not have been available had war still been in progress in the Pacific.
* The CAOF, and the movements of Canadian formations on the Continent after the end of hostilities, are described in Volume III of this history.