This Soldier Business
A young Canadian joins the militia at $15 a year and doesn’t even get that. Why does he join? This article tells you
JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
THE DAY that started with a blazing sun beating down like liquid fire on unprotected necks, has darkened into a drizzle, turning the whole landscape into a dank and sodden greyness. Sudden spurts of drenching rain whip the open fields into an unending quagmire. And Private Jones lies prostrate in the muck, demanding of his irate self some answer to the indignant question as to why he finds himself in this pass.
Private Jones doesn’t have to lie in the muck. He does it, as you might say, by choice. He’s no professional soldier. He’s militia, and proud of it. A week ago he was on his regular job, doing his turn at a lathe, just as other Private Jones’ were engaged, each in his own individual occupation —compositor, brokers’ runner, student, garage mechanic, paperhanger, plumber. You could go down the list and hardly miss one of the occupations; for Private Jones is a working Canadian, and if he goes to camp, he goes because he, and he alone, makes up his mind to do so. If he undergoes all sorts of training, takes orders and lives under commands, again it is because he chooses to do so. If he grouches a little in the process, that is one of a soldier’s perquisites.
He is like an ardent golfer toiling in on the eighteenth, and swearing by all that’s holy, that he is through with golf for good, even while his palm itches for the feel of a No. 5. And so it goes. Y ou can no more cure Private Jones than you can the ardent golfer. A week ago he would have been crawling back to camp tired and sore and hungry. He’s hungry now, with an amazing hunger that comes from hours in the open air, but he’s not sore and he’s not tired— not to speak of.
There is a bit of a glow in Private Jones, for all his grousing. Perhaps it comes from a sense of an amazing fitness that was not with him before. Perhaps it’s because there are a lot of good fellows about, and lie’s one of them. Whatever it is, Private Jones loves it. He eats enormously and sleeps like an Egyptian mummy, the worries of the workaday world left far behind. He isn’t just an insignificant cog in a big machine. He’s a soldier of the King, and the stir of it is in his blood.
If you doubt it. consider the facts. “The largest body of citizen soldiers to leave this city for training cam]) since the War.” So begins a recent Toronto dispatch that could be duplicated in a dozen different localities. This year the 48th Highlanders took close to 400 men to camp, whereas last year the figure stood at 221. As the establishment of that regiment is 432, you might almost say that they went to camp at full strength. And that, with incidental variations, is the story all over Canada.
And why? Again it’s Private Jones. He’s got the idea in his head that if there should be a war, the smart thing would be to know something about soldiering, and if there isn’t going to be a war, camp is a swell place to go anyway. He must be right. And he must be a better man thereby, or why have employers of labor taken such a sharp aboutface? Only a year or so ago, many an officer had to figure out an answer to the oft-repeated question, “If I go to camp, will I lose my job?” That wasn’t an idle fear either. Today it is vastly different; more and more firms are realizing that camp is an asset to a man, come peace or war, and an asset to a firm too. So firm after firm are giving extra holidays with pay to the men who want to go to camp. Nowf what is the meaning of that change?
Canada has never been, even remotely, military minded. There have been times, it is true, when the patriotic fervor of the moment has led us into unaccustomed enthusiasms but, the stimulus once removed, we slip back into our customary attitude of tolerant detachment in which all uniformed activities appear to us as a bit of harmless play acting. Yet this country was born fighting and w'as cradled in military action. It had an active militia as far back as the days of Frontenac, when the red, w'hite and blue caps designated the units of Quebec, Three Rivers and Montreal. But today, and for years past, we have put all that behind us. We have become perhaps the least military of any of the countries that form our Empire.
We are a bit inclined to take a measure of pride in that very attitude. We tell ourselves that we are not sold on this soldier business, and practice looking down our noses even at our own militia. True we get a pleasant thrill as we watch the regiments on church parade, and we have to admit that, on occasions like the recent visit of Their Majesties, this same militia does fill a gap that otherwise might be difficult to fill with adequately decorative ceremonial. But that is about as far as the bulk of us are prepared to go. To our way of thinking it is just playing at soldiers. We do not, of course, adopt the same attitude toward the soldiers of other countries. It is an attitude reserved entirely for our own.
There are occasions when, with war clouds menacing, we come to a momentary feeling that something ought to
be done about this military business, and we become a bit more understanding and appreciative of the young fellow who wants to enlist. But in the main we are wholly lacking in enthusiasm and, at the best, treat the whole matter with apathy.
The not unnatural result of this almost national attitude, is that our governments, of whatever political stripe, are very much inclined to share our feeling, realizing that the military have relatively few friends in Canada, and may therefore be kicked around with impunity. Governments are peculiarly sensitive to shades of public feeling, and supersensitive when it becomes a matter of spending money. They expect a dollar spent to return with better than a dollar’s worth of enthusiasm, and until recently they were certainly by no means sure that any wide number of people would grow enthusiastic over expenditures on military affairs.
I he result is that what military establishment we have, we have largely by the grace of men who have thought differently on this issue. They have thought so earnestly enough, and disinterestedly enough, to invest largely not only of their time, but also of their resources, in fostering the idea that a citizen army, trained and equipped, means security in an hour of need and beyond that, that it offers a social service of immeasurable value to the community.
I have no case to make for the military attitude of mind, and no enthusiasm for militarism as such. But I do believe that we have been vastly wrong in our prevailing attitude toward the militia. Any enthusiasm that can make fifty thousand men, of all classes, give up the major part of their spare time, and some of their liberties, and work amazingly hard at no financial gain to themselves, must have a germ of greatness in it.
But just what is it that makes a man enlist in the militia and give up the bulk of his idle hours for a matter of three years or longer? That question was asked of many men—of staff officers and commanders of regiments, of young lieutenants, the blush of their new-found authority still upon them, of hardened old sergeants who have gone back to re-enlist and to re-enlist again, of military police and of buck privates—• and no one has the answer. On the face of it, it appears so obvious that a militiaman puts in much and gets very little in return And if it were just a matter of the tangible things we in Canada do for our citizen soldiers, we would not have any problem to enquire about, for we would not have any militia. But as one grizzled old-timer remarked: “I guess you get out of it about what you put in.” That, I think, comes closest to being the answ-er.
But before we come to the implications of that answer it might be wise to outline, in nonmilitary terms, just what the active militia is, and just what w'e—or the Government, as you prefer -do for it.
The Canadian militia, then, is entirely an active body. It is divided into permanent and nonpermanent forces. The permanent force represents approximately five thousand men of all ranks, and it is scattered in small units from Halifax to Vancouver. Its main duty is to school the nonpermanent establishments.
There used to be a time when there was little love lost between the permanent and nonpermanent forces. The former held the not surprising opinion that, there being relatively little money available, it would be best to spend it all on them; to the end, of course, of providing a highly trained, adequately equipped mobile force that might readily become the nucleus of a larger army. Such an opinion, if it remains at all, is an individual opinion that does not represent the thinking of any wide group of the
militia today, whether permanent or nonpermanent, for the nonpermanent militia has made a very definite place for itself.
The nonpermanent militia, representing close to 50,000 men of all ranks, is distributed over Canada in eleven Military Districts, under a District Officer commanding. These districts represent roughly, East, centre and Western Ontario, Eastern and Western Quebec. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, each of the three Prairie Provinces and British Columbia. There are some 330 (Kid units grouped in these various districts—cavalry, infantry, artillery, Army Medical, Arinv Service, Ambulance, Signallers, and the Officers’ Training Corps associated with the various universities. To look after all this the Government paid last year the sum of $2,550,499. Not in any sense as a comparison, but as a way of emphasizing how relatively small an item it is, the Government, of necessity, paid virtually twice that amount to maintain something under 5,000 of the permanent force on a similar scanty scale.
$15 a Year
NOW OF course there were other expenses in the militia budget, an item, for instance, of $3,394,311 for what is described as "Engineer Services and Works.” That included new construction and extensions to fortifications — a result of the decision to provide somewhat more adequate coastal defenses. The militia has some distant part in that. It has a part LK> in the expenditures on rifle ranges and barracks, armories and training camps, though these lean more heavily toward the permanent than the nonpermanent forces. There was an increase also for stores, a larger item—$4,889,779. This is more than double the amount spent for stores the preceding year, which in turn almost doubled the year before. But these expenditures came after starvation years, the years from 1929 to 1935. There was much slack to be taken up; equipment just had to be replaced.
Beyond that, and accounting for the vast bulk of this charge, were the commitments for coast defense armaments and ammunition. Increased production of the Dominion Arsenal also accounted for its share. But the point at issue is this: That while these charges distantly relate to the nonpermanent militia, all that is directly chargeable to it, is that $2,550,499.
In return for this modest honorarium the nonpermanent militia delivered a total of 540,039 days of actual service. When it is realized that it takes two night parades to make a day for which government pay can be drawn, it will be readily seen that the wage scale of the militia is not its great inducement.
But lest anyone should imagine that there are pickings, however modest, let us make it quite clear just what the
militiaman docs get. He is allowed $1.20 a day for the training period, and it might, if it all came to him. make almost fifteen dollars for his year’s services. This allowance is, of course, scaled up in modest amounts as he proceeds up the army scale. But in all the city regiments, and in most of the others, he signs off his pay to the regiment on enlistment. This is to permit the regiment to carry on w ith the various services and activities for which it was created, and to supplement ^he equipment issued by the Government.
Now in speaking perhaps somewhat disparagingly of the governmental generosities, it should be remembered, as has been stated already, that as a people thinks so a government does, and if the people thought generously of their militia, it would be adequately supplied. As a matter of fact it is very far from that. Here are a few instances to make the point. Regiments are equipped and paid on what is known as their Establishment. Yet, as an instance, a Toronto regiment whose establishment is 432, normally parades and trains over 700 men. Which means that in some way they must uniform and provide for better than 200 men who officially don’t exist. With Highland regi-
ments, the Government provides only the essentials of the uniform while all the trimmings must be found by the regiment itself. That is one of the reasons why the pay is signed off, and returned to the enlisted man as part of his equipment.
Just what does the man who enlists get for his long hours of service? These are the tangibles: In return for the ten or twelve days of actual service that the man gives to his country, he is supplied with a greatcoat, jacket, breeches or trousers, puttees, and cap, in addition to his equipment and arms. He is not provided with boots or gloves, though the department has lent a friendly ear to the suggestion that, in future, they provide the boots. He is not provided with any uniform other than the regulation khaki. The regiments that appear in more colorful garb, pay for it out of regimental funds.
The officers, who usually appear in the public mind as a favored class, are favored only in the fact that the Government provides them with nothing. In any regiment the little matter of equipping himself to appear before his company will cost the young officer a couple of hundred dollars which he must find for himself. In some of the showier regiments such as the Guard regiments and the various Highland units, the very minimum outlay for a young officer is $4(X). If he wishes to equip himself completely, with uniforms for all occasions, it will cost him in the neighborhood of $1,400.
True, the officer has certain social advantages. He is a member of a regimental mess that is in the nature of a very attractive club, attractive in that its membership is composed of men who cling to the same enthusiasms. He has these club privileges at something less than the average club dues, but as an officer of the regiment, his hand is fairly uniformly in his pocket for one good cause or another.
The sergeants also have a mess of their own, and have many of the privileges enjoyed by the commissioned officers. Their financial outlay may not be as heavy, but their other obligations in looking after the men are closer and more exacting. The privates lack such privileges, yet over forty thousand of them turn out once or maybe twice a week during the season, or go to camp and put in a week of strenuous work in lieu of holidays, and rarely do they get a cent for it.
So one just can’t avoid the question: Why do they do it? And the answer to that question is the point that we would like best to make for the militia.
Everyone realizes that the outward and avowed intention of militia training is sound —to train a man so that if war should come he shall be an effective fighting unit, and an equally effective leavening force among the untrained. To argue that such a training is a factor that predisposes toward war, is to urge that fire engines increase the menace
of fire. The point is so obvious that it hardly needs stating; but there is another angle, and that is that the militia is a potent factor in training for the arts of peace. War or peace, one or other we are sure to have, and here is an admirable training for both.
But what is it that first interests the young men in the militia? There are plenty of factors that play their part—a family military background, a tradition of association with this or that regiment, the appeal of a uniform, the natural desire of the drab male occasionally to burst into gay feathers. There is even the w-holly natural desire of the man, whose resources do not permit of any form of club or lodge life, for a momentary escape from the home. And there is the assurance that no reasonable person can object to such escane when it takes the form of regimental service.
All these motives, and they could be elaborated indefinitely, are universal enough and understandable enough. But there are other calls on a man’s time, and the force of those motives might die were the recruit not to find for himself some intangible compensation for the time and work involved. In the case of the militia these intangibles are very real.
Every city has its scores and thousands of young men away from home, employed in businesses that give them little scope for finding friendships. Home is a back hall bedroom, and in it is a loneliness that is a fertile breeder of trouble, for it makes for bitterness and an antisocial attitude of mind. From such homes come many men of the militia. They come, too, from modest homes, where the father has all he can do to meet the demands of a grow ing family. Here, too, are the seeds of bitterness born of the frustration of the natural social desires. Recruits come, too, from the society of the street corner gang, noisy, dishevelled, incipiently vicious and altogether self-assured. They come from quiet homes, shy, nonaggressive youngsters, too timid for this competitive business of living. They come from homes w-here soldiering is in the blood. They come from schools and universities, stores and factories; men who need and must find an outlet for energies and emotions for which their everyday life does not provide.
And the regiment takes them all alike and sets its mark on them. All it asks is that a man be employed, for most regiments look after their own, and cannot assume too great an obligation. That, and that the applicant shall be sincerely interested. For uniforms are few enough, and there are other men who are eager to fill them.
Yes, the regiment sets its mark on them. If you doubt it, watch the new recruit sidling in, awkward, self-conscious, half frightened, half truculent. See him a week or so after he has worn his uniform. The sag has gone from young shoulders that God meant to be straight. There is a glitter in his eyes, a new sense of dignity and importance in his bearing, that somehow combines with it the ability to accept authority without being subservient.
Strangely enough there is little if any conflict of interests betw-een officers and men. The men are satisfied. Some day there is a chance of being a lance corporal, to wear a single stripe on the sleeve and to have just a little of an edge on the average buck private. That is something worth working for, and in the distance there is that lofty goal of a sergeant majorship. Let the officers have their place. Everyone knows, or at least the privates all know-, that it is the sergeants who run the regiment. But don’t let an officer down, in his reasonable dignity or in his job. •A poor officer makes a poor company, and there is no one so sensitive of the honor of the regiment as the buck private. He wants his manoeuvres to go with a snap. Why w-ouldn’t he, with his wife, or kids, or best girl looking on?
Molding of Citizens
CO THE regiment sets its mark. It takes average men cJ and gives them knowledge and resourcefulness, a respect for authority and the ability to use it wisely when it falls on their own shoulders. But most of all it helps a man to set a value on himself.
It was a brigadier-general who had the idea of donning roughish civilian clothes and visiting some relief camps, to get an idea of what effect they had on men. In one of them he found a couple of young fellows busily shining buttons on a militia uniform. The lads were gruff and reluctant to talk, but eventually it came out. “We’d have a job if we could get it,” one of them said, a bit truculently. “W’e don’t like this handout business.”
“But what about the uniform,” the brigadier persisted.
“Boss.” one of them answered. “Do you want to knowsomething? It takes guts to stand this and not get like that bunch we have to work with. Well, it’s this way. We go up for parade every week, see, maybe twice a week, and we’re as good as the next fellow. D’ya get what I mean? If a fellow gets a coupla days, he can maybe manage the rest of the week.”
It is something to be able to instill character into a man, and the regiments do many other things. They keep track of their men. If they lose their jobs, the indefatigable sergeant know-s about it, soon it gets to his officers, and then in some way it is looked after. In many regiments there is an organization of officers’ and sergeants’ wives, who look after such cases. They know when a new baby is arriving in some modest home, and they do something about it. Regimental organizations do a bit of job finding, look after men in sickness, and aid during any other sort of tribulation. A regiment is a big family, or it is handled in a somewhat similar way, and that's another thing that doesn’t come out of the modest two and a half million of government expenditure.
Without being too paternal, there’s a world of thoughtful supervision goes into the handling of a regiment. One such regiment had a problem child, in the person of a corporal who couldn’t feel that camp was camp unless there was the occasional liquoring-up. Now liquor, which was once synonymous with soldiering, has ceased to be highly regarded, and this sort of chap was a bad influence. What to do about him? The obvious course was to ask him to turn in his uniform. But he was a good soldier, barring that one weakness, and besides he hadn’t anywhere else to go. The colonel did some head scratching, and arrived at an idea. The corporal was given command of the military police, charged with rounding up bibulous soldiers. Never was a job taken more seriously. Never was a soberer regiment, never in the end was there a soberer corporal. It’s a way they have in the army.
Once there was a song to the effect that “I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier.” It wasn’t a very good song and, despite admirable intentions, it wasn’t a very sound idea. For whether you raise your boy to be a soldier or not, this much is certain, that a bit of soldiering won’t hurt him, and it will keep him out of a peck of mischief.
Time was when employers looked askance at men who joined the militia. If one of their men went to camp, he frequently enough returned to find that someone else was in his job. That was always unsound thinking, for it presupposed that a man can have only one enthusiasm, and that for his work. We know better than that. We know that any diversity of interest, any relaxation, any enthusiasm that can build into a man the high qualities of respect, obedience, responsibility, and can add to them the ability to mix with men and to assume responsibility when the need for it arises, is not a thing to be disregarded.
And more than that—men being what they are—when two nights a week can give them the courage and the qualities to face the balance of the week with selfrespect and a high courage they have gained a great something. Anyone who can look askance at a training that can build such qualities, is looking askance at a potent force in molding the type of citizens that Canada most urgently needs.