The man—General Andrew McNaughton. The job—running Canada's Army. Here is an intimate close-up of what he's like and how he does it

WALLACE REYBURN February 15 1943


The man—General Andrew McNaughton. The job—running Canada's Army. Here is an intimate close-up of what he's like and how he does it

WALLACE REYBURN February 15 1943

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL Andrew George Latta McNaughton, age fifty-five, home town, Moosomin, Sask., is the head of the first Army, in the strict sense of the word, that Canada has ever had.

In this war the Canadians go into battle not as a Corps, as they did in the last war, but as an Army. This change from a Corps to an Army was made early in 1942. An Army is elastic in size and may comprise six divisions, eight, perhaps ten. But it always consists of two or more Corps.

As constituted at present, the 160,000 or so men in Canada’s Army overseas are grouped in this way: One Corps consists of the First, Second and Third Infantry Divisions, supported by an Armored Brigade and another body of men about the size of a division who are termed Corps Troops and are at the disposal of the Corps Commander to be sent during battle into any area that needs strengthening. The other Corps consists of the Fourth and Fifth Armored Divisions, supported also by Corps Troops. Also there are a group of men at the direct disposal of the Commander-in-Chief called Army Troops, and these serve a purpose similar to the Corps Troops.

Being in charge of such a large body of men is an assignment as complicated as that of being the head of any great corporation or business enterprise employing thousands. But in one very important regard McNaughton’s position differs from that of an ordinary civilian business president. Not only is he the guiding light for the thousands of people under him—but their fate depends upon his decisions, their very lives are in his hands.

To arrive at just what a General does in his job is not easy.

Perhaps the best way to define it would be to point out first that fighting a war involves three main elements—policy, strategy and tactics. Policy determines the broad concept, the overall plan of how the war will be fought. It is the business of the Government. Strategy is the planning of campaigns, the putting into effect of the decisions reached by the Government. This is the business of your General Staff and Army Generals. Tactics are the plans for action in the field, the working out of the methods of fighting to be used in actual combat with the enemy.

Into this necessarily oversimplified definition of the mechanism of waging war, General McNaughton, as Commander-in-Chief of the First Canadian Army, fits into the second category, that of strategy.

It is his job to work out in co-operation with his staff officers and divisional commanders and with Sir Alan Brooke and his Imperial General Staff how, when and where the Canadians will engage the enemy.

His task is to know intimately, from study or personal knowledge, the terrain into which his troops are going to move, so that the problems of transportation and manoeuvre can be understood fully and handled efficiently. He must be able to make an accurate estimate of what the casualties of any operation are likely to be and be certain that reinforcements can be sent in speedily and in large numbers. He deals with all the thousand and one .problems of supply, the getting of food, fuel and equipment to the men in the field. He must ascertain the extent of Air Force and Naval co-operation and work with these other branches. He must assure himself that the weapons at the disposal of his men are suitable and sufficient for any given undertaking.

“With His Nose Down”

THESE and countless other considerations come under the supervision and guidance of a general commanding an army. To perform these duties, General McNaughton arrives at his office each morning at between nine and nine-fifteen. Army Headquarters are in a large, beautifully situated country mansion. As he arrives at the front doorway, McNaughton never fails to inspect the guard. The guard consists of a sentry who walks back and forth in front of the doorway along a pathway worn smooth in the gravel of the driveway by the footprints of many a sentry before him.

The house is a typical English country seat, a big rambling grey stone affair with ivy framing its leaded windows. Its stairs and hallways are panelled, and its bathroom fixtures installed by a plumber of the old school. Theoretically it’s centrally heated. It stands on a slight rise which affords an excellent view of the surrounding meadows and hedgerows, and the General’s office, on the first floor in the front part of the house, has broad windows on two sides and thus a beautiful outlook.

Not that the General is prone to sit at his windows admiring the scenery. The most likely position any intruder will find the General in when he invades his sanctum is with his head down over the papers on his desk. There are three tables in the room, none of them of the polished-top variety, all of them functional rather than good to look at. A large table by the big bay window is used as a conference table when he talks en masse with his chiefs. In another corner of the room is a map table, waist high, and on a swivel so that he can work at it standing up. In the centre of the room is the drafting table, which is the one he uses most.

Being a man with more regard for utility than show, McNaughton’s office has little else to offer in the manner of furnishings. The other pieces in the room are mostly chairs of the campstool type, canvas and wood affairs. Before he took the room over, the walls boasted rich oak panelling, but this has long since been covered over with beaverboard on which has been pinned an array of large-scale maps. These maps, which cover the entire surface of two walls, are mostly of the area in which the Canadian troops are stationed, with colored pins indicating the locality of every unit in the Canadian Army. There are also a map of Great Britain and a large-scale, huge map of France.

As soon as he gets into his office in the morning, McNaughton seats himself at his desk and occupies himself for an hour with correspondence, files and other routine matters. To cope with his correspondence and other office business, he has a staff consisting of a Personal Assistant, an Assistant Personal Assistant, an Aide-de-Camp, and several clerks. His P.A. is Major Dan Spry, who is a brother of Graham Spry. Graham Spry, being Personal Assistant to Sir Stafford Cripps, it is a popular joke among their friends that between them they have the Personal Assistant market sewn up. Onto Major Spry’s desk come the piles of letters, orders, and other “paper,” directed at the from a multitude of sources, and it is for him to sift these out each day and place before his chief a compact selection of the outstanding matters that need his attention.

While the General is at work, should any of his office staff chance to come into the room to talk to him on some matter, it is highly unlikely that he will look up as the door opens. Possessed of tremendous powers of concentration, he becomes quite oblivious to anything that is going on around him when he “has his nose down.” As any of his office staff will tell you, going into the Chief’s office to see him about something entails walking into the room, standing before his desk for half a minute or so and then, when you feel that you have given him every chance of becoming aware of your presence, drawing attention to yourself by a discreet cough.

One day a clerk, thinking McNaughton was out, sailed gaily into his office, whistling a tune as he went. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the General at work at his desk and was about to mumble apologies. But apparently they were unnecessary. He departed without McNaughton giving any sign of having noticed the interruption.

General McNaughton has on his desk a rubber time-stamp. Every letter or other paper that is put before him, he automatically brands with this personal stamp, so that at a moment’s notice his staff can look through the files of his papers and tell him on what day and at what hour he dealt with such-and-such a document.

He smokes incessantly. The large square glass ashtray on his desk is piled high with cigarette butts long before the day is through. Though he used to smoke a pipe before the war he smokes cigarettes exclusively now and smokes them at a rate that leaves even the most ardent smokers among his visitors a long way behind. He drinks little. His favorite drink is sherry, and his consumption of this is confined almost entirely to a glass before dinner.

Clothes Don’t Make This Man

AFTER the first hour in his office dealing with - routine matters, he is prepared to receive the day’s D.V’s. The expression “D.V.” is army parlance for Distinguished Visitor and these may comprise officers down from Canadian Military Headquarters in London, Divisional Commanders, men from the War Office, technical specialists, what-have-you. Any D.V. who meets McNaughton for the first time is struck by what at first glance seems to be a most unmilitary disregard for personal tidiness and neatness of attire. The General’s uniform or battle dress will have been pressed to perfection by his batman, but perhaps the collar of his tunic got turned up as he put it on and he is unlikely to notice it or do anything about it until it is brought to his attention.

When he isn’t on parade his peaked cap is more likely to be found sitting on the back of his head than at the approved military angle. He has not the preoccupation about “looking the part” that is evidenced by many another military man who is bent on impressing all and sundry with the importance of his position. He is interested in the job on hand and he regards the clothes he wears as necessary but not something to clutter one’s mind with thoughts about. His hair is unruly and a lock of it invariably bangs down over his forehead. His friends will tell you that “he has bigger things to worry about than his personal appearance.” Someone once remarked of him, “Here is a man who forgot about himself so long ago, he probably doesn’t even see himself when he is shaving.”

When you are in conversation with him he fixes you with his piercing, penetrating eyes as you speak. If you are asking him a question he weighs every word you say, his eyebrows will be puckered together in a frown of concentration and his whole attention is riveted on you and what you are saying. Then when he gives you his answer it will be the fullest and most easily understood answer it is in his power to give. As he speaks he works on and develops each idea, each sentence, with the same precision and exactness he would bring to a laboratory experiment.

But this doesn’t mean that his conversation is studied and stiff. It’s merely an outcome of his inborn high regard for detail and exactness. He never talks down to you and as an officer once said, “The great thing about McNaughton is that when he’s talking to you he takes it for granted he is talking to an intelligent person.” There is not an ounce of sham, ostentation or pomposity in him.

He is the answer to a photographer’s prayer and a joy to the Canadian war correspondents. It’s impossible to take a bad photograph of him. His face contains in it so much character, depth and understanding that one can shoot him from any angle and catch him in any mood, even when he’s worn out and tired from a heavy day, and the result’s a superb photograph.

The correspondents wax lyrical about him because it’s his expressed policy that the people of Canada have a right to know everything there is to be known about the Canadian Army Overseas, everything, that is, except certain facts that would give comfort to the enemy. He says that the men in the field must have behind them a well-informed Canada. And the way to do this is through the press.

Therefore, when a correspondent goes to McNaughton for some guidance* on a story he’s writing, he’ll take him into his confidence. He’ll tell him things that McNaughton knows and the pressman knows too can never be published. He’ll tell him the whole story, and as he does so, point out to him what parts can lie published and what parts can’t. He realizes to the utmost the important link the press is between the men overseas and the people at home and wants every correspondent to have the fullest possible background on every Army topic—not just scraps of publishable information.

Best way to show how strongly McNaughton feels about furthering a sound understanding and keeping I strong this bond between the Army I overseas and the people back home is to mention what happened at a parade that was held in England not long ago. The King was coming down to inspect a certain unit of the troops. They were all lined up—hundreds of them—on the parade square. One of our official Army photographers started getting his equipment together and then he suddenly realized that as the parade was laid out he was going to have to shoot into the sun. His pictures wouldn’t be very good. So he approached General McNaughton with his problem.

McNaughton thought for a second or two and then said: “You won’t be able to get good pictures, eh? H’m. There are a lot of families back in Canada who’d be thrilled to see their sons photographed with the King. All right, I’ll fix it.” And he called over one of his officers and had the whole parade turned round in the opposite direction.

Concentration On Everything —But Food

McNAUGHTON takes his lunch at one o’clock. His A.D.C., Lieutenant Laird Bouvaird, makes an earnest endeavor to get him to eat at home on as many days as possible. Reason for this is that when he eats at headquarters, the General sits down in A Mess, which is the one reserved for senior ranking officers, and the lunch always resolves itself into less of a meal than a conference. Lieutenant Bouvaird, whose job approximates that of a private secretary in civilian life, has that particular type of regard for his Chief’s health and welfare that is evidenced by every private secretary of a hard-worked boss, and he feels that the General should have a definite break at noontime, get away from work for an hour or so and come back to the job refreshed. So whenever possible he connives with Mrs. McNaughton to get the Chief to lunch at home.

Whether General McNaughton lunches at home or at the mess, the eating part of the procedure is something over which he concerns himself little or nothing. He has no interest at all in food as such. He will eat anything that is put in front of him. Meals to him are merely a three-times-a-day interruption, a formality akin to cleaning one’s teeth each morning. When he becomes engrossed in whatever he is doing, he often has to be reminded that he’s overrunning a mealtime.

This preoccupation with what he is doing, this singleness of purpose, is something that anyone who comes in close contact with McNaughton notices as his foremost characteristic. Though an outstanding attribute and one that has meant much in the forming of his career, it had its drawbacks for one Canadian unit on an occasion last winter. McNaughton was going to inspect them. They were lined up on the barrack square at the appointed time. The General was a few minutes late. They waited. The minutes dragged on to half an hour. Still no sign of the General. An hour passed, and they still stood on the barrack square waiting. Eventually, after an hour and a half, he arrived and announced to the men his apologies. On the way to the square the Colonel had shown him a new set of intelligence tests and aptitude gauging machines that had just reached the unit. McNaughton had looked them over. Tried one, then another, didn’t leave the hut until he had tried himself out on all of them. His score was “above average, very outstanding.”

Following lunch McNaughton usually spends the afternoon out of doors, inspecting field formations. These excursions may cover anything from watching an exercise to testing out some new piece of equipment. Though it is part of the function of any General commanding an army to know intimately the weapons, vehicles and equipment the men under him are furnished with, to see that they have the best possible and to help in an advisory capacity with the development of new material, there are few Generals today who devote as much attention to this phase of their work or are as qualified to take such an active part in it as is McNaughton.

Once a Scientist . . .

HIS interest in science began when he was in short pants. In his birthplace, Moosomin, Sask., young Andy is remembered mostly for two things, both of them connected with explosives. On one occasion, to draw to a close an argument which was going on between his father and his cousin, he fashioned a bomb, tied it outside the window of the room they were in, set it off and finished the argument with a bang. At another time he made a cannon out of an old piece of three-inch boiler tubing and used it to shoot potatoes at gophers. Feeling the need to give his son a wider scope for his inventiveness, young Andy’s father, Robert Duncan McNaughton, who owned the thriving central store in Moosomin, sent him east to Bishop’s College School, Lennoxville, Quebec, and later to McGill University, where he studied electrical engineering.

After an outstanding career in the Great War, during which he did such great work in the development of artillery counter-battery tactics that he was awarded the D.S.O., he returned to Canada, soon became Chief of the General Staff and was later to become head of the National Research Council. It was while in that capacity that he developed the cathode ray direction-finder, which helps airmen to find true bearings over mountainous country.

A scientist as well as a soldier, McNaughton has the scientific approach to the weapons, vehicles and equipment of his army. Photographs in the press have often displayed him looking over a tank or testing out a new field gun. But such photographs tell only half the story. McNaughton is a believer in “seeing for himself.” When he comes to look over, say, a new radio-equipped truck for the Signallers, he will not be content to give it a mere cursory once-over. He’ll climb in and out of that truck, seat himself at the steering wheel, crouch down under the front springs, examine the thing up and down, inside and outside, subject it and all its parts to the closest of close scrutinies. All the time he will be firing at the driver, the mechanic and the radio operators a series of questions about the truck and its parts. “This wrench in the toolbox—does it do the job it’s meant to do? I notice it’s made of cast iron. Don’t you think it will be likely to break under stress?” And with that he will give the wrench a resounding crack on a rock. It will perhaps break and he will put forward the suggestion that it be replaced with a wrench made of wrought iron.

His study of weapons and equipment is not merely critical without being constructive. He has said often and at great length that he is not going to be satisfied until he knows that his men go into battle with the best weapons that it’s possible for the cream of Canada’s scientific, mechanical and industrial brains to produce. Much of the equipment of the Canadian Army Overseas is Canadian-made, and much of it is the result either of McNaughton’s direct instigation or critical appraisal and suggestions.

“I am not interested in museum pieces,” he has said. “I don’t want ‘hand-tooled’ pieces that you can hold up to the light and admire. I want weapons as good or better than the enemy’s and I want them fast and by the thousands, by the tens of thousands.”

He was the prime mover in the setting up early in 1942 of Canada’s weapon development board. He is a great believer in the development of weapons being done in the factories, in the atmosphere of mass production as he terms it. The prototype is developed overseas, in the field as it were, and then hack in Canada that prototype is developed by the people who will do the production. An interesting point is that Britain has followed this Canadian lead and has now set up a weapon development board.

None of his fellow officers can recall ever having seen McNaughton lose his temper in public. General Wavell has pointed out in his now famous series of lectures delivered at Cambridge that explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general’s reputation of influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them—“the privileged irascibility of senior officers,” it has been called.

But General McNaughton has never been known to avail himself of this privilege. He gets mad, certainly. He would not be human if he didn't. His office has been known to resound lustily on occasion, when something or somebody has taxed his patience. But in dealing with his men he has drawn on his understanding of the psychology of handling people and getting from them the maximum of confidence and co-operation (an essential for a successful general) and he refrains from “flying off the handle” in public.

As an example of his wisdom in this, there is the case of his visit to a certain unit in the field. He arrived in the hutments to find them dirty, untidy and showing every evidence of neglect by the officer in charge. He was shocked and annoyed at what he saw. But he did not berate the man concerned in front of the N.C.O.’s and privates. He knew that by doing that he would only make the officer the laughing-stock of the men, who would lose their regard for “the guy the General balled out.” Also the officer would be humiliated, harbor a grudge against the General for showing him up, and that also would make for bad morale. But that officer was not let off with a mere soft reprimand. He got hell from the Chief, but later in the private confines of McNaughton’s own office. Thus the objective of having the hutments cleaned up and assurance that it wouldn’t occur again was achieved without the relationships between men and officer, officer and commander, being impaired.

That incident is typical of McNaughton’s handling of his troops. Though a General must be assured of strict discipline, he must have an understanding of humanity, the raw material of his trade.

Whenever he assigns a man to perform some task he tells him specifically what he wants done and by what time he expects it to be done. Then he leaves him alone. He doesn’t pester him with queries as to how the job’s coming along, he doesn’t flood him with advice as to how he should be doing it. He picks his men and has faith in them.

When McNaughton finds himself in a heated discussion, and that is not an infrequent happening, he draws on his prairie background for a philosophy of argument. His policy is one of “riding your lines straight,” an expression borrowed from the parlance of teamsters. In other words get clear in your mind what your view is and stick to it.

General Wavell has spoken of the importance to a general of what he calls “character”—knowing what he wants and having the courage and determination to get it. The walls of the conference rooms and inner chambers of Ottawa and Whitehall have echoed many a demand and insistence from McNaughton. Some of his critics, and he does have critics, say that his going after what he wants is in many cases a reflection not of his desire to have the Canadian Army the best constituted and best equipped body of soldiers possible, but of a lust for power. He is a great man. There’s no one, even his severest critic, will gainsay that, but there are some who when they think they have an attentive ear will make hints of megalomania. These may be put down as purely and simply malicious.


IN HIS off-duty moments McNaughton has nothing that can actually be called a hobby. He is an expert fisherman, but he gets no time for it. He is not a great reader— of general literature, that is. Many a reporter has been disappointed to learn that the great man does not spend his leisure moments reading detective novels the way so many well-known great men do. What reading McNaughton does do is confined almost exclusively to military and kindred works. But he is an avid newspaper and magazine reader and keeps more than well abreast of what is being published in the daily and periodical press of Canada.

His chief relaxation is, to quote Mrs. McNaughton, “fixing things up.” He is one of the few people in England today who are glad of the fact that wartime shortages of labor have made workmen, like plumbers and electricians, scarce and hard to get hold of if something in the house breaks down. The more appliances that go wrong in his home, the happier he is, and guests are likely to arrive of an evening and find the G.O.C., Canadian Army Overseas, down on his hands and knees behind a bureau tinkering with an electric light plug.

These guests that drop into the McNaughton home are many and varied. “Feel free to drop in at any time” is no mere platitude where the McNaughtons are concerned. They mean it, whether it’s said to a divisional commander or a private, and on a Sunday afternoon in the McNaughton home there is likely to be gathered there an as seemingly unhomogeneous social group as one could imagine. But no matter what station in life or rank in the Army the guests may be, the friendly atmosphere of the place breaks down any such barriers.

Many of his friends will tell you that McNaughton is the most considerate man they have ever known. Travelling in an Army staff car on his way to some manoeuvres, he is likely to turn to a very junior officer who happens to be riding in the car with him and say: “Is it too cold for you with the window open?” The young man will probably say to himself: “Good heavens, it’s not important whether or not I’M cold ! Who am I, a mere lieutenant, to decide whether the window should be up or down when I’m driving in the General’s car?” He will be moved by this display of thoughtfulness on tie part of McNaughton, just as hundreds of other officers, N.C.O.’s, privates, have been struck by similar experiences.

Such courteousness may seem relatively unimportant in judging the merits of a General. But it is part of something much bigger. Just as McNaughton would think twice about exposing a fellow traveller to the wintry winds of England, so will he think twice, many more times more than twice, before he will launch his 170,000 men into an operation which is clearly hazardous.

Definite proof of this came at the time just before Dunkirk, when at personal risk to himself, he went into France to get a firsthand insight into the situation there, and from what he saw made the decision that it would be foolhardy and disastrous to his men to send them in there, as had been projected by the Imperial General Staff.

His Aim: the Strongest Possible Fighting Force

BUT it is not to be gathered from this that he is sentimental about and perhaps soft with his troops. He displayed his ability to cast aside any feelings of sentiment or even personal friendship recently when some officers in the Canadian Army were “axed” and sent back to Canada. Because they were over age and for other reasons, these men were not suitable for their posts. McNaughton did not allow the fact that some of them were close friends of his to influence him in the least degree. Though there were heartburnings and fervent appeals, they went.

It is his firmly avowed policy to have young commanding officers in the field. Testimony of this is the fact that at present the average age of Lieutenant-Colonels in the Canadian Army is just over thirty-two. This policy was justified at Dieppe and highlighted by the brilliant showing of Lieut.-Colonel Cecil Merritt, V.C.

About Dieppe, General McNaughton is reticent. In fact he has made the statement that he will not discuss the operation for public consumption. His reason is that the Germans would be just as interested to hear about our lessons learned there as would the people in Canada. There has been criticism about many aspects of the Dieppe raid and one of the criticisms put forward is that sufficient use was not made of air power. It was used merely defensively not offensively. On this score some people have tended to criticize General McNaughton personally, saying that because of this fact and others, he shows that he does not realize to the full the important role of air power.

A point to remember in this regard, however, is that though naturally he co-operated in the planning of the raid, the campaign was worked out primarily by Combined Operations. We have yet to have a real opportunity to judge whether or not McNaughton is really air-minded.

The root of the matter is that McNaughton feels that an army as small as the Canadian Army cannot well afford to go in for a lot of specialist troops. For this reason he has no Commando units, and on this score he has said: “I wish to keep the Army together to form the strongest possible fighting force. I am a strong supporter of Commandos and the training that the men undergo is the best possible for infantrymen. But in regard to these ‘special forces,’ such as Commandos and paratroops, if you break your army up into pieces, soon, with such a small army, you will have nothing but pieces. In the Canadian Army we have the nucleus of all these special forces in our normal formation.”

McNaughton is doing work in connection with airborne troops, glider-borne troops, and Army air co-operation, of which Canada has heard little. He and the men of his Army Co-operation units have developed tactical plans of attack which have not only earned the admiration of praise of British Fighter Command, but the technique they’ve worked out is now going to be adopted by the British. It is but one of the things in which military circles in Britain have shown the high regard in which they hold this Canadian Commander.

As a man, McNaughton may definitely be rated as great. Anybody who has been in contact with him cannot help but feel he has a mind, an outstanding mind, one of the greatest Canada has produced. One comes away from seeing him at work among his troops or from a conversation with him, saying to oneself, “That man’s a genius.”

But we have nothing upon which to base a statement that McNaughton is a great General. His record in the sphere of artillery in the last ! war was formidable. But as a General commanding a whole Army j in action in today’s type of warfare j he is as yet untried. The test will ; come when he launches his army of Canadians at the enemy.

One feels that, like his performance in the army aptitude tests, he will show himself to be “above average, very outstanding.”