THIS LIFETIME IN CANADA
RALPH ALLEN’S ORDEAL BY FIRE
is a living history of the unforgotten years between the outbreak of the First World War and the end of the Second. In advance of its publication next fall, Maclean’s will present the best of this extraordinary new book:
BEGINNING HERE WITH THE STORY OF THE STRANGEST WARRIOR WHO EVER MISLED THIS COUNTRY INTO BATTLE
IN THIS CORNER SIR SAM HUGHES
The unofficial war history of the struggles between a ferocious Orangeman on one side and on the other the Boers, the Kaiser’s army and all the brass of Great Britain and Canada
BEGINS NEXT PAGE
IN THIS CORNER SIR SAM HUGHES
No EPISODE in Canadian history is more astounding than the country’s unpremeditated and unsurpassed record in World War I.
The war burst on the country in midsummer 1914 like a tornado. At one extreme, nationalists and isolationists had been warning against arming and at the other extreme imperialists had been clamoring to arm. Most of the population of eight million were, by and large, oblivious and unconcerned. The regular army stood at three thousand men and had no reserves. The munitions industry produced a trickle of small arms and rifle cartridges and there were no plans for its expansion.
Yet by the time the year was out Canada was
well on the way to becoming a tough, efficient military nation — so important a factor in the war, ultimately, that by the time the Armistice came it had passed the point of no return and neither could nor would ever again revert to its place as a privileged but helpless dependent of the British Empire.
By the spring of 1915 a Canadian infantry division had saved the whole Allied position in northern Europe by refusing to break against the first attack of poison gas at Ypres. As other divisions poured into the Western Front other battle honors followed in the wake of 60,000 Canadian dead. In 1917 Canadians led one of the war’s most celebrated assaults by storming
Vimy Ridge and ended one of its most appalling agonies by taking Passchendaele. In 1918, they were in the Allied spearhead as the famous Hundred Days brought the defeat and surrender of the German army.
Remarkable as these achievements were, they were no more remarkable than the man who set them in train and, in the early stages, presided over them with the iron hand of a dictator.
Colonel Sam Hughes had been appointed minister of militia and defense in 1911, shortly after the surprise victory of Sir Robert Borden and the Conservatives over Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberals. Before the harassed prime minister summoned enough courage to kick him
out of governement five years later, Hughes had solidified his fame not only as the builder and despotic ruler of the army but also as one of the most bizarre and explosive Canadians who ever lived. He had induced and weathered public brawls and scandals on a heroic scale. He had tormented the governor-general, defied the British War Office and convinced at least some of his cabinet colleagues that he was at least half mad. Among the ordinary citizens and soldiers of Canada he had attracted almost as much veneration as King George V, and at least as much animosity as Kaiser Bill.
The biography of Sam Hughes begins in 1853 in the pastoral Ontario county of Durham. A
Huguenot great-grandfather on his mother's side had died at Waterloo fighting for Napoleon. On the same field blood from the other side of the family had been shed for Wellington. The mixed and storm-tossed tribe put out its Canadian roots during one of the Irish potato famines and soon took on the very bloom and texture of Ontario: in blood mainly Irish and Scottish, in religion Methodist by way of Presbyterianism.
Sam grew up a non-smoker and a non-drinker.
He had the solid build of a lacrosse player and the square jaw and blue, unswerving, humorless eyes of a man destined to live and die without a single doubt. At seventeen he had taken up arms in the Fenian raids. Soon after that he was teachCONTINUED
Soldiers, viceroys: Sam fought them all
The hot-headed Orangeman from Lindsay, Ont., never backed down from rank. Two governorsgeneral, Lord Minto and the Duke of Connaught» couldn’t understand his incredible behavior. Laurier,
as prime minister, stood up to Sam’s furious letters demanding military honors. General Hutton writhed at his effrontery. Bourassa scoffed at his soldiery. Even Kitchener took it when Sam told him off.
ing school in eastern Ontario. From there he went to Toronto as a high-school instructor in English, and shortly after his thirtieth birthday he had saved enough money to buy a weekly newspaper, the Lindsay Warder.
Lindsay nestled at the very heart of what was then a kind of sub-province of Ontario — the Loyal Orange Lodge — and as an Orangeman, an Irishman, an editor and a teetotaler, Hughes soon became one of its leading figures. Within a few years he was Conservative member of parliament for North Victoria and — a source of almost equal satisfaction — officer commanding the 45th Victoria Regiment of the Canadian militia.
In spite of the Irish strain Hughes was a devoted — though by no means an uncritical — imperialist. He saw in the South African War at the turn of the century a clear call to duty. Canada then had no regular army. Its few permanent garrisons were manned by British Redcoats and the senior staff officer of the Canadian militia was a regular British army officer.
Partly because it had no army to send and partly because there was no popular enthusiasm for the British excursion to the far-off veldt, the Liberal government of the day showed no tend-
ency to rush to the Mother Country’s aid. Colonel Sam chafed briefly under what he considered his country’s humiliating inertia and then acted unilaterally. To the then Canadian militia minister, Frederick Borden (a cousin of Sir Robert), he dispatched an offer to raise and personally command a Canadian battalion to aid the British expeditionary force. Without waiting for his own government’s reply he sent the same offer to Joseph Chamberlain, then secretary of state for the colonies.
Chamberlain interpreted this message from the Canadian member of parliament and officer as an earnest of Canada’s intentions and indicated his and the Empire’s gratitude. The Canadian government, which very probably would have matched or bettered Colonel Sam’s private and unsanctioned offer in its own good time, was only moderately embarrassed. But Major-General E. T. H. Hutton, the British officer in command of the Canadian forces, could not contain his rage or even bring himself to the attempt. Hutton had been in the habit of going over the Canadian cabinet’s head to communicate directly with* the War Office and the governor-general, Lord Minto, in matters of defense. He now found the idea of a civilian colonel’s going over
his, Hutton’s, head quite insupportable. There ensued between the two men a duel that would have enriched the pages of Cervantes, although on occasion it became difficult to tell which was Quixote and which was the windmill.
Hutton vowed that the upstart militia colonel from Lindsay not only would get no command in South Africa but that he would not get to South Africa at all. In one of the many exchanges of view and ukase about military affairs that he conducted with Lord Minto and the War Office without troubling to inform the Canadian government, the general wired London in cipher: “I regret that I must decline to recommend Colonel S. Hughes for employment with our troops proceeding Transvaal in any capacity whatever. This officer’s want of judgment and insubordinate self-assertion would seriously compromise success of Canadians when acting with Imperial troops. His insubordinate and improper correspondence, official and unofficial, renders his appointment moreover impossible on military grounds.”
And that, the general was happy to suppose as he reported the message to his sympathetic confidant the governor-general, was that.
But Colonel Sam still intended to march against the Boers, whatever Hutton said. As an MP — even though still a backbencher and in opposition — he had ready access to the ears of members of the cabinet. No doubt, there was a certain grudging sympathy in the highest circles for the well-meaning Canadian civilian in collision with the autocratic British officer.
At any rate, when Hutton’s opposition to Hughes became public and apparent, the cabinet insisted on Hutton’s appearing three different times to explain why Hughes should not be allowed to go to South Africa at least as a captain. Hutton remained unyielding and within ten days he was able to report to his ally, Lord Minto: “Have carried all my points.” He added: “Poor Hughes is almost heartbroken and has been to see me twice full of tears and contrition. The struggle is over. No one but Your Excellency and I will ever realize the magnitude of what has been achieved by the overthrow of Hughes, the Conservative Insurgent.”
Hughes compounded his own humiliation by writing two extremely docile letters to Hutton and as a reward he was now given permission to accompany the first Canadian contingent to South Africa as a civilian. But he was specifically forbidden to wear a uniform.
HERO OF HIS OWN DISPATCHES
This posed no serious problem for the indomitable Hughes. When he disembarked at Cape Town he took a good room in the Grand Hotel and began looking around. Soon he discovered a number of high-ranking British staff officers whom he had met at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London two years before. Soon he was in uniform as a transport officer. And soon he was writing letters home to his paper in Lindsay, recounting his military exploits in vivid detail. Actually, as nearly as can be ascertained through the fragmentary official accounts and the purple fog of Sam’s own narratives, he did conduct himself
well as a supply officer and as a combat officer in a handful of minor skirmishes. Certainly in his activities as a belligerent against the Boers there was nothing that was not to his credit. On the other hand there was nothing so spectacularly heroic as to protect him from the consequences of his bombast. In newspaper dispatches in praise of himself and his ever-faithful batman, a soldier named Turley, Hughes had directly or indirectly made comparisons, to his and Turley’s credit, with a number of other soldiers, including a few of considerably higher rank than his own. After some eight months in the field he was quietly ordered to return to Canada. Hughes received no reprimand and was indeed made officer commanding troops on the ship that bore him to England on the way home.
Sam now thought he had scored at least a partial victory over General Hutton, his enemy in Ottawa, but its incompleteness and the lack of public acknowledgement of it was to rankle until his death. When the Boer War ended Hughes received his service ribbons. But there were no decorations to • show for what he clearly regarded as an exceptional combat record; he hadn’t even received his war gratuity.
He appealed for justice first to the Liberal
government and finally, failing to find satisfaction there, directly to the governor-general. The Army Council of Britain notified the governor-general in 1904 that Hughes’ services in South Africa “were not such as to warrant the issue to him of the war gratuity.” But either through charity or prudence the governor-general did not pass this message on to Hughes, whose assessment of his exploits in Bechuanaland and the magnitude of his slights thus grew year by year.
SYMPTOMS OF PARANOIA
By 1908, eight years after his return from the wars, he wrote Prime Minister Laurier again demanding what he called recognition. By now he was convinced, and so intimated to Laurier, that he was entitled to at least one Victoria Cross and perhaps two. He said this estimate had been made to him by his divisional commander in South Africa, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Warren. Warren, he assured Laurier, had promised to recommend him for this highest of all British military decorations on two occasions.
This much at least of Hughes’ background and temperament was well known to Sir Robert Borden when he took Hughes into his cabinet.
Perhaps the new prime minister had no certain way of knowing that Sam’s difficult streak was widening rather than narrowing. The fact was that it already bore symptoms of paranoia.
Six months before the election Hughes had begun to wonder seriously whether Borden himself was to be trusted. Throughout the party intrigues preceding the election victory Hughes had remained steadfastly a Borden man and he had confidently expected, after Borden’s supporters had beaten back an incipient uprising in 1910, that he would be appointed either party whip or chief organizer. Instead the key posts went to George Perley and Herbert Ames. In a letter to a friend Sam poured out his misery and fury.
“Mr. Borden,” he began under taut control, “is a most lovely fellow; very capable but not a very good judge of men or of tactics.” In a paragraph or two Hughes was claiming that he had almost singlehandedly saved Borden against a conspiracy led by the selfsame Perley and Ames. “You may imagine my horror this session to find Mr. Borden honoring and putting to the front, not the men who were loyal to him but the men responsible for the agitation which caused and gave reason for the conspiracy.”
“Ames,” he said CONTINUED ON PAGE 60
In this corner, Sir Sam Hughes continued from page 17
"I am loved by my friends," Hughes wrote, "and feared but not despised by my opponents"
reasonably, “has a nice mild appearance.” But he added, “He is absolutely vain and egotistical; a man of no depth or foresight. Indeed he would have made a marvellous main floor-walker for some large establishment such as Eaton’s but he has
no political sagacity. The businessmen of Montreal will positively not have anything to do with him. ... He is despised by the big men there.”
As for the other new favorite, “Perley is cold, tyrannical and very egotistic.” In
a moment Hughes returned to the despised Ames, his orange banners flying. “He is from Quebec. He fought us on the autonomy bills; is under the control of the ecclesiastics of Rome. . . . The Orange Order, with its tens, aye, hundreds
of thousands of friends, will not put up with this sort of thing.”
Faced with such monstrous buffetings Sam changed, almost between sentence and sentence, from stoic imperviousness to black despair. “As you know, my strength is that I am powerful where I am longest and best known. I am loved by my friends, and feared but not despised by my opponents. These fellows are despised by both sides. ... In my own case these d—d noodles, with one or two other nonentities, have for years whispered privately to suppress me. I have dozens of examples where these fellows over and over again prejudiced me by a word, a shrug of the shoulder, a grin or a direct condemnation.”
Hughes’ remarkable outcry, much more remarkable .because it was utterly uninhibited by any official or semi-official purpose, ended thus: “Personally I want no recognition. I fought almost singlehanded for Borden last year and completely overthrew the conspiracy; yet my reward was to be put under the very men primarily responsible for the trouble. They were promoted leaders. It will not do. I incurred more enmity over that than over anything I ever did, and yet see my reward. As you know, I was never surpassed in organization yet or in getting work out of the fellows whether they were orange or green, but I would not care to give my time any longer towards organizing the whole country. That day has gone by. But a man likes to be trusted.”
This letter was written in March I9l l, six months before the Conservatives’ election victory. It produced no result, of course, but by the winter of the following year Hughes had a new avenue of appeal for public recognition. The stately, soldierly and stuffy Duke of Connaught — third son of Queen Victoria — was now installed as governor - general. Hughes, again overlooking the niceties of rank and procedure, wrote to him personally. On this occasion he discussed himself in the third person. In the now ancient South African campaign participated in by the third-person Hughes, the governor-general was told, “there were very many pretty ‘scraps’ and some pretty heavy fighting.” He went on to localize these engagements. “In each and every one,” he said, “it fell to the lot of Hughes to direct the British forces, and in each and every instance victory fell to their lot, although the numbers and positions were invariably in favor of the Boers.”
He told Connaught of his two missing Victoria Crosses. His decision to leave the South African front, he went on, had been entirely his own; made on the advice of his commander-in-chief, Lord Roberts, that the war was as good as ended and in the conviction that Hughes would be needed back in Canada during a forthcoming election campaign.
“General Warren,” Hughes wrote the Duke of Connaught, “begged and implored Hughes to remain. He assured Hughes that he had no officer left on whom he could rely. On the night of June 25, sobbing like a child, General Warren went over the same story, and again begged Hughes to remain, but the return fever had seized him, so he insisted on going.” Hughes recollected his ancient feud with the now long vanished General Hutton, whom he called “a madman.” He demanded that Connaught,
having been informed of all these matters, should now arrange that he, Sam Hughes, receive the “recognition” still owing to him because of his record in South Africa.
Connaught was almost stunned, partly by the nature of Hughes’ communication and partly by its mere submission. He had, without doubt, been warned to look out for this strange, untrained and ignorant member of parliament and militia colonel, but he had not expected to hear from him with so little ceremony. If Hughes had been a genuine officer or a genuine gentleman Connaught would have disposed of him as easily as he’d have stared down an erring footman. But Sam was only a part-time officer and he made no pretense to being a gentleman; when Connaught fired a whiff of regal grape across his granite prow, he not only failed to cower — he almost failed to notice. Connaught urged him sternly to remember that he had long ago promised to
bury the hatchet over the Hutton affair. Hughes urged Connaught just as sternly to get him justice — “justice meaning full recognition by Imperial authorities of all my South African services, my many times being named in dispatches, the gratuity and any honors given to any Canadian.” Connaught’s ultimate reply was to scribble an angry note to Borden suggesting he get rid of Hughes for good.
But the remarkable Colonel Hughes, low installed as militia minister, was already beyond the reach of viceroys and barely within the reach of premiers. Borden was scared stiff of him — and so remained for five years — and was also impressed by his performance.
Hughes threw himself into his job at the comatose Department of Militia with high heart and high energy. He went to work at once on new armories, on a master plan of military training under which all male citizens would be trained for combat by the age of twelve. In five years it was his aim to have “some hundreds of thousands of our youths trained to shoot and march.” As his plan took
shape he was able to condense it to a sentence; “Give me one million men who can hit a target at five hundred yards and we would not have a foe who could invade our country.”
In most quarters he was heard attentively and politely. The cynical Henri Bourassa, the great nationalist leader of Quebec, was a conspicuous dissident. Bourassa’s paper, Le Devoir, interpreted Hughes’ military blueprint even more briefly than Sam had done, although in a different way: “He has invited twentyfive thousand schoolboys to go and make
exercises in the fields and learn to become debauchees and play the fool at the expense of the state. He has drawn a map of the country as a vast field for manœuvres where he proposes to enroll the nation and teach them, democratically, the art of shooting human game at a convenient distance.”
The real dawn of Hughes’ career came in August 1914. Borden had officially volunteered military help to the British government two days before World War I began. Two days afterward, on August 6. he was informed: “His Majesty’s govern-
ment gratefully accept your offer to send expeditionary force to this country and would be glad if it could be dispatched as soon as possible.”
No such force was ready or in sight. But if Canada as a nation was not well prepared for the onrush of history there was one Canadian who was more than ready. This was Colonel Sam Hughes. Hughes had been at his desk in Ottawa throughout the mysterious, ill - comprehended days before the mysterious illcomprehended decision that there must be a war. If there was going to be a war he
at least was set for it. spiritually and psychologically. Indeed, as late as August 3, the martial spirit of Sir Edward Grey and Herbert Asquith was far too tame for his liking.
On the morning of that fateful day, Hughes’ military secretary, who was later to become his biographer, found Colonel Sam pondering his morning paper with growing distaste. Although Germany and Austria were already at war with France, Russia and Serbia. Britain’s course still lay before parliament. Suddenly, according to his secretary, “Colonel Hughes rose from his desk, banged the paper with his fist and said: They are going to skunk it. England is going to skunk it; Morley and Burns have resigned from the cabinet as a protest against participation in the war. and they seem to be looking for an excuse to get out of helping France. Oh! What a shameful state of things! By G-d. I don’t want to be a Britisher under such conditions: to think that they would want to go back on France!' ”
Then Hughes, by now thoroughly worked up. ordered the Union Jack lowered from its masthead above his headquarters. And down it came and remained down for fully an hour before the minister of militia was persuaded by cooler heads that the honor of the Empire was not. in truth, in jeopardy. A day later his fears were fully at rest and Hughes was fully embarked on the job of raising, equipping and sending into battle one of the finest groups of fighting men of its size in modern history.
On the surface he had not much to build on. In his three years of office. Colonel Sam had been able to enlarge the military budget from seven million dollars to only eleven millions. Besides his regular army of three thousand, the militia had a paper strength of seventyfive thousand, but by no means all of these took part in the brief annual course of training, which consisted mainly of two weeks of foot and rifle drill, field skirmishes, physical training and com-
munity singing. (The teetotalling Hughes had imposed an absolute ban on wet canteens in the militia camps.)
Field Marshal Sir John French had inspected the Canadian militia a few years earlier and reported that it was “only a large collection of troops without any organization.” A German general had said it could be completely ignored insofar as any effect it might have on any war in Europe. A Canadian officer. Colonel Hamilton Merritt, credited his country with “perhaps the most expensive and ineffective military system of any civilized community in the world.”
Hughes set out to correct these conditions with the erratic energy that he soon made his trademark and finally left as his monument. The country had about two million men of military age to draw on. The terms of service in the army were compatible with the general standards of the time. Pay ranged from a dollar a day for privates to twenty dollars a day for major-generals. A private who came
back from the war totally disabled could expect a pension of twelve dollars and fifty cents a month. One who left a widow would leave her thirty cents a day, plus a dime for each of the first two children only. If. after his enlistment, his father or mother or wife wanted him discharged and could give a good reason, any soldier could be bought back into civilian life for fifteen dollars or less.
Sam Hughes, seeing in the profile of his country a strong trace of his own granite, true-blue cast of jaw, rightly estimated that the immediate problem was not how to raise recruits but what to do with them. He wired his two hundred militia units instructing them to recruit to war strength. But, he said emphatically again and again, only volunteers would be accepted now, and only volunteers would be accepted in the future.
Borden had asked for a first contingent of twenty thousand. As a place in which to assemble, house, partly train and sort out so considerable and — for Canada — so unprecedented a community Hughes selected the valley of the Jacques Cartier River near Quebec City. There, amid Plantagenet swirlings and clankings. among oceans of dust, mud, oaths of humans, groans of horses, and the creaking of wagon wheels and harness, he built a great tented camp almost overnight.
Valcartier was one of Sam Hughes’ authentic triumphs. Out of its pastoral slopes and fields he created, in the late August and early September of 1914, four miles of bell tents, a maze of rope corrals and canvas mangers, and an artillery range the size of the townsite of Montreal. As its first settlers began converging on it in response to the first calls for volunteers, he treated the growing settlement as a personal empire.
Its management, he told Borden shortly afterward in a private memorandum, compelled him to deal with “thousands upon thousands of cranks, contractors, grafters, self-seekers and interlopers, as well as with thousands of decent men.” But neither then nor in the more complex future awaiting him did Hughes’ willingness to cope singlehanded with these problems waver in the least degree. On more than one occasion he hinted that he personally would lead the first contingent
overseas and command it in battle, since there was no one so well qualified. He made frequent tours of inspection at Valcartier, sometimes augmenting his weekday colonel’s uniform with a sword and a feathered hat. Occasionally he appeared on horseback.
He took a special delight in handing out promotions on the ground. "A fine unit you have here, major,” he would say. "Pardon me, sir,” an embarrassed officer would say. "I’m only a captain.” "You’re a major now.” Hughes would announce, moving grandly down the parade lines or tent rows.
Although it was of undoubted advantage to the country and to the government to have so vigorous and forthright a man in command of the war effort, there were also some serious disadvantages. On the relatively small stage of the Boer War and during its long but narrow epilogue, Hughes had aroused the choler of none but mén of eminence — two governorsgeneral, a British war minister, three or four British generals. But now he began to antagonize people of no greater stature than his own and this, in time, proved more serious.
“Gentle-hearted as a girl”
The Anglican bishop of Montreal came to see him. complaining that there weren’t enough Anglican chaplains to serve the first overseas contingent. Hughes used so many swear words in rebuttal that the bishop was moved to complain in writing to the prime minister. The secretary of the Toronto Humane Society visited Hughes to complain about the mistreatment of military horses. Hughes at first called him a liar, then amended it to a damned liar, and, according to the official objection of the distraught friend of animals, “finally pushed me out of the room.”
Hughes had already made an assessment of Borden that was to stand him in good stead for some five years. Shortly after taking office he had written a friend: "Mr. Borden is gentle-hearted as a girl.” After the war began, his attitude toward the prime minister ranged from obsequiousness to outright bullying. A journalist of the day summed up their relations like this: “The trouble between Sir Sam and the prime minister is that the prime minister has never been able to lassoo him and keep him lassooed. Sir Sam is a bronco of broncos and will ever be.” The gentle and gentlemanly Borden’s acquiescence in Hughes’ conduct is not easy to understand over the distance of the years. But the vast if somewhat awkward drive with which Sam had raised the first contingent, assembled it at Valcartier, and got it to the front had commanded the prime minister’s genuine respect. And there is also no doubt that Borden was afraid of him — not because Sam knew of any hidden bodies but just because Borden had a quiet and peaceable nature and to avoid a public collision with the unquiet and unpeaceable minister of militia meant a good deal to him, personally as well as politically.
In Hughes’ two years as a wartime minister he picked on Borden outrageously and sometimes deceived him. Once Borden, who customarily detached himself from the troublesome business of procurement, ventured to question an order of Hughes’ to fit out a Canadian brigade with kilts. Hughes was on one of his numerous trips abroad and Borden cabled him timidly: ”We decided last winter against large additional expense necessary for kilts.” Hughes sternly cabled him back: “You are entirely in error regarding kilts. They are less than half the cost of trousers. One kilt out-
Regular army officers, he said, were barroom loafers; one of them called him an objectionable cad
wears four to six pair trousers.” When the prime minister wondered whether an unsuccessful contractor mightn’t have been given more consideration Sam dismissed the man as “an ordinary, Yankee, boozing agitator.” Hughes, who quickly arranged his own promotion from colonel to major-general to lieutenant-general — and also acquired a knighthood in the process — needed Borden’s acquiescence
in these ventures. On his first trip to England he found it necessary to cable Borden curtly: “No report rank from you.” Borden cabled back nervously: “Are you specially desirous that your promotion should be made in meantime?” Hughes then replied firmly: “Re promotion my deputy or others announced long ago it seeming everyone wondering what wrong.” (To a Canadian wit, Hughes’
knighthood provided the opening for the war’s most ingenious pun: “Le roi Sam Hughes.”)
General Alderson, the commander of Sam’s First Division, was soon complaining behind the minister’s back to the governor-general. Guns, horses and men had been loaded indiscriminately on the troop transports from Quebec and it took weeks to sort them out after the
disembarkation in England. Moreover, Alderson complained, Hughes’ prejudices as a teetotaler were injuring morale. He had personally decreed that there would be no wet canteens and so, when they had a chance to leave the dismal Salisbury Plain encampment in England, the Canadian troops were under a strong compulsion to drink as much as they could as quickly as they could. In one of his rare retreats, Hughes authorized wet canteens but to his growing list of enemies the name of the First Division commander had been added.
Many of his other activities were, to put it mildly, provocative. He abused senior officers in front of junior officers and junior officers in front of their men, and he made no bones about it. He made many speeches holding the regular army up to ridicule and contempt; in one he lumped all the permanent officers together as barroom loafers. One junior commander, born and grown to a tradition in which such conduct was both unspeakable and unthinkable, was himself shocked into an unspeakable and unthinkable breach of discipline. He wrote the prime minister direct urging him to “get rid of this objectionable cad.” Sam Hughes, he said, insulted officers and men by the score, using the vilest language “whether ladies are present or not, indiscriminately cursing all and several.” When the city of Toronto conducted a mobilization test under the auspices of all the leading officials and local military officers, Sam described it publicly as “ridiculous nonsense.”
Within weeks Hughes was the most newsworthy and the most debated figure in the Dominion. Sir George Foster, deputy prime minister and a senior to Hughes in the Borden cabinet, scribbled in his diary: “There is only one feeling as to Sam, that he is crazy.” Even Sir William Mackenzie, the railway baron, whom Sam had befriended in parliamentary debates about the Canadian Northern, began to wonder about him.
Hughes looked all critics and doubters squarely in the eye. To Mackenzie he wrote: “In short, Sir William, my character is unique, my ways are unique, and I purpose following the old road to the end.” When the Toronto Board of Trade passed a motion in censure of him he replied: “My critics will stop their yelping as a puppydog chasing an express train gives up its job as a useless task.”
He wrote Borden: “It is my intention to stop all this backbiting, intriguing, whispering and all this premeditated plan of ‘suppression.’ They forget that half a dozen grasshoppers in a meadow make more noise than one thousand fat oxen grazing.”
As for the charge of abusing officers, his only answer to that was to recall wistfully that Wellington used to order unsatisfactory subordinates shot on the spot and that Edward VII once, “in the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and spectators,” publicly dismissed a major-general who had forgotten to wear one of his decorations.
As the Valcartier encampment grew. Hughes’ sense of mastery grew with it. When one of his lady secretaries invented a spade with a hole in the middle that was supposed to serve as combination trenching tool and bulletproof shield for snipers, Hughes promptly ordered twentyfive thousand of them at $1.35 each. (When they received their brief baptism of fire many months later, they proved so useless that the government sold them all off as scrap for a total of fourteen hun-
dred dollars.) He dispensed procurement contracts in wholesale lots with reference to no one but himself. He bestowed honorary colonelcies on his most trusted purchasing agents. Only in the choice of a commander for the Canadian contingent did his self-assertiveness desert him. It had been taken for granted that the British War Office would make the appointment, with or without consultation with the Canadian government. Hughes took this for granted too. but put forward three nominees of his own. all of them Imperial officers. All were rejected. Ultimately Lord Kitchener announced that the Canadians would be led into battle by Lieutenant-General Edwin Alfred H. Alderson, whose thirty years of soldiering with the British army had taken him to the Nile, Poona, and South Africa. Hughes cabled Kitchener accepting the appointment with grateful thanks.
But not to Alderson, to Kitchener, or
How Moncton got its name
The city of Moncton, New Brunswick, got its name because of a clerical error. The name was chosen to commemorate Lieutenant-General Robert Monckton, a dashing Irish soldier who was the right-hand man of Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia. Monckton earned a place in Canadian history in 1755 by capturing the French fort of Beauséjour, near the present town of Sackville, without losing a single man of his small force. Later he was wounded at the Plains of Abraham. In 1765 the township was formed with the name Monckton, and it was so spelled until the parish was created by an act of the Colonial Legislature in 1786. In this act it was called the Parish of Moncton. It was incorporated as the town of Monkton in 1855, but the spelling Moncton has persisted, in spite of efforts by citizens to have it changed back to Monckton. (In 1930, the city council ruled that it should be Monckton, but the councillors subsequently changed their mind.) It’s unlikely that the name will ever be changed; about half the citizens are now of Acadian descent and have no great love for the memory of General Monckton.
to anyone else would Hughes trust the embarkation and safe conduct of his first contingent. There were believed to be at least a dozen armed German liners in or close to the neutral and nearby harbors of Boston and New York when war broke out. When the time came for the contingent to sail from Quebec City, Hughes personally took charge of the embarkation. It probably wasn’t his fault that some ships were overloaded and some underloaded — at least one so underloaded that it had to get the Quebec fire brigade to pump water ballast into
its bilges before it could be considered stable enough to sail. Nor would it be fair to say it was Hughes’ fault that when the last ship of the convoy departed from Quebec City it left behind on the docks a handful of men. eight hundred horses and nearly five thousand tons of wagons, ammunition and other stores and suppliers. Of the force that embarked, every man, every horse and every pound of supplies arrived in England safely. Some weeks later in a speech at London, Ontario, Hughes declared that, but for him, the entire convoy of more than
thirty ships might have been sunk by the German submarines. He said he had refused to accept Lord Kitchener’s advice that the transport ships were properly protected. “As a result of the continual hammering away,” he said somewhat cryptically, “the people of England came to know that German submarines were hovering in the English Channel.”
Once he had the first troops safely embarked, Hughes sped on ahead of them aboard a fast liner to prepare for their coming. He was in uniform when he called to see Lord Kitchener at the British
Canadians on the way to the front
War Office. According to the official history of the Canadian Army the following scene ensued: Colonel Sam marched up to Kitchener’s desk. When he arrived at the desk, Kitchener spoke up quickly and in a very stern voice said: “Hughes, I see you have brought over a number of men from Canada. They are of course without training and this would apply to their officers. I have decided to divide them up among the British regiments. They will be of very little use to us as they are.” Hughes replied: “Sir, do I understand you to say that you are going to break up these Canadian regiments that came over?
Why, it will kill recruiting in Canada.” Kitchener answered: “You have your orders, carry them out.”
Hughes replied: “I’ll be damned if I will,” turned on his heel and marched out.
As Kitchener and many other eminent persons had discovered and were still to discover, Sam Hughes might have been moderately crazy but he was also very tough. He saw Asquith, the British prime minister, and Lloyd George, the chancellor of the exchequer. He exchanged cables with Borden. Kitchener’s plan to break up the Canadian contingent was dropped and Hughes went back to Ottawa. A:
NEXT: SIR SAM’S BIG CRISES — SHELL PROFITEERS AND THE RIFLE THAT FAILED