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The small Canadian Army of 1939 had a good core of young Regular officers thanks to the Royal Military College in Kingston (Ontario), and some of the older officers were Great War veterans. However, command experience of anything above a few companies was lacking, as was experience of (he complex staff planning which was only possible in a huge military force. This is probably the main reason why, for most of the war, there were no really remarkable Canadian generals, although some were emerging in 1944-45.

With the outbreak of war existing training camps expanded and new ones appeared all over the country. Early on, before industry could produce arms and equipment, anything available was pressed into use. (Perhaps the most celebrated example was the 1940 purchase by Maj.Gen.Frank Worthington, commander of the armoured corps, of ancient Renault tanks as scrap metal from the USA - for training recruits he needed any kind of tank he could get.) War industries were soon performing impressively, however. For example, in 1941 the Montreal Locomotive Works invented a new tank model in three weeks by using the running gear of the American M3 Lee, adding a Canadian hull and turret and arming it with a British cannon - and thus the Ram I tank was born. (Later Canadian tank production mostly concentrated on licence-building US M4 Shermans of various marks. ) Considering the state of the army in 1939, the mobilisation, equipping and training of the hundreds of thousands of enlistees was accomplished with almost miraculous success.

The few Regular regiments of the pre-war Permanent Force were joined by the many Volunteer Militia units, nearly all of which were mobilised. Most Militia regiments would have one battalion on active duty serving in Canada or overseas, and a reserve component for recruiting and depot duties. The Canadian Active Service Force units were grouped into brigades and divisions. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry and 4th and 5th Armoured Divisions served in Europe; the 6th and 8th Infantry on Canada's Pacific coast, and the 7th on the Atlantic coast. In 1945 the 6th Division was being reorganised as an all-volunteer division to serve with the US forces in the planned invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs brought the Pacific campaign to an abrupt close.

Canadian infantrymen at Campochiaro, Italy, 23 October 1943. The foreground man wears the Mk II helmet with netting, a khaki collar-attached shirt possibly of US origin (interestingly, complete with 'CANADA' shoulder titles), KD slacks, 'ammo' boots with short puttees, and basic WE 37 battle order, and carries a No.4 rifle and No.36 grenade. (A.M.Sirton, National Archives of Canada, PA136198)

There were, of course, many other units besides those Regular and Militia regiments assigned to divisions and corps in Europe. A few corps mobilised older men for the Home Army: e.g. the Veterans' Guard of Canada, and the unique Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (see below, 'Home Service units').

Some armoured and recce regiments with traditional titles were given simplified numerical titles - e.g. Lord Strathcona's Horse were the 2nd Armoured Regiment on the table of organisation of 5th Armoured Division in Italy, but still referred to themselves as the Strathcona's.

In all some 368,000 Canadians served in Europe, 7,600 in the Pacific, and a few thousands in North Africa. The army overseas was divided into two distinct elements for most of the period 1943-45: I Canadian Corps in Sicily and Italy from July 1943, and II Canadian Corps in NW Europe from June 1944. These formations came under a unified Canadian command - about 165,000 strong - only in the last months of the war, with the transfer of I Corps from Italy to NW Europe to join Gen.Henry Crerar's 1st Canadian Army. This had been in existence since summer 1944, but bulked out with a number of non-Canadian divisions under command.

Overall, the Canadians proved to be very reliable troops, steady in the face of setbacks and casualties, and rather more dashing in the assault than their sometimes more stolid British comrades in arms. Like the Australians, their consciousness of being a national contingent gave them a special esprit de corps; it has been said of them that they represented a first rate balance between 'frontier' aggressiveness and initiative, and the professional steadiness inherited from British military tradition. (US Gen.George S.Patton paid tribute to them in his own, inimitably offensive way: 'The Canadians are the best troops Montgomery has, and they're American!')

Eyewitnesses in Normandy speak of their determination to get their own back for the losses suffered at Dieppe in 1942. It is also well attested that the murder of Canadian wounded by the Waffen-SS 12th Panzer Division 'Hitlerjugend' on 8 June lent a particular bitterness to their continuing encounters with that division in the bocage fighting - the 'Hitlerjugend' had been virtually wiped out by the time the Canadians finally took Caen four weeks later.


A number of regiments were assigned to 'local protective duty' such as guarding factories, power plants and POW camps, running the recruiting system or manning coastal artillery. However, there were two large corps which were distinct organisations: the Veterans' Guard of Canada, and the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, who mustered as many as 33,000 men between them.

Veterans' Guard of Canada

This was recruited from 23 May 1940 from Great War veterans aged between 40 and 65 years, for full-time and reserve service. It grew to 29 companies of 250 men each in 1942, and eventually to 10,000 men in 1944, with another 8,000 on part-time service. The VGC was posted throughout Canada, and a few companies also went to Newfoundland, to England, to Nassau in the Bahamas, and to Georgetown, Guyana. In summer 1944/ spring 1945 some veterans went to India, and eventually even to the jungles of Burma, where they were much needed as 'mule skinners' for the transportation system. However, the great majority served in Canada, and most of those as guards for the many POW and enemy aliens internment camps in Canada.

Most camps were built in remote areas, but some were near cities or in old forts, such as Fort Henry in Kingston or Fort Lennox south of Montreal. Throughout the war considerable numbers of mostly German POWs were shipped to Canada - at least 12,000 in 1942 alone - since its remoteness from any country except the USA made escape futile and serious misbehaviour unlikely. However, there would always be some danger for the guards; a few prisoners were Nazi fanatics who attempted to escape (after December 1941, their only hope was to try to reach Mexico), and some made weapons, such as a homemade crossbow once found by guards. Such hard-core Nazis were usually persuaded to calm down by their fellow prisoners before the guards could spot them and weed them out. Those identified as troublemakers were sent to an isolated camp at Nevs on the north-west shore of Lake Superior.

At all other camps the guards were permitted, indeed tacitly encouraged, to show kindness to the prisoners; and the mature age of most of the guards helped produce a generally calm and co-operative culture in the camps. The great majority of the German POWs, at first taken aback, were quite content with their treatment. Many POW enlisted men worked on farms or in logging camps, in return for pay and under only the lightest surveillance. There were even times when guards at Kenora, Ontario, lent their rifles to POWs for hunting deer and ducks! Though this was an extreme case, the unofficial policy of general tolerance had very positive results.

Pte. C.McKean, 1st Canadian Parachute Bn, poses for a photograph in 1943. He wears the third model airborne troops' helmet with chin cup in black leather, and Canadian BD. Interestingly, although the battalion jumped on D-Day as part of British 6th Abn Div, in this training shot he has an American T5 parachute harness complete with chest reserve pack. The Sten gun could be carried during the jump, thrust under the chest harness. (Canadian Dept of National Defence, ZK-226)

As time went by, POWs wore their German uniforms and less - especia1ly after D-Day when, as Hans Kaiser put it, 'We knew it was over'. Siegfried Bruse, a U-boat commander, was much impressed by the Canadians who 'made my life as pleasant as possible from the day I came here as a prisoner'. The kindness shown by the soldiers of the Veterans' Guard of Canada to Bruse and many German POWs changed their minds and their lives: thousands came back to settle in Canada alter the war.

The same could not be said of most Japanese POWs. Indoctrinated with the blind fanaticism of the bushido spirit, and tormented by guilt at having allowed themselves to be taken alive, many Japanese prisoners remained irreconcilable. In one instance three Canadian guards were killed during a break-out in which Japanese rushed the wire. However, once outside the escaped prisoners simply sat down, apparently waiting to be killed, and admitted after recapture that they had been seeking an 'honorable death' rather than a way home.

The subject of Japanese POWs reminds us that the VGC also guarded another type ol camp. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Canadian as well as the American west coast was traumatised by fear of surprise attacks. The occasional appearance of Japanese submarines did not help to calm the population. Consequently, internment camps were established for 'Japanese' civilians - an ugly episode in Canada's, as in America's war record. Some 16,000 innocent Canadians of Japanese descent were arrested and interned, along with some 7,200 resident Japanese nationals. Their property was seized and their livelihoods ruined in an abject act of blatant racism for which the Government of Canada, long after the war, formally apologised.

Another and dreadfully ironic category of internment was that suffered by German Jews who had fled to Britain before the war, and now found themselves regarded as 'enemy aliens' because of their German citizenship. In 1940 many in Britain were interned (though briefly, and under generally decent conditions) on the Isle of Man; and some 1,800 were sent to Canada for internment as potentially dangerous aliens. These were greeted in Quebec City by troops with fixed bayonets and were at first regarded as hard-core enemies; however, a number of incidents made the Canadian authorities reconsider. Initially interned at several camps, most were sent to Fort Lennox, Quebec, a historic tourist site before the war. The guards and the local villagers from nearby Saint- Paul did what they could to help. The barbed wire around the fort was mostly removed in 1941. These innocent victims of persecution were gradually freed, though it was only at the end of 1943 that the last 83, by then transferred to Hull, Quebec, were released. Many remained in Canada to start a new life.

Above Juno Beach, Normandy, 6 June 1944: Maj.Gen. R.F.L.Keller, GOC 3rd Canadian Inf Div, gives instructions to men of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. At left, note the unit's red-on-dark-green arc-shaped title 'QUEEN'S OWN RIFLES' above a separate national title, above the division's French grey rectangle, above black-on-dark-green Rifles NCO's rank chevrons. At right, the rear of a British battle jerkin is just visible. (F.L.Dubberhill, National Archives of Canada, PA115544)

The Veterans' Guard continued to serve for some time after the war, in dwindling numbers as POWs were repatriated, until March 1947 when the last 200 veterans were disbanded. Uniforms See Plate A2.

Pacific Coast Militia Rangers

British Columbia's extensive and rugged coastline was impossible to defend and there were few troops available for surveillance. To provide at least warning in case of Japanese attack, die Pacific Coast Militia Rangers were raised from March 1942. This was a volunteer force consisting mainly of woodsmen, lumberjacks and fishermen formed into companies scattered along the length of the BG coast. The organisation was patterned after the British Home Guard of 1940. There was no age limit, but these mostly older men had to be lit and familiar with their area. They formed their own local companies, elected their officers and NCOs, and served without pay.

The concept was immediately successful. By July 1942 some 10,000 volunteers had organised 123 companies; by 1945 there were 138 companies totalling about 15,000 men. The Rangers' permanent base was at Chiliwack, BC, where a monthly bulletin - The Ranger - was published, and where training was given to new volunteers in map reading, weapons care and guerrilla warfare. The local companies assembled at evenings and weekends to practice guerrilla tactics; there was very little drill and no 'spit and polish'. It was understood that the Rangers might be mobilised ai a moment's notice. Later on, they were tasked with spotting and neutralising the many Japanese balloon bombs which landed in British Columbia. The PCMR were disbanded in October 1945. Uniforms All members had a light khaki armband with P.C.M.R.', the company number (e.g. 'No.31 Coy. ) above and the local designation (e.g. 'NAN AI MO RANGERS') below, all in black. This was worn both with civilian dress and with the uniform. The primary uniform was a 'Drv-Bak' cruiser-style tunic made of water repellent duck with metal snap buttons and four pockets, and 'logger' pants (reinforced with double thickness fabric from the waist to two-thirds of the way down the legs) - a popular outdoor outfit made by Jones Tents & Awnings of Vancouver. On 22 June 1942 the firm was contracted to make 15,000 such suits of khaki duck especially for the Rangers, with shoulder straps added. Black shoulder flashes with 'P.C.M.R.' in yellow were often added. The initial khaki lightened considerably after several washings, and assumed a light tan colour. The headdress was patterned after the hunter's popular Dry-Bak khaki duck 'shooting hat' and had a rather narrow brim. The badge could be worn in front, or holding up the left side of the brim 'Aussie style'. The Army's cotton drill summer BE) was later provided to some as secondary dress. The Rangers at first used their own sporting guns, but were later armed with a variety of older rifles such as the Ross .303, Enfield .30-06 1917, Marlin 1936 and Savage 99; the most popular were Winchester 64 and 94 models in .30-30 calibre. Sten sub-machine guns were later issued on a scale of about one to every 15 men.

Pte. R.Schwabe, Regina Rifles, 7th Inf Bde, 3rd Inf Div, at Vaucelles, 14 July 1944. Note the field dressing under the netting of his Mk II helmet. (Ken Bell, National Archives of Canada, PA131387)



Until the summer of 1939 the Canadian Army was wearing uniforms reminiscent of World War 1. As with everything else in the Canadian forces at the time, British patterns were closely followed. In 1939 the British War Office sent to Canada documentation and samples of its new Battledress, Serge. During July and August the Canadian National Defence Dress Clothing Committee considered the uniform, and recommended its approval by Canada on 24 August. The Minister of National Defence, the Hon.Norman Rogers, concurred on 2 September, and 100,000 blouses and trousers were ordered four days later, with tenders first invited on 23 September when further samples were available.

With many regiments mobilised from 1 September 1939 the country instantly found itself with an acute uniform shortage. There were no large stocks in store and suitable cloth to make new uniforms was also scarce. By October it was feared that enough Battledress suits might not be available to equip the 1st Canadian Division, which was due to leave for Britain soon. The minister set 15 November as the target date for all clothing and equipment to be 'delivered and ready for issue'; but by 6 November only 3,700 blouses and 6,700 trousers had been delivered. Among various delays, one large clothing firm, the T.Eaton Co., had failed to supply blouses which were 'up to standard'. By 21 November it was realized that only 20,000 Battledress suits could be obtained from available cloth; but they were now being produced rapidly, and suitable cloth was also becoming available in quantity.

Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa in action at Carpiquet, Normandy, 4 July 1944. This was the machine gun battalion of 3rd Inf Div, and under magnification the Vickers No.1, equipped with the WE 37 pistol set, can be seen to display above his divisional patch its dark green arc-shaped title with a squared bottom extension, and yellow lettering 'CAMERON HIGHLANDERS OF OTTAWA/MG'.

The Normandy campaign of June-August, in the notoriously difficult terrain of the bocage country and against determined resistance by some of the best German divisions in the West, saw some of the war's most savage and costly fighting for all the Allied infantry committed to this front. The first 3rd Div troops had reached the edge of Carpiquet airfield on the evening of D-Day - a month before this photo was taken. (D.Grant, National Archives of Canada, PA138359)

By 2 December it was reported that 'there should be no further difficulties' in supplying troops leaving for Britain in the future or those mobilised in Canada. The 1st Division left Canada in December wearing the new Battledress. The crisis had been overcome: on 20 December the Minister of National Defence was able to pay tribute in a radio broadcast to the remarkable speed with which the clothing industry had converted to making uniforms in large numbers, something almost unthinkable less than a year before.

British battle jerkin, 1942-44, front view. This rig, made of dark brown canvas, saw some limited use by Canadian troops of the 7th arid 8th Inf Bdes, 3rd Inf Div on D-Day and in the following weeks. It was theoretically a good idea, but in practice the troops found it too hot for comfortable wear, and its pouches could not be separated; after a short period they discarded the jerkin in favour of conventional web equipment. (Ed Storey Collection)

The millions of khaki wool BD suits made in Canada were generally deemed to be of superior quality to the British model, and became sought-after by British officers and men. In like the British blouse, which went through several changes during the war, the Canadian blouse was always made to the original pattern, with concealed buttons. (The only notable change was the replacement of the collar hooks-&-eyes with a cloth tab from 1943.) Canadian BD was of a somewhat darker bronze/green hue of khaki than the British patterns.

A departure from British practice was the manufacture of a summer cotton version of BD; this was of a light greenish-khaki hue when first issued, settling to a tan shade after some use and laundering. Troops and volunteers in the warmer Pacific coast stations were often seen in the cotton BD, but it was not worn overseas.

A Canadian pattern battle jerkin was designed shortly after the British model in 1942-43. Some 1,500 were produced, of which 1,000 were sent to Canadian Army units in the UK. It was made of brown canvas material edged with lighter brown tape. Instead of wooden toggles as on the British pattern, the Canadian jerkin had black enamelled snap fasteners and belt buckles. Few appear to have been issued, and those only for training in Britain; there is no evidence they were used in battle. (Ed Storey Collection)

Since the shirts were collarless, the enlisted men's BD blouse was worn fastened at the throat. In early 1945 British Army enlisted men increasingly received collared shirts worn with neckties, so the practice was also allowed by the Canadian Army. Some of the first Canadians to be issued this pattern shirt were the 'zombies" drafted following the overseas conscription crisis in Canada. In April 1945, the Canadians - then in Belgium and Holland - 'were now issued with black ties and collared shirts'. The well-known Canadian author Farley Mowatt, then with the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, recalled that the tie itself was known as the Zombie tie, and the resentment of the volunteers [in NW Europe] who were now ordered to wear this symbol of shame was most outspoken'. For the regiments arriving from Italy to join the Canadian Army in the Low Countries, 'the biggest change, and the one that really hurt, was the fact that the Eighth Army's famous Crusader Cross [shoulder patch] had disappeared, to be replaced by the meaningless geometric pattern of the First Canadian Army flash'.

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