Army

Life on the line
Army

Life on the line

The Second World War put 750,000 Canadians into khaki uniforms. Men from all parts of the country suddenly found themselves living in barracks and learning how to be soldiers. The transition was not easy and everyone had to learn to march, shoot and fight. The tens of thousands who saw action had to adjust to violence and death. Here is a brief look at what our fighting men wore, ate and said: What they wore and carried First, they put away their civvy clothes. Just as in 1914, there were too few uniforms for the first units readying to go overseas. Boots were in short supply and some units had only Great War uniforms on hand. But beginning in late 1939, soldiers began to wear a Canadian-produced, higher quality version of the British-designed battledress uniform. Soon all so...
Fiasco in Siberia
Army

Fiasco in Siberia

It was all Sir Robert Borden’s doing. The prime minister was in England in July 1918 attending the Prime Ministers’ Committee when the British government asked if Canada might supply troops for a Siberian force that could help prevent a 60,000-strong force of Czech fighters, anxious to support the Allies, from being annihilated by German and Austrian PoWs freed by Vladimir Lenin’s communist Bolsheviks. The Allies also saw it as a way to reconstitute an eastern front against Germany.     Borden had been pushing for at least three years for more say in the direction of the Great War and more autonomy for Canada. Now Britain was asking Canada to lead the British Empire’s contribution to an international force in Siberia. Having played a major role in making policy that sought to restore...
Motorcycle messengers
Army

Motorcycle messengers

Dispatch riders had doubly dangerous duties during the Second World War   One shell fell behind him, and when a second exploded just ahead, dispatch rider Gordon Edward Allen knew German gunners were homing in on him. “They can hear that stupid bike of yours,” said the sergeant giving Allen directions that would take him behind enemy lines. “I’m getting the hell out of here.” But Allen could not. He had orders to find a medical team stranded behind enemy lines in an area of France about to be bombarded by the Allies. Allen found the team along a farm lane between Caen and Falaise, burying two of their members. He told them the Germans knew he was nearby, so they needed to exit  quietly. “Don’t rev it, because if you do, we’re going to get it,” he told the ambulance driver. “...
The race to Cambrai
Army, Military History

The race to Cambrai

In September 1918, German-occupied Cambrai was on the verge of falling. But could the Canadians reach the town in time to save it?   A century ago, the provincial town of Cambrai, France, was a focal point of major military operations on the Western Front. It was a vital military railway and road hub that underpinned Germany’s four-year occupation of northern France. Thanks to its logistical importance, Cambrai received special attention from Allied bombers, even in the early months of the war. German commanders considered such raids harbingers of pending attacks in the sector. It was the Germans’ “great distributing centre,” Canadian Corps Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie noted in September 1918, and control of the sector hinged on its possession. The town was one of the...
Not too old to serve
Army

Not too old to serve

Veterans of the First World War guarded prisoners in the Second World War “You’re too old.” Those were the words First World War veterans Clarence Wade and William Swim were confronted with when they tried to re-enlist in 1939. The former soldiers were being denied, even though both had ample wartime military experience. They were in their 40s and were being passed over for younger recruits. The reason? The rules of enlistment considered them too old. But Wade and Swim and other veterans of the Great War, many decorated war heroes, were determined to serve their country again—in some capacity. Undeterred by their initial rejection, the veterans took their case to Parliament. Eventually, the government saw the error of its ways and on May 23, 1940, Minister of National Defence Norm...
Trench life
Army, Military History

Trench life

The Great War took more than 600,000 Canadians from all parts of the country and put them in uniform. The transition from civilian to soldier was not easy, and everyone had to learn much about military procedures and culture—uniforms, ranks, insignia, rations, weaponry, terminology—and, most important, adjust to the presence of aggression, violence and death. Amid all this, the workaday world of soldiers at or near the front was, at times, a monotonous routine broken, thankfully, by letters from home, packages of foodstuffs, socks or tobacco, and dark humour. Uniforms and gear had irritating foibles. Meals were basic, dull and often cold. A glossary of slang—booby trap, crump, napoo—unique to the trenches evolved. Even after the war ended and most soldiers became civilians again, so...
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