Will The Guards Idea Go Over Here?
Canada’s new Guards have never fought a battle, but already they’re in the centre of a first-class dust-up. They’ve been lampooned, cartooned, harpooned in the Press, roasted in the Commons, fried in the Legion. Can we transplant that British spit-and-polish to Canada?
Canada’s Guards take their parade discipline from Britain, but they’ve discarded the old school tie
LATE IN THE fall of 1953, after a stint in Korea with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a tall strapping regimental sergeant-major named Gerard Hugh (Silver) Lee reported at Camp Petawawa, Ont., for duty with the Regiment of Canadian Guards, the newest and —as it has turned out—the most controversial unit in the army.
He was issued with a sword to carry and several yards of scarlet silk sash to wear across his barrel chest and make him look snappier bawling green recruits through their awkward parade-square drills.
Lee, a soldier for seventeen of his thirty-six years, was happy with the new regalia. “This man’s army,” he said, “needs some color.” That night he spent two hours in the cellar of his home blancoing the scabbard belt, spitting on the sword and polishing it. Satisfied at last with its lustre, he hurried upstairs and held out the dazzling weapon for his wife to admire.
Did she clap her hands in wonderment? Mrs. Lee did not. She said, “Whatever happened to the atomic bomb?”
Lee was crestfallen but today he is inured to such things. For his new regiment, the Guards, which was itself created to inject color and a bit of spit-* and-poli8h into the Canadian Army, has been the butt of such taunts—and, in truth, such acid criticisms—as would tarnish the escutcheon of any less determined outfit.
In the eighteen months they’ve been in existence, the Guards have been roasted as brash upstarts in the House of Commons, in the Canadian Legion, and within the army itself. In the newspapers they’ve been lampooned, cartooned and, at times, soundly lambasted as parade-square dandies. And the gist of all the rebukes—some patently unwarranted—has been, “Whatever has happened to Canada’s fighting soldiers?”
For their part, the Guards are slightly bewildered. “Sometimes,” a Guards captain confessed recently, “I think a regiment of Russians would be a bigger hit in this country than we are.”
Oddly, most of the woes of the Canadian Guards arise from the fact that they’re patterned, from headgear to foot stamping, after one of the most celebrated outfits in the history of arms—the superbly proficient, beautifully dressed and ohso-haughty troops of the British Brigade of Guards.
Unlikely chap, the British Guardsman. His battle honors go back three centuries, yet he is best known as a stalwart red-coated figure in a fur hat standing sentry on a postcard of Buckingham Palace or marching, eyes front, over the body of a comrade who fainted. Hailed in war for his dogged devotion to duty, he is often spoofed in peacetime for his iron discipline, his love of pomp and ceremony and a fetish for spit-and-polish and tradition the latter so frightfully pukka sahib that beside a
Guardsman old Colonel Blimp is a Boy Scout.
It was this sturdy Briton, as much a British emblem as the lion, who was chosen as a model for Canadian soldiers when, in October 1953, the Canadian Army decided to form a Regiment of Guards. And, like RSM Lee with his sword, there must assuredly be times when Lieut.-Gen. Guy Simonds, chief of the army’s general staff, and the man who generally gets the credit—or blame—for creating the Guards, feels that nobody understands them, or him.
For, according to this tall lean and distinguished general, the two motives behind the formation of the Guards were the purest. One was to give Canada a truly national regiment—all other units had rather parochial connections; and the second was to glorify and glamorize the plain, ordinary foot-slogging infantryman.
It is understatement to say that these noble aims took ironical turns.
The dust-up began when the army sent a team of future Guards officers and NCOs to Caterham, England, mother temple of the British Guards, to study their brilliant uniforms, customs, spartan training methods and ancient traditions. Hence, the impression got abroad—erroneously, says the army—that the Canadian Guards would be about as Canadian as the Dalai Lama.
More Cockney Than Canadian?
“Canada Builds Regiment on Borrowed Tradition,” headlined the Winnipeg Tribune, “—Canucks Take Short Course in Atmosphere.” Out broke a rash of editorial-page cartoons caricaturing the new Guards as sons of Merrie England. One showed two portly, monocled officers inspecting a freshly minted Canadian Guardsman: “Now, by Jove, if we can only give him a Cockney accent.” And in Quebec City an officer of the illustrious “Vandoos” commented impishly, “Mr. Duplessis, he will not like this.”
Had the army marked time at this point, the jesting might have ceased. But it pressed on. There is a hoary custom in Britain that the Guards—as the monarch’s personal troops—enjoy precedence and seniority over all others. They are, so to speak, favorite sons. So the Canadian Army placed its Guards, the youngest regiment in the land, over all others.
Now, to the civilian unschooled in military custom, this might seem to be no more vital a matter of protocol than who in a family of five gets the drumsticks. But to officers and men of Canada’s other five active-force infantry regiments—the Queen’s Own Rifles (formed in 1860), the Black Watch (1862), the Royal Canadian Regiment (1883), the Royal 22nd and the Princess Pat’s (both 1914)—it seemed that after years of faithful service they’d been disowned, cut off without a bob. All protested to Ottawa in vain. Especially hurt were the Queen’s Own, in prej Guards days the No. 1 infantry regi; ment. “We don’t want to be sore| heads,” Lieut.-Col. John I. Mills, of Toronto, said, “but it wasn’t quite j cricket.”
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Will the Guards Idea Go Over Here?
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It might have been expected that j Canada’s two militia Guards regiments : —The Governor-General’s Footguards ; of Ottawa and the Grenadier Guards of j Montreal—-would ally themselves with ¡ the new outfit. Not so. Both felt, and ! told Ottawa, that if active Guards were j needed, then they would go active, j “After all,” declared Lieut. - Col. j Thomas Bowie, CO of the eighty-three; year-old Footguards, “those Guards j have no history, no tradition, no nothing.”
Ex-soldiers were still more miffed. At its convention last year the Canadian Legion branded the Guards’ ¡ seniority as “an affront and disgrace” ! to other famous units.
“Precedence Given Baby Regiment,” j cried the Windsor Star, and in messes ; from coast to coast unglorified, unj glamorous infantrymen grumbled into ¡ their soda pop. In the House of Commons last June, Julian Ferguson (PGSimcoe North), a Military Cross winner of World War I, attacked the Guards as “never fought and never defeated,” shook his finger at the then defense minister, Brooke Claxton, and yelled, “Shame on you!”
A Scrap About a Badge
The Guards’ cause was helped not at all by a recruiting advertisement the army put out:
Applications now being accepted for the new Regiment of Canadian Guards. Second to none on the parade square. Incorporating the color and smartness of military tradition at its finest, the Canadian Guards ranks first among the Army’s regular infantry regiments. Right now there is a requirement for young men who would like to share in the colorful dress and ceremonial activities of "the new Canadian Guards.
At this Judith Robinson, caustic Ottawa columnist of the Toronto Telegram, saw crimson. “Color and smartness,” she wrote, “ . . . the hell with ! battle honors.” From Col. Gordon Churchill (PG-Winnipeg South Centre)
! came backhanded sympathy for the i Guards. “It will be difficult,” he ! said, “ . . . when they come in contact ; with some other regiment to rest on their laurels as a great parade-ground I regiment . . . They are being placed in : an awkward position.” j Certainly no regiment recruited in peacetime has ever had a more hecticstart. Its position is all the more awkward because there is a touch of truth to all the charges against it.
As a regiment, Canada’s Guards don’t have any battle honors. Formed in peacetime, their only action un1 recorded in army annals—occurred I in Pembroke, Ont., near Petawawa. Several months ago, before the Guards were issued with their own distinctive cap badge—a ten-pointed star—they wore a brass maple leaf, previously issued only to war correspondents and “Zombies,” those soldiers of World War II who refused overseas service. Unkindly, imprudently, men of another unit stationed at Petawawa ridiculed a group of Guards about the badge. A scrap broke out. “Our boys were outnumbered,” says RSM Lee, an ex-boxer who personally claims no part in the fray, “but we clobbered them. Then I knew we had regimental spirit.”
But while the regiment itself has been nowhere to fight nobody, it would be hard to find an outfit anywhere in Canada whose individual members have seen more action. Lee, for example, was a member of the Special Service, the air-borne commandos formed jointly by Canada and the United States in World War II. He wears two rows of ribbons, mementos of visits to Italy, northwest Europe, Korea and other troubled parts. His commanding
officer in the 2nd Battalion of the Guards, Lieut.-Col. M. F. (Tony) MacLachlan, of Great Village, N.S., served with the colorful Cape Breton Highlanders in World War II and commanded the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Pat’s in Korea. All of his officers have seen action in Europe, Africa or Korea and one of them, Capt. Marcel Marchessault, of Quebec City, has been decorated not only by Canada but also by France and Belgium for service as a Special Service agent with their undergrounds.
The presence in the untried Guards
of so many campaign ribbons is because when they were formed the army invited one battalion from the Princess Pat’s and one from the Royal Canadian Regiment, both then in Korea, to join the new regiment. The majority of officers and men in both units accepted. “Most of us had seen Guards in action,” says MacLachlan. “We may have laughed at some of their peculiar traditions but there are no finer soldiers in the world. Besides, it’s not often in the army that you get any choice. So any of us who are in the Guards asked for it.”
The 1st and 2nd battalions of the Guards—-former RCRs and Princess Pat’s, plus new recruits—are in training at Petawawa. The 3rd and 4th— formerly two training battalions of replacements for the 27th Brigade, Canada’s NATO force in Germany — are at Valcartier, Que., and Camp Ipperwash, near Forest, Ont. The ultimate strength of the regiment will be between four thousand and five thousand men.
But even if every Guards officer and private had more combat medals than Field Marshal Montgomery, other units would still find it difficult to comprehend why the youngest outfit in Canada should be called the senior regiment. The army’s explanation is simple, if not overpowering. “There was no other choice,” Gen. Simonds has said. “Once we’d decided to have a regiment of Guards they had to rank first. Guards always do. It’s tradition, you know.”
Specifically, it’s a British tradition, which accounts in part for the charge that the Canadian Guards are aiming at a slavish imitation of the British Guards. Simonds and the Guards officers themselves say it just isn’t so.
“When the Queen agreed to be the regiment’s colonel-in-chief,” says the general, “she particularly asked that it be kept typically Canadian. And it will be. Of course, we’re taking a few ideas from the British Brigade—and why not?—-they’ve been in business more than three hundred years. Personally, I’m not ashamed to borrow ideas. That’s why we study military campaigns. To turn something down just because we didn’t think of it first would be foolish, a sign of national immaturity.”
In some respects the Canadian Guards will be much like those of the British Brigade—the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards. They are now being issued the same red and blue forage caps that set British Guards apart from ordinary soldiers on the street. Full-dress uniforms—scarlet tunics, red-striped blue trousers and towering bearskins—have been ordered for the regiment’s three martial bands and already many Canadian Guards officers have been measured, by tailors sent here from England, for dress blues. Before long the army hopes to acquire enough brilliant dress uniforms to turn out an honor guard for the opening of parliament and possibly to mount a daily guard at vice-regal Rideau Hall.
The similarities are more than sartorial. The Canadian Guards have adopted the precise marching style of the British Guardsmen—a hundred and sixteen paces a minute, four slower than the standard infantry clip—and they halt with the same exaggerated stamping of feet, a sort of tantrum at attention that has been known, according to British medical journals, to cause disabilities and even fractures.
As in other infantry units, the Guards recruit is well schooled in the art of killing with rifle, bayonet, grenade and rocket, but he puts in more time than most soldiers on “shine parade” and parade-square drill. For it is an old Guards belief that spit and polish and snappy turnout give the recruit pride in himself and his unit and that long hours of parade-ground discipline produce a soldier who will quick-march into a brick wall if so ordered.
Above all, the Canadian recruit has dinned into him the same credo that British Guards have been absorbing for several centuries—“A Guardsman: graceful and manly in appearance; mild in bearing; a gentleman in quarters; a lion in the field.”
In this belief that a warrior should combine the best qualities of a Noel Coward hero with those of a Rocky Marciano, the Canadian Guardsman may be much like his British model. But in other respects they are poles apart. When the army sent a team of fact-finders to spend some time with the British Guards last summer their orders were clear. “Our job,” says Major Murray MacDonald, of Goderich, Ont., who headed the mission, “was to find out how the Guards get that way. Anything about their training or traditions that didn’t seem like a good idea for Canadian soldiers was to be left in England.”
His Father Doesn’t Count
Many ideas were left behind. Among these is the British Guards’ method of selecting officers, a matter, chiefly, of blood lines and old school tie. British Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt, a former under-secretary of state and a persistent critic of the Guards, calls them “the only government-subsidized social club in the country.”
As a group, Guards officers are the most socially correct and eligible young men in Britain. They come from only the best families and the best private schools. Often they are entered for enlistment as infants, as Prince Charles was three years ago with the Grenadiers. A coal miner’s son may become prime minister but he has scant chance of becoming a Guards officer. In recent history, which includes World War II, no Guards officers save lieutenantquartermasters have come up from the ranks or from ordinary grammar schools.
Not long ago when Wyatt suggested that Guards officers should be chosen by competitive exams, without an eye to social background, a Grenadier major was horrified. “The officers’ mess,” he explained, “is a club. It’s not only the right but the duty of the commanding officer to see that no one is admitted with whom the other members can’t get on. Team spirit, you know. Fortunately, most grammar-school boys recognize this and don’t apply to join.”
Clearly this is not as typically Canadian as the Queen would want it. Hence, Canadian Guards officers are not hand-picked by the regiment. As in the case of all other units, they are assigned by the army, usually at the request of the officers themselves. Col. MacLachlan, CO of the 2nd Guards says, “If an officer knows his stuff, he sticks with us. If he doesn’t, he goes— no matter who his father was.”
Thus the Canadian Guards hope to eschew the British Guards’ well deserved reputation for social and military snobbery. The latter is tacitly acknowledged in a booklet of instructions issued to all Coldstream officers: “It is not in keeping with the Coldstream spirit to suggest in any way to officers of other branches of Her Majesty’s Forces that their corps or regiments are inferior to the Coldstream.”
Last summer Lieut. Maurice Barnett, of Nanaimo, B.C., a member of a Canadian mission attached to the Irish Guards, overheard a mess conversation in which one officer spoke glowingly of the Royal Air Force.
“Well,” cut in an older officer, “I’ll admit they did a good job during the war. But that’s no reason we should talk about them now!"
To the British Guards officer life is bounded by a strict code of social and military dos and don’ts. He must
belong to u saddle club, to the select Guards Club in Mayfair and the Guards Boat Club at Maidstone. If a bachelor, he is expected to escort debutantes to the dozens of parties that take place beween March, when fox hunting ends, and August, when grouse shooting begins, and to volunteer willingly if a hostess calls on his commanding officer to reinforce the stag line.
In his mess an officer is forbidden to say “mess” when he means “dinner.” He may wear his hat while eating but not while having coffee in the ante-
room. He never toasts the Queen, on the theory that his loyalty is beyond question. In the mess he must address all officers, except the CO, by their first names.
He never goes “to town” like other men, but always “to London”—unless, of course, he is really bound for Oswaldtwistle. He can’t order “a beer” it must be “a glass of beer,” even if served in a silver tankard. He never wears “mufti” or “civvies”—always “plain clothes.” His suits must be dark, well tailored and cut from cloth selected by his mess committee. His
tie is in the Guards colors of red and blue. His hat is usually a bowler and over his arm, though the sun may be wilting his stiff collar, he carries a rolled umbrella.
Until World War II, the bowler anb umbrella were a compulsory part o off-duty garb; today they are mereh custom. Indeed, there have been sipn;that tbe Guards’ traditions are mellowing. An officer may now marry an acti'ess or be named the thii'd party in a divorce action and, unless scandal ensues, he is no longer obliged to surrender his commission. And today —ah, democracy!—he may even ride in a public vehicle.
By comparison, an officer in the Canadian Guards is a carefree boy, if a bit boorish. He may take the social life or leave it, but if he wears his hat in the mess he’ll be stuck for a round of beei’s. He may travel about on a pogo stick if he can do so without losing his graceful and manly appearance, toast the Queen without impugning his own loyalty thereby and, once off duty, wear what he pleases. When walking out, officers are encouraged to dress like conservative businessmen but they are not expected to wear bowlers an tote umbrellas.
Worse Than the Front Line
Last summer a reporter from i' London Daily Mirror learned that after some junior Guards officers complained that Guardsmen on sentry duty had failed to recognize them in plain clothes and to salute, an order was issued to “salute the bowler.” So the reporter got a derby and an umbrella and had his picture taken outside Whitehall, accepting salutes froxxi a Guards sentry there.
’Phis prompted a Canadian Press reporter in Ottawa to phone army headquarters and ask if Canadian Guards would be obliged to salute bowlers.
“Hell, no,” he was told by an officer. “We’ve got just one saluting regulation concerning officers in civvies. They may be saluted if recognized. If an officer isn’t recognized and isn’t saluted by a private and tries to bawl him out. the private can tell the officer where figet off.” (This was substantially cor rect, but the free wording so troubled the army’s top brass that all officers ac headquarters — about a thousand — were summoned before a brigadier and asked if they had said it. One fibbed.)
As unthinkable as officers from Glace Bay or Medicine Hat masquerading as Neville Chamberlain is the prospect of Canadian troops being trained in the strictest Guards xxianner. Not even the English condone it. The old Guards’ theory is that drill and discipline, ruthlessly administered, produce a maximum of pride, courage and fortitude. But critics in the British House of Commons have called it “a supreme example of Blimpism” and “more stupid and brutal than anything ever devised by tbe Prussians.”
The scene of this unpleasantness ii the Guards’ training depot at Cater ham, in the mellow Surrey countryside about twenty miles south of London What happens to the recruit at t i. spotlessly clean, geometrically neat arrangement of barracks, drill sheds parade squares and playing fields has been described by an ex-captain in the Grenadiers as “worse than anything that ever occurs on a battlefield.”
For sixteen weeks, sixteen hours a day, the recruit’s life is a steady grind of drill, spit-and-polish and then drib again. For the first three weeks he seldom gets off the parade square except to eat and tumble into bed. Ci the parade square he has to march e fast as possible without breaking inti' trot. His walking pace, even off duty, must be maintained at a hundred and sixty paces to the minute—a hundred is a good clip.
On parade his steps are timed by a metronome and measured by a pace stick. His ears ring to the cries of the “drill pig,” a sergeant: “Double!
Double! Heels! Heels! I want to hear those heels!” and “Hit that rifle! — hit it till you bleed !”
If the British recruit, or “rook,” is a split second behind the rest of his squad he is booked for punishment parade. While being bawled out by a sergeant he can answer only “Sir.” If he says “Yes, sir,” he is certain to draw punishment for unnecessary chattering. A Guardsman’s punishment is often a unique torture. Last autumn a group of Guards who had been confined to barracks was put to clearing fallen leaves from the parade square. The men were required to march out, bend down from the waist, pick up one leaf and march away with it, repeating the operation until the square was bare.
One drill pig explained his brutality to recruits with, “I’ve got to break your hearts—otherwise I won’t know if you have any, will I?”
A Scots Guards sergeant at Caterham is so rigid in his discipline, even of himself, that each morning when he calls his adjutant officer on the telephone, he first salutes the instrument.
If Drill and Discipline are the Guardsman’s gods, the trinity is completed by Dress. He must look at all times as though he is going to call on the Queen. Montreal-born author Tom Firbank, a wartime Guards officer, once returned to barracks after spending the night in an air-raid shelter. As he was hurrying in to get cleaned up he was stopped by a sergeant. “What is the name of your servant, sir?” the sergeant said. “I must tell him that he is not turning you out properly.” Firbank explained where he had been. The sergeant replied: “Bombs should not stop a Guardsman from shining his buttons, sir.”
Neither bombs nor battle. Seven rearguard actions across Belgium did not stop a battalion of Grenadiers from whitening their belts and leggings. One man who failed to do so was courtmartialed when he reached Dover from Dunkirk.
There is scant likelihood that Canadian Guards will be subjected to such unbending discipline. According to Major Peter Acland, a big ruddy-faced son of Kelowna, B.C., who survived the Guards training at Caterham, went on to serve thirteen years with the Indian Army and now is in the Canadian Guards, “The British idea seems to be to tear down a recruit till he’s nothing and then rebuild him in the Guards’ mold. We don’t think that’s necessary. You can treat a man like a human being and still make him a good soldier.”
If the Canadian gets more humane treatment than the British Guardsman,
no less is expected of him. Maj.-Gen. J. M. Rockingham, CO of Canada’s new 1st Division, has said, “Nothing short of perfection will be acceptable in the Canadian Guards.”
A recruit in the Canadian Guards spends more than twenty-five percent of his waking hours on the parade square learning not only correct drill but, more important, instant obedience to command. Before he can call himself a Guardsman, he must put in five months of intensive training. For the first six weeks, spent at the Guards depot at Petawawa, he isn’t allowed out
of the camp. Here, on the parade squares and firing ranges, in classrooms and drill sheds, he learns the infantryman’s facts of life.
Here, too, he is given indoctrination lectures — “brainwashings,” recruits call them. These consist of talks on military law and custom, badges of rank, regimental history and honors. The last poses a problem, inasmuch as the Canadian Guards’ history is notable chiefly for its brevity. Currently it could be stated in a single sentence: “The regiment was formed in October 1953, and has been on the defensive
ever since.” But the depot adjutant, Capt. Donald Brochu, of Quebec City, is equal to the test. A brisk little man who formerly soldiered with the “Vandoos,” he now manages to convey some of his own fierce pride in the Guards to new recruits.
“All regiments started once without battle honors,” he tells them. “An outfit is good, not because of its past but because of its present. A regiment that lives on its past honors—there is nothing worse.”
After several indoctrination lectures the recruits are given an oral examination that runs something like this: .
Q—“What is a Guardsman?”
A—“Sir, one of the best soldiers in the world, sir.”
A—“Because he’s the best disciplined, sir.”
All recruits are required to memorize the slogan by which they must live: “Training makes the soldier, but only spirit can produce a Guardsman.” At first the recruits must take this on faith. “We all have religions,” Brochu tells them, “and we all believe at times in things we don’t understand. Think of this. And, one day, you will believe in it.”
When his basic training is over, the recruit is farmed out to one of the regiment’s four battalions for another fourteen weeks of more advanced infantry training. In addition to the hours that he spends learning everything from how to butcher a dummy with a bayonet to how to stay alive under atomic attack, the Guards recruit acquires, from nightly barracks spit-and-polish sessions, a reverential regard for his equipment. Everything issued to him, from rifle to regimental flashes, must be kept like new. This is a Guards fetish. British Guards take such loving care of their gear that, in this respect, they boast that they cost the taxpayers less money than any other group of servicemen—even in wartime.
“If it Moves, Salute it!”
In 1940, at Dunkirk, routed and demoralized troops awaiting evacuation were amazed to see a wounded and decimated company of the Coldstream Guards march in perfect formation to the blazing beach, carrying their own weapons, plus many abandoned in retreat by less dedicated men. After seventeen desperate days of fighting at Knightsbridge in Libya, a battalion of Grenadiers withdrew in perfect formation, taking all its equipment but the following, noted meticulously in a report to the regimental lieutenantcolonel: 1 six-pounder (destroyed);
1 carrier (wrecked); 1 seven-pound tin of Oxford marmalade (drained in the sand and ground in).
No less sacred to the Guardsman than his equipment is the parade square. At all times it must be kept spotless, free of anything that does not belong. “If you see anything on the parade square,” says an ancient Guards maxim, “bend down and pick it up. If you can’t move it, bianco it. And if it moves by itself, salute it!”
Already there are signs that this reverence for the parade ground is catching on among Canada’s Guards. Not long ago RSM Lee was barking orders at a marching squad of his 2nd Guards when they were startled to see smoke pouring from the windows of the nearby quartermaster’s stores. Those on the parade square had no way of knowing that it came from a smoke bomb planted secretly a few hours before by army engineers as part of a fire drill.
An alarm was rung in. The camp firemen arrived, hooked up their hoses and started across the parade square. Beneath the visor of his cap, Lee’s eyes popped like those of a man witnessing sacrilege. Forthwith he marched smartly up to the firemen, halted and delivered a few bristling words, the effect of which was, “Please leave, or I will eat you in front of all these young men.”
The firemen retreated. And while they made a flanking attack on the smoke bomb, carefully laying their hoses around the perimeter of the parade square, the Guardsmen went on with their drill. ★