Lionel Shapiro Examines THE FAILURE OF THE 27th
" Canada ... is represented on the ground in Europe by an indifferent brigade — indifferent in military efficiency, in esprit de corps, in appearance and in behavior." Maclean's European correspondent probes the reasons
THERE IS a deep and seemingly inexplicable mystery about the
27th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group which, encamped here in Hanover, represents the Dominion’s contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty ground forces in Europe. It’s a troublesome and challenging mystery but the brigade has become accustomed to it and goes along living in the midst of it in the same spiritless way that people accept living in slums because they’ve given up hope of being able to do anything about it.
The mystery can be simply and bluntly stated: Canada, which prides
itself on one of the highest living standards in the world and on a truly magnificent military tradition, is represented on the ground in Europe by an indifferent brigadeindifferent in military efficiency, in esprit de corps, in appearance and in behavior. Canada has contributed one of the few secondclass military formations standing guard in western Europe.
The more one probes the mystery, the more incredible it becomes. Here is a nation of fifteen millions which sends a mere six thousand of its youth to Europe. They are all volunteers; they are, in most categories, the highestpaid troops in the world; they are equipped with the best that money can buy and are quartered in excellent barracks on the edge of a large and interesting city; they are well and compassionately commanded; they enjoy food, healt h, leisure and vacation facilities which equal those of any foreign service in the world and surpass most.
By any reasonable reckoning this should produce the kind of crack
formation which would help justify the smallness of Canada’s numerical contribution. But it appears that the exact opposite is true, and therein lies the mystery.
The 27th Brigade is composed mostly of unhappy restless men. Since the brigade’s arrival in Hanover in November 1951 the Canadian people and parliament have intermittently received reports about poor morale and occasionally of mass rioting in the city itself. As for the brigade’s military mission, which is to become an efficient defense force, the most sanguine judgment this reporter has been able to draw out of high officers is a meaningful shrug and the comment, “Well, I suppose they’ll pass.”
Here t hen is the supreme paradox. The six thousand troops “the cream of Canadian youth” as we are accustomed to call our Canadian volunteers — are failing as ambassadors and as soldiers. A collection of indifferent, morose, restless characters bear Canada’s banners in the heart of Europe.
There is of course an explanation for this extraordinary state of affairs, but it must be painfully arrived at. And when it finally comes into focus it poses an acute problem for the Canadian people as well as for the military high command and the government in Ottawa.
The correspondent who arrives here for a visit with the brigade encounters a chronic reluctance on the part of the officers to talk to any outsider about the fundamental weaknesses of the brigade. This is an inbred characteristic of military men and it’s especially stubborn when they have something to conceal. Besides, this has been an election year in Canada and
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officers have been more than ever reluctant to say anything which might conceivably embarrass their civilian superiors.
There is, for example, a jailhouse in the Hanover encampment. I asked half a dozen officers, who would be expected to know, what the capacity of this detention barracks was and whether it was filled. Not one of them seemed to know. They pleaded loss of memory, being out of touch, not having seen the latest figures and so on. Was the capacity about twenty or fifty or a hundred? I persisted. Even an approximate round figure seemed to elude their memories; they just couldn’t say.
On the other hand, it was a simple matter for me to obtain permission to visit the detention barracks. I walked through the corridors and counted the cells and the inmates therein. There are forty-seven cells and forty-seven detainees fill them to capacity. There was also a long list of men condemned to detention and awaiting vacant cells to begin a term of punishment for a variety of crimes ranging from theft and assault to chronic incorrigibility and long absence without leave. In addition, the battalions have makeshift cells in ( heir own quarters for men found guilty of lesser infractions.
How many men are awaiting detention, how many are confined to battalion barracks, how many are incarcerated in cells of small Canadian units strewn across Western Germany these figures are effectively denied a reporter. What is not denied is that for a community of 5,499 “other ranks,” the total for the brigade, the military crime rate is “high.”
One morning at ten o’clock, the hour for the coffee break, a young medical officer walked into his mess and sank heavily into a chair.
“I’m bushed,” he mumbled to his companions, “haven’t been to bed yet. What a night of work this one was!”
What had happened? An outbreak of infectious disease? An accident? A riot? The medical officer looked blandly at his questioner. “Nothing extraordinary,” he replied. “Yesterday was payday. The men sure went to town last night.”
I asked a sergeant, a good solid-looking citizen, a career soldier, about the men in his outfit. He said, “I suppose if we got into a shooting war this bunch would do okay. Anyway they’re tough enough ...” He shook his head decisively. “But this peacetime business is something else again. I guess it’s the guys’ own fault. What are you going to do with a bunch that’s got two things on their mind twenty-four hours a day—liquor and women? . . . Sure, there’re some good guys here, damn good guys and damn good soldiers, but well take a guy I’ve got in my outfit. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t go downtown, saves his dough. And he’s the lonesomest private in Germany.” The point was made more succinctly by one of the eight padres attached to the brigade. He said, “I’ve been in the army many years now. I knew the army after the war when we had the veterans in, later when we had a
THE ARMY TRIES HARP TO KEEP MORALE HIGH
small permanent force, and now this new crowd—” he paused and then added sadly—“We have some good men here, but mostly it’s an abyss of immorality.”
When a community of men is consistently at odds with the conditions of its existence, either the conditions are at fault or the men are inadequate.
Let’s look at the conditions. In a military community these depend partly on the facilities for living, partly on the nature of the command. The physical layout in Hanover is as good as this reporter has seen in Europe and superior in most respects to any military encampment in Canada. Built before the war to house an elite German cavalry regiment, it is generously designed. The barracks buildings are widely spaced, well heated and well ventilated. There are huge training squares and sports fields and, when the weather is good (which, unfortunately, it usually isn’t), the country is altogether pleasant. Five miles from the camp, a fifteen-minute bus ride, Hanover is a lively city of five hundred thousand inhabitants and offers everything from excellent grand opera to the lowest kind of dive this side of the Casbah.
Food, which was a source of lively complaint in the first months after the brigade’s arrival, has been stepped up to adequate Canadian standards and the men appear to be satisfied with the rations.
A Fraulein at the Juke Box
Recreational facilities in the camp consist of playing fields, tennis courts and sports equipment of all kinds; a nightly movie; an occasional British stage show and much too infrequently a Canadian stage offering; and, most popular of all, the battalion beer canteens where the men can drink potent German beer (at eleven cents a quart) to the limit of their capacity and where snacks from hotdogs to steaks are available at similarly low prices. In each canteen a Fraulein holds court over a library of the latest jukebox favorites. The cigarette ration is forty-four packs a month per man at less than ten cents a pack.
In Hanover itself the official recreation facilities include a British movie theatre, a really magnificent dancing and beer casino and a variety of Red Cross and Salvation Army reading rooms and snack bars.
Of the ability of the Canadian soldier to afford the expense of extramural activities there is not the slightest question. “My problem,” one soldier told me, “is to convince my gal that the Americans don’t get as much pay as I do. She thinks I’m a liar when I tell her we get more pay.”
The fact is that in most enlisted categories the Canadian is by a narrow margin the highest-paid soldier in the world. His net income suffers in no way by comparison with basic pay in Canadian industry. The basic pay of a private is ninety-eight dollars a month, all found, to which is added a
variety of allowances. Practically all get extra trades pay which ranges from six to forty dollars a month; subsistence and marriage allowances, where they apply, add up to the point where a married private can draw as high as $219 a month, a sergeant $270, and a warrant officer $325. The British soldier gets less than half this amount, the French soldier less than one fifth.
In addition, the Canadian soldier can add to his income by neatness. He is issued on joining with two battle-dress and two walking-out uniforms and thereafter he is allowed one hundred and fifty dollars a year for uniform maintenance. This puts a premium on carefulness (by wearing coveralls, for instance, on greasy jobs). Several men pocket half the allowance.
These, then, are the basic conditions of t he soldier’s existence in Hanover. Let’s look at the command.
The initial shakedown period the task of adapting a new formation to new jobs and strange surroundings was undertaken by Brigadier Geoffrey Walsh, a brilliant soldierly engineer who has a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. It was his assignment to make an operational brigade out of raw recruits in six months. During this period the Canadian j>eople received a spate of reports about the brigade’s poor morale. Complaints were widely circulated about the men’s food, leave, leisure and relations with the Germans. It is probable that the going was tough but so was the assignment. Only a disciplinarian could swing raw recruits into some semblance of military bearing in so short a time.
After a year Walsh was replaced by Brigadier 3. E. C. Pangman, of Toronto, who still has the command. No doubt by design the new commander was less strict than his predecessor. He could afford to be; t he shakedown period was over, the lessons had been learned. Pangman reviewed the regulations and morale problems and set about liberalizing the military regime.
Here is the average day’s routine for the average soldier in the 27th. The first morning parade is at 7.30; at 10 o’clock there is a fifteen-minute coffee break; at 11.50 the men go to lunch until 1.15. The day’s work ends at 4.45. Wednesday afternoon is reserved for sports. From Saturday noon until Monday morning the average soldier is off dut y, except during manoeuvres.
The leave policy is generous enough to flabbergast, any prewar soldier. A reveille pass which allows a soldier to remain out of camp all night is easily available to everyone with a good record. The same rule of good behavior applies to week-end passes. Each man is given three sixteen-day holidays each year and special travel fares have been arranged so he can use these holiday periods with the greatest profit. He can travel to London and return for fifteen dollars, or anywhere in Germany and fifty miles beyond, and return, for about four dollars. This provides him with travel to practically all of Europe for a pittance—Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy. If he becomes ill in any Continued on page 46
Failure of the 27th
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9
place where there are no Canadian or British medical facilities he can obtain the best treatment available from local doctors or hospitals and the bill is paid by brigade headquarters. If he wishes he can split one of his sixteen-day leaves into eight two-day leaves spread over the year.
One of the most popular of Pangman’s reforms was the granting of permission for troops to wear civilian clothes into Hanover and on leave. The men found that the uniform was a handicap to social life with German civilians, a circumstance due partly to German stiffness about former enemies and partly to such high jinks as go on in downtown Hanover on pay night.
This is only a part of a long catalogue of privileges and concessions designed to make the Canadian soldier’s life in Europe as bright as possible.
In any community of six thousand there will always be small injustices but these are normal vicissitudes which occur no less in all walks of civilian life. The overriding fact is that, as far as the visitor can observe, there is nothing repressive about the Hanover encampment. Indeed it is difficult to see how privileges can be further extended and the distinction between officers and men hammered narrower without the 27th becoming a holiday camp. An army must, after all, remain an army. Soldiering is supposed to be a man’s job. The tradition of toughness has gone out of it in recent years, which may be all to the good, but softening influences can be carried to limits which negate the primary purpose of military training. The hard discipline that makes an army effective under fire is, unfortunately, only produced by a ritualistic kind of army routine.
In the last six months the spate of reports about poor morale has tapered off, due largely to Pangman’s delicate balance of discipline and privilege; but morale itself, measured in terms of bearing, efficiency, reputation and camp atmosphere is a continuing problem. As we probe deeper into it we approach the key to the 27th’s abiding mystery.
We must turn at this point to an examination of the men who make up the 27th, for the truth is that there is no morale problem in the accepted meaning of the term. There is, instead, a man-power problem, a problem of quality, not of numbers. To put it bluntly the representative recruit in the 27th is, statistically, of a lower standard than the average Canadian young man. We are trying to build a better-than-average brigade with lowerthan-average human material.
It is impossible to indict a whole community of Canadians -the good with the indifferent and the bad but judged as a community the 27th is not an accurate reflection of the whole community of Canada.
Take the evidence of an experienced padre: “In the years 1946 to 1950 we had a small permanent army in Canada —about twenty-two thousand men but it was a good army. We took the average in education and intelligence of the Canadian wartime soldier and set up the top half as the minimum requirement for recruitment into the permanent force. The army then was an average, even better than average, Canadian community.
“Then,” he continued, “the bars were let down. After the 25th was recruited for Korea we recruited the 27th for Germany. We took in everybody.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of these
men who’ve been in one trouble after another. I’ve asked them why they came into the army and it’s nearly always the same story. They were the kind that drifted, couldn’t hold a job or didn’t want to hold a job, so they figured they’d try something new—the army. Most of them didn’t realize that you can’t drift in and out of the army if you get tired of it. That kind of man makes a bad peacetime soldier.”
What the padre said is confirmed by statistics. The average education of the private soldier in the 27th is between fifth and sixth grade. Even this figure is likely to be high. On recruitment the men were given no examination; their own words were accepted for their educational standards. One officer recalled that a private in his outfit, presumably of fifth-grade education, couldn’t write his own name; he drew out the individual letters that formed it.
Even if the estimate of between fifth and sixth grade is accepted it means that the average recruit in the 27th left school at a time when he had barely mastered reading and writing. This is the average. If it is balanced off against the men who went as high as seventh or eighth grade (there are forty-six soldiers now writing their senior matriculation examinations) then we are left with a substantial number of men who are practically illiterate.
Chary as they are about making comparisons or revealing statistics, responsible officers in the brigade admit that Canada’s force in Europe has a lower educational average than that of the British and American formations on its flanks. With this educational standard as a signpost there is only one direction for other statistics—and it is not a direction of which Canadians can be proud.
The venereal-disease rate of the 27th is, for instance, inordinately high. It is officially admitted that it is higher than in the British or American armies. The VD rate of the 27th is one hundred and eighty-three per thousand per year. Some months it goes as high as two hundred aiyl seventy-five per thousand. The VD rate among soldiers in Canada during the last war, using October, 1942 as a sample, was forty-eight per thousand. But obviously a soldier serving at home is not as likely to contract venereal disease.
Evidence of the drastic lowering of recruiting standards is seen in the number of hopelessly inept men who managed to join the 27th and be transported to Germany. These are men who, in the opinion of their unit officers, cannot possibly be made into soldiers. They are turned back to headquarters and in most cases eventually returned to Canada for discharge. The number of these is also a brigade secret, but in one six-week period this spring between twenty-five and thirty men were returned to Canada by the Highland Battalion of the 27th. They were de-
scribed as “bad eggs, alcoholics and persistent offenders.” The personnel selection officer who deals with such cases estimates that he interviews up to sixty men a month.
The facts, therefore, dissipate the mystery of the 27th. When the educational standard is dismal, the crime and VD rate high, and the human material lower than average, it is hardly possible for the brigade to be anything except second-class.
The task of building an operational defense force out of this reservoir of human material is one that gnaws at the morale of the officers no less than the other ranks. It is difficult, for instance, to make an artilleryman out of a youth who has never learned simple arithmetic, or a sentry out of someone who can’t read the writing on a worksheet. The brigade, therefore, has been saddled with the added task of running a primary school to bring all soldiers up to eighth-grade standard. These classes take four to five houœ? out of training time each week and are attended by sixteen hundred soldiers out of a total of 5,499 in the brigade. This doesn’t mean that the remainder have the requisite education. Classes are compulsory for ¡dl men who failed to reach eighth grade in school, but the education officer estimates that “a good many” have one way or another evaded taking the classes.
The teaching is done by junior infantry officers who don’t like being schoolteachers so the whole program is more lip-service than learning. The attitude of the men was summed up for me by one of them: “The whole thing is a
lotta baloney. If I wanted school I woulda gone when I was a kid. Whad’ya godda know to fire a rifle?”
Where Do They Go on Leave?
There are always exceptions, of course. The minority of good men merely serves as a symbol of what might be if a cross section of Canadian youth, bringing with it a cross section of the high Canadian educational and intelligence standards, were fed into the army. The good things that the Canadian army offers a youth—the pay, the security, the travel, even military life itself—would be provided men equipped to appreciate them. A bank of superior material for commissioned and noncommissioned ranks would be built up. The brigade would gradually become a crack unit, the necessary nucleus, if crisis suddenly came upon us, of a rapid extension of the forces.
Moreover the privileges accruing to a two-year hitch in Europe would be conferred on men in a position to profit from travel. At the moment this unexampled opportunity for young Canadians to top off their education with European experience is being largely wasted. Numbers of 27th soldiers use their sixteen-day leave to move bag and baggage into the fleshpot area of Hanover.
The solution to the problem of the 27th becomes by this time abundantly apparent. In a period of national prosperity and high employment far too few representative young Canadians can be enticed into military service; and if, as the economists tell us, the golden age of Canada is as yet only at the dawn, the recruiting situation isn’t likely to improve.
Meanwhile the British, the Americans, the French, the Dutch and the Belgians have it all over us, man for man, soldier for soldier, and inevitably formation for formation. But these countries recruit their soldiers by national service, by draft, by -dare one mention the word? — conscription. Their units are as good as a crosscut of their youth. Canada’s unit isn’t.