The Minute Book
Monday, 29 December 2014

No Better Soldiers
Topic: CEF

The soldiers of some countries have too much discipline. Some haven't enough. Some are brutal and some are soft. But the Canadians seem, to have about the right blend of discipline and democracy, dash and cool-headedness, of citizen and soldier.

No Better Soldiers

The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ont., 26 August, 1942
(William Philip Simms in New York, "World-Telegram" and other Scripps-Howard newspapers in U.S.)

Washington, Aug. 21.—That the smashing raid on Dieppe was a success (sic) came as no surprise to old-timers here when told that the 10,000 Commandoes who took part were largely Canadians. (NOTE: This article was writen within days of the Dieppe raid, at a time when any mention of the results of the operation would not have passed the censors.)

If the Canadians did not invent that kind of warfare, they most certainly were the first to make use of it during the first World War. Subsequently they developed its technique to such a point that it came into common use.

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Early in 1915, near Festubert, the Germans threw up a road block supported by a network of trenches which very much annoyed the Canadians opposite. These happened to be the Seventh Battalion, under a young major by the name of Victor Odlum. He worked out a plan to put an end to the nuisance, got it approved and carried it out with brilliant success.

What Major Odlum started is still going on, only it is blossoming into something bigger. I recall watching Canadian and, later, British units rehearsing a coming raid. Behind the lines they would mark out with white tape the exact trench formation they intended to invade, then practice on it daily until they could do the whole show blindfolded.

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Similarly they made life miserable for any Germans that gor into no-man's-land. They did not regard the space between their trenches as nobody's. It belonged to them. They patrolled it regularly, and woe to any hostile patrol they happened to encounter. So skilled did they become that they were seldom caught napping. They did the surprising.

The senior officer commanding the Dieppe raid was Maj. Gen. J.H. Roberts of Kingston, Ontario, and every Canadian air squadron in the area was in the umbrella protecting the raiders. But down under, in Australia, there is at least one man who may be excused if he reads about the Dieppe raid with envy. He is the Canadian High Commissioner, Major Gen. Victor Odlum, the major who staged the raid at Festubert in 1915.

It is nothing new for Canadians to be good soldiers. There are none better anywhere. During the first World War nothing made me prouder than to hear Allied generals compare out doughboys with the Mapleleafers and be told that ours were just as good.

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The soldiers of some countries have too much discipline. Some haven't enough. Some are brutal and some are soft. But the Canadians seem, to have about the right blend of discipline and democracy, dash and cool-headedness, of citizen and soldier.

I was with General Watson's Fourth Canadian Division when it took Regina Trench, in the Somme, in 1916. I saw the Canadians later at Mount St. Eloi, Sanctuary Wood and at Vimy when they stormed the crest of that chalky eminence and made it British for the duration.

It was with them still later, in Flanders, as the rains turned the whole plain into a quagmire. The tanks bogged down in the undrained fields. Strong men drowned in water-filled shall-craters which could not be seen beneath the surface of the muck. Countless wounded choked to death as they fell unconscious in the bloody mud. But Sir Douglas Haig needed Passchendaele, on the comparatively dry ridge east of Ypres, and asked the Canadians to give it to him. And they did.

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Near Lens, I saw a Canadian soldier rescue a mongrel dog abandoned by the Germans in a booby-trap dugout when he might have been blown to bits at any moment for his pains. Moreover, the dog, hungry and terrified by what it had been through, did its best to tear the soldier to pieces. Later it became a company pet named—of course—Fritz.

In the first World War the Canadians were sure-fire trench raiders and trouble-shooters. Where the going was hardest, there they were.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Canadian Army Battle Honours

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST

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