The Final Touches
Training the Canadian Officers in England For the Front
Arthur Beverley Baxter
THREE years ago he stood in the teller’s cage at a bank and counted out money. He was nice looking, routine-fed and lacking in ambition. He was liked by women, but was not considered a good match by mothers, though he danced well and belonged to two clubs. He was popular with many, with the negative popularity gained by lack of aggressiveness in his personality. The head office once inquired of his manager as to his capabilities for promotion.
The manager wrote, “He is a decent enough young fellow, but that is about all that can be said of him.” He remained a teller.
A few weeks ago he led his platoon in the horrible muddy attack on the Bellevue Spur, the objective that the gallant Anzaes and Imperials had failed to attain. The Germans threw them back, but the Canadians went at it again, and by the awful elimination process he found himself in command of his company. In the mud that sucked him down until his shoulders were barely free he took his company to victory; but “the decent enough young fellow” is just one more gentleman of Canada whose work is done and who sleeps in the soil his blood has helped to deliver.
There is no desire on my part to be melodramatic over the incident. As a matter of fact anything less theatrical or more lacking dramatic finish could hardly be conceived of war than the picture of those grotesque, mud-caked figures squirming and grovelling towards a battered ridge of ground that G.H.Q. had ordered to be taken.
Any one of us can recall a score of similar cases if we but turn to the scrap books of our memories—clerks who were shabbily genteel, dilettantes whose greatest care were their clothes and their finger nails, hundreds of them all going to swell the total of the polite commonplace.
To the thinking man it must be apparent that there is a discrepancy —an incongruity between the picture of the initiative-lacking bank clerk and the lieutenant who led the attack on the Bellevue Spur. Writers who can reduce anything to a sentence have stated that “a potential hero lurks in every man.” It is a generalization that is partly true but, like all generalizations, more euphonious than accurate. Potential heroism is in every man, but so also is caution mingling with the powerful instinct of self defence born into any living thing. Potentially a man is both a hero and a coward, but Sir Arthur Currie knows that by the time an officer reaches his Expeditionary r orce the chances of his being a coward are negligible.
What is the missing equation? What magic carpet bridges the distance between the “decent enough young fellow” and the hero? Without doing an injustice to the superb manhood that the mothers of Canada had reared, I maintain that the answer can be summed up in a single word, “training.”
T ET me create a hypothesis. Suppos1 ing five hundred young men from civilian life — courageous, clean-living, healthy specimens — were put into the front line trenches without preparation. Let them be subjected to a forty-eight
hour bombardment of H.E.’s, Minnies, Rum Jars, WhizzBangs and all the rest of Old Bill’s strangely named missiles of death. Let them hear the oft-repeated cry of “stretcher”—serve them their rations while the groans of the wounded and the silence of the dead combine to grip and chill the heart strings— then order them to attack at grisly dawn. Many of them would be unable to mount the parapet (and they would not be cowards) — some would falter half way across and many who would not hesitate would become so madly excited that cohesion of effort wolild be out of the question.
In that body of men there would be four hundred and fifty who were endowed by nature wdth the makings of brave soldiers (the ten per cent, of impossibilities we always have with us), but they would lack one thing and, therefore, would be useless—training or discipline. The terms are synonomous. Given training every one of that four hundred and fifty would have made the assault and given way only when down with wounds. Let that be emphasized—EVERY man.
The army systam is founded on a deeprooted and age-long knowledge of human nature. It is the most stupendous transforming machine of all time. It has flaws ( Heaven forbid that after two years in the C.E.F. I should pretend that I think it is perfection), but its imperfections do not alter its basic thoroughness.
Twelve officers who were taking an engineering course in England were digging a trench. It was the third day of the course and few of the officers had known each other previously, but when that sweetest of commands was heard, “break off for ten minutes’ smoke,” they gathered around and chatted amiably. One of them, being of a philosophical turn of mind, said: “This is truly an extraordinary democracy, isn’t it? Here we are digging away each man without the least idea as to the identity of his nearest neighbor and without any curiosity. Each of us is a Canadian officer, but it doesn’t alter the fact that before the war we must have been something.”
It was a weak ending; but it requires real courage to go into the abstract With a group of healthy young Canadians whose hands are newly blistered from contact with shovelhandles. One of his auditors smiled.
“Call the roll,” he said, “from the right. Each man say what he was in civil life.”
Like the rat-tat of machine guns the laconic answers came:
“Come on that twelfth man.”
A very young officer blushed, then blurted out, “I was in High School at Ottawa.”
“Good Heavens, how old are you?” “Eighteen—-in four months.”
I made a note of the occupations at the time for I was the tenth officer (I deemed my spasmodic appearance in MACLEAN’S entitled me to the rank of journalist). The answers indicate something of the enormous task of the army system. They also show some of the results of army training. I refer to the candour of each man. Grant me another hypothesis—supposing that same group of men were at a summer resort in Canada. The lawyer would be admitted to a junior partnership in some legal firm ; the commercial traveller would have become a salesmanager; the drug clerk would have been either wholesale drugs or he would have hinted vaguely at a retail drug combine of which he was the pivoting star; the farmer—no,
I think the farmer would not have denied his calling, had he been dining at Buckingham Palace.
WHEN troops arrive from Canada they are sent to reserve battalions at the various camps in England such as Shorncliffe, Bramshott, Seaford, etc. A reserve battalion reinforces one or more battalions in the line, consequently it various in strength according to the supply of new troops from Canada. As far as possible it is arranged that Ontario battalions in France are reinforced from Ontario troops. This, of course, applies to all districts of Canada with the exception of the troops from Quebec. The gallant little band of French-Canadians who could hear the double call of France and England have not been given support from home and must, of course, be reinforced by troops fro:n other provinces. En passant Drummond would have found a golden store-house of color and "copy” in the history of the 22nd French-Canadian Battalion. I cannot resist relating one story I heard from Major Holland, V.C.
There was a review of the Canadian troops behind the line, a couple of years ago. The various battalions were formed up en masse, and as the inspecting General rode slowly down the line, the Colonel of each battalion gave the general salute. As most of the battalions were affiliated with militia regiments at ho7ne, they kept their militia as well as their overseas standing. The Colonel of the 22nd was on his horse when he heard a short distance away the order:—
“Third Battalion—Queen’s Own Rifles— General Salute—Present ATUUS!”
The French-Canadian Colonel shrugged his shoulders. A few mo7nents later he heard the stentorian voice of his nearest battalion com77iander :
“24th Battalion—Victoria Rifles—General Salute—Present A?-ms!”
It was too much for the worthy FrancoCanuck. As the General approached there was a gleam in the Colonel’s eye. He turned towards his men and ripped out the command:
“22nd Battalion — with Ross Rifles — General Salute—Pree-ee-sent Airms!” Space and the nature of this article make any further stories of the gallant 22nd impossible, but it would be a large book that could hold the quaint and amusing tales surrounding this little band of French-Canadian patriots.
THE reserve battalion system has been a success for the men, but not so much for the officers. In some cases the surplus number of officers arriving from Canada made the organization unwieldy. In other reserves the training of the men was being done by specialists and the officers found themselves without serious duties or responsibilities. Certain reserves were excellently administered, but the necessity of a training school for officers became more and more apparent. The Canadian Military School at Crow-
borough had been doing a certain amount of this work, but finally Lt.-Col. A. C. Critchley, D.S.O., Commandant of the Corps School in France, was given command of the Canadian Training School for the purpose of qualifying cadets from France for their commissions and of giving a final polishing-up to all infantry office:^ from Canada on their way to France. The school came to life in March, 1917.
The success of this institution has been one of the spectacular features of Canada’s overseas forces. Major-General Edgerton, C.B., Chief Inspector of British Forces in England, reported of the school as follows:
“I have no hesitation in saying that nowhere in my life have I seen better or more accurate drill, handling of arms or parade discipline. It was extraordinarily good.” That was the comment of an Imperial officer on the Canadians, once supposed to be the least disciplined troops of the Empire.
Colonel Hersey, one of the vanguard of the U.S.A. army, inspected the school in June, 1917. “Had I not seen for myself,” he reported officially, “I could never have believed that men from the same continent as ourselves could be imbued with such keenness and cheerfulness in drill and work. This school has been an inspiration to me and has given me a
basis upon which to model any instruction necessary for our own expeditionary
Just one more extract from an official report by Field-Marshal Viscount French: “This school in particular is a model of what such an institution should be.”
These officers are not given to lavishing praise at any tune. Their tributes are crisp military appreciations of an excellent military institution.
ÍN the army, as in civil life, most successful institutions are dominated by one personality. The C.T.S. is a huge success and although many able and clever officers comprise its staff, one man is responsible for the whole thing. That man is Lt.-Col. Critchley, D.S.O., who came overseas as a lieutenant with the Strathcona Horse, and is not yet twenty-
eight years of age. He was in the trenches for two years, he was intelligence officer and subsequently BrigadeMajor of the 7th brigade; he was wounded three times and he won the D.S.O. for gallantry combined with work well done.
Frankly—from a journalistic standpoint—Lt.-Col. Critchley is “good copy.” He is spectacular, always. Of tall, athletic build and an unusually magnetic personality he seizes the imagination and inspires a loyalty that has a certain amount of hero worship about it. After an hour with “Critch,” as he is called by all ranks (when he isn’t present), one need not be told where he comes from. The only countr-y th?t produces men of his type is western Canada. He is frequently spoken of as the finest parade ground soldier in the Canadian Army and his wounded stripes and record in France vouch for his ability and gallantry as a soldier in the firing line.
It might be said that other lands than Canada produce excellent soldiers, but where the Western Canadian element comes in is the fact that “Critch” pitches for the staff baseball team, referees the boxing bouts, and when Bexhill played against Shorncliffe rugby team with the im7nortal Sammy Manson of Hamilton on the half back line, Critchley played a rattling good game on the school wing line. Bexhill is an enigma to the Eng-
lish. Nowhere is discipline more rigidly enforced and yet when this red-tabbed commandant, who wielded such a sceptre of power on parade, pitched against a company of junior officers, the air resounded with a mighty roar from the side lines:
“Take him out!”
“He’s got a glass eye!”
“He’s got a wooden arm!”
It is a paradox that the English can’t quite fathom—but Hindenburg finds the same difficulty.
No successful enterprise is without its critics and Bexhill with its ultra smartness, its ceremonial precision, and its adherence to the traditions of the army as followed by famous Guards regiments, has inspired a certain amount of opposition from officers who believe that smartness and efficiency in training are unnecessary, providing the student-at-arms has knowledge. These officers belong to that school that returns salutes with a touch of their canes to their hats, who reprimand a man for not having his hair cut and at the same time look like impressionistic artists. Without actually saying it they argue that there is a different standard for officers and men—and in this Critchley agrees with them, only he works on the principle that whatever is demanded of a man, twice that must be expected of an officer.
Sir Julian Byng offered Critchley command of the corps school in France when Critchley was twenty-six years of age— and Byng has an uncanny habit of always picking the right man for the job.
LATER when Lt.-Col. Critchley created the Canadian Training School at Bexhill for cadets and officers, he presented certain demands to Headquarters. He argued that officers must be trained under congenial surroundings. There should be opportunity for recreation and mental diversion and the niceties of an officers’ mess (as far as it was possible with so large a number) should be observed. Headquarters asked him where such a paradise could be found and Critchley named one of England’s beauty spots—-“Bexhill-on-Sea.” Accordingly the huge Metropole Hotel was denuded of its furniture and became the headquarters for the school. Having secured the necessary additional buildings, he then gathered about him a staff of N.C.O.’s and officers, most of whom had won their spurs at the front, and proceeded to put into practice one of the cardinal principles of his life—mental energy is inseparable from physical energy.
He knew he had two elements to handle —the man from France who was qualifying for a commission and who had lost most of his illusions in the mud of Flanders, and the officer from Canada whose training has been broken into by the exigencies of recruiting and who was showing unmistakeable signs of being “fed up.” Opposite causes had produced the same results jn both cases. It became the rule of the school that, while attending the course, all officers and cadets should be formed into different companies _and during the day were to carry on to all intents and purposes as privates. The instructors were officers and N.C.O.’s of the staff. During work the student had to obey the N.C.O. and he wore a web belt like a private soldier. In the evening he resumed the wearing of his Sam Browne belt and if he belonged to a mounted unit he was allowed to wear his spurs. The N.C.O. who had ridden him all day saluted him at night.
Every morning between six and six-
thirty (coffee and biscuits are served at six twenty) the entire school, including the officers on the staff, do physical training of a very strenuous description. The instructors in P.T. and B.F. (bayonet fighting) are a group of N.C.O.’s who seem to sleep all night on electric dynamos and who go at their work with a sort of Dervish frenzy when the morning comes. I remember my first morning very well. He was a tall dark young savage and was known as “Slim.” When he surveyed us he seemed to go insane with energy. His commands came with the rapidity of machine-gun fire — between them ran a running commentary on us and life in general that must have been funny because he seemed to enjoy it so much (now that several months have elapsed I think it was funny as well). During all this he would dance around and strike sudden postures like a goblin running amuck, his commands coming like pistol-shots:
“In two ranks. Fall in (he really said ‘f’lin’) heads backwards; one—two, right dress—in two-o-o-os shuah (we obediently try to number, but—well, try it yourself at six-thirty in the morning and see if you don’t get mixed up). That’s all right, gentlemen—if you didn’t make mistakes there wouldn’t be any need for my brains (a jump into the air and then an attitude). Open ranks — march — pick up your dresses, gentlemen, I mean dressing. Don’t smile so hard, gentlemen. It hurt’s my feelings. Arms swinging upwards— one—wake up, sir, none of that Kamerad stuff here, please—two—reform ranks. March. Left turn, brace your legs, gentlemen, and make an exercise of it—double march. Left, right, left, right—heads up, chests out—come on, sir, this isn’t a fox trot (we run on and on by the side of the sea while the glorious sun rises higher into the heavens). Class—halt! Sit down —get up! (This is given as a single
command, the observance of which brings home some of the horrors of war). Move,
gentlemen—first man over that fence and back—Go! (We hurdle or sprawl over a four-foot fence and light impotently into a luxuriance of thistles from which we spring up and rehurl ourselves back in the hope that we will get back before the arch-demon singles us out for publicity.) In two ranks—f’lin—not quite so much posing, gentlemen, and a little more action—we don’t go in for Venuses here—at least not during drill. On the hands down (this is solid torture). On the left hand turn O-O-O-O-One (we contemplate murder or suicide or both).” How we hated him and how we hated the army. And what a breakfast we ate after a plunge in the ocean at seven o’clock! And after a week what a glow of health came into every man’s cheeks. “I want to clear away the cobwebs from your bodies and brains,” said Colonel Critchley. “Slim” certainly accounted for his share of the cobwebs. Here’s to you, “Slim.” I have never known the Commandant to miss the P.T. parade unless he was out of town. Once “Slim” was away—we were congratulating ourselves when the Colonel took us instead. That night we prayed humbly for the return of “Slim.”
TROOPS march at one hundred and twenty steps to the minute. The Canadian Training School at Bexhill marches at 150 to 160. In Bexhill you are made to step out and walk fast.
“Gentlemen,” said Critchley, early in the course, with a characteristic contraction of his shoulders, “when I look into your eyes some of you seem mentally dead. Wake up—God, I hate a dead man, and when you salute, for the love of Mike, salute! Don’t scratch your ear or touch your cap with your finger. There is only one salute for officer and man alike, and it is this (like everything else he does, it was well done). Saluting is a nuisance if you make it so, therefore, salute every chance you get. Enjoy it.”
He hammered saluting into us until Bexhill-on-Sea was one vast saluting base —across the street—on the promenade— one could hear all day the stamping of the feet as cadets and officers gave and returned their salutes. There was energy and enthusiasm about it that was remarkable. Officers noted each others’ salutes and criticized them as one woman will do to another’s gown.
Bayonet fighting was carried on by the demon instructors mentioned before. “Slim” and his cohorts made us see blood and when we attacked the dummies we yelled like maniacs. I have seen hundreds of English sea-side visitors stand awestruck as a company of cadets shortjabbed, long-jabbed and generally made mincemeat of a row of dummies representing a similar number of Germans.
“You’ve got to be crazy to do bayonet fighting,” said “Slim,” “and the idea is to scare Fritz to death by shouting at him. Now, then. This line, GO—Ah! (the shout was terrific). Very good, gentlemen. Wipe the blood off your bayonets and make room for the next line.”
In the afternoon we took “engineering.” It sounded well, but in reality we carried picks and shovels, wearing fatigue pants and shirt, and we dug trenches, revetted them, installed bath mats, filled sand bags and built parapets, etc., under the guidance of engineer officers and N.C.O.’s from the front. Each platoon of officers or cadets had one of their number according to roster acting as sergeant and one as platoon officer. This applied to all drill and engineering. In short, we learned to do the work of a private, and the work
of a N.C.O.—and being an officer is knowing how to get the best out of your N.C.O.’s and men.
The work was hard and I still think the hours of training were too long considering the speed at which the work was conducted. Our morning was from 6.30 to 12.30, and the afternoon from 1.50 to 5.30. Subsequently these hours were shortened and 1 think, wisely. I have not time to go further into the training of the school, but can merely state that the usual subjects of map reading, outposts, etc., received full attention.
THE success of the school, however, cannot be described in concrete terms. Any institution can give instruction in the same subjects as the C.T.S., but its unique strength and achievement lies in the intangible result of “spirit” which every one must receive. Sports are encouraged. The school has its own magazine. It has its Pierrot troupe and usually has a wealth of material to choose from for both things. Dances are held and the school has a band to play when necessary. In everything, the Commandant is an enthusiastic participant or observer—usually a participant.
During the course I attended we were addressed and inspected by Field-Marshal Viscount French, Lt.-General Currie, Lt.-General Turner and General MacDonell (two days after he had taken Hill 70). All of them made us feel that a commission in the Canadian corps was something to be proud of. Lt.-Col. Critchley’s aim could be summed up in a few words.
“I have no patience,” he once said, “with the civilian soldier idea. You were civilians once, gentlemen, and you gave up everything to enlist. Very good—-you
are soldiers now. For Heaven’s sake be real soldiers then. It is going to be your privilege very soon to take command of a platoon in the line. You have got to measure up, for the Canadian troops are the finest soldiers in the war to-day. The Canadian corps is the most formidable fighting unit of its size in any army. You have traditions already made—it is for you to maintain them, and when the opportunity arrives enhance them.”
Then he lectured us on leadership and the following notes are taken at random from the speech. Let any one study these points carefully and he will see something of the stimulating and ennobling effect of the Canadian Training School at Bexhill-on-Sea.
“Your men are your mirror. Their appearance and actions will shoiv if you are a good or a poor officer.
"Set the personal example in all things. Know all about your men and make their interests yours. Be loyal and exact loyalty.
“Whin you receive orders from higher authority do not treat them lightly. They must be pushed through with all the authority back of you.
“Accept the blame when things go wrong. Don't blame your N.C.O.'s.
“Discipline is self control reduced to a
“Think of your men first and when there is nothing more to be done for them, think of yourself.
“To accomplish anything, determination and intensity of purpose are necessary. If you start something, finish it.
“Teach your men everything that will help to make them efficient, and which may prove of use to them at the front in any eventuality—
“Tell them. -
“Make them do it.
“To be a successful officer at the front you must possess skill, endurance, determination, courage, cunning, confidence.
“Skill means the application of knowledge—-for the soldier hoiv to handle his weapons—for the officer how to handle his men.
“Endurance means that your brain and your body are in perfect condition as regards your work. Without endurance you may fail at the critical moment.
"Determination—if you are given a job to do, push it to a completion with every ounce of energy and intelligence you possess. Let nothing defied you from your purpose.
“Courage—a few men are born brave and few born cowardly. Most are born prudent, and these are generally the most reliable. If you possess skill, determination and endurance, courage usually fol-
“Cunning means the use of all the brains you possess. It is no use being brave if you ajc not cunning and outthink as well as out-fight the Boche. Give Fritz the credit for the cleverest idea under the circumstances, then go one
“Confidence — mutual confidence between officers and men is vital. Be a man —treat your men like men and you will create a personal prestige among them.
“Be cheerful, kindly, considerate and jealous of everything that pertains to the welfare of those under your command.
“Be strict, but just."
THAT is Critchley’s creed. He believes in the personal example as a man—it runs in the family. The father and three
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sons from Calgary came over at the first. One son is killed, the second is second in command of a battalion in the line, and the third son is the commandant of the C.T.S. The man is a force in the world—4 it is to be hoped that Canada will utilize his energy and personality when Fritz has sounded “lights out” and the army comes home. Napoleon said that in an officer character counts more than ability —Critchley has both and the cadet or officer who passes through the C.T.S. must be made of strange clay who doesn’t receive a healthy, vigorous moulding during the process.
I have not the space to deal with the training of artillery officers nor the excellent depot of the Canadian Engineers, where the Tunnelling, Field and Signal Companies do their technical and arduous training. I have no room for any description of the Canadians in the R.F.C. nor the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, but have contented myself with the preparing of infantry officers for the front. All branches of the Canadian corps have won imperishable glory, but no one will begrudge me the statement that the real heroes of the war are the infantry. H we win or lose, the final result rests with the man in the front line trenches.
“He is a decent enough young fellow, but that is about all that can be said ol him.” ,
It is a long cry from the teller’s wickel to the trenches, but body and soul he waf a better man for his training. Ruperl Brooke, with the pounding of the enemy’i guns in his ears, wrote: “There is i corner in some foreign land that is foi ever England.”
The decent enough bank teller lies in i quiet, shaded spot in Flanders. Som scarlet poppies growing red stand sen tineis of beauty over his grave—that ii for ever Canada.