- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Apr 1939, p. 377-392
- Alexander, Brigadier R.O., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A picture of Canada's defence forces. Canada's defence forces today consisting of naval, military and air forces functioning separately under their own laws, but controlled and administered under the Minister of National Defence, assisted by a Council, representative of all the services. Some details of administrative structure in the three forces. A brief history of British and Canadian military service and services. Today, command vested in the King through the Governor-General. A brief description of each area of service and administration is offered. Details of education and training. A typical officer today. Funding arms and equipment. How the expenditure is controlled. Canada's Defence Forces as a form of national insurance against an emergency, like training a fire brigade for a fire that we hope will not take place. Criticism against the Militia and the speaker's response to it. Military comradeship as a unifying influence across the Dominion. The policy today of trying to gain success by the aid of mechanical means, by the aid of weapons, rather than through flesh and blood. The costs of such a policy. The situation as regards weapons, and weaponry training. The lack of public support. Duty and Service as the cornerstones of the British Empire.
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- 20 Apr 1939
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- Full Text
- CANADA'S DEFENCE FORCES
AN ADDRESS BY BRIGADIER R. O. ALEXANDER, D.S.O.
Chairman-The President, Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, April 20, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Forty-eight hours ago I had a report from the Medical Officer who is in charge of our guest speaker today, that he was confined to his bed with an attack of laryngitis and the odds which he then offered me were not at all encouraging. Yesterday, the situation improved, and this morning I was delighted to hear the voice of our speaker himself, when I telephoned his office. Like the British Army, and like the officers and soldiers of that Army, he cannot be kept down for long.
The Empire Club is very happy today to have this opportunity of welcoming our guest speaker, Brigadier R. O. Alexander, D.S.O., who in December last was appointed District Officer Commanding of this District.
The Brigadier was born in Ceylon, and has made his career in the army, just as many generations of his family have before him. He came to Canada in 1906 and obtained a Commission with the Victoria Rifles of Montreal in 1908. In 1910 he transferred to the Permanent Force. At the outset of war his regiment-and he, of course-went to Bermuda, to relieve a British regiment which was recalled to the Old Land. He was recalled from Bermuda and appointed Adjutant of the 24th Regiment, which was recruited in Montreal, and he went overseas in 1915. The Brigadier served with distinction during the war, being awarded the D.S.O. He was mentioned in dispatches three times and rose to command his regiment.
Following the Treaty of Versailles and the return of the Canadian troops, he was appointed a Staff Officer at Montreal. Later he was at Military College as Professor of Tactics. Then he returned to the Permanent Force--perhaps I should say the more active Permanent Force--as General Staff Officer at Winnipeg, and D.O.C. at Saint John, N.B., Montreal and now Toronto.
Clearly, the Brigadier is well qualified to talk to us today upon the topic which he has chosen, namely, "Canada's Defence Forces." I indeed have great pleasure in presenting to you Brigadier R. O. Alexander, D.S.O. (Applause)
BRIGADIER R. O. ALEXANDER, D.S.O.: Mr. President and Gentlemen: It is a great honour for me to be asked to address you here today, but I do so with a good deal of trepidation, as I feel I must remind you, as a serving soldier, I am a servant of the State, and any opinions regarding policy or conditions or what we are prepared to do, anything of that sort is the responsibility of the Government, and not the responsibility of its servant. The servant merely does what he is told. If my limitations in what I can say are disappointing to you, I am very sorry, but I feel that you will realize that those limitations are necessary.
Today I will try to give you some sort of picture of what your defence forces consist of, what they are trying to do, and some of their problems. There are many of you here today who are at present serving in those forces. The things I am going to say today you are thoroughly familiar with, and I am sorry for repeating them to you. I hope you will bear with me. There are many of you here today who have served at some time or other in the forces of His Majesty, either in times of peace or war.
I should like to remind you of a story. There was a time in England when it was often said, "Oh, he's the idiot of the family. Let us put him in the Navy or the Army." On one occasion a certain British Admiral was visiting one of the ships of his Squadron. The officers in the ship were introduced to him and the last to be introduced was a woebegone looking little shrimp of a midshipman. To the Admiral's question asking him when he had joined this ship, the young snottie replied that he had just joined. The Admiral looked rather witheringly at him and said, "The idiot of the family, I suppose?" To which came the rejoinder, "Oh, I hope not, Sir. You know, Sir, things have changed a good deal since you joined the Service."
Well Gentlemen, things have changed a good deal since I joined the Service, and perhaps since some of you did.
Our Defence Forces today consist of Naval, Military and Air Forces. They function separately under their own laws, but are controlled and administered under one head, the Minister of National Defence, assisted by a Council, representative of all the services.
The Chief of the Naval Service is known as the Chief of the Naval Staff and under him he has Directors of various things, such as intelligence, plans, operations, training, reserves, engineering and stores.
The Royal Canadian Navy consists of destroyers and coast defence vessels. On either coast are dockyards. To assist in the training of our own officers and ratings in our own Canadian Navy courses are taken with the Royal Navy, to a very large extent. It means, of course, that our own naval ratings and our own officers get the benefit of wide experience and excellent training--I suppose the finest training in the world, from a naval officer's standpoint.
There is a small Naval Reserve which exists as a reserve for the Royal Canadian Navy, and scattered throughout the country we have what is known as the R.C.N. Volunteer Reserve, which is the equivalent of the Non-Permanent Militia. Companies exist at different places throughout the Dominion, and they train at their local Headquarters and do practical training at sea each year with ships of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The Senior Air Force officer at Ottawa is known as the Chief of the Air Staff. Under him he has his own staff and his own Directors.
The Dominion today is in the process of being divided up into Air Commands. There is the Western Command and the Eastern Command, which include the protection of the west and the east coasts. And, with headquarters here in Toronto, we have the training command.
That is all that is actually in being at the moment in the Air Commands. The remainder of the Air Force, where the Commands do not exist, come under the Military District, but they deal direct with the Air Force H.Q. in Ottawa on technical matters and others which come directly under them.
In addition to unit Headquarters, the main training centres exist at Camp Borden and Trenton. Training includes armament, navigation, flying, technical, army co-operation, equipment, wireless, bombing, and so on. In addition, survey photography and mapping are also carried out with the assistance of the Air Force.
Examinations, courses, exchange with the Royal Air Force are all carried out similarly to the Military Forces. I will go into that in a minute.
There is an Air Force Staff College now in England to which our own Air Force Officers go provided they pass the necessary examinations; naturally within a certain allotment.
Throughout the Dominion we have what are known as Auxiliary Squadrons, which are the equivalent of the Non-Permanent Militia.
The Military Forces of the Dominion, as you all know, are Active Militia. The Permanent Force is the permanently embodied portion of the Militia, and the remainder, known as the NonPermanent Active Militia, are only called out for annual training and in case of emergency.
The word "militia" comes from the Latin word which means "military service," and also the word "miles" which means "soldier." The term has come to be applied to a constitutional force raised for the defence of the country. In England it is the descendant of the old Saxon "fyrd," under which each area had to produce its quota of men, to be responsible for arming them and carrying out training annually.
Through various stages the Defence Forces went down through history, down to the Trained Bands, and finally to Charles II's reign, when the Militia was formed, as we know it, and was organized, That Militia remained, with various modifications, down to 1908, when it lapsed or began to lapse in Britain, due to the organization of the Territorial Force, now the Territorial Army.
In Canada the first order imposing military service was issued in 1627, in Port Royal, Acadia. In it all male inhabitants were ordered to assist the regular garrison in cases of emergency. It smacks very much of that ominous word, "Conscription."
In 1649, in order to put down an attack by the Iroquois, the first call was made on the inhabitants for Militia Service. The Militia was divided up into Squads. A distinctive uniform was adopted, consisting of a long blue coat, with caps and sashes-Quebec, red; Three Rivers, white; and Montreal, blue. You may see a descendant of that particular form of garment around the Province of Quebec today.
In 1674, Frontenac organized the French-Canadian Militia into parish companies, under the Seigneurs, and this organization was still in existence when the country became British. Our first British Government was a military one. The Judges were military officers. The Courts of Law were composed of regular and Militia Officers. When the Division of Upper and Lower Canada took place, Upper Canada stuck to the organization of the Militia, as it existed in England. Lower Canada stuck to the seignorial basis, and the Maritime Provinces organized auxiliary forces on a volunteer basis.
The Militia Act of 1863 created a Militia and Defence Department and was presided over by a Cabinet Minister.
So you see, for over 300 years, the Militia of this country has been intimately connected with the history and development of the country. Canada was actually born fighting, and a great portion of our race are the descendants of soldiers. Some regular regiments were actually disbanded here, and many individuals, both officers and men, remained here when their regiments left these shores.
In 1749, 4,000 British veterans settled in Chebucto Bay and established Halifax. Go down the St. Lawrence today and you will find a number of French-speaking Canadians, with Scottish names, the descendants of the 78th Foot, better known as Fraser's Highlanders.
Today the command is vested in the King through the Governor-General, as his representative, and the Staff of the Army is divided into four branches: The General Staff-responsible for training, education, operations, intelligence, signals, surveys, maps, censorship, and so on.
The Adjutant General's Branch--responsible for organization, mobilization, discipline and all matters concerning personnel.
The Quartermaster General--responsible for movement and maintenance, which includes lands, buildings and engineer services.
The Master General of Ordnance--responsible for research, design and provision of vehicles, weapons, equipment, ammunition and mechanization.
The heads of these different branches are either members or associate members of the Defence Council in Ottawa and the Senior Officer of the Forces is the Chief of General Staff.
There is also an Interdepartmental Committee which co-ordinates the work of all the different Government departments with regard to Defence matters.
There is a Geographical Section of the General Staff which is really the Survey organization, which is equipped to survey and reproduce topographical maps by topography. It commenced operations in 1904, when there were no modern topographical maps of Canada. Since that time it has mapped 50,000 square miles. The work of mapping in Canada is co-ordinated by an interdepartmental committee, because, as you know, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Mines, and so on, do a certain amount of mapping as well. The Air Force is of considerable assistance in all that mapping.
There is a photographic section of the R.C.A.F. and they and our own section, the Geographical Section of the General Staff, maintain a close liaison and they carry out work together. In fact, they are housed together at Rockcliffe.
The Dominion is divided into eleven Military Districts. Each is under a D.O.C., who has to assist him a staff covering the different branches of the Staff. The same branches as exist in Ottawa, but on a smaller scale. There is the Assistant, the Deputy, and so on, and that accounts for the grand conglomeration of the alphabet that you see stuck up alongside of their names, which are always extraordinarily difficult, I think, for a civilian to make out.
The Permanent Force is approximately 4,000. Its task is to run schools of instruction and assist in the training of the N.P.A.M., although the N.P.A.M. stand very firmly on their own feet, when it comes to training, with very little help from us, to form the Staff at National Defence Headquarters, Districts, R.M.C., and they are responsible for all military lands, buildings and materials. The acquisition of all buildings is actually in the hands of the Public Works Department.
The Permanent Force conducts courses for the different branches of the Service, all the different qualifying courses. I will just give a brief summary to show we are really trying to do a great deal. The different qualifying courses for different ranks and such courses as: Armoured Fighting Vehicles (tanks) at Borden; Intercommunication Services, the main centre being at Barriefield; Anti-Gas Training; Small Arms. (It might interest you to know that the infantry soldier of today has to learn and be trained to handle seven different weapons.) Army Co-operation with the Air Force and so on. The courses last for anything from two to ten weeks. Then there is in addition the Militia Staff Course and the Advanced Militia Staff Course.
The Militia Staff Course is the most advanced of the courses held, and it entails a lot of hard work in the evenings during the winter. At the end of the winter candidates have examinations and then they have two weeks practical course in the summer. The object is to train officers as Staff Officers, second grade appointments and junior staff appointments, and it has formed the nucleus of a very fine body of officers which if ever an emergency occurs will be of enormous value to us.
The Royal Canadian Signals, in addition to their ordinary duties, have established and maintain Signal Stations throughout the North West Territories and the Yukon Territory, linking up the northern outposts of the Dominion in a very effective manner.
The examinations of all the Permanent Force Officers are actually of an Empire nature. The written examinations are set by the War Office, and are corrected by the War Office. It puts us all on the same standard.
In addition to our own schools, our own officers go to advanced schools in England and three vacancies are granted annually for those who are successful in passing the necessary entrance examinations to the Staff College, either at Camberley, in England, or Quetta in India. The advantages of being able to attend these schools and courses are enormous. There has been a certain amount of criticism at times in connection with these schools and the officers going there. The advantage lies with us. The overhead entailed in us trying to run schools of that nature would be large and prohibitive, and it is of enormous value to our officers to go there and mix with officers of wide experience.
When I was at the Staff College there were fellows there from every quarter of the globe. They have up-to-date facilities and up-to-date equipment. In addition there is an exchange system by which a certain number of officers exchange, a few to England, and occasionally one to India with British Army Officers, who come and serve with us. It is of immense value to our officers, and I think of immense value to the British officers, who serve here with us.
In 1914, when war broke out, we had very few qualified Canadian Staff Officers. If my recollection is right we had only four, that is those who had passed the Staff College, and only those of us who served with them in the Canadian Corps can possibly realize what we owe to the British Staff Officers who were lent to us and who were our guides, philosophers and friends during that time when we were going through our growing pains.
Today we have a fine nucleus of officers who have qualified at the Staff College, in our own Forces.
The type of officer today is a very different one from what it was, say, twenty-five years ago. He is now a keen, temperate, hard-working youngster. He puts in a full day's work, a great many evenings are spent--I was going to say are spoiled, which is perfectly true--in instructional work--and most of his holidays--and he really does put in a full day's work, and is what one might call somebody who really earns his pay.
Naturally, in a Force of this nature it is necessary to have a good type in the ranks. We insist on the equivalent of 10th Grade High School for enlistment. He must be medically fit, and come with a good character. Some of the technical corps insist on as high a standard as senior matriculation for enlistment. Actually, in the ranks educational classes are going on and all the men before promotion have to pass and obtain various certificates, the highest being equivalent to about senior matriculation. The standard is going up all the time in the ranks.
In the Non-Permanent Militia, according to the Departmental Report for last year, approximately 5,000 officers and 36,000 other ranks were trained.
Each year Parliament authorizes a certain number of days training to be carried out-usually ten or twelve -for which pay is granted. Apart from small allowances for postage and things of that sort this pay is all which the unit actually gets in the way of money. The number authorized to train depends upon the funds voted by Parliament, and which is made available. Many more are trained than the numbers for which pay has been authorized. The result is that in most units, certainly all centralized units, the money is pooled, by both officers and men, into regimental funds and nothing is drawn by the individual at all. It means a voluntary self-sacrifice on the part of the individual. This money is spent on regimental activities, on regimental requirements, on refreshments after parade, paying car fare for the men to and from parade, and in some cases for buying boots for the men. The individual draws nothing, except in camp, where, of course, it is a different proposition.
The officers receive neither uniforms nor a grant in lieu. In fact he provides all he requires out of his own pocket.
In the Non-Permanent Militia the man receives an issue of clothing, consisting of a great coat and jacket, breeches or trousers, puttees, cap and equipment and arms. He receives neither boots nor gloves. He only receives khaki service dress and any other type of uniform has to be bought and paid for by the unit. So when you see these units in all other forms of uniform and dress, it has been paid for by themselves and is not paid for with the taxpayers' money.
The whole question of arms and equipment today is a very difficult one, owing to its colossal cost. After all, we have only to look at the estimates in Great Britain today to realize what the cost of rearming actually is. It is not the maintenance that costs, it is the capital expenditure on rearmament.
After 1918 all British countries hoped for peace and now we are faced with a world situation which, to say the least, is an extremely difficult one. There is a great deal of leeway to catch up, if we are going to put our Forces in the position of efficiency, so far as equipment goes. It involves heavy capital expenditure. In Canada, actually there is less .per capita spent on defence than in any other country in the British Empire.
It might interest you for a moment just to know how the expenditure is controlled. All government departments are controlled by the Comptroller of the Treasury. There is an official of this branch in each government department. Each autumn the District puts up to Ottawa its estimates as to what it considers it will cost to run the various services and so on, for the fiscal year beginning the first of April the following year. These are reviewed by the Staff at Ottawa and passed to the Deputy Minister and Minister. After revision they are passed to the Minister of Finance, where they are digested, with all the estimates that come from other departments, and from him they go to the Treasury Board, which is a Committee of the Cabinet. The Treasury Board revises and prunes the estimates--chiefly prunes-and they go to the Cabinet itself. The Cabinet in due course passes them on to the Governor-General for approval. Then they are brought down and submitted to the House of Commons. All expenditures are subject to the scrutiny of the Auditor General, who is an officer of Parliament, accountable to Parliament alone, and not to the Government in power. He can only be removed by the Governor-General on address of the Senate and the House of Commons.
Now, Gentlemen, it might seem unnecessary for me to say to an audience of this kind, it is unnecessary to say to an audience of this kind that our Defence Forces exist with any idea of glorifying war, but you would be surprised at the things that are said outside. I have received a printed pamphlet about myself, accusing me of being a warmongering militarist. Whatever that means! I suppose I am included in the ominous term flung about the other day of "murderers called gentlemen." I suppose a rose by any other name--
Well, there it is. It is an extraordinary thing. We who have seen war, who have seen the tragedy of war, are its bitterest opponents, and I say that most sincerely, but what is the use of putting our heads in the sand and not facing realities? Our Defence Forces are a form of national insurance against an emergency that, pray God, may never take place. It is like training a fire brigade for a fire that we hope will not take place. We try to teach respect for law, order, constituted authority. We attempt to improve the physical fitness of the men who join the Militia.
I have heard the criticism that men in the Militia are a lot of weedy-looking specimens. It is quite true, they are, but that is not the fault of the Militia. The tragedy rests in the fact that there should be young men of 18, 19, 20 and 21 who are weedy poor physical specimens in this country. The Militia can't do anything very much about it. It can improve them a little when it gets them there. After all, a few nights a week in camp is not going to produce a fine physical specimen. It can help out the physical specimen that has joined us.
So the criticism is there, and quite rightly so, but it is not the fault of the Militia that the criticism should be there. We are trying to inspire comradeship and I think in that we are very successful. There is definitely comradeship right throughout. Undoubtedly, that is a wonderfully unifying influence right across the Dominion.
I have served now pretty well from Halifax to Calgary, and I find the Militia has a wonderfully unifying influence. It makes men realize the bigger things of Canadian citizenship, the ideals of Canadian citizenship, rather than the small parish pump outlook which, unfortunately, one finds at times.
If ever these Forces of our take the field in an emergency, we are trying to teach them how to save their lives and not how to lose them. That is the object of training. We are not trying to make warmongering militarists out of them.
The whole policy today is to try to gain success by the aid of mechanical means, by the aid of weapons, rather than through flesh and blood. Now, we can only do that when we have the equipment and the tools with which to do it. As I said before, that costs money. You know perfectly well that today with the economic situation which exists it is a problem to find anything. But if these Defence Forces of ours are going to be given the tools with which to do those things, they need the money to do so.
For instance, take these mechanical means. We have replaced the cavalry to a large extent with armoured fighting vehicles, light tanks. All unit transports are mechanized vehicles--trucks and so on, thereby increasing the speed with which we can move units. In the old days the unfortunate soldier carried everything he could possibly manage on his back. Now everything possible is carried for him and he is in a better position to do the fighting when the time comes. Most of you who served in the last war remember the sort of tedious column, which almost looked like an elephantine train, gradually creeping up toward the trenches with everything in France on its back. Those days are now gone. Everything is carried as much as possible by mechanical means, thereby increasing both efficiency of the individual and speeding up the whole situation.
With regard to weapons, today we are trying to teach all the different weapons-Vickers machine gun, Bren gun, and so on. We are trying to improve the mechanized weapon and vehicle situation as much as we possibly can, but we require the provision of them, more artillery, more guns. When I say more artillery I mean more weapons, more vehicles, more small arms. All these things require money.
These Defence Forces of ours are your employees. They give up their evenings, they give up their holidays, they give up the small pay they get, and they are faced with many difficulties. The chief difficulty they are faced with is lack of money. You might say that of most of us. Certainly, it is the case with the Defence Forces.
They also are faced with a curious difficulty, really, when you think of it. That is the lack of public support. They are faced with public criticism and they are faced, perhaps, by merely public apathy. It is a curious thing that a man should give up his time to train himself in order to defend his country in the case of an emergency, and that he should be held up to ridicule by his fellow men whom he is training himself to try and protect. No wonder the Continent always looks upon the Britisher as mad. It is a peculiar situation. The man in the Militia who is training himself like that is not a different class to anybody else. He is merely a patriotic citizen, trying to do his bit in his own way, feeling it is necessary to be prepared for a day when it might be necessary to be more than prepared. That is all it actually is.
Now, I realize fully that each one of you here who are employers have your own problems. I realize fully you have your economic problems and you have your difficulties, but, Gentlemen, I would ask you, as employers, if I might plead with you for one or two moments. It is hardly fair, perhaps, for me to be your guest today and then make a plea to you. But I would say, encourage your employees to join the Militia, the Defence Forces of this country, in other words. Permit your employees to go to camp and attend courses, if possible, in addition to their annual holidays, if they get any annual holidays, and at no financial loss to themselves. It is done in England, it is done in the United States of America, and I am glad to say it is done by a great many companies in this country, but the majority here with us today, both officers and menu, give up their holidays in order to go to camp and train. It is pretty hard on the man but it is much harder on his wife and children when it comes down to a married man.
At the same time, it is done, and I think it is a most magnificent tribute to the men we have got in this country and their women, also. If a man goes to camp, don't let him feel that his job is jeopardized by his going. You would be surprised, but I know of two cases where a man has been given permission to go by his employer and when he came back his job was filled. It simply meant, of course, that the employer had no use for him anyway, and took that as an opportunity to get rid of him. It was pure lack of guts on the part of the employer, of course. That is all that it was. He should have fired him first.
It is all very well for an employer to be sympathetic and for the men to know that. Unfortunately, there is sometimes somebody below us that perhaps counts more in the eyes of the men even than those at the top, and that is perhaps the foremen in the various firms. You know as well as I do that you may be very sympathetic toward all this sort of thing, but if your foreman or your subordinate is not, that man stands a fat chance of going anywhere or doing anything. If you could just get that type, the foreman and so on, to feel the same way, then I feel a great advance would be made toward co-operation between the men and yourself and the Defence Forces of the country.
There are many employers, many of you gentlemen who are doing all in your power to help. I know you don't want me to thank you, because you regard it as part and parcel of your job, but I do say that I thank you most sincerely, on the part of the Militia, and I do say this, if you don't want to be thanked, it is very much appreciated. We realize perhaps you feel the way you do, and we appreciate very much that you feel that way.
The cornerstones of the British Empire have been and are "Duty" and "Service." As we get older and look back on our lives, we have many memories and I think perhaps the esteem of our friends and the memories of personal service give us most satisfaction. The various things we have done and heard, and so on, which have given us a great deal of pleasure and upon which we look back with pleasure, but the feeling that we have served in some way our country and our fellow men in some form or other, not necessarily in war, but if we have served in some form, I think it is going to be a more satisfying memory than anything else. Not only that; it is going to make us realize that we are perhaps just a little bit more worthy of this magnificent heritage which our forefathers have handed down to us. (Applause)
THE PRESIDENT: Sir, it is many years, I think, since the members of this Club have listened to such an interesting address upon the defences of our country. I could not help but notice that throughout your address you stressed the word "Defence." Not once did you suggest that the army of Canada, small though it is, is to take any part in any act of aggression. I do hope, Sir, that many employers have been listening to your remarks, because I know I voice the sentiments of all in this room when I say that they join heartily in your appeal that the employers may permit the employees to take that active part in the training for the defence of our country which is their bounden duty.
On behalf of the Club, Sir, I extend to you our warmest thanks. (Applause)