GENERAL ARTICLES

IT'S A FINE ARMY

Over broad moors, in marshlands and on the beaches, Canadians in Britain are at concert pitch for their showdown fight with Hitler

H. NAPIER MOORE Editor, Maclean’s Magazine November 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

IT'S A FINE ARMY

Over broad moors, in marshlands and on the beaches, Canadians in Britain are at concert pitch for their showdown fight with Hitler

H. NAPIER MOORE Editor, Maclean’s Magazine November 1 1942

IT'S A FINE ARMY

GENERAL ARTICLES

H. NAPIER MOORE Editor, Maclean’s Magazine

Over broad moors, in marshlands and on the beaches, Canadians in Britain are at concert pitch for their showdown fight with Hitler

SOMEWHERE in England (By Cable). The other week end we went down to a southern English village like those you see in films and don’t quite believe—village green, smithy, ancient climber-covered cottages and a venerable pub wherein Home Guards were playing darts. Near by is one of the oldest oaks in England. Under its mighty branches bowmen assembled while on their way to the Battle of Crecy.

The day before our visit a Canadian light tank unit had rendezvoused there. They had crossed a gently wandering river on a steel-girder bridge elected by Canadian engineers and paralleling

centuries-old arches built by the monks of Waverley Abbey. Then they rumbled down a country lane — and vanished.

Later, while visiting a lovely old home tucked among gorse, two members of the unit dropped in — one a former Alberta cowboy, the other a British Columbian high-rigger. They seemingly appeared from nowhere for we had passed their camp unknowingly. That’s the odd thing about wartime Britain—the unseen Army. You see plenty of Canadian soldiers in village and town streets. Along country roads you would pass long lines of Canadian-manned tanks, gun-carriers, jeeps and truck convoys; but so far as field units are concerned, no matter how intimately you may know certain of the southern counties or how adequately eredentialled you may be, without a proper escort you’d never be able to find them.

A unit may be camped on the tree-shaded parklands of a great pre-war estate. The troops will be barracked in estate buildings or hutments while the headquarters and officers’ mess will be in the picturesque Tudor mansion, stripped of its trappings for utility and much colder than the men’s

stove-equipped huts. Or a unit may be buried in thick woods, living in huts or even tents. The approaches are concealed and heavily guarded. The Army is scattered, dispersed in what seems to be a crazy quilt fashion, yet the defense positions are clearly designed for the most effective use. The troops know every inch of this baffling countryside, made still more baffling by Canadian ingenuity. And everywhere intensive battle training goes on.

Great areas of gorse and heather have been plowed under by thundering tanks and rattling carriers. Ridges have been levelled by artillery fire. Woods and coppices are often alive with creeping infantry.

For nine days we crisscrossed this panorama. But first of all we visited General McNaughton. His headquarters is a beautifully gardened, finely exteriored old house; but inside all is strictly business. McNaughton, who looked fit and hard, sat on the edge of a battered leather-topped table and talked proudly of his men’s and officers’ performance at Dieppe and of those as yet not battle-tried but trained for anything. He was glad to see us because his one anxiety is that the troops

don’t lose contact with the home folks and vice versa. Then we started.

The first day was with the Army Tank Brigade. Not only did we stand on high places and watch Churchills perform, but we rode in them. Under the skippership of Lieut. McIntyre, of Victoria, I was the main gun-loader and operator. We roared across the countryside, uphill and downdale, manoeuvring by radio communication, firing, and all the rest of it. It was an unforgettable experience. Another day we witnessed a First Canadian Armored Brigade group stage the largest complete Canadian battle exercise ever held in England. A three-mile area swarming with vehicles; exercises involving tank troops, a motor battalion, anti-tank batteries, an armored regiment, field ambulances, etc. On the panoramic sketch of operations the names of the visitors’ publications had been placed.

The Maclean’s sector saw lots of action !

We watched exercises with Major-General Worthington, recently arrived from Canada, and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Fourth Division units which landed a few days later. Another day, in a cold biting wind, we climbed to the top of a high hill from which we witnessed huge exercises involving planes, artillery, tanks, carriers and infantry. Operations depended on split-second movements under live fire, carried out perfectly. To me, the artillery and mortar fire was beautifully accurate. Army experts there in a critical

capacity assured me that it was. On another occasion, with no hill to stand on, we got into the thick of a combined operation scheme, running like hares between intervals of mortar and machinegun fire. Fortunately, all watches synchronized perfectly. Nevertheless, the Black Watch did their best to make us skip lively and they must have enjoyed themselves hugely.

Saw Commandos Train

WE ALSO SAW fiommando training. You’ve seen photographs of men with full equipment, hand-and-kneeing their way along ropes slung across rivers, climbing walls, worming through culverts, jumping obstacles surmounting barbed wire. Seeing the actuality makes one marvel at the fitness and stamina of these hand-picked troops. We saw exercises wherein whole companies ran a long course, doing all the above, waded through a marsh, then scored bull after bull on rifle targets amid smoke. The piece de resistance came that same morning when, along the coast, we saw Commandos landed from the sea speed across a rocky beach and scale fifty-foot cliffs by means of an ingenious apparatus—carrying all their raid equipment. It was made realistic to the extent of even lowering a German prisoner who actually spoke German. Afterward we talked with the men and found them itching to do the job in reality.

In command of one of the landing craft was SubLieut. Glen Northgrave, of Toronto, who, though in his early twenties, is a veteran of the Vaagso, Brumenfeld and Dieppe raids. He joined the Navy two years ago and got his commission in nine months. He was in command of the Essex Scottish assault boat at Dieppe—the last boat to leave. He was more interested in hearing Canadian news than in relating his own experiences. We had Spitfire coverage that morning. A plane returning from a seaward flight did a victory roll. Lieut.-Col. Al Poupore from Toronto, standing beside me, said, "The boys are showing you all their stuff today.” We didn’t know then, but later in the day MajorGen. Crerar told us it had been no make-believe; two Spits had shot down two Focke-Wulfs beyond the headland. One German pilot crashed and was killed; the other was picked up as a prisoner.

So, day after day, we moved among Canadian units, seeing for ourselves the effectiveness of their training. It’s tough but men thrive on it. They are as hard as nails, healthy, and well fed. With Brigadier F. R. Phelan, of Montreal, as our mentor, we toured reinforcement units, inspected camps with redoubtable Hamilton Gault, and were impressed by the comfort of the huts compared with what existed in old "tin town” days, by the spotless kitchens and well-cooked food. Men with aptitude in this or that direction are given every

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encouragement to develop it. The result is that most men we talked to had an objective.

We were with the Army Service Corps and also the Engineers. We watched the latter as they built huge bridges, as though with gargantuan Meccano sets, with incredible speed. We visited schools where men were being trained in wireless, radio repair and telephone work. We tore around in jeeps, laying down wire at thirty miles an hour. We learned by observation what organization lies behind the maintenance of an Army, and

of the preparatory work required before any area can be occupied— adequate water supply, sanitation, sewage disposal, and a thousand and one other things. We inspected the huge base Ordnance workshop which is a triumph for the Canadian Engineers. From the bare ground they have erected in little more than a year a series of vast shops comparable only, for size and equipment, with those of the motor industries of Oshawa or Windsor. Here all equipment used by the Canadian Army in theUnited Kingdom—from buckles

to tanks—is maintained and repaired. The day we were there they were unpacking with gusto twenty-fivepounders from Sorel.

Army Fighting Fit

WE SAW in those nine days quite a lot of the Army. It’s a fine Arrr.y. Lieut.-Gen. Montgomery, now commander of the Eighth Army in Egypt, told a friend of mine he had seen Canadian troops and, if properly trained and equipped, they’d go anywhere and do anything. So far as my eyes assured me, that training has been and is being given. They look as good to me as any troops I’ve seen anywhere. So far as equipment goes, while under the stress of modern warfare no army can ever have complete surplus assured, our first three divisions have full equipment. It does not take Canadians long to become efficient in the use of new equipment. They are handling the newest tanks with great facility and I have seen new anti-aircraft gun crews with less than three weeks’ training demounting and going into action in 21 seconds. Morale is high. It would be foolish to suggest that men who have been over here three years are sublimely content with life. They’ve been away from home a long time. They crave action. But Dieppe has been a stimulant throughout the Corps. They know Canadians can take it and dish it out. They know the breed of younger, untried officers is all right and that they can follow them confidently. And officers have no doubts as to their men. Troops are well behaved and well liked by Britishers. Homes are open to them everywhere.

We had journeyed to the outer defense ring around London to see a Canadian Army co-operation air squadron. An hour or two previously we had stood in a field beside camouflaged batteries and mobile operational cars where in response to radioed calls the Mustangs had come over to show us their stuff. They travel so fast that they are on you before you hear them. They travel so low that they almost comb your hair. They are disturbing things. Elderly

golfers toiling round a near-by course just gave up.

Now we were in the dispersal hut on the station from which they had taken off. We were listening to operations being outlined. True, it was a re-enacted briefing for our benefit taken from the day of Dieppe but the pilots who did the acting had done the sterner job. One had shot down a Focke-Wulf, the other had brought back his plane minus undercarriage and flaps but had made a safe landing. Present in the hut was young Pilot Officer Don Morrison, D.F.M., shot down over Dieppe. Picked up in the Channel, he dived overboard to pick up two men in the sea and was fired on by German dive bombers. He was roaring mad because the craft commander couldn’t put him ashore to get another plane. There were Flight Lieut. Lloyd Sinclair from Paris, Ont., and Sergeant Pilot Jack Liggett from Toronto. And hovering like a mother was Squadron Leader Keith Hodson. Out of sheer exuberance the lads staged an exhibition air circus for us, then one went off on an operational flight and later we heard him reporting high above the Channel coast.

“Now,” said the squadron leader, “let’s buzz over to the mess where we can show you something really thrilling.” We drove over to the mess, formerly a swagger private home surrounded by one of the loveliest gardens I have seen. Above, the sky was filled with formations of Spitfires bound for a sweep over enemy territory. “Ah,” said the squadron leader, “somebody’s in for a spot of trouble.

“Now you’ll see something,” he continued. Whereupon he rushed us out to the garden to reveal with pride two miracles: first, a stand of

Canadian corn which, tenderly nurtured by the squadron’s own hands, showed signs of ripening eventually; and second, believe it or not, a pool filled with large trout upon which, on special occasions such as Dieppe, they feasted. With that vision we slept one night in London. Next morning we were headed north to the night bomber and fighter squadrons.

To be Continued