Wednesday, September 17, 2014

UP THE LINE: Experiencing the Somme with Martin Middlebrook

The name Martin Middlebrook is well known to anyone who has made an attempt to seriously study the Battle of the Somme. His 1971 book First Day on the Somme is still in print and acknowledged to be a well-written and dramatic portrayal of what was, and is, the worst single day in the history of the British Army. His book about the Somme was his first publication, and he went on to write a number of other military history works, including accounts of the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 as well as several books about various aspects of the operations of Bomber Command in the Second World War.
While he no longer seeks to publish books, Mr. Middlebrook continues to remain active in the writing and historical communities. His most recent activities include a cross-Canada tour to deliver a public lecture entitled "Up The Line and Back Again." He has been giving public presentations for many years, including a public lecture on the Battle of the Somme going back at least as far as May 17, 2007. I attended his Somme lecture a number of years ago at Calgary's Military Museums.
The intent of this essay is to provide some impressions of the UP THE LINE presentation, with some ancillary discussion of Middlebrook's Somme materials.
The Presentation - Part I (Regimental Mobilization and War Service)
I attended the September 16, 2014 session of UP THE LINE at Calgary's Military Museums. The event was well-attended, though a number of empty chairs suggested it had not been as well advertised as other stops on his cross-country tour. There were no other speakers other than some very brief and appropriate introductory remarks by the evening's host, Major Peter Boyle, CD, ADC, the Regimental Curator of The Calgary Highlanders.
The talk was divided into two parts. Mr. Middlebrook seemed apologetic about discussing the first part at all, fearing it too dry for a general interest audience. The material was a description of the British regimental system, mobilization outline, and general course of manpower management for a typical infantry regiment in the First World War. As someone who has struggled to understand the subtle differences between the Territorial Army and the Reserve, I personally found this segment very interesting, and think I may finally understand why some units received designations such as "1st/4th" and "2nd/4th" etc. Middlebrook took the sensible approach of using a single actual regiment as an example, and chose The Lincolnshire Regiment. Not only does he hail from Lincolnshire himself, but his father and uncles served in the Lincolnshires, two of them being killed in the Great War. Middlebrook also shared something of his own military experience, having grown up in the period of National Service, but some stories deserve to be experienced first-hand and so I therefore won't elaborate here.
The first part of the lecture presented a number of facts and figures and logically traced the lineage and war service of the various battalions until the final casualty figures of the war service battalions were presented. This is a very plain accounting of the contents of the first part. Middlebrook breathed a great deal of life into the subject by relating it to his family and personal experiences. It was a charming presentation and Middlebrook is a well-practiced public speaker. While perhaps not polished, he does come across as genuine and spoke without needing to refer to notes.
Part 2 - Casualty Clearing System in Major Battles
The second part of the lecture was more disorganized. I don't think it hampered the presentation, and in fact, the jumping from subject to subject allowed Middlebrook to keep the momentum of the evening going. The major topic was the casualty treatment system of the First World War. This was a major theme of Middlebrook's first book, and the Somme battle - in particular the first two weeks - were used as the primary example for purposes of the talk. A comparison of Middlebrook’s discussion to what is found in, for example, Keegan’s Face of Battle shows that Middlebrook’s research appears to be beyond reproach. Again, the material was at risk for being painfully dry, but this is where he wisely deviated from a straight recitation of British Army casualty clearance doctrine and shared some personal vignettes, and also embarked on some major digressions which became a third major theme of the evening.
British Cemeteries
Folded into the discussion of casualty clearance was a brief history of the Imperial War Graves Commission (later Commonwealth War Graves Commission). This was not a straight history, which could be found online in any event, but a brief overview and then some interesting discussion of select sites. The focus of the talk was on how individual cemeteries came into being. Middlebrook made the statement with words to the effect that “each cemetery starts with a single grave” and he illustrated how various cemeteries came into being and why some burial sites with unique layouts were patterned in different ways. Again, he included some personal touches, including a photo of his late wife who passed away in May, dutifully pointing out a grave marker in one of the many cemeteries she helped photograph for him. Another set of photos, of Railway Dugouts Cemetery, includes a grouping of seven men of the 1st/4th Battalion Lincolnshires, including two sergeants, laid to rest in a row. This set of graves had special meaning for Middlebrook as his uncle had been a sergeant in the 1st/4th Lincolns. Sergeant Andrew Crick, Regimental Number 812, is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.
Lancashire Dump Cemetery was revealed to be a favourite of Middlebrook’s, though again, one should hear the story of why first-hand. As a hint, Middlebrook made reference to Rose Coombs, author of Before Endeavours Fade. Some other notable cemeteries discussed include Brandhoek New Military Cemetery where Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and Bar, MC is buried, and special protection is provided to the grass over his grave since so many visitors come to photograph the unique headstone with its double Victoria Cross insignia.
Overall Impressions
In all, the evening was a pleasant experience and Middlebrook is an experienced public speaker. While perhaps lacking some of the polish one might get from a different type of speaker, Middlebrook speaks with conviction, charm and the occasional flash of humour – and most importantly, sincerity. There is no questioning his passion for the subject and his desire to share his decades of accumulated knowledge with others. When one of the younger members of the audience, sitting in the front row, dared to yawn expressively there was a refreshing exchange of spontaneous sincerity from Mr. Middlebrook that left the rest of the audience both amused and a little more alert in their chairs.
Middlebrook’s Historical Approach
The exchange with the yawner shouldn’t be taken out of context. Middlebrook presented himself as a humble, though genuinely learned, man and in fact expressed concern several times for the welfare of the audience. He began by pointing out he would feel no offence if anyone had real world issues and had to leave during the presentation, or if in fact simply saw no value in the talk and left. “Don’t be embarrassed,” was his council. He apologized more than once for the first part of the talk, insisting the hosts had been keen on having the entire presentation. The apology sums up Middlebrook quite well, as did one other comment he made during the presentation.
He was forthcoming in the thought that military historians have come to a consensus that First Day on the Somme made just two major contributions to military history. While his research did introduce a number of first-hand accounts of Somme participants into the public record, Middlebrook noted that he feels these “were not major contributions” to military history. What he feels military historians have recognized him for are bringing two facts to public attention:
  1. The fact that General Rawlinson, a senior British Commander on 1 July 1916, had altered war diaries before publishing his memoirs in the 1920s, and
  2. Research done on the casualty evacuation system in place on 1 July 1916, particularly the lack of ambulance trains. Middlebrook apparently tracked down correspondence between Rawlinson and Haig, the latter of which refused to approve the number of trains requested, leading to a breakdown of the evacuation chain on 1 July 1916 with disastrous consequences.
I had an interesting exchange with Middlebrook at the early session on the First Day on the Somme which may speak further to his approach. During the question and answer period, I responded to what I felt was Middlebrook’s criticism of many decisions made leading up to the events of 1 July 1916 by pointing out that the British troops of "Kitchener's Army" were largely civilians drafted into "Pals Battalions" - I asked him therefore what choice the British Army had but to make tactics simple for them. Middlebrook’s response was to ask in return: “You’re a military man, aren’t you?” The question, even the description alone as it rolled off his tongue, seemed to state clearly his perspective.
Newer Approaches to the Somme
William Philpott published a history of the Battle of the Somme (in other words, not just the first day, but the entire battle which is recognized by historians as running from 1 July 1916 into November of the same year) entitled Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme which by the title alone suggests yet another shift of interpretations of the battle. The final chapter makes it clear this is exactly what Philpott is doing, and he mentions Middlebrook by name. Beginning on page 592, Philpott traces the evolution of the battle's history, analyzes how it has entered the public consciousness, and how pop culture has shaped – or even distorted – public perception of the battle, and later the entire First World War and Britain’s role in it. Middlebrook is not mentioned until page 613, and despite the honest work Middlebrook has done in capturing first-hand accounts of the battle, he is described as part of a “post facto generalisation of the nature of (the) war.” Philpott describes a process in which First World War veterans were in fact “sucked in” to a process in which historians re-examined the war, and utilized the fading memories of veterans, inter-twining them with “harsh post-war realities” that eventually “convinced the combatants of the overarching futility and tragedy of their youthful fight.” Philpott argues that this was a sense of futility and tragedy that the combatants did not feel at the time of the war – insisting that “the troops on the Western Front were not the victims that twentieth-century history has made them…” 
Another examination of the Somme that is even broader is Somme 1914-18: Lessons in War by Martin Marix Evans, which explores fighting in the sector throughout the entire war. Like Philpott, Evans devotes space in his conclusion to the evolution of public understanding of First World War history. While he is not as ready to dismiss historians, like Middlebrook, as being complicit in a rewriting of history, he does warn that "(t)he facile triviality of Oh What a Lovely War! is as useless and patronising as gung-ho nationalism" and urges those studying the war not to forget that "(i)t is possible to think in terms of the war in Europe...or on the Somme, or on 1 July 1916, the first day of the great Somme battle, to the exclusion of all else, but it is vital to be aware of doing so. To some extent each time and theatre influences the other." The Western Front, he notes, was part of a much larger world war.
Conclusion
With the popularity of so-called "social media" it's tempting to ponder the fate of lecture series such as this. Having enjoyed public speaking engagements by Tim Cook (author of Shock Troops, The Madman and the Butcher and other Canadian Great War histories) and now Middlebrook, in addition to several good historians while an undergrad at University (I'd like to think I appreciated the experience then as much as I should have - the good ones still stand out in memory), it is easy to both recommend the experience to others, and believe they will always be part of the historical landscape.
For anyone who did attend and is struggling to remember what Mr. Middlebrook was asking people to "google" at the end of the lecture, his website is at this address and tells the story of his visit to Kelowna and the tribute to British soldiers of the 12th Division.
Martin Middlebrook presents an interesting picture of contrasts. On the one hand by his own admission not claiming to be a serious military historian, yet clearly having a grasp of many intricate technical details borne of long years of study. His book First Day on the Somme deserves to be read for its masterful portraits of men in war, but also needs to be tempered with the deeper background accounts offered up by authors like Evans or Philpott who can skillfully supply the greater - one dares say colder - context that Middlebrook, probably unapologetically, does not provide.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Clarification on the Canadian Army's Historic Insignia Announcement


On July 9, 2013, the Canadian Army (renamed from Land Force Command in 2011), released a news backgrounder (the full text of which is available here). Under the headline "Restoring the Canadian Army's historical identity", several key announcements were made:

  • the Land Force Areas into which Canada was organized were to be renamed as Divisions, to be accompanied by (one assumes) traditional patches associated with those formations
  • the reintroduction of traditional rank insignia for officers below the rank of Brigadier-General
  • Corps shoulder titles to accompany the restoration of traditional titles granted in April 2013
  • The readoption of the Army's former insignia as a new secondary badge
The proposed changes include the re-introduction of divisional nomenclature and patches for the current Land Force Areas; traditional rank insignia for officers; corps shoulder titles following the restoration of traditional titles to a number of Canadian Army corps in April 2013; and the Canadian Army’s secondary badge.

Further, the Minister of National Defence announced the intention to restore the historical Army rank names for non-commissioned members (i.e. Trooper for privates serving in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, etc.)

Some clarity on certain issues may be in order, as discussion in social media has been rampant and in some cases, from an uninformed perspective.

Organization

More information on Domestic Military Organization can be found on the canadiansoldiers.com website by following the link. The Land Force Areas are currently as below:


The 1st Canadian Division was recently stood up, once again, for the fifth time in history. This is the only division to be activated in peacetime (1954-1958, 1988-2000, and 2011 to present), the division is headquartered in Kingston and has several missions according to DND:

The 1st Canadian Division (1st Cdn Div) is a fully deployable unit trained and enabled at an advanced state of readiness to lead Canadian Armed Forces operations at home and abroad.
The 1st Cdn Div assumes the tasks of Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) and to deploy the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

The division has three high-readiness tasks:

  • Humanitarian operations, such as those conducted in Haiti in 2010;
  • Non-combatant Evacuation Operations for the safe evacuation of Canadians abroad, such as from Lebanon in 2006; and
  • Full-spectrum operations, such as those in Afghanistan.
The history of Canada's other divisions can be found in sketch form on the canadiansoldiers.com website, under the "Organization" section.

It is interesting to note that, for example, the U.S. military has retained a very division-centred military, with recognizable formation patches and system of lineages. While individual regiments still trace their historical lineage back through various conflicts, loyalties seem to be also strongly be felt towards the division - "The Big Red One", "Rock of the Marne", etc.

From the Backgrounder:

Land Force Areas will be renamed as divisions and Canadian Army personnel will wear appropriate division patches. Formations will be renamed as follows:
  • Land Force Quebec Area will be referred to as “2nd Canadian Division”;
  • Land Force Western Area will be referred to as “3rd Canadian Division”;
  • Land Force Central Area will be referred to as “4th Canadian Division”;
  • Land Force Atlantic Area will be referred to as “5th Canadian Division”; and
  • Land Force Doctrine and Training System will be referred to as “Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre”.
There will be no change to 1st Canadian Division Headquarters.



Exact colours of the divisional insigina are still subject to confirmation (see discussion below), but the general historical shades are above. Some divisions picked up nicknames during their war service - "The Mighty Maroon Machine" of the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division in the Second World War, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was briefly known as the "Water Rats". The appelation was a play on the "Desert Rats" nickname that the British 7th Armoured had acquired in the Western Desert, and was a testament to the number of amphibious operations the division had participated in, as well as the requirement of operating in flooded terrain. This included the landings in Normandy, the fighting at Calais, the fighting for the Breskens Pocket during the Battle of the Scheldt, the fighting in the Rhineland, and the Rhine crossing.

The divisional insignia was first adopted as tactical insignia in 1916, worn in the form of cloth patches on the sleeves of service dress uniforms by soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Each division wore a cloth formation patch 3 inches wide by 2 inches tall, with units in each division further identified by geometric shapes of different colours added to the basic patch. The insignia was also used on steel helmets, signage, etc. The book Distinguishing Patches by Clive Law discusses the history of this insignia in detail.


Even with the strong "Regimental System" in place, a certain amount of identification and loyalty was built up around the national Divisions during the world wars. Here, senior non-commissioned soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Division are seen in Dieppe following its liberation in 1944. The royal blue patch of the division is clearly visible on the sleeves of their uniforms, and the divisional insignia is also shown on the upper left of the sign admonishing soldiers to keep the reputation of the division intact by their behaviour. (LAC Photo)
G1 Heritage Sitrep

On 24 July 2013, an "internal document" made its way into the public domain, providing further clarity in some areas (some abbreviations in the original have been spelled out in full; also note also that reference is made to images that were not provided in the public domain document and are thus not provided here):

G1 HERITAGE SITREP 02

Div G1 reps, here is expedient SITREP 02 to further assist your Div G1s and Div SMs to respond to the recent MND announcements on changes to Canadian Army identity.

TOPICS in this SITREP

1. Cost
2. Divisions
3. NCM Rank Names
4. Officers Rank Insignia
5. CA Corps
6. CA Secondary Badge

The key changes from SITREP 01 are in paras 2 and 4.

1. COST
The Canadian Army HQ is doing everything to manage the changes from these MND announcements while minimizing the cost impact on Canadian Army operations. Our approach to implementation of the changes from the MND announcement will always feature, where feasible, introduction of the changes through normal maintenance (painting new signs only when needed) and restocking when current inventories are exhausted (badges, correspondence). The Canadian Army HQ is very serious about cost. This has already limited the degree of change the HQ is permitting. Soldiers are taxpayers, our mission and operations are our priority.

2. DIVISIONS
All Land Force Areas were renamed to Divisions effective 12 Jul 13. There was no change to 1 Cdn Div HQ. The Division long names follow this example: 4th Canadian Division and the short form is 4 Cdn Div. The French translations are still being confirmed.

Divisions will get division formation patches for wear on the left upper sleeve of the DEU. The colours above are NOT the exact pantones. (Webmaster's note - the original image is not available.) The current brigade formation patches will stay on the right upper sleeve. Canadian Army HQ has met with DHH/DSSPM to initiate the procurement of the patches. No work is required at the L2 level until the patches are produced. 


1st Canadian Division BadgeLFAs did not qualify for a Flag. The new Divisions do qualify for a Camp Flag to indicate the location of the HQ. 

The traditional 2 Div C flag is found below (Webmaster's note - image at right comes from the website of the current 1st Canadian Division). All Divisions camp flags will mirror this historic flag pattern of our (Second World War) Divisions based on the patch colour background and a stylized maple leaf in gold. According to CFP 200 Ch 4 Sect 6 para 17, Divisions must pay for these flags non-publicly like regiments currently do. The Canadian Army HQ is requesting these flags be publicly funded. MTF. No action required at Div level for now as Canadian Army HQ will push your flags to you after the current design consultation with DHH. It is recommended that there be no changes to the LFA badges at this time. Divisions may have mottos and marches. This is being discussed with the Division G1 reps under separate correspondence.

3. NCM RANK NAMES

The changes to NCM rank names will not be official until the QR&O 3.01 is amended. Since 1968, we have been informally referring to Ptes, for example, in the RCAC as Troopers but it was not official. Our NCMs lost their historic rank names in 1968. The MND has announced that the GoC will restore the NCM names along with the officers rank badges. The Corps were consulted and all approved the renaming, the RCIC added more. The Canadian Army will staff a change to QR&O 3.01 in order to make it official. After the QR&O is changed, there still may be some hiccups with CFTPO and maybe HRMS but we are already working this. The end-state is:

(English / French)

RCAC/CBRC. Trooper/Cavalier will be restored for the trained Private/Soldat.
RCA/ARC. Gunner/Artilleur for the trained Private/Soldat.
RCA/ARC. Bombardier for Corporal/Caporal.
RCE/GRC. Sapper/Sapeur for the trained Private/Soldat.
RCCS/CTRC. Signalman/Signaleur for the trained Private/Soldat will be superceded by the introduction of the alternate designation Signaller/Signaleur in Ch 11 of CFP 200.

 RCIC/CIRC. Guardsman/Garde for the trained Private/Soldat in the Regiments of Guards.
RCIC/CIRC. Rifleman/Carabinier for the trained Private/Soldat in regiments with historical connection to rifle regiments.
RCIC/CIRC. Fusilier for the trained Private/Soldat in regiments with historical connection to regiments of fusiliers.
RCEME/GEMRC. Craftsman/Spécialiste for the trained Private/Soldat will be superceded by the introduction of the alternate designation Craftsman/Artisan in Ch 11 of CFP 200.

These changes are being made to honour our soldiers and the history of the (Canadian Army). There are also some alternate designations and forms of address that will be formalized by adding them to a new Ch 11 of CFP 200.

RCA/ARC. Master-Bombardier/Bombardier-chef can be used officially in the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery as an alternate designation/form of address for the Master-Corporal/Caporal-chef appointment.

RCIC/CIRC. The alternate designation/form of address 'Colour Sergeant/Sergent Fourrier' for Warrant Officers can be used in the Regiments of Guards.

RCIC/CIRC. The alternate form of address 'Ensign/Enseigne' for Second Lieutenants can be used in the Regiments of Guards.

RCEME/GEMRC. The use of 'Artisan' can be used for the French form of address for Spécialiste (Craftsman).

For years these rank names have been used informally. They are simply being re-made formal.

4. OFFICER RANK INSIGNIA

The Canadian Army was not apprised of this announcement until days before the MND made it. It was announced less than 2 weeks ago so we can only offer preliminary information. It is not generally understood how our Army came to wear the current Navy rank. This SITREP will hopefully allow you to dispel wrong information.

Key Talking Points

a. Stars and Crowns (are) not British. The officers of almost 100% of the armies on every continent of the world including China, Russia, Finland, Colombia, and including the Salvation Army and RCMP wear a system of two identifiers: (i) a star, and (ii) a national symbolit is an international convention and customary practice so an officer from any country can negotiate on the battlefield or work in coalitions like the UN or NATO and with civilian agencies. Canada's Army used this international customary practice from 1885, officially recognized it in 1903, but lost it in 1968.

b. The Canadian Army lost stars and crowns as rank insignia in 1968 when the Canadian Army and RCAF plus the RCN were directed to put-up Merchant Navy rank. The RCN successfully got their 'fighting-Navy' executive curl back for their 100th anniversary. Now, the Canadian Army will return to Army vice Navy rank in time for the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of (the Second World War).

c. Cheaper. It costs $33.00 to tailor an officers DEU sleeve rank every time they get a new jacket or are promoted. It costs $5-6.00s for a pair of crowns or stars. The Canadian Army will save 80% of the costs and pay-off the initial project in just over 4 years. Stars and crowns (are) going to save money for the Canadian Army not cost money.

This is what we can share now and will continue to share more in next Friday's SITREP. 


Date of Implementation. Stars and Crowns cannot be implemented until a meeting off the National Defence Clothing and Dress Committee endorses the design for wear on DEU uniform. The Canadian Army will likely announce two dates: (i) the date that crowns and stars are available from each officer's Logistik Unicorp account, and (ii) the date they need to be put-up. 


The full implementation may take considerable time to fully introduce because we were unaware of the change and there is no current stock of crowns or stars in the supply system. 

The Canadian Army will introduce the traditional rank system of (the Second World War) as found in Figure 14 of the 1953 Canadian Army Dress Regulations. We have already met with DHH and DSSPM for purchase discussions. 

DEU. The Canadian Army will buy and issue one pattern of star and crown at public expense based on one national Canadian Army/Directorate of History and Heritage approved pattern. The crowns and stars will be push pin like the NCM rank badges so the uniform is not damaged. 

Rifle and Guards Regiments. The Canadian Army will respect the traditional prerogative of rifle regiments and Regiments of Guards to purchase their alternate colours and patterns of stars and crowns respectively on DEU, patrol, ceremonial, and mess dress. For DEU, the Canadian Army HQ has requested public funding but the outcome is not known. For DEU, rifle regiments must still apply to the chain of command and submit their alternative designs for approval by the CCA and DHH. Rifle regiments may contact the G1 Heritage Pat Bryden at 613 415 7707 for additional guidance. 

CADPAT. There is a new high visibility CADPAT rank slip on/velcro project running as we speak. The project will change all CADPAT rank to higher visibility thread. This project will introduce stars and crowns for officers prior to mass production. Thanks to this project, there will be no new cost to put crowns and stars onto CADPAT slip-ons. 


DEU Slip-ons. The Canadian Army with DHH will also approve patterns for the officers' slip-on for the Canadian Army. Decisions are now being made on the extent of patterns and the extent of public funding support. Vendors are already offering rank badges and insignia to units. Some units might lean forward and we suggest Divisions advise units to not proceed until key decisions are made on (a) permissible public and non-public purchasing, (b) the extent to which units will be permitted to deviate from the (Canadian Army) patterns, and (c) the Canadian Army date to implement new DEU rank is announced in a CANARMYGEN. All regiments can trust that our Canadian Army HQ is working in the interest of regimental identity and speed to meet the MND intent. 


Mess Dress. It is recognized that a substantial number of our Canadian Army units still informally use stars and crowns on their mess dress. The current Canadian Army recommendation will be that officers with Navy bars on their mess dress will only be required to put-up stars and crowns voluntarily (grandfathered) but it will be mandatory if/when the officer is promoted. This will be further developed.

5. CORPS
On 19 Apr 13, the MND restored the names of:

(English / French)
RCAC / CBRC - Royal Canadian Armoured Corps
RCE / GRC  - Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers
RCCS / CTRC - Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
RCIC / CIRC - Royal Canadian Infantry Corps
RCEME / GEMRC - Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

The RCA / ARC was already Royal and not affected.
For the Canadian Army, this changed the names of some (not all) Branches are now referred to as Corps. Branches with RCN and RCAF personnel in them like the Logistics Branch are still proudly called Branches.
Canadian Army HQ has already coordinated with Corps Directors and we have met with DHH//DSSPM to order new metal shoulder titles and cloth CADPAT flashes. These will be both ENG or FRE. When they are produced (NMB 3-4 months), our plan is to push the new metal shoulder titles to soldiers through their indiv Logistik Unicorp account.

6. CA HISTORIC DEVICE AND VISUAL IDENTIFIER

The MND has approved the Canadian Army to use a version of our proudly worn circa 1940-60s Canadian Army badge as our secondary badge. It is being called the heraldic term the 'Canadian Army historic device'. This change is important as we are about to enter a significant period of commemoration from 2014-20. Our veterans are very pleased. (Webmaster's note: at right, the identifier as it appeared on the cover of the Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War.)

Canadian Army Flag. A new Canadian Army Camp Flag has already been requested for procurement by DHH for delivery this FY.

Canadian Army Pocket Badge on DEU. Canadian Army HQ has already met with DHH and DSSPM to initiate procurement of a new pocket badge for DEU that will be delivered in at the beginning of the next FY 14-15.

Star of the Order of the Bath


Insignia of the Order of the Bath; the Latin inscription "Tria Juncta in Uno" translates as "three join to become one" - a reference thought to refer either to the Union of England, Scotland and France, the Union of England, Scotland and Ireland, or, possibly, to the Holy Trinity. The second inscription, "ich dien", translates as "I Serve". (Webmaster's note: at right, a rendering of the Star of the Order of the Bath.)

The Canadian Army is adopting the Order of the Bath for the star component of the rank insignia for Officers. As you can see the star has a top and bottom, and there are specific inscriptions including "I Serve".

Pre-integration(and we assume that will happen with the new badges), cloth versions of the star could not be produced with enough detail to show the finer points of the design the crowns were often just shown as 3 blobs so it was hard to see which way was up. If any of you have any of the old red battle dress stars at home you will note that they were very simplified and the centres were just round white spots so there was no up side.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Europe Cartoon Misses the Point


The cartoon above from a Halifax newspaper has been making the rounds via social media, and I have to confess, I'm not sure I understand it at all. I think I get the intent of the cartoonist - he means to point out that the "greatest generation" (Tom Brokaw's phrase for the generation of young men and women who faced the trials of the Second World War) put themselves through peril while the generation of today has something more of a sense of entitlement. Ironically, I think, we tell ourselves every Remembrance Day that those veterans were sacrificing for a better world - in other words, the ability to pamper ourselves with that same sense of entitlement the cartoon, I think, is lampooning.

The wording in the speech bubble is significant. As a published author, and a graduate holding a Bachelor's Degree in Communications Studies, I've always felt that words mean things. It's important to note that the Germans - some call them the Nazis, but there are distinctions to be made - occupied Europe for several years. The Italians, Vichy French and other collaborators, willing and not so, aided them. But the Germans were the main enemies we faced, and they occupied Europe in a most villainous fashion, murdering in cold blood 10 to 12 million civilians, with the aid of local collaborators, including a generally accepted figure of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

Canadians did occupy parts of Europe as well; we certainly had soldiers up and down the Lines of Communication from the beaches in Normandy all the way to the front during the course of the Northwest Europe campaign, and ditto the gruelling campaign in Italy. Terry Copp's evocatively named MAPLE LEAF ROUTE series of books reminds us of this; this "occupation" was fleeting, and benign. Slightly less benign were the activities of the Canadian Army Occupation Force, which was a division-sized entity formed in Europe in 1945. 1 They remained for a year, on German soil, and was in the truest sense of the word a military "occupation." There had been a composite Canadian unit in Berlin briefly as well.

Canadian forces remained in Europe for decades as partners in the NATO alliance, coming to be good friends to the West Germans, and not so good friends to their former allies, the Soviet Union.

The word "occupied" itself is harmless; a soldier can occupy a place in time and space, and its use in a sentence is of no great import by itself. I don't get that sense from the cartoon. Political cartoons by definition are drawn, and captioned, with emphasis and deliberation. For that reason, I find the wording awkwardly done. "Occupation" in the sense implied here is a word associated at first blush with our enemies; Canadians went to Europe to liberate and free from oppression. That Canadians did occupy Europe is a historical fact; to have a cartoon veteran proclaim it, as the only line in a political cartoon seems out of character with what our war effort was truly about. The occupation was the last necessary act of a gruelling war forced on the democracies by fascist dictatorships. It seems disappointing to see it used as a punch-line, rubbed in the face of the youth whose freedoms were purchased by the sacrifice of those who never grew old enough to be satirized as old men with medals and canes.

The cartoon has clearly spoken to many people; it's unfortunate it has become a clarion call for a wide variety of viewpoints, such as the reintroduction of conscription. Those kinds of comments further betray knowledge of basic historical facts; drafting unwilling soldiers simply dilutes the quality of the soldiery. Canada saw it first-hand when it sent a brigade group to the Aleutians to defend North American soil from the Japanese. A number of desertions from among the unwilling took place.2 Other unhappy events regarding the "Zombies" - the home defence conscripts who refused to volunteer for overseas service - are dutifully recorded in the Army's official histories.

I record here no opinion one way or another with regards to the "Occupy _____" movements. Canada's war record in 1939-1945 speaks for itself. I see no reason to compare the two, and am puzzled why a political cartoonist should choose to do so either. It seems like a cheap stunt. The Second World War was an awesome national - and international - imperative. I get the impression the cartoonist would like to suggest that the Occupy movement does not meet the same standard. By mentioning the two in the same breath, he may have done more harm than good in giving the latter more attention than he may have wished, and in the process, distorting the historical record with regards to the former.

Notes
  1. Stacey C.P. The Canadian Army 1939-1945 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1948) pp. 323-324
  2. Stacey C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War Volume I: Six Years of War: The Army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1956)  Ibid, p.500

Friday, November 26, 2010

Canadian Soldiers' Experience as a Template for the Future

I've started two "blogs" now on different topics while insisting that I am against the concept in principle. I suppose it is time that I admit that the concept has sufficiently grown on me; when done well, they can be a unique form of educational and entertaining information. Done poorly, of course, we don't need to describe what they amount to - and it goes without much elucidation that the worth of these things are in the eyes of the beholders.

The aim of the main site - also linked to on this page, at right - has been to provide a historical perspective on Canadian soldiers of the 20th Century. I've kept discussion on the forum to within the constraints of those boundaries in order to avoid discussions of a more controversial nature, partially, and also because I didn't feel the format matched those kinds of discussions. Perhaps this format would better facilitate more "current" discussions. We shall see.

That conscious decision not to permit current topics of conversation on the discussion forum has not changed; it was made because my perception of the useful level of discourse arising from such discussions was low. Monte Solberg discussed (on November 22nd, in the Sun) the growing tendency of website commentary towards the darker end of the spectrum:

But it pains me to note that most of the comments on most websites most of the time are comprised of conspiracy theories, sweeping generalizations, random thoughts and ugly venom.
He was speaking about news websites, but his comments apply equally to much political commentary regardless of the type of website.

Nonetheless, I've come to think that there are many lessons to be learned from the experiences of Canadian soldiers from the 20th Century, and applicable lessons to issues and events of today, whether they be militarily related, or not. A blog format is a unique and appropriate way to add some of that historical perspective into the mix.

Generals Old...

When the governing board of Alberta Health Services controversially released the President and CEO, prompting three members of the board to also resign, one commentator at the CBC website was prompted to comment:

It truly astounds me....

We pay half a million a year for these people because they "claim" to be the "best and brightest"

What were the yearly wages (inflation adjusted) for Guy Simonds, Harry Crerar, Charles Foulkes, Bert Hoffmeister, Ralph Keefler, Bruce Matthews, Harry Foster and Chris Vokes?

Now THAT was a world class management team.....but I'll bet no one knows who they were.
The comparison of the Second World War generals to a modern health care bureaucracy fails for several reasons, many of which were elucidated by another commentator later in the comments section, but the salient point is that there are many people still willing to look to the past as a guide to the future.

And new...

Then again, however, perhaps some things have simply changed too much. Brigadier General Daniel Ménard is in the news currently; this former commander of forces in Afghanistan has been censured for infidelity and fraternization. Again, public commentary on news sites has been raucous. Some commentators have posited that since wartime generals thought nothing of cheating on their wives, and they won "the big one" that way, it should be anything goes.

I think another goal of this blog will be to set inaccurate historical commentary straight when possible. General Eisenhower was cited as an example of an unfaithful husband, based mainly on rumours of an affair between Eisenhower and his driver, Kay Summersby. The relationship between the two was more than cordial, but apparently less than sexual, despite an autobiography written in 1975 (her earlier book written in 1948 made no claim to an affair.) There is some controversy about their relationship but nothing substantial to indicate that they had been lovers during the war.

More relevantly, it has been suggested that Canadian general officers were such good fighters because they were cheating on their wives. This aspect seems to have escaped historian extraordinaire Jack Granatstein, who literally wrote the book on Canadian senior commanders in the Second World War, entitled The Generals. One officer, General E.L.M. Burns, began an affair with a married woman in Montreal early in the war. As Brigadier, General Staff of the Canadian Corps in the U.K., he was discovered to be corresponding with her and making indiscreet references to people and policies to his lady friend. He was sent back to Canada and reduced to colonel. The affair with the woman, however, continued, and so did Burns' career. He returned to the UK in 1943, this time with his married girlfriend in tow, as a brigade commander in the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division. By 1 May 1943 he was a Major-General in command of the 2nd Infantry Division and eventually commanded I Canadian Corps in Italy.

The others, however, seem to have behaved themselves. Other historians spoke of the fidelity which at the time was a virtue. David Bercuson wrote of Lieutenant Colonel Ross Ellis' letters to his wife, which sustained him through the Northwest Europe campaign and the difficult days he faced as commanding officer of The Calgary Highlanders. Robert Calder wrote in A Richer Dust about his uncle who survived through the war in Italy after a quickie wartime marriage, to come home to find his wife, who in reality was a complete stranger he had never had a chance to know before he left for combat, had not been faithful. Unable to cope, and thinking he was owed more than he had gotten, he took his own life. Such, apparently, was the importance of fidelity to him. In the words of John Costello, author of Love, Sex and War, Calder's wife's views on fidelity may not have been unusual for the changing times, either. "While many of women's wartime economic gains were to be given up in the retreat to post-war domesticity after 1945, the seeds of a profound sexual revolution had already been sown. They were to germinate and flower two decades later into a movement for female liberation that won many of the rights for which the women of World War II had been fighting for."

At any rate, the point of all of this is that Canadian general officers in the Second World War were living in a considerably different climate, despite what commentators on the CBC website may like to think. There were certainly exceptions, and then, as now, the higher in rank one got, the more access to privileges one was likely to get. For the most part, Canadian general officers behaved with decorum (Granatstein does mention "womanizing" by Chris Vokes but provides no details); by all accounts the "love story" depicted in the "Dieppe" mini-series involving Major-General Hamilton Roberts was a nifty piece of fiction and it is unlikely charming widows were popping in on Roberts and Churchill Mann while they were planning the 2nd Division's darkest day.

Burns' indiscretions had almost killed his career as a senior commander before it started, and his female companion leaves Granatstein's narrative as soon as Burns arrives in England. Perhaps, like Burns' superiors, Granatstein felt the affair was irrelevant to the question of Burns' generalship. Once Burns moved to Italy it is doubtful if it was an issue.

My question to you

What other current news stories would benefit from a decent analysis of 20th Century "lessons learned"? Could the health care system, for example, really benefit from studying the leadership of the 1st Canadian Army - or the Canadian Corps? I've been to a session by a corporate motivational speaker who dresses as General Currie and presents to business leaders on the "lessons of Vimy". How far can the lessons really apply?