Schooled under Ironside, Gort and Brooke, Canada's new Chief of Staff is young, keen, capable
M. GRATTAN O'LEARY
ELEVEN YEARS ago Major-General (now Lieut.General) "Andy" McNaughton, then Chief of the General Staff, decided he wanted somebody to study and report upon the defense needs of Canada. He thought of a young officer he had admired in the Great War and who had become half Battery Commander and Professor of Tactics at the Royal Military College, Kingston. Henry Duncan Graham Crerar, who happened to be that officer, was brought to Ottawa, told to work out a reorganization plan for Canada's militia forces.
It was a task for fortitude. In Canada—throughout the British Empire—men thought of peace. It was the era of the League of Nations; of the young intellectuals who wrote books on war’s futility and filth; of wellintentioned idealists who, within and without Parliament, fought defense estimates. Over in Europe, Adolf Hitler was still an “Austrian upstart.” A great British industrialist, Lord Riverdale, was viewing the “totally unarmed condition of Germany” as “one of the gravest menaces of peace today.” Sir John Simon was saying that “Germany’s claims to equality of rights in the matter of armaments cannot be resisted and ought not to be resisted.” And Herbert Morrison, now British Minister of Supply, was warning of “the danger to social services lying in rearmament.”
Despite such talk, echoed and re-echoed in our own House of Commons, where year after year militia estimates were slashed, Crerar pressed on with his task. He had gone to Geneva in 1932, to a world disarmament conference, as Canadian Military Adviser. He returned to work at his job more feverishly. It was completed in 1936.
It was not Crerar’s fault, nor McNaughton’s, that the plan was pigeonholed. The Rhineland had been remilitarized; Germany had regained the Saar; Italy had conquered Abyssinia. But in Ottawa and London, politicians still talked peace; paid no heed to warnings. Crerar, like a good soldier, remained silent. It was not his job to make speeches; or to argue. He went back to R.M.C. as its Commandant. But he was under no illusions.
Early Soldiering Ambitions
SUCH IS the immediate background of Major-General H. D. G. Crerar, D.S.O., now Canada’s Chief of the General Staff ; number one man in our war effort.
He has additional background.
Away back in his Hamilton, Ontario, school days, “Harry” Crerar wanted to be a soldier. He will tell you now that he was more or less “brought up on a horse,” adding, part way in explanation, that the late Sir Adam Beck, a great horseman, was his brother-in-law. In his final year at R.M.C. he wanted to join a British or Indian cavalry regiment, but gave up the idea upon finding out that it would require his father to finance him almost indefinitely.
The metal filament incandescent lamp was just being developed. At his father’s suggestion, young Crerar joined the Canadian Tungsten Lamp Company in Hamilton, spending ten hours a day in the factory for a year. They sent him to Vienna for six months of two succeeding years to find out about the technicalities of manufacturing, but the call of the militia remained with him. From Vienna, each summer he returned to Hamilton to go with the 4th Field Battery for Petawawa’s annual training. When the war came in 1914—he was now an “Illuminating Engineer” with the Ontario Hydro Electric Commission—the joining of his Battery as a subaltern for active service was hardly more than a formality. At Valcartier they promoted him to captain.
As captain in what became the 11th Battery of the 3rd Brigade, C.F.A., 1st Canadian Division, Crerar went overseas, and by the summer of 1915, following actions at Ypres, Givenchy and Festubert, he was brought up to the 1st Canadian Division as a G. S. “Learner.” After two weeks attachment at Divisional Headquarters he w-as offered, and took command of, the 10th Battery—which came from St. Catharines—of the 3rd Brigade.
He saw plenty of action. By May, 1917, he was the 3rd Brigade’s acting lieutenant-colonel, and the last of the original officers of that brigade who had left Canada in 1914. They sent him then to attend a staff course at Cambridge University.
Back in France after his staff course, Crerar became Brigade Major to the late Brigadier-General W. O. H. Dodds, with the 5th Canadian Divisional Artillery. In this capacity he met intimately General “Andy” McNaughton. Canadian front-line battalions were being hammered heavily by German trench mortars. After studying McNaughton’s famous counter battery organization— McNaughton was then Counter Battery Staff Officer of the Canadian Corps—Crerar decided that what was being done to enemy batteries could be done to enemy mortars. Within a few weeks he had succeeded. It was the beginning of a friendship between McNaughton and Crerar that has continued since.
The Staff Officer Artillery of the Canadian Corps in June, 1918, was Lieut.-Colonel A. F. Brooke—now Lieut.General Sir Alan Brooke, the man upon whom rests the job of defending Britain. Brooke and Crerar became close friends, often tramped the front line and battery positions together. In time Crerar took over Brooke’s job, found himself with probably the heaviest artillery job of the war —the organization of the artillery support of the battle of the 8th of August, 1918. “Somehow or other,” Crerar admits modestly, “I got the job done.”
There followed the successive operations in front of
Arras leading to the seizure of the Canal du Nord and Cambrai. McNaughton had been appointed to G.O.C. Canadian Corps Heavy Artillery, and Crerar had taken over the post of Counter Battery Staff Officer. It brought him the man-sized job of the operation which resulted in the capture of Valenciennes, a battle in which, with respect to its artillery aspects, became perhaps a classic of what a gunner may do with his shell power when properly applied under certain conditions. (Of this battle McNaughton has written a memorable description.)
Student of Ironside, Gort, Brooke
THEN CAME the Armistice. Crerar was with the Canadian Corps on the Rhine when he was offered a nomination for the Staff College at Camberly at the first course after the war, which was to open in the spring of 1919. For personal reasons he had to decline, but a year later, when he had been appointed Staff Officer Artillery to that late great soldier Sir Edward Morrison, and recommissioned into the reconstituted Permanent Force, he took the competitive examinations which sent him to Camberly for two years (1922-24). The Commandant at Camberly
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was Ironside, and among Crerar’s instructors were Gort and Brooke, while Dewing, now Director of Military Operations and Plans at the British War Office, sat beside him in the lecture room.
Later, from 1925 to 1927, Crerar served on the General Staff of the War Office. Strangely enough, in the light of events, he was in charge of that section of the War Office which dealt with Home Defense; did in fact draw up a plan for the defense of Great Britain and Ireland—in those days the British still held the Free State coast defenses. Also he was the War Office representative on several subcommittees of the Committee on Imperial Defense, one of them dealing with “Air Raid Precautions.” Returning to Canada in 1927, it was but natural that he should shortly find himself as Professor of Military Tactics at the R.M.C.
Thus came the military erudition of the man “Andy” McNaughton chose to plan the reorganization of Canada’s militia.
That he should have been called from R.M.C.—whence he had returned after his reorganization scheme was finished—when the present war broke out, was inevitable. They sent him to London to pave the way for the Canadian Active Service Force, and it was characteristic of the man, of his hatred of fuss and feathers, that when he landed in London last October his total staff consisted of one assistant and a stenographer.
In London, as was to have been expected, he did his job efficiently. The British War Office was familiar ground to him. To most of the red-tabbed British staff officers he was just “Harry,” and they “Bill” or “Jack” or “Bob.” In getting things going smoothly and in harmony, this made a difference. There came speedily into being in London the Canadian Military Headquarters—nerve centre of Canadian forces in Britain.
Now he is back in Ottawa—MajorGeneral Crerar, Chief of the General Staff. In that high post, number one in our military effort, he will get things done. An efficient man, with a cool clear brain, and impatient with dullards, he will cut through red tape, have the courage to deal at once with anything that smacks of politics or of favoritism, or of the military curse of promotion by seniority. It is not without significance that already his
appointment has been followed by a considerable number of shake-ups in Defense Headquarters.
ERSONALLY, in his habits, outlook on life and social contacts, “Harry” Crerar is the antithesis of the Nazi militarist. All his life he has loved games, and played them. At Upper Canada College he broke his leg playing football one year, broke his ankle playing hockey the next year. He loves sailing; has always owned a boat of some kind, and only a year ago he won the Fourteen-foot Dinghy Class in a field of some twenty-four at the Muskoka Lakes Annual Regatta. With a golf club or a tennis racket he can hold his own with most, and at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, where he played for several years, he had a handicap of nine, which is pretty good in most company.
Lieut.-General McNaughton, at home with his family, makes toys. MajorGeneral Crerar, at home with his family, uses his own camera, develops his own pictures. He has two children. His daughter, Peggy, was married at Aldershot last year to Lieut. H. Z. Palmer, an officer in the Canadian Artillery, and she is in England doing war work. His seventeenyear-old son, Peter, is a student at Upper Canada College. Mrs. Crerar, cultured and charming, is extremely popular in Ottawa.
“Harry” Crerar will not talk about himself. Pressed, he will admit that he has studied military tactics, browsed over a good many campaigns. Also he will admit—what all his Ottawa friends know—that he has long been a student of international affairs. He used to attend the meetings of the Ottawa branch of the Institute of International Affairs.
Now, with terrific tasks thronging his desk, he still finds time to keep up with the high lights of world events and of international politics. For recreation, to get his mind off certain things when he thinks it needs rest, he sometimes picks up a novel, or a detective story, or a book of adventure. Mostly, though, his light in the Defense Department Headquarters building bums long after midnight.
He is fifty-two years old; and his family background is Scottish. Highland for good measure.
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