A quick sketch of the man who will organize and lead Canada's second overseas division
CHARLES LUGRIN SHAWMay151940
Odium: O.C. 2nd Division
CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW
A quick sketch of the man who will organize and lead Canada's second overseas division
THE MAN whose trench raids were a perpetual headache to the enemy in the last war is putting on his uniform again.
Nearly a quarter century after his daring platoon of picked men from the old Seventh Battalion, C.E.F., camouflaged themselves one dark night and staged the exploit that revolutionized the whole technique of warfare in France and Belgium, Vancouver's “holy terror.” Major-General Victor Wentworth Odium, D.S.O., is re-establishing himself in army life as commander of Canada’s Second Overseas Division.
This will lx* the General’s third major war. I le is an old hand at fighting on the grand scale, even though he looks at least a decade younger than his sixty years. There is a spring in his stride and a sparkle in his eyes that belie his long service for King and Queen and Country, and the long years in between when he was newspaperman, financier, oil company director, patron of the arts, radio authority and whatnot. A busy career and a varied one has been the General’s; yet now he is tackling the biggest job of all—organizing, putting into the field and directing the operations of a full division of modem-equipjxKl troops.
Possibly the best qualification Odium has for such a task is the fact that, according to the military men who know him best, this war is “right down Victor’s alley.” He has been studying and planning for this war for years. Ask his friends what Odium’s chief forms of recreation are and they’ll probably hesitate a moment and then mention bridge and gardening. Apparently he is a whizz at both. But the hobby that many of his friends don’t know about is his passion for military tactics. There is hardly a worthwhile book on the subject that Odium hasn’t read, and you’ll find many of those Ixxiks in the General's own library at his Point Grey Road home in Vancouver— probably the best stocked private military library in the country. The fact that he has been on the retired list for a good many years doesn’t signify that Odium hasn’t
kept himself abreast of developments in military science.
"In the last twenty years,” says Odium, "I have studied military affairs more thoroughly than I ever studied anything at school.”
During a long period in Odium’s career, printers’ ink and gunpowder have been in competition for the General’s affection. He still likes to be described as a journalist, although his newspaper days—for the time being at any rate—ended long ago. But soldiering has always been closest to Odium’s heart—almost an obsession. He’s back again now in the sort of job he loves.
Long ago, when Hitler’s gœse-steppers first started marching, Odium knew what to expect. He knew that another war was coming. “There was too much hate in the world for lasting peace.” he said recently, repeating something that he had written as long ago as 1919. He became convinced that something would have to be done about Nazi aggression; that Britain would ultimately become involved, that Canada would rally behind the Empire, and that the old soldiers and the new would be going to war. And so Odium got out his military textbooks and studied a little harder; he knew his turn would come, and it isn’t a part of the Odium tradition to be caught unprepared.
“1 have waited for this call and it has come.” That was all he said when Ottawa announced his appointment early in April. “I will give the best that is in me.”
Months before his appointment was revealed, the General’s home town had heard rumors that he was slated for a big military post. He was mentioned as second-incommand of the First Division under General McNaughton, for whom, by the way, Odium holds intense admiration. He would eagerly have accepted it, but Ottawa had something bigger for the “holy terror.”
A whole division was considered none too big for a man of Odium’s talents. He finished the last war in command of a Canadian brigade. There’s no telling where he may go in this war, but he says he’ll be ready to step aside if he can’t keep up the pace. Those who know Odium and the way he plunges through the day’s work smile at that remark. But the General is serious about this, as he is about all things.
“This war demands the fastest working brains.” he says. “If my brains won’t work quick enough, I’ll make way for someone else.”
The only stipulation he made with the Department of National Defense in this war was that he be given a combatant job. A man of restless energy, accustomed to being close to the scene of action, no quiet office duty would have held him for long while a war was on.
Alert, incisive and brisk in manner, the General carries himself in soldierly fashion—erect as one of his province’s Douglas firs. Six feet tall, Odium'soutthrust jaw is his mark as a fighter, and he has been carrying it to the wars for a long, long time.
VW'AR BUSINESS comes naturally to the Odiums.
** Two and a half centuries ago four Odium brothers were fighting an Irish rebellion in the army of King | William, and Victor’s great-grandfather was an officer in the Duke of Wellington’s army before his adventurous spirit persuaded him to charter a ship and sail to America where he and his son later fought in the rebellion of 1837. Even Victor’s father, who was better known to most as savant and leader of the British Israelite movement, did his stretch of soldiering too, in the Fenian Raid as a member of the old 36th Regiment from Peel County, Ont. The Professor—everyone called Odium, Senior, the Professor—was given 160 acres as his reward for military service then, but the family didn’t stay there long. When the Professor was appointed president of a college in Tokio, of all places, he took his family along. Victor was then a lad of seven. The family stayed in Japan, where the Professor studied volcanoes and lost tribes. There Mrs. Odium died of malaria, and they decided to return to Canada.
From Professor Odium, Victor inherited his passion for study and insistence on detail. The Professor was really a most remarkable man. He was an expert in geology, botany and ethnology, travelled through Russia and other northern countries in the pursuit of his studies, and even did research work among the primitive bushmen of Australia. And many years later, when Victor was publishing a newspaper in Vancouver, he published as a dutiful son the daily column written by his learned father, devoted to everything from women’s fashions of the day to the theories of the British Israelites—chiefly the latter.
The boy who was to become a general was born in Cobourg, Ontario, in 1880. They had been to Japan and back by the late 90’s, when the Boer War broke out, and it was in Woodstock that Victor enlisted with his older brother Garnet in the 22nd Oxford Rifles. He went through the campaigns at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Houtnek and Zand River. Ile won a commission as a lieutenant with the Third Canadian Mounted Rifles and also the conviction that in wartime there is nothing with so much appeal as army life. Whether he knew it then or not, he was cut out to be a first-class fighting man.
After the Boers surrendered and Odium returned to Canada he tried his hand at many things, but whatever civilian job he held, and wherever he wandered, invariably he found himself with a commission in some military unit. Army life was in his blood by then. For a while it was the 48th Highlanders in Toronto, then the 6th Regiment Duke of Connaught’s Own in Vancouver, later the 102nd Regiment in Nelson, the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers and finally the 11th Regiment of Irish Fusiliers in Vancouver.
Three Times Wounded
T_TE WAS with the “Fighting Irish” from the West Coast when war was declared in 1914, and he was one of the first British Columbia officers to volunteer for service overseas. They picked him for second in command of the famous 7th Battalion under Lieut.-Colonel Hart Mcllarg.
It was McHarg’s misfortune to be among the first Canadians killed in the Second Battle of Ypres, and Odium automatically took over the command, at thirty-five. A year later he commanded the 11th Canadian Brigade with the reputation of being one of the outstanding officers on the Canadian front, a master of strategy, almost reckless in his personal daring, an O.C. who insisted on efficiency and discipline and invariably got it.
"He is a wolf for detail.” declared an officer who served with Odium on the western front. “A stern disciplinarian.
the western front. “A stern Continued on page 65
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yet absolutely fair. I never saw a man more precise and exacting in staff work. He was a curious contrast in some respects. He’d gamble his life any time if he thought there was dangerous work to be done (he was wounded three times), but he couldn’t be pushed into taking useless chances when the safety of his battalion or division was concerned.
“Why, I’ve seen him riding around in No Man’s Land in a whippet tank exposed to the enemy’s raking fire. He wanted to see for himself how the situation stood; apparently he wanted it first-hand. But before going ahead with an offensive action he would insist on the most heartbreaking thoroughness in preparation. He just couldn’t be too sure, and if there is one quality highly important to officers and which Odium had, it was a determination never to underestimate the strength of the enemy.
“He never took anything for granted, and it was astonishing to many of us how often Odium would outsmart the Fritzes when they tried out anything on their own. He spent so much time concentrating on the problem that he could almost read
his opponent’s mind. He made mistakes, like every other officer, but not often. He had the natural cunning of a campaigner, the talent for visualizing a situation in its broadest aspect as well as in its details.”
Odium was respected and admired by his troops, but his qualities of leadership have always been based on something deeper than a winning personality and a devil-may-care camaraderie. He takes war as a grim and serious business, and because his attitude reflects that, he may not be a popular idol in the usually accepted sense. He hews too close to the line. Many old soldiers remember Odium's order to eliminate the rum rations. To the majority this seemed like a most unwelcome interference with a soldier’s rights, but it was characteristic of Odium and it demonstrated that he had the courage of his convictions. Odium neither drinks nor smokes. It was his belief that the front line was no place for liquor and so he defied tradition and ordered it out. “In a way,” remarked a fellow officer, “it took more guts to do that than to go over the top.”
Regardless of Odium’s ideas on the
drink question and his opinion as to the effects of hard liquor on troops in action, it is a matter of history that the men who served with Odium in the last war did some plain and fancy fighting that would have won credit for any unit.
Take those trench raids for instance— the trench raids that contributed more than anything else to Odium's fighting record. The night of November 15, 1915. along the Petitdouve River in front of Messines, was dark and bitterly wet. The men in Odium's battalion were cold and a little bored. They wanted action.
“Daddy” Owen of Vancouver originated the idea. The son of Vancouver’s famous “Padre” C. C. Owen, the young lieutenant was scouting officer for the battalion and he had done a lot of reconnaissance work in No Man’s Land.
“How about starting something?” suggested Owen. “Suppose we just go over and raid the Heinies; take them by surprise? It'll be something new, scare them out of their wits.”
Odium thought it over; the idea was daring enough to appeal to him. So, in typical Odium style, every move was carefully charted in advance. Finally he gave the order to go ahead. Owen, Mclllree, Costigan and several other officers and men disguised themselves, attached flashlights to their rifles and went over the top.
It was a brilliant success. Many Germans were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. News of the exploit swept down the line and “Papa” Joffre thought so well of the trench raid technique that he adopted it as standard practice on the western front. It added to Odium’s reputation as a resourceful strategist.
But the General gave all the credit to the men who actually performed the job. He used to command with an iron discipline and insist on performance to the last final detail, but he was never lacking in appreciation for the officers and men who served under him.
I le is just as confident of the troops that will serve with him in the Second Division. “1 have wonderful memories of die old Canadian Corps,” he says, “but I expect as much from the new army. My confidence is complete. I have abounding pride in our new Canadian soldiers. They have courage and adaptability, and they will be loyal to those who are loyal to them.”
A deeply religious man, General Odium believes that the spiritual element is one of the Allies’ most jxitent weapons in this war against German ruthlessness. He regards this war as a crusade.
“Mechanical superiority will not decide the war,” says Odium. “The courage and the heart of men will win in the end. The enemy is not lacking in courage, but it cannot have the same heart as free men fighting for their freedom and their ideals.”
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