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Welcome to the Spring 2017 edition of the Canadian Military Journal. This is a very special year for “our home and native land,” as we celebrate our 150th birthday as a confederated nation since 1867. And from a military perspective, this Spring marks the centennial of a very significant military victory for the then-young nation, namely, the capture of Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917.
This historic engagement on France’s Douai Plain ended up being one of the very few successful operations conducted during the ill-fated Arras Offensive of 1917, and it was a watershed moment for the young Canadian Corps under the command of the British General Sir Julian Byng. Fighting together for the first time in the war, all four Canadian divisions captured the ridge from the defending German forces on 9 April, and it was never again surrendered to the Germans during the rest of the war. Although a brilliantly-planned and executed operation, it came at a high cost in blood. In all, the Canadian Corps incurred more than 10,000 casualties, of which at least 3000 were fatalities. However, perhaps more than anything else, this successful engagement by Canadian infantry units, with British formations in support, imbued the young corps with a fierce sense of battle pride and accomplishment, and it gave heart to dispirited and war-weary citizens on the home front. And the motivation, confidence, and sense of self-worth this successful battle generated would serve the Canadian Corps well under the able command of the Canadian Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie in the fierce battles yet to take place, notably Passchendaele, and the last one hundred days of the war.
As a tribute to this epic engagement, the French nation gifted in perpetuity 250 acres of land surrounding the ridge to Canada. “Eleven thousand tonnes of concrete and masonry were required for the base of the Memorial; and 5500 tonnes of ‘trau’ stone, quarried on the Dalmatian coast, were brought from Yugoslavia for the pylons and the sculptured figures. Construction of the massive work began in 1925, and eleven years later, on 26 July 1936, the monument was unveiled by King Edward VIII.”1 That event is the subject of this issue’s cover image.
Following an extensive multi-year restoration, Queen Elizabeth II re-dedicated the monument on 9 April 2007, the 90th anniversary of the battle. This soaring and elegant memorial, “…[stands] as a tribute to all who served their country in that four-year struggle, and particularly those who gave their lives (some 66,000)… There were [also] many who have no known grave. Inscribed on the ramparts of the Memorial are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were posted as ‘missing, presumed dead’ in France.”2
Four major articles this time out. Taking the point, Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan is a Combat Engineer who is currently Chief of Staff Army Operations, Canadian Army. Herein, she explores the objective of victory in war as a consideration for the highest levels of leadership. In her own words, “The article will demonstrate that victory is not useful as a strategic objective, but it will not call into question the importance of the troops’ operational effectiveness, or of tactical success.” Curious? Read on…
Next, two articles dealing with defence ethics and spirituality. In the first, Padre Captain Victor Morris examines the following questions: “What is conscience and why is it held so sacred that it is listed as the first fundamental freedom of Canadian citizens? What is the role and function of conscience for the Canadian warrior in relation to professional military ethics? What is the role of conscience for those in the CAF who carry out state-sanctioned violence? [And finally] What happens when one’s conscience is at odds with one’s orders or mission?” Padre Morris is followed by Padres Derrick Marshall and Yvon Pichette, who discuss the concept of spiritual resiliency in the Canadian Armed Forces with respect to the mental health of the entire Defence Team, and why they posit that spiritual resiliency issues can be a challenge to anyone.
In our historical section, and very much in keeping with the issue’s commemorative theme, Professor Dan Byers of Laurentian University recounts the epic engagement and capture of Hill 145 by Nova Scotia’s 85th Battalion, the site at which the Vimy Memorial actually stands. These brave maritimers succeeded where others had earlier failed, but their accomplishments were initially overlooked by the Canadian Army’s Historical Section. Byers addresses this miscarriage in depth. He further offers: “…it serves as a reminder of the ways in which much of our history comes to be preserved and written, and how it can be shaped by the influences of particular individuals despite our best efforts as historians to reconstruct events as truthfully and objectively as possible.”
Three very different opinion pieces in this issue… Leading off, Randy Duncan, Steve Critchley, and Jim Marland revisit the University of Saskatchewan’s innovative Can Praxis equine-assisted therapy initiative to help combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and to “…improve the personal relationships of veterans, active service members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), along with their respective spouses and partners who have been impacted [by PTSD].” Never underestimate the healing power of an equine companion… Next, infantry officers Alain Cohen and Julien Chaput-Lemay posit that “…no modern army can afford to downplay the need for organic anti-armour capabilities within its infantry forces.” They maintain that on today’s battlefield, it is fallacy for infantry forces to depend upon support by friendly main battle tanks or from anti-armour close air support. “We believe that beyond the current re-introduction of the Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided anti-tank missile (TOW) in our mechanized battalions, our infantry’s broader anti-armour capabilities need to be seriously reassessed and improved to maintain our relevance, survivability, and effectiveness in the Future Security Environment (FSE), where tanks, next-generation IFVs, and small unit bunkers should well be expected to upset our aforementioned assumptions.” Then, Sir Isaac Brock scholar Guy St. Denis closes this section with a ‘trip down memory lane’ in the form of a fresh analysis of the death of this “Hero of Upper Canada” at the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812.
Next, our dedicated defence commentator, Martin Shadwick, serves up a thoughtful recap of recent modernization acquisitions and initiatives as they apply to the Royal Canadian Air Force, including some thoughts pertaining to fighter futures.
Finally, we close with a book review essay by Dr. Bill Bentley of some very recent literary efforts dealing with the life and contributions of the great Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz. Bill is followed by a trio of book reviews on very disparate subjects, which we hope will pique our readership’s interest.
Until the next time.
David L. Bashow
Canadian Military Journal
- Quoted passage drawn from the souvenir booklet produced for the Vimy Memorial by the Department of Public Affairs, Veterans Affairs Canada, (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1987), p. 11.
Military Images/Alamy Stock Photo EHKDM7