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Military History

Painting : Tanks Moving Up for the Breakthrough

Canadian War Museum 19710261-5376

Tanks Moving Up for the Breakthrough, by George Pepper. This painting depicts the night advance during the first phase of Operation Totalize.

The Leadership of S.V. Radley-Walters: Enlistment to D-Day – Part One of Two

by Craig Leslie Mantle and Lieutenant-Colonel Larry Zaporzan

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...if I got anywhere in the service, it was by knowing and understanding the men and trying to improve their contribution and my contribution to them...

 – Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters1


When interviewed for what would eventually become the highly controversial three-part television mini-series The Valour and the Horror,2 Brigadier-General (ret’d) Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters, of Normandy and armoured corps fame, stated with much conviction and passion: “It really comes back on our own shoulders, that before they put us six feet into the ground, that somebody should sit down and each one of us at least pass on to the generation that’s going to follow some of the lessons which we learnt.”3 Some 15 years later, his belief that the experienced had a compelling obligation to educate remained just as strong, “...so you have to learn the tricks of the trade really in the profession and then keep passing it on. And passing it on is important....”4 Both his generation and the one that came before it had learned their battlefield lessons the hard way, often at great expense, and often through a costly process of trial and error. Because of this, Radley-Walters has always maintained that, by passing on personal insights and experiences, those who have ‘been there’ can, in some small measure, help those who have not.5 He would certainly argue: “Why relearn what is already known?”

This article (along with Part Two, which will follow in the next edition of the Canadian Military Journal) partially fulfils his noble wish. Taken together, these two works examine those approaches to leadership that made ‘Rad,’ as he is simply and affectionately known to many, a successful leader both on and off the battlefield. The emphasis in each piece rests heavily upon his manner of thought and the means by which he forged strong interpersonal relationships with the soldiers under his command, rather than upon more technical aspects, such as the tactics that he employed in battle. The present discussion, moreover, deals with his time in the Canadian Army from his enlistment in November 1940 until D-Day, while the second part concerns his leadership in battle during the Normandy campaign of 1944. Each stage of his early military career – preparing for combat and then actually engaging in it – presented unique challenges that demanded particular solutions, and so, this division seems both logical and appropriate.6 And truly, any analysis of his success during the actual fighting cannot be fully understood without an examination of his formative experiences.7

Both of these works are, in the main, oral histories.8 Rather than attempt to understand his character and personality through archival documents or published volumes, if such is even possible, Rad was interviewed in person over the course of a year. The results of these ‘one-on-one’ discussions form the corpus of research upon which these two articles are largely based.9 Excerpts from these interviews have been included wherever possible with minimal editing in order that the man might speak for himself. As well, the topics covered are mainly of Rad’s own choosing. Rather than collecting information upon pre-chosen areas of potential interest, all interviews were approached in such a manner as to allow Rad to speak freely of his leadership, essentially allowing him to determine what was and what was not important to his overall success. Although given vague prompts to initiate the discussion, he was able to direct the conversation himself. These two articles are, therefore, highly introspective. Of importance, Rad vetted penultimate drafts of each work; he made additions and corrections where required, and he ensured that what had been written captured the fundamental essence of his leadership. He has given his assurance that he is entirely comfortable with what follows.

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters

DND photo

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters in postwar service as an armoured corps colonel.

That he has lessons to teach is beyond doubt. A young man from the Gaspé,10 Radley-Walters became Canada’s greatest tank commander of the Second World War, earning the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order for valour in quick succession.11 Starting the war as a young infantry second-lieutenant fresh from Bishop’s University, he rose steadily through the ranks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment (SFR – the 27th Armoured Regiment), and, after his unit converted to armour, commanded a squadron of tanks in Normandy as a major during some of the toughest and deadliest operations of that campaign, including, amongst others, Operations Charnwood, Atlantic, Windsor, and Totalize.12 Subsequently suffering from fatigue and exhaustion, he returned to England where he taught tactics for a period at a Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit until rejoining the SFR to finish out the war in The Netherlands and Germany. After peace had been declared, he brought his regiment home as a lieutenant-colonel. Rising eventually to the rank of brigadier-general in the postwar years, he lectured frequently at the staff college in Kingston and commanded the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s), the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade Group in Petawawa and the Combat Training Centre in Gagetown.13 On at least 20 separate occasions, he returned to old battlefields with old acquaintances (sometimes even with old enemies!) to participate in or guide various tours. For his efforts, and in recognition of his years of devoted and professional service, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of Military Merit and he subsequently served as colonel-commandant of the armoured corps.14 He retired in 1974 after more than 30 years in uniform.15

Rad may not have done everything right as a leader, yet during a distinguished career that spanned some three decades of both war and peace, he must have done many things exceedingly well. With the hope of shedding light on his particular style of leadership, and some of the reasons that account for his impressive military accomplishments, this two-part article is intended to help readers understand Rad on an intimate and personal level.

Capt S.V. Radley-Walters and Lt Nairn Stewart Boyd

Radley-Walters personal collection

Fast friends. Captain S.V. Radley-Walters (left) and Lieutenant Nairn Stewart Boyd in wartime England. Boyd was the first husband of Rad’s eventual wife, Pat. Killed in action at Buron in Normandy, 8 July 1944.

The Road to the Army

Education was extremely important within the walls of the Radley-Walters household. His father and grandfather, both of whom read theology at Bishop’s University and later became ministers of the Anglican persuasion, and his erudite and sophisticated mother instilled in young Rad a thirst for knowledge and cultivated in him an inquisitive and reasoning mind that would serve him well in later years. The intellectual mindset that he acquired during childhood encouraged him to search constantly for new and innovative solutions to pressing problems. He was not one to passively accept the status quo if better ways of accomplishing something could be found. When not playing all manner of sports, or tending to the myriad chores that life on the Gaspé occasioned, Rad applied himself to his academic pursuits with vigour and enthusiasm. He often took lessons from family members or moved closer to established schools, so important was it considered that he receive a comprehensive education. In the mid 1930s, he left the Gaspé for Lennoxville, Québec, to attend Bishop’s College. With hopes of eventually becoming either a physician or forestry engineer, he followed a Bachelor of Science curriculum, graduating in 1940.16

While attending university, he received his introduction to military life through the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC), a scheme that provided a would-be officer with some military instruction and qualified him to hold the King’s Commission as either a lieutenant or a captain. The contingent at Bishop’s was affiliated with the Sherbrooke-based 35th Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, so most of Rad’s early training centred upon how to lay and fire the old, yet reliable, ‘18-pounders’ of Great War vintage. As with his education, his experience with the artillery would aid him immensely during battle. Overall, he recalled that the COTC was helpful in some respects, but less so in others: “...not that you got very much [training], but at least you put a uniform on, you went out on parade, you were given responsibilities....”17 In this early period, for better or for worse, he gradually became accustomed to military service and all that it entailed. He relished the fact that the COTC tested his abilities and constitution: “...we youngsters would vie with one another to determine who could best drill a platoon on the parade square. It wasn’t that we were trying to demonstrate our dedication or professionalism... just that there was a challenge to it.”18 Having specific duties, no matter how insignificant, gave Rad a chance to lead in safety, to develop his powers of command, and to determine for himself how well he could confront and overcome those obstacles that had been set before him. Should war ever come to pass, so the theory went, these young, educated men would be ready to effectively assume the mantle of junior command. Like his fellow cadets, Rad did not have long to wait to see if he had learned his lessons well.

In late July 1940, two old militia units, the Sherbrooke Regiment and Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke, amalgamated to form the SFR, a move intended to give Québec’s Eastern Townships some infantry representation in the force then being mobilized and prepared for the ever-worsening situation in Europe. The SFR would eventually be converted to armour in January 1942, becoming the 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment in the process. By that time, however, Rad had already developed a strong, effective leadership style.

Perhaps owing to his political lobbying to gain this representation, perhaps owing to his previous military service, Colonel M.W. McA’Nulty, the commanding officer of the COTC at Bishop’s, took command of the newly created regiment in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.19 Officers from the two originating units eventually filled key appointments in the SFR, such as company commanders, yet McA’Nulty looked eagerly to the COTC in the hope that some of his cadets would again serve under him, this time as commissioned subalterns. Many of these young men had been waiting for just such an opportunity, and it was now very much upon them. Along with some of his good friends from Bishop’s, Rad joined the SFR and was officially taken-on-strength as a second-lieutenant in early November 1940. After spending some time in the orderly room on mundane administrative tasks, he was soon posted to the reinforcement platoon of “C” Company.

Assuming Command

Rad’s first significant leadership challenge was now at hand. With only a modicum of experience to his credit, he, like the rest of the SFR’s officers, was saddled with the exacting task of transforming a large number of uninitiated civilians into a respectable body of soldiers, capable of performing well in battle. A few of the regiment’s non-commissioned officers had served in the Great War, as had some of its officers, and although they would prove to be valuable in raising the regiment, administering to its needs, and implementing elements of its training program, Rad soon realized that these men lacked the expertise, the ability, and, in some cases, the willingness to master more modern technologies. A lack of uniforms, equipment, and teaching aids only compounded the regiment’s difficulties. From the comfortable perspective of hindsight, the men of the SFR would learn much more about warfare in actual combat than on the training fields, yet, at the time, the need to prepare for the inevitable encounters with the enemy served to unify the regiment in common purpose, and to provide impetus to its activities.

Rad sensed the weight of his responsibilities as soon as he joined the platoon. As a young officer, he keenly felt the pressure to demonstrate that he was a competent and intelligent leader. His time in the COTC had given him some opportunity to lead small groups of men off and on – his ‘men’ were essentially his peers, who were like him in many respects – but he was now continually responsible for the welfare, conduct, and ability of an entire platoon of soldiers who came from the entire spectrum of mid 20th Century Canadian society. The fact that he was a commissioned officer, rather than a student cum cadet, altered his sense of what was required of him:

...anything they [the men] did wrong was a mark against you as far as leadership was concerned. In other words, if somebody went out and got drunk and didn’t come in for a day or something... my seniors [would look] at me, they [would think], you know, ‘what the hell are you doing, [can’t] you... handle a bunch of men?’20

The need to impress subordinates, peers, and seniors simultaneously kept Rad somewhat on edge and motivated him to excel. Their collective judgments, however expressed, acted as a force that drove him forward to uncover a successful approach to leadership that would ultimately make his soldiers willing to follow him. As a consequence, he took very seriously the need to do well in every undertaking.

During their initial training, young officers like Rad received minimal instruction concerning matters of leadership. As a result, they were often compelled to learn this essential skill on their own. While he received a few insights on how best to influence others, no one told him specifically how to be a good leader; he figured those secrets out for himself. As he recalled: “...you had to pick up a lot on your own,”21 and it was all very much a case of “...teach yourself...”22 within the SFR at this time. Over the next few years, whether training at home in Canada, in Newfoundland (where the regiment was posted prior to going overseas), or in England, he approached leadership with a certain quaint logic and an abundance of common sense. He implicitly understood that leadership was about personal relationships, not rank, authority, or position, and his style consistently reflected this belief.23 In his estimation: “...it’s just human relations I think....”24 The manner in which he related to his subordinates – respecting them, valuing their opinions, acknowledging both their abilities and backgrounds – was intended to build positive associations based upon mutual trust, understanding, and confidence. He would, without hesitation, rely upon his rank to see that something was done, but he avoided frequently falling back upon his formal authority, preferring instead to use the more subtle and difficult arts of persuasion and influence, motivation, and encouragement. He believed that this generally non-authoritarian approach would be successful in making his soldiers undertake and complete an assigned task because they wanted to do so, not simply because they had to do so – a fine and yet important difference. A few basic maxims ultimately guided his conduct in the hope of forging the type of relationships that he wished to establish.

Demonstrating Interest

Significantly for Rad, one of the most important actions that he could take as a leader was to expend a good amount of time and effort in coming to know his subordinates on an intimate and personal level. “I can’t emphasize the need for really understanding people,” he once forcefully commented.25 The army, to a certain extent, facilitated this process by compelling each subaltern (and others in positions of authority) to maintain a platoon (or section or company) commander’s handbook. In this little volume was to be kept the vital statistics for each soldier: if he was single or married; the names of his wife and children; his birth date; his background; his religion; his former occupation; and so on. The main purpose of keeping such a record was to ensure that officers knew some basic information about their men, all of which would assist in resolving problems, military or otherwise, as they arose.

Rad recalled, however, that this slender book served another, perhaps more important, purpose. Always interested in people, he tried to get to know his subordinates on a level beyond that required to glean some basic personal information. The need to expand this book with facts and figures offered him an ‘in’ to his men’s personal lives, and he exploited this opportunity to the fullest extent possible. He found that his soldiers generally appreciated his sincere efforts to learn more about them as distinct individuals, rather than exclusively as members of his platoon. “I was interested in all of that.”26 In querying his men, and having genuine conversations with them, he went beyond the requirement of merely filling his handbook for the sake of completeness. As Rad once stated:

Well, I think basically, [the] one [thing] that most people would say is that you got to gain the confidence of the group right away and [you] do that by your own actions, the way you act yourself amongst the group. And don’t be a loner. Be a person who groups with the men....27

Because he took pains to achieve such an understanding, many of his soldiers frequently came to him with personal problems, confident that he would be interested, willing to listen, and able to help. This is not to say that they would never have come to him – he was, after all, responsible for their well-being – but rather, that the rapport that he had established made the decision to come forward that much easier. Wherever possible, he tried to help his soldiers as best he could. In turn, this personal attention forged the bonds of trust, loyalty, and respect that were, and remain, essential to effective leadership. The more interest that Rad took in his subordinates, the stronger the ties between them became, all of which would hopefully pay great dividends on the battlefield. Taking the time to learn about one’s subordinates served a multitude of beneficial purposes, and it laid the essential social foundations upon which other activities could build. In his estimation: “...we all have a personality, and I think some officers were willing to talk to men anywhere, others may shy off a little bit and only get closer to them when they have to.”28 Rad was certainly cast in the former mould, for in the opinion of those men who served with him in one capacity or another, he “...always had time to talk,”29 since he was genuinely “...interested in you as a person.”30

Despite his approach, which could best be described as friendly, he and his subordinates always remained on professional terms, with each understanding that limits existed as to the level of ease and comfort that could exist between them:

...[with respect to] this business [of] familiarity, I don’t think I was ever called anything but Mr. Rad, Lieutenant Rad, Captain Rad, Major Rad, Colonel Rad, Brigadier Rad, you know, General Rad, all the way through. They always used the Rad, [but] they were never completely familiar....31

Such distance served to maintain discipline within the platoon by neither allowing informality to become the accepted norm, nor by permitting appropriate respect to slacken. Being eager to help and taking a genuine interest in others was one thing, but becoming close friends was quite another. The time would come eventually, as Rad sensed all too well, when he would have to order his men into action, perhaps to their death, and he could not allow emotional attachment to cloud or overtake his judgment. In much the same manner, if he was to discipline his soldiers should they be errant, which he occasionally found necessary, he had to be free of excessive sentimentality and could not permit his feelings to obscure this essential duty. On this point, he remarked:

And that’s a ticklish position to be in. Here are your friends, and good friends, willing to give their lives for each one within the regiment of 700 men, and you cajoled them, you played baseball with them and hockey with them, you’d play everything with them, and then all of sudden the RSM [regimental sergeant-major] is saying ‘quick march’ and they’re standing at attention [in front of you] with two witnesses on either side and... you’ve got to find out how the hell we’re going to sort the thing out and if there’s detention to be given, or a fine, or whatever the thing is, you have to then review this particular case....32

Striking the right balance between the two extremes – being too distant and aloof, versus being too friendly and close – was exceedingly difficult, and it required Rad to constantly monitor the manner in which he interacted with his soldiers, so as not to leave the wrong impression. For their part, his soldiers probably understood that they could never be friends in the truest sense of the word, and yet, they did expect to be treated like men, and Rad’s approach seems to have satisfied this basic requirement.

Painting: The Camouflage Net

Canadian War Museum 19710261-1451

The Camouflage Net by Bruno Bobak. Training days in 3 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit, Surrey, England.


Since Rad had participated in COTC at Bishop’s during his days at university, he knew something about the artilleryman’s craft, even if such knowledge came from working with guns from the First World War. When it came to the infantry, however, he was woefully unprepared. He arrived at the regiment ignorant of even the most basic skills, and he was compelled, much like the soldiers in his platoon, to learn all that was required ‘from scratch.’ Compounding this problem was the fact that, as the platoon’s lieutenant, he was responsible for teaching his soldiers much of what they required, even if he was less than familiar with the material at hand. Faced with this awkward dilemma – the teacher being as unread as the students – Rad took it upon himself to master a particular subject the night before he was scheduled to lecture to his men. In this way, he taught himself much of what was required and then, in turn, did his best to pass this knowledge on to others. He recollected: “...and that’s how we learned and we became experts really on our [own], all the things that an infantryman has to do, making camouflage, compass reading, shooting, the works.”33 Displaying a keen sense of initiative and resolve, something that cost him many late nights and many early mornings, he knew that his men depended upon him for their training and so he sought an adequate, if less than ideal, solution. Incidentally, when he was eventually sent to Brockville in eastern Ontario for his basic officers’ training course, he was much further ahead than the remainder of the candidates as a consequence of his earlier employment, and he was frequently called upon to offer lectures on particular subjects:

...and when they started to test me and so on, they said, ‘Christ, you know more than the instructors around here in Brockville, we’ll use you as an instructor.’ I never did take the Brockville course, I taught in Brockville, and the reason... is that we had taught ourselves in Sherbrooke....34

Such opportunities as this allowed him to gain additional experience in a variety of settings, and to build upon his quickly developing self-confidence.

Because his knowledge with respect to certain matters was often incomplete, Rad regularly admitted his ignorance and avoided deceiving his soldiers by appearing all-knowing. Although he always tried to be as well prepared as possible, there were certain things that he simply did not know, and he rarely hid this fact:

I think it’s awful if a guy gets up to give a lecture and he doesn’t know anything about it. He doesn’t know his subject properly and there’s always somebody in the audience that knows a hell of a lot more about [it] than he does, and I think this is so true with leading. If you don’t know, don’t talk about it, in other words, just admit it and say ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about....’35

Thus, he believed that attempting to mislead his men would do more harm to his credibility and reputation as a leader than if he just admitted that he was not well versed on a particular subject. Lying could do nothing but frustrate his goal of building trust within his platoon, and the results of misleading his men or trying to fool them could be truly disastrous. Being truthful and somewhat humble, on the other hand, seemed to resonate with his soldiers. If a leader was found out:

...right away they lose, they’ve lost confidence right away. People just say, ‘Well, to hell with you, I’m not following you or what you have to say.’ And this is so true, and this happens I think in any particular profession if you get caught out. And I think that was the point that General [F.F.] Worthington at the beginning [of our training] was trying to emplace upon us when we were young officers, that they, the troops, will find you out eventually so be careful and make sure that... when you’re talking, the truth is what is required.36

Had Rad benefited from earlier and more comprehensive training, admitting his ignorance might have damaged his credibility and image since he should have known about that which he was addressing, but in the early days of the SFR, such was not the case.

When confronted with a challenging situation, or a question that he could not readily answer, he always tried to remain calm and collected. Appearing agitated and frantic, so he reasoned, would certainly not encourage others to place their trust and confidence in him, nor would it serve any real purpose. The men with whom he soldiered took their cues from such signals as his outward demeanour and his body language, judging him accordingly. Because of this, he consciously monitored his mannerisms and language so as to set a positive example and to keep his men focused upon the job at hand, which, at this time, was learning the infantryman’s craft. Rad believed that a leader who ‘lost his head’ in the heat of the moment, especially during battle when subordinates looked to him for direction, could not inspire confidence, and thus, could not lead effectively. To this end:

...the thing is, if you can do the job basically with a clear head and think reasonably well and take everything into consideration, it seems to me that you’ll probably have a good chance of achieving what you’re trying to do, but if all of a sudden you get flustered and it really gets to the point that you can’t control yourself, then I think the game gets lost and not only does it bother you, it bothers all the group, whether it’s the platoon or whether it’s the company or whether it’s the whole battalion, they’re the ones that are going to suffer....37

Officers eating in the field

Radley-Walters personal collection

Rad (far right), Nairn Boyd (second from left), and fellow officers enjoying culinary delights while training in England.


Even before joining the army, Rad understood that everyone possessed different skills. Coming from diverse civilian occupations and backgrounds with varying levels of education and experience, some men proved to be extremely knowledgeable in particular areas, but less so in others. Some understood higher mathematics, but not the basic operating principles behind the ubiquitous screwdriver... and vice-versa. Rad recalled:

I think the business of treating people is based on respect. In other words, you respect everybody. And we all have different characters and we’ve all had different experiences in ‘civvie street.’ And now you put a uniform on and that doesn’t leave you, you’re still the same person, you just put a uniform on instead of coveralls.38

Using this reality to his advantage, he encouraged everyone within the platoon to learn from each other and he consciously ensured that he also participated in this active exchange of ideas. Given the training regime being used by the regiment at this time, such an approach proved extremely beneficial. He recognized from the outset that his men were citizen soldiers, possessing a wealth of diverse experience and largely unaccustomed to following directions without question, and that a non-authoritarian leadership style that both solicited and valued their input would generally resonate with them. Humbling himself and temporarily putting aside his rank, Rad asked questions of his subordinates and learned from their honest replies. Never attempting to appear ‘all-knowing’ served to create trust by admitting weaknesses and engaging others for their betterment. One of the keys to his success lay in his willingness to admit “...what you do know and what you don’t and relying on others to help you when you need it.”39 Everyone in Rad’s platoon, including Rad himself, worked together as a team in pursuit of a much larger goal. Indeed, one soldier who served under him valued the fact that he “listened to me” and “trusted me.”40 Since all were in a similar situation, being introduced to the role of infantry for the first time, he desired everyone in his platoon to ask questions and to lend assistance.

With respect to his desire to create a culture in which all felt free to express their reasoned opinions, he recalled at length:

...and you could see the strengths and weaknesses, some guys would say, ‘...gosh, this is the first time I’ve ever done this,’ and somebody else would tell a story and, you know, the way he did it automatically and the way he explained it, everybody would be listening to him ... and he was teaching the group, really. He knew more than I knew about that particular thing at that time. And we encouraged that, I encouraged that. I believed everybody in the platoon was an instructor in their own right and had different experiences before they joined the services that could help us all. ...and I would encourage that all through my career. For gosh sakes, if you’ve got anything to say to help us, well... each one of us has only got one tongue and we’ve only had a certain amount of experience, and so on, so if you can encourage anything in discussion and add something to it which will help us all, for gosh sakes do it.41

Rad did not accept every opinion or idea that was put forward, since his role as a leader and his authority would have been compromised had this been the case. This being said, however, he did not mind if a suggested course was mistaken as a panacea for all situations at an early date, and especially during battle later on, because it represented an opportunity to learn: “...either they’re corrected or they’re helped, one or the other....”42

Encouraging everyone in the platoon to become an active participant in their own training was a constant challenge. When achieved, however, the results were tremendous. Through collective problem-solving, the group became more cohesive through sharing in a common experience; a strong team mentality soon asserted itself by overcoming a particular problem together. The level of trust within the platoon also rose during such exchanges, since the soldiers saw their leaders, namely Rad and his non-commissioned officers, exposing their deficiencies, taking an active interest in the material, and attempting to increase their proficiency and expertise. The fact that they could help their officers with a particular problem rather than the other way around increased their self-confidence. In Rad’s estimation: “I learned an awful lot from the men,”43 as they did from him.

Rad’s willingness to engage his soldiers, whether making a decision, or overcoming a training difficulty, created exceedingly strong bonds of trust and mutual respect that would last throughout the war, even when challenged by the most severe setbacks on the battlefield. He tried on all occasions to do right by his men, something that they duly appreciated. Being devoid of an over-bearing ego and never acting ‘high-hatted’ led some of his former soldiers, years later, to describe Rad as “a humanist first,” one who had the rare ability to “...command without inflicting injury.”44

Active Participation

When the formal training ended, usually during the late afternoon or early evening, sports became the order of the day. Baseball was the game of choice in the summer and hockey in the winter, with skiing and snowshoeing also being popular diversions. When the opportunity arose, platoon, company, and regimental teams often played against one another. Aside from increasing the soldiers’ level of physical fitness, always an important consideration, sports served to foster cohesion amongst the participants, regardless of rank. In keeping with his desire to know his subordinates well, Rad found that his participation gave him the opportunity to bond more closely with those whom he commanded, and to meet others throughout the regiment and beyond:

The business, I suppose, when you come down to it, [is that] I enjoy people and I enjoy challenges and I enjoy trying to make them a little better than they think they are... and I did it by talking to them, by joining them in all kinds of sports. I played on the regimental hockey teams, I played on the regimental baseball team, and I found I... got to know everybody’s name. Say you’re on the regimental volleyball team, there was 20 other guys right there, and then you get on the hockey team, there’s another 20 or so, and you get on the baseball team...45

He believed that officers should “...take part in everything...” or, at the very least, should “...get out there and do something... or pick something whereby you can be with the men....”46 Being an accomplished athlete already – he had played football for Bishop’s during his university days and all manner of games during his childhood in the Gaspé – he was primed to participate in such activities, but the possibility of making his platoon more cohesive was equally appealing.47 He understood that whether on the sports field or on a training ground, the more time that the platoon spent together as a whole facilitated the growth of cohesion. Rad’s men could learn more about his character, personality, and faults, while he could learn who was more aggressive, and who was an individualist rather than a team player. In the end, sports served a much higher purpose than mere recreation, for athletics “...brought people together....”48

The friendly rivalry fostered as a result of competition extended well beyond the playing field, although its utilitarian purpose of building unity remained much the same. Some of the other platoon commanders in the SFR had been with Rad at university, having joined the army together once they had completed their education. Being good friends, and competitive ones at that, they soon tried to ‘outshine’ each other by demonstrating how efficient their platoon was in comparison to others. Exercises in the field, training schemes, and drill, essentially any group activity, provided an opportunity to compete. In Rad’s estimation, the soldiers did not seem to mind that their leaders were vying with one another, mostly in the spirit of friendship, and they soon took to the competition themselves with much vigour and interest. Through this, like sports, they became more cohesive, for they had to work closely together in order to win. Striving in unison for a common purpose gave all concerned a sense of pride, confidence, and closeness, especially when they succeeded:

...you were very proud of who you were, you know, even as a platoon commander where you only had 32 men, you know, ‘there’s nobody that’s going beat us,’ and you built up that sort of reputation, not being bloody minded about it, but just being sort of happy with one another.49

This pride ultimately exerted a formative influence. “Now this brings the unit together... they’re all pretty proud of who they are and where they are, and each platoon is pretty proud and I think if you can get that pride within each group then you get the pride in that whole business, it all comes together then....”50 Group activities afforded many opportunities for Rad and his soldiers to build trust and cohesion, respect, and loyalty that would serve them all well when the ultimate test of combat materialized.

Major Radley-Walters and General Montgomery

Radley-Walters personal collection

Major Radley-Walters receives the Military Cross from General Bernard Law Montgomery in Ghent, Belgium, October 1944.

By all accounts, Rad’s superiors were impressed with his leadership abilities in these early years. Others certainly noticed his style and approach. In February 1943, two years after joining the army, a confidential assessment of all SFR officers on strength at the time remarked that he was “...[a] very excellent officer in every respect. Powerful physique and an all around athlete. A natural leader and one of the best trp ldrs [troop leaders] in the unit.”51 A mere four months later, Rad received a similar assessment, with his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Mel Gordon, observing: “This officer shows outstanding ability, leadership and reliability.”52 During the late summer of 1943, Gordon reinforced his earlier observations by remarking that Rad was “...carrying out [his] duties most efficiently.”53 All in all, Rad’s superiors thought him to be a highly competent and able leader, one who would likely perform well in battle. Later events would prove them entirely correct in their positive assessments.

In Normandy, Rad would come into his own as an exceptional and dependable leader and tactician. Part of his success was due to his constant reliance upon those few simple yet powerful principles of leadership that he had developed and refined during his early days as a Sherbrooke Fusilier. The situations in which he found himself would, of course, change drastically after 6 June 1944 – namely, actual battle as opposed to merely preparing for it – yet his leadership style would remain largely unchanged. Indeed, his time in Normandy gave him the opportunity to apply these proven and useful approaches in a wide variety of settings, and to even develop a few more that only served to increase his reputation and his ability as a competent leader. His formative experiences at home, at university, and in the regiment, served him well throughout the rest of his military career.


We should like to thank the following individuals for their kind assistance at all stages of this project, for, without their support and encouragement, little could have been accomplished: Jeff Stouffer, Pat Radley-Walters, Bill Coupland, Wyn van der Schee, Andrew, Harvey and Irene Theobald, Douglas Hope, Alf Hebbes, Paul Pellerin, Tim Cook, Bob Edwards and Bernd Horn.

Logo RMC

Craig Leslie Mantle is a Research Officer with the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute; he is also a PhD candidate studying under the supervision of Dr. David Bercuson at the University of Calgary.

Lieutenant-Colonel Larry Zaporzan, an armoured officer and a former Commanding Officer of the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s), is currently the Assistant Canadian Forces Military Attaché in Washington.


  1. C.L. Mantle interview with S.V. Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  2. The Valour and the Horror, a Canadian-made documentary series by Brian and Terence McKenna, aired in three separate two-hour episodes in January 1992 and examined the Canadian role in Hong Kong, Bomber Command, and the Normandy Campaign. Controversy surrounding the manner in which the Canadians were depicted continues to this day, with the reputation of the McKenna brothers remaining poor. For balance, see D.J. Bercuson and S.F. Wise, The Valour and the Horror Revisited (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994).
  3. See post-production script of Episode Three, “In Desperate Battle: The Normandy Campaign,” available online at <http://www.valourandhorror.com/DB/STORY/normandy_script.php>, last accessed 19 October 2006.
  4. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 April 2007.
  5. Such is essentially the reasoning behind the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute’s In Harm’s Way series. Taken together, these volumes, currently numbering five (sub-unit command, perspectives on operational duty, senior commanders, senior NCOs, and trust), seek “...[to] create a distinct and unique body of Canadian leadership literature and knowledge to assist leaders at all levels in the Canadian Forces in preparing themselves for operations in a complex security environment.” Additionally, the individual case studies that are used as chapters, “...represent a wealth of information that can help others to prepare for operations and leadership in general. They provide challenges and possible solutions that can be used by those who find themselves in similar circumstances. In essence, they can act as virtual experience for those who have not had the opportunity to deploy on operations either in Canada or overseas.”
  6. Leadership insights gleaned from interviews have been inserted into the text of both articles with no attempt to locate each technique within a specific time or place (save for the distinction between preparing for battle and battle itself). Rad’s growth as a leader was a gradual and continuous process, with successive experiences compounding upon one another, so to attempt to determine where precisely he first used a particular approach would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Since he related his impressions, rather than a succinct chronological narrative, this method of presentation seems most appropriate and useful.
  7. For an example of the contention that later experiences cannot be understood without recourse to initial formative experiences, see Craig Leslie Mantle, Learning the Hard Way: The Leadership Experiences of Lieutenant Agar Adamson during the South African War, 1899-1902 (Kingston, ON: CDA Press, 2007) where it is suggested that Adamson learned much from his time in South Africa and duly put this knowledge to good use during the First World War.
  8. An academic treatment of Rad’s childhood, school years, and early military career, which is also based upon extensive interviews, can be found in Lawrence James Zaporzan’s, “Rad’s War: A Biographical Study of Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters from Mobilization to the End of the Normandy Campaign, 1944,” Unpublished MA Thesis, University of New Brunswick, 2001.
  9. Ten one-and-one-half hour interviews were conducted in Kingston at Rad’s personal residence between 15 November 2006 and 29 August 2007.
  10. Rad was born on 11 January 1920.
  11. Notice of Rad’s MC appeared in the London Gazette, 21 December 1944, Item 5861; the citation has been reproduced in Zaporzan, “Rad’s War,” Appendix, p. 286. Notice of Rad’s DSO appeared in the London Gazette, 24 January 1946, Item 646. The citation has been reproduced in D.C. Masters, Bishop’s University: The First Hundred Years (Toronto: Clark, Irwin, 1950), pp.147-149. The latter citation repeatedly mentions his competent and inspirational leadership.
  12. See “after action reports” included in Library and Archives Canada [LAC], M.B.K. Gordon Fonds, MG30-E367, Vol. 2, Folder 18, specifically, “Op ‘CHARNWOOD’ – The Fall of Caen – 8/9 Jul 44,” dated 17 July 1944, and, “Op ‘ATLANTIC’ – Overture to the Breakthrough,” dated 31 July 1944. Rad and his squadron played but a diversionary role in Op WINDSOR, an action for which he was “...highly praised for his excellent and invaluable work” by Major-General Rod Kellar, General Officer Commanding, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Further comments on Rad’s role in Operation Windsor can be found in Ibid., Vol. 2, Folder 19, “Establishing the Beachhead, 6 June-7 July.” For Operation Totalize, see Ken Tout, A Fine Night for Tanks: The Road to Falaise (London: Sutton Publishing, 1998).
  13. After the war, Rad also served on the staff of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School at Camp Borden as the chief instructor. He displayed a leadership style when employed in this capacity that was very similar to that relied upon in Europe. Never being pompous, and always full of charisma, he gathered all of his students together and explained tank tactics to them, using his wartime experiences as appropriate examples. He was, as one former soldier remembered, “...a true natural leader that people would follow.” C.L. Mantle interview with Wyn van der Schee, Kingston, ON, 10 May 2007.
  14. Rad’s postwar activities are outlined in Directorate of History and Heritage [DHH], 000.9 (D70), Biographical File, S.V. Radley-Walters. The text of his CMM citation is located herein.
  15. Interest in Rad’s wartime record remains high despite the passage of some 65 years. For example, a recent documentary (“Who Killed Michael Wittmann?,” Battlefield Mysteries, Breakthrough Entertainment, 2008) attempts to determine which unit, the SFR (Rad’s squadron in particular) or the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, killed the German ace tanker.
  16. Zaporzan, pp. 57-61.
  17. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  18. Jock Morton, “Rad,” in Sentinel 8 (1974), p. 21.
  19. Matthias William McA’Nulty, an English-speaking Roman Catholic, was a veteran of the First World War. He was the former Commanding Officer of the Sherbrooke Regiment, had commanded the 10th Infantry Brigade in the rank of colonel, and had served as the commanding officer of the Bishop’s University COTC from 1936 to 1939. Rad recalled that McA’Nulty was probably the right man for mobilization, being very interested in and dedicated to his regiment. He was honest, loyal, and a good administrator. However, despite these attributes, Rad did not believe that he was a man destined for success in the field, owing to his inability to understand infantry tactics and new methods of communication. See Zaporzan, pp. 68-71.
  20. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 February 2007.
  21. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 31 January 2007.
  22. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  23. For an academic treatment of this concept, see Colonel Bernd Horn, “Wrestling with an Enigma: Executive Leadership,” in Colonel Bernd Horn (ed.), Contemporary Issues in Officership: A Canadian Perspective (Toronto: CISS, 2000), pp.123-144.
  24. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  25. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 August 2007.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 31 January 2007.
  28. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 15 November 2006.
  29. Mantle group interview with Alf Hebbes, Jimmy Jones, Ed Haddon, Alf Hall, Weldon Clark, Arnold Boyd, Phil Lawrence and John Hale at the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment’s monthly reunion, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 344, Toronto, Ontario, 27 November 2008. [Hereinafter, Group Interview.]
  30. Mantle interview with Colonel (ret’d) Harvey Edward Theobald, MC, CD, Ottawa, ON, 21 October 2008.
  31. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 February 2007.
  32. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 August 2007. Admittedly, Rad refers to his soldiers as friends within this quotation. Whatever the situation may have been between veterans in years of peace, as at reunions where friendship among all was common, indeed encouraged, he was always keen to maintain a certain amount of distance between leader and follower during the war. Rad would later skirt the uncomfortable problem of having to discipline his soldiers with whom he had become acquainted by outlining how he would approach each instance that required resolution and then never wavering from that course, except where his better judgment dictated. Being constant in the application of discipline helped avoid personal feelings from swaying him from his duties. In being up front with his soldiers, he let them know exactly what would happen should they conduct themselves poorly, thereby putting the responsibility for their conduct squarely upon their own shoulders. Any punishments that they might receive were then essentially their own fault, for they had been warned earlier as to the consequences. Mantle interviews with Radley-Walters, 21 August 2007 and 11 July 2007.
  33. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 February 2007.
  36. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 31 January 2007. Rad learned from his mentor, Major-General Frank F. Worthington, that “’...you can never fool the troops.’” The latter also cautioned: “’...just remember be very careful what you say because in the end you can never fool the people,’ and he said ‘...they’ll catch you in the end’ and this is very true I think. In other words, you can’t just put it over people, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about and be respected for it....” Ibid.
  37. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 29 August 2007.
  38. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 August 2007.
  39. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 February 2007.
  40. Group Interview.
  41. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007. Rad was also a little shy at first, but eventually gained his confidence. Remembering how intimidating the army was for him, he tried to make it less so for others: “I’d be embarrassed to ask a question at the beginning of my career until quite late into my career really.... I always thought people knew things better than I did. And consequently, this was something I had with myself to overcome. And I think that happens to many, many people. When you’re in the position [of leadership], then you [ought to] try and get your own people to start talking a little bit more and helping you and so on....” Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 August 2007.
  42. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Group Interview. By this, the interviewees meant injury to one’s self-esteem and self-worth. Rad was not one to belittle, demean, or highlight personal shortcomings.
  45. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  46. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 6 December 2006.
  47. For a discussion of the impact of sports on cohesion and officer-man relations during an earlier conflict, see G.D. Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches: Officer-Man Relations, Morale and Discipline in the British Army in the Era of the First World War (London: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 44-48.
  48. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 11 July 2007.
  49. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 21 February 2007. The idea that the level of identification that individuals will assume is dependent upon the group against which they are compared is expressed in Charles Kirke, “The Organizational Cultural Approach to Leadership: ‘Social Structures’ – A Tool for Analysis and a Way Ahead,” in Allister MacIntyre and Karen Davis (eds), From the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute’s Research Files: Volume 1: Dimensions of Military Leadership (Kingston, ON: CDA Press, 2006), pp. 283-310. See also Charles Kirke, “’We Don’t Like You, Sir!’ – Informal Revenge as a Mode of Military Resistance in the British Army,” in Craig Leslie Mantle (ed), The Unwilling and The Reluctant: Theoretical Perspectives on Disobedience in the Military (Kingston, ON: CDA Press, 2006), pp. 213-234. If, for instance, platoons of the same company compete with one another, individuals will hope that their specific platoon will triumph, even though all competitors belong to the same unit. If, on the other hand, different regiments engage in competition, unit members will hope that their regiment will prove victorious, regardless of their own membership in different platoons and companies within that regiment.
  50. Mantle interview with Radley-Walters, 6 December 2006.
  51. LAC, Gordon Fonds, Vol. 4, Folder 35, “Confidential Report on Officers,” 15 February 1943. An earlier, unsophisticated assessment simply described Rad, along with nearly all other officers, as “good.” See DHH, 164.003 (D2), Lieutenant-Colonel M.W. McA’Nulty to District Officer Commanding, Military District 4, 10 June 1941.
  52. LAC, Gordon Fonds, Vol. 4, Folder 35, “Recommendations for Promotion,” Lieutenant-Colonel M.B.K. Gordon to Headquarters, 3 Canadian Army Tank Brigade, 19 June 1943.
  53. Ibid. “Recommendations for Confirmation of Rank,” Lieutenant-Colonel M.B.K. Gordon to Headquarters, 2 Canadian Army Armoured Brigade, 20 August 1943.

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