Saturday, December 26, 2020

Aubrey Cosens, VC

Aubrey Cosens was born to a First World War veteran in Latchford, Ontario, on the 21st of May 1921. 

He moved at a young age to Porquis Junction, near Iroquois Falls, Ontario and was educated in the Porquis Junction School. In 1938, he left school 1938 to work on the railway with his father as a second hand. In 1939 he attempted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force but his application was rejected. In 1940, he went to Hamilton, Ontario and was enlisted in The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, with whom he served in Canada, Jamaica and England, eventually earning the rank of corporal.

In the summer of 1944 he transferred to the1st Battalion of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, serving in Europe with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and was soon promoted to sergeant. Cosens was acting as the Platoon Sergeant of 16 Platoon during the action in which he earned the Victoria Cross.

Aubrey Cosens is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

His Victoria Cross is held by the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. 

Cosens as a corporal with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. 
There are no known photographs of him in the uniform of the Queen's Own Rifles.

Rifleman Don Chittenden of the Queen's Own Rifles served in Aubrey Cosens' platoon.  The following is taken from the February 1994 issue of Legion Magazine, and is in Rifleman Chittenden's own words.  

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What "1917" Gets Right (No Spoilers)

Military enthusiasts have long become used to the conventions of cinematic treatments of modern warfare (tropes, if you will). If the story is well told, the tropes are accepted as a necessary means of getting the story to the screen and into the public consciousness. Band of Brothers comes to mind. Others, just as well meaning, come off simply as more formulaic. The fictionalized Memphis Belle, for example, packed in so many vignettes of aerial combat that surviving heavy bomber crews noted that more happened in 90 minutes of screen time than any of them had encountered in entire combat tours over Europe.

Nonetheless, modern directors have turned their backs on the epic war films of the 1960s and 70s which told widely focused stories of massive scope, and instead have brought their cameras into the mud to tell much more personal tales. One reviewer said of 2017's Dunkirk: "That was one of the things most appreciated about (it) — that it felt more like an experience than an actual story."

Such is the case with 1917.

The film features just two protagonists, in a one-shot format intended to personalize the story even further. Steven Spielberg had explained in 1999 that he avoided crane shots and flyovers on the set of Saving Private Ryan because he wanted it to look like the cameraman was actually on Omaha Beach with the actors. Sam Mendes has gone one further by making the entire film appear to be a single camera affair, shot in real time.

The publicity around this style of filming is probably more of a distraction than an attraction. This author didn't even realize Birdman was shot in the same manner until he read the reviews after seeing the film. During my viewing of 1917, I found myself looking for the places that the filming would have been interrupted. Some are easy to spot, if one is looking for them, and if it hadn't been for the publicity, I wouldn't have been looking for them.

Nonetheless, the acting, special effects, and yes, camera work, all have combined to do something quite special, at least for the first part of the movie. The hazardous journey of the two principals through No Man's Land is full of subtle details that will encourage repeat viewings. The details paint a rich tapestry of what life on the Western Front must have been like, in ways that are more convincing than anything committed to film before. The camera doesn't linger on the bodies, the rats, or the carrion birds, the way it does in other films like Legends of the Fall, demanding the viewer take note of how terrible it all was. In 1917, the dead, decaying bodies are a part of the landscape as natural as the trees, and the director trusts the viewer to come to their own conclusions about how to feel about what they are seeing.

Military enthusiasts (I am one) began their chatter about the verisimilitude of the film as soon as the first trailer was released. For my part, I zeroed in on what looked like modern weapon carries. (Yes, people really do dwell on this kind of thing.) On actually viewing the film, I'm less inclined to feel the military advisors have led the actors at all astray. One or two scenes may or may not be consistent with period weapons handling practices, but the overall look and feel of the film is so hyper-accurate that one easily dismisses it and gives the actors the benefit of the doubt.

Harder to swallow, perhaps, is the plot line itself, at least in military social media groups that I have perused. It gives away nothing to say (as the trailers do) that the two principals have been charged with getting an important message through to a battalion cut off from its chain of command. (For those wondering, yes, the inability to just pick up a field telephone is lampshaded in the film by reference to cut cables.)

But of course, without the need to send these two characters into No Man's Land, there would be no story.

But is the story really so far fetched?

Those familiar with the actions of Private Harry Brown of Canada's 10th Battalion might not think so.

In August 1917 (four months after the events of the film), Brown was ordered, with a comrade, to carry a message between an incommunicado company and headquarters. The use of runners was common in the First World War (and even with the advent of reliable radio communications, in the Second World War as well). The most famous runner of them all, of course, was Gefreiter Adolf Hitler of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class for his service.

Harry Brown was awarded the Victoria Cross.

His citation reveals some other similarities to the characters in 1917:

For most conspicuous bravery, courage and devotion to duty. After the capture of a position, the enemy massed in force and counter-attacked. The situation became very critical, all wires being cut. It was of the utmost importance to get word back to Headquarters. This soldier and one other were given the message with orders to deliver the same at all costs. The other messenger was killed. Private Brown had his arm shattered but continued on through an intense barrage until he arrived at the close support lines and found an officer. He was so spent that he fell down the dug-out steps, but retained consciousness long enough to hand over his message, saying ' Important message.' He then became unconscious and died in the dressing station a few hours later. His devotion to duty was of the highest possible degree imaginable, and his successful delivery of the message undoubtedly saved the loss of the position for the time and prevented many casualties.

— The London Gazette, No. 30338, 16 October 1917

In other words, the story of two messengers being tasked to carry a message back because of cut wires is not at all far-fetched. Though in Brown's case, the second runner was insurance to guarantee the message got through (they would have been ordered to take different routes to maximize their chances of success).

Other elements of the story are perhaps better accepted for artistic license, though many of the small details ring true. In no particular order:

  • the general demeanor of soldiers in the line, particularly to "outsiders" or men not from their immediate unit. When the characters walk into the wrong section of trench, they're cursed at, questioned for being there, and told to get away. When they bump into someone by accident, even in a narrow trench where it can't be helped, tensions rise in realistic fashion. These scenes were a joy to watch
  • the date of the film is set at 6 April 1917 (shown in the film's main title card). This is 3 days before Vimy Ridge, which of course was just part of the overall Battle of Arras (Canadians are quick to forget about the latter while complaining that the British always forget about the former). The Germans were indeed thinning their lines out in order to move back to the Hindenburg Line, in a new defensive principle that replaced their old doctrine of clinging to every scrap of ground no matter how useless tactically. It is not well known that even at Vimy Ridge, the Germans were in the process of thinning out and pulling back to a stronger, shorter line when the storm broke on 9 April. The characters of the film, incidentally, note that "something big" seems to be about to happen. They are right, just as their commanding officer is right about the Germans pulling back, a convenient (and as it turns out, accurate) hook on which the entire story is hung.
  • The set decorators have done a nice job of differentiating the German and British trenches, highlighting the concrete bunkers the Germans enjoyed and marvelling at the size of the dugout they encounter. This jives well with period accounts.
No doubt the military enthusiast will find much in the way of details large and small to find fault with, but more importantly the film delivers a solid cinematic experience. I was struck by how little the trailers gave away of important plot occurrences (rare enough, these days). And even if one is pulled out of the story completely by an unwillingness to suspend disbelief at the way the story unwinds in its last 30 minutes, with the usual descent into symbolism that dooms many First World War films (the crucifixion scene of Passchendaele comes to mind), that first scamper through No Man's Land has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated, possibly more than once.

No love stories here, nor Hollywood heroics, just a glimpse into what it must have been like that complements Peter Jackson's documentary very nicely and brings to life a now dead generation in an equally moving, yet surprisingly fresh, way.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sorting Out the Carnage: 100 Years Later

In 2010 I had the pleasure of accompanying a large delegation of soldiers, musicians, veterans and family members of my reserve unit to France, Flanders and the Netherlands to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of The Calgary Highlanders. We spent two weeks visiting battlefields and a fair number of Canadian military cemeteries. One notable aspect of our visit was visiting a Calgary Highlander who was buried in 1944 and whose headstone incorrectly identified him as a soldier of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada.

The mix-up was perhaps understandable. On 25 July 1944, as part of Operation SPRING, the Black Watch put in an unsupported attack against the Verrières Ridge. It was the worst day of the war for the Black Watch and the worst single day for any Canadian infantry battalion after Dieppe. A total of 325 Black Watch men left the start line and after their gallant attack, something like 10 men were still alive and unwounded.

One can only imagine the chaos that must have ensued at the casualty clearing stations as the scale of the disaster made itself felt. The Calgary Highlanders, who served alongside the Black Watch in the 5th Canadian Brigade, had put in their own attack that day as well. In all the confusion, it was perhaps understandable that one of our soldiers was mixed up with those of the Black Watch. He was put in a temporary grave and then later reinterred in one of the many beautiful Canadian War Cemeteries that are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. When research by the regimental museum discovered the headstone was incorrect, the matter was quickly rectified.

The enormity of loss in the two world wars comes into sharp focus when one discovers that we are still trying to sort out the mess even 100 years later.

Private Hair

I recently received an email from the United Kingdom, with a photograph:


My name is Chris Docherty, a former British soldier from Scotland. Whilst walking through a local cemetery in Port Glasgow, Scotland I stumbled across a commonwealth war grave, it was located far from the other war graves by some 200 metres.

The fallen soldiers name is 2004542 Private W. Hair of the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry.  The headstone does not say where and how he died, the date he died was the 1st March 1917 aged 37. I can only assume his name may have been William.

I would love to trace his living relatives if this was possible and to find out if they know the graves location.

I have attached a picture of the headstone but, you would not believe it’s location as it’s placed with the most awesome views over the river Clyde to the hills beyond.

Can you or anyone you know help me with this ?

Regards, Chris
Ex-Brit Mil

There are a number of tools available online to research with. I immediately looked up the soldier's attestation form, and found his entire service file had been digitized. It is available at this link

The file is not a happy one. It appears this gentleman arrived in the United Kingdom, went straight to hospital, and died of Meningitis. What struck my eye was his unit. While his headstone indicates 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, his service record indicates that he was with the 7th Reserve Battalion, which was a completely different unit.

His page on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial also incorrectly lists him as serving with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry. A check with the good residents of the Facebook Society of Military Artifact Preservation, in particular the always helpful Mark Tonner, confirmed that the Book of Remembrance lists him as a soldier of the 7th Reserve Battalion.

A quick note to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission produced a response within 24 hours:

Dear Mr Dorosh,

Thank you for your email below.

Our Records section has now investigated this matter and confirmed that the correct unit text for Private Hair is the 7th (Reserve) Bn. As such they have amended our database and this should reflect on our website within the next 24 hours or so.

They have also placed an amendment request into our works programme to amend the Unit on the headstone from 7th Bn. Canadian Inf. to 7th Res. Bn. Canadian Inf. As this will require a replacement headstone I cannot give you an exact timescale as to its completion (normally anywhere between 18 and 24 months) but they have requested a photograph of the completed work which will be forwarded on to you once received.

Kind Regards

CWGC Enquiry Support Team

As for the next of kin, while I don't have an interest in genealogy, from the available documentation online it looks like this unfortunate soldier had been buried just a few miles from his mother's home in Greenock, Scotland. If there can be any happy element of this story, it is that his family must surely have been aware of the location of his burial, and possessed the means to visit him as often as they wished.

Thanks to Chris, and the CWGC, his final resting place will soon be marked with the correct name of the unit he belonged to when he died.

Sergeant Milne

In August 2017 I had the honour of serving on the burial party of a sergeant of the 10th Battalion who had been recently discovered near Arleux. His remains had been dug up during the construction of new housing. Because he had privately purchased a set of metal identification tags, his ID was confirmed. He had been killed there shortly after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and his name appears on the Vimy Monument among over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were listed as "missing" and presumed dead. The government was unable to locate any living relatives, and so a regimental delegation of The Calgary Highlanders served as witnesses to his proper burial, over 100 years after he died.

Sobering reminders, a century on, of how vast and terrible these conflicts were, in which men were killed in such numbers it was difficult to keep track of them all.


Less than an hour after posting this blog entry, one of the collectors at the Facebook Society of Military Preservation mentioned above indicated that he was in possession of the Memorial Cross sent to the family of Private William Hair 100 years ago. Small world.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vimy Ridge: Myth, Context and the Canadian Deserter Honoured by the Royal Canadian Legion

As Canadians pause to remember the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, it may be worth noting some little-discussed aspects of the battle. Some interesting research has been done for example by Jack Sheldon, who wrote an extensive account of what German troops experienced in that sector throughout the war.1 As this entry is being written, the story of Vimy Ridge is being retold in multiple media. The reasons are clear: Vimy has become important to Canada, as a nation. Pierre Berton, in his famous work Vimy, tells us:
It is a historical fact that Canada entered the war as a junior partner of Great Britain and emerged as an equal, her status confirmed when she, with the other Dominions, was given her own vote at the League of Nations. But did this really spring from the victory at Vimy? Or was Vimy simply used as a convenient symbol, a piece of shorthand to stand for a more complicated historical process that, in the end, was probably inevitable?

Does it matter? What counts is that in the minds of Canadians Vimy took on a mythic quality in the post-war years, and Canada was short of myths.2
The Canadian national imagination remembers Vimy as an unassailable fortress that the British and French tried in vain to take for three years until the Canadian Corps came to do it. Berton goes on to say "(The Canadians) were expected to achieve that victory with fifty thousand fewer men than the French had lost in their own frustrated assaults." The reality is a bit different, and of course, with the other side of the story taken into consideration, perhaps even more interesting.

Vimy as an exclusively Canadian victory

This is emphatically untrue, and historians and media alike are getting better at giving the Imperial forces their due. Jack Granatstein points out that about one in five guns firing on Vimy were actually British.3 An Imperial infantry brigade, the 13th, also participated in the assault. British participation at Vimy included:
  • British I Corps provided 132 heavy artillery pieces and 102 field guns to the 863 of the Canadian Corps, or 21 percent of the artillery involved.
  • Of the 13 brigades of infantry employed in the assault, one was British (the 13th Brigade of the British 5th Division).
  • 16 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps employed 24 aircraft as artillery spotters from 1 April to 13 April, losing three.
  • Considerable effort was also made by British logistical units throughout the Lines of Communication supporting the assault. 
Of course, the battle at Vimy was part of the overall Battle of Arras. The British I Corps stood on the left flank of the Canadian Corps, and to the right the famed 51st Highland Division made its own successful assault that day. Berton reminds us that a definitive history of the Great War from the British perspective gives the Vimy assault just a single chapter, and that the "Americans quickly forgot it and today have never heard of it."
Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge; British brigade indicated by blue formation patch with yellow stripe.

 Vimy as a Fortress

The officers charged with taking the Ridge would have been negligent in not preparing to face the best defence they could envision the Germans creating. Their preparations, and the breathless reporting in Canada under the restrictions of wartime reporting, has led to a popular national memory of the Vimy position as unassailable. At the centennial service on 9 April 2017 at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, one speaker referred to the "impossible" task the Canadians had that day. Many sources claim the British and French had lost heavily attempting to retake the ridge, and that the Canadian Corps had done what others had proven unable to do. The reality was somewhat different:
Statements (about Vimy) regularly make much of the fact that Canadian troops succeeded where the French and the remainder of the British Army had failed...(while) it is true that the arrival of British units put an end to Vimy Ridge being the quiet 'live and let live' front it had become (after) October 1915, mining...increased in intensity and (after) May 1916...(British) priority then and throughout 1916 was the Battle of the Somme. There was never (emphasis in original) the slightest attempt to capture Vimy Ridge between...autumn 1915 and the triumph of the Canadians in April 1917 and the casualties suffered in this sector, though not insignificant, were very slight compared with those on the Somme. The most costly period was 22-24 May 1916 when British losses (totalled) about 2,500 and the Germans roughly half that figure.
"Whilst on the subject of myth, it is important also to dispose of the notion that Vimy Ridge was as good as impregnable. One of the main reasons why the German army fought so hard to maintain the front as far to the west of the Ridge as possible...was to overcome the unpalatable, but inescapable, geographical fact that the Ridge itself was, from autumn 1915 onwards, extremely vulnerable to determined attack....Long before the Somme battles, the German army was well aware of the need for depth in defence - especially here at Vimy Ridge where placement of the gun lines was exceptionally difficult....
"It was not even easy to construct the infantry positions scientifically. A(n Intermediate Position)... was developed... (behind) the First Position, but parts of it were not well placed. The Second Position...had to be dug along the base of the eastern slopes of Vimy Ridge, which was obiviously a totally unviable location once the crest line was lost to the defence. As a result, well before (9 April 1917), work had begun on a Third Position some kilometres to the east of the Ridge...(as) a fall-back position...
"The only hope for the defence in early 1917 was to hold the First Position in sufficient strength...until operational reserves could be rushed forward. This front-loading of the defence...went against all the lessons learned on the Somme, but there was no obvious alternative. Worse still, the dugouts...were mostly clustered in the front line trench itself. This left them vulnerable to destructive fire and meant, in the event of Allied penetrations, that large numbers of defenders were vulnerable to being encirlced - precisely what happened on 9 April 1917."4
German dispositions on Vimy Ridge 9 April 1917
Pierre Berton assures the reader of Vimy that "The Germans didn't believe that any force could dislodge them." Sheldon's research indicates however that "Nothing could be further from the truth and German commanders were extremely concerned about the implications of its inherent weaknesses." One contemporary German report read in part:
Geographical Setting of our Position: Unfavourable. Total lack of depth. Initial enemy success [would be] extraordinarily difficult to rectify. The enemy cannot be allowed to achieve an initial success here. The adverse location of our positions is not neutralised by the physical development of the defences. The state of the defences is bad (influence of the weather and the effect of fire, coupled with insufficient manpower available to predecessors [in this sector]).
The report went on to say that German infantry was considered strong enough to repel an initial assault but that more machine guns were necessary to offset their lack of manpower.5

The Deserter

Jack Sheldon recounts a remarkable story of how a Canadian soldier aided the German defenders:
...on 12 February (1917), an extraordinary incident occurred somewhere around the La Folie area, when a deserter from "C" Company Royal Canadian Regiment succeeded in slipping away from his own lines and making himself known to men of Reserve Infantry Regiment 23 from 12th Reserve Division. It was almost their last act at the end of a three month tour of duty in the Vimy area...
The man's real name was Otto Ludwig Dörr. He was ninteteen years old at the time and had been born in Frankfurt am Main...(he) was interrogated on at least three occasions, cooperating fully with his questioners on each occasion.
When he was questioned at Headquarters VI Reserve Corps, he provided the information that he and his parents left for Saskatchewan in 1906...Three years after they arrived in Canada the family became naturalised, but never forgot their German roots. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, Dörr decided that he wished to fight for Germany, but the only way he could think of achieving it was to join the Canadian Army. Without mentioning anything to his father, he enlisted in Saskatoon in April 1916 with a false name and was posted to the 97th Battalion.
...(H)e left Canada with his Battalion on 17 September 1916, on board HMT Olympic...(and) left for France on 21 October 1916 with a draft of 152 trained men of 97th Battalion, who were sent to join the Royal Canadian Regiment....On his arrival he was employed as a stretcher bearer, even though he had not received relevant training. Once he was sent into the trenches he constantly sought an opportunity to desert. This finally occurred during the morning of 11 February (sic)...
Unsurprisingly, Dörr provided the Germans with a great deal of background information on a wide range of topics...(including) these forecasts:
"Because recently a great deal of ammuntion has been dumped behind this front and new guns have been moved into position, there is much talk amongst the troops of a major Canadian attack against Vimy Ridge."
"A more-or-less strong British offensive is predicted for the early part of the year. It is expected to be a dreadful clash...For the Canadians, Vimy Ridge, north of Neuville St. Vaast, has been selected as the objective for attack. The prisoner claims to have observed a constant build up of artillery. He does not believe, however, that the attack will begin before the middle of March."

HMT Olympic, sister ship to the infamous Titanic, shown during the First World War in its livery as a military troopship. The deserter Otto Doerr travelled twice on Olympic.

The strange tale of the deserter doesn't end there. According to Sheldon, "Much of the story of Dörr's later life remains obscure..." What is known is that he survived the war. It isn't known if he actually fought in the German Army. We do know that he returned to New York (on the Olympic, by coincidence, the same ship he went to Europe on) in 1931. He lived in Nanaimo, British Columbia for many years and claimed to have flown for the RFC. He was a Grand Principal of the Saskatchewan Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons in 1961. He died, age 98, having become a Life member of the Royal Canadian Legion. He is mentioned in the Last Post section of Legion Magazine, both the online digitized version and the snippet below which appeared in the November-December 1996 issue of Legion Magazine.

One can only speculate that life in Germany was not to his liking, or perhaps he was simply not welcome in Germany. He may have missed his family. Michael O'Leary (webmaster of the Regimental Rogue website) has found these references in the RCR Part II Orders:

261286 McDonald, George

Strength; 261286; 16-10-22; Pte; 97th Res Bn; RCR; Having arrived from England as Reinforcement is taken on the strength of the Battalion.

Strength; 261286; 17-02-12; Pte; Reported Missing After Action 12 Feb 1917 and struck off strength accordingly.

Strength; 261286; 17-02-12; Pte; Part II Daily Order No. 26 dated 13 Mar 1917, insofar as it shows the marginally noted (261286 Pte McDonald, George) SOS “Missing after Action” is hereby cancelled and the following substituted: SOS as a deserter with effect from 12 Feb 1917.

Canadians fought a chivalrous war against a dastardly enemy

Canadian troops had been subjected to poison gas attack in April 1915, and suffered heavily. Many expressed shock, and before the Battle of 2nd Ypres began on 21 April, no one really expected the Germans to violate established rules of warfare by employing gas.6

There has been much (deserved) outrage in Canada and around the world over the recent discovery that chemical weapons have been deployed against civilians in Syria. What many Canadians don't realize today is that during the First World War, Canadians became enthusiastic proponents of gas warfare themselves, in a military context against soldiers properly equipped to withstand such an attack. A Leutnant Zeller of the 7th Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment 262, wrote of the Vimy barrage:
During the evening of 4 April my platoon was due to be relieved by another from 5th Company. The relief was to have started at midnight but suddenly, at 11.00pm, the (Canadians) launched a gas attack. We were not totally surprised by the attack because we had heard the noise of the installation of cylinders over a period of several days. Being cautious, however, I ordered increased gas readiness as soon as the wind was favourable. In addition we were all outside in the trenches because the Canadians had attacked to our right a short while earlier. The Canadians released two gas clouds and it was possible for us to unmask in between the two waves. I remained unclear why the Canadians had released gas in this way without following it up by an attack. In the front line gas casualties were practically zero, but the relieving troops from 5th Company, who were underway, suffered worse. Some of them were gassed and had to turn about immediately...As a result I...had to remain forward in the trenches for an extra day.7

After the losses of the Somme in the summer of 1916, there was no doubt that the war would be long and costly. New weapons were introduced in an effort to gain tactical advantage, of which poison gas was just one. Flamethrowers, tanks, light machine guns capable of being carried on the advance, all were developed and all turned the war more brutal and less personal. The history of the 10th Canadian Battalion describes mopping-up procedures during the Vimy assault (the 10th Battalion was in the lead wave on the 1st Division front):

Many Germans were huddled in their deep dugouts as the Tenth passed overhead, and mopping-up parties had no trouble dealing with these often dis-illusioned defenders. Mills bombs proved to be most useful in "urging people to come out of dugouts," Colonel Ormond recalled. "Faced with a couple of Mills bombs bouncing down the steps, why, the Germans didn't like to stay there very long!" This was a variation on the chilling practice that came to be known as "the Tenth Battalion solution." The unit's moppers-up began using flares to clear enemy dugouts, sometimes with horrifying results. In one instance involving an underground aid station, the occupants ignored a summons to surrender, and the subsequent flare ignited a box of ammunition. "The wounded," commented an observer, "came running out on their stumps."8
The Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge was well-planned, relentless, and pitiless. It had been costly and is remembered as a great victory, which it surely was. It is also well to remember, as Robert E. Lee had famously said of war in general, how terrible it was.


1.Sheldon, Jack The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917 (Pen & Sword Military Books Ltd, Barnsley, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-1-84415-680-1
2. Berton, Pierre  Vimy (McClelland and Stewart, 1986). ISBN 0140104399, p.295
3. Granatstein, Jack. Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, 2002). p.113 
4. Sheldon, Ibid
5. Sheldon, Ibid, p.252
6. Dancocks, Daniel G. Welcome to Flanders Fields: The First Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915 (McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, ON, 1988) ISBN 0-7710-2545-9, p.109 
7. Sheldon, Ibid 
8. Dancocks, Daniel G. Gallant Canadians: The Story of the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion 1914-1919 (The Calgary Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation, Calgary, AB, 1990) ISBN 0-9694616-0-7, p.114 

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.
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.


More information on Domestic Military Organization can be found on the 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 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):


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

  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