A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)
The Defence of Canada by Canadians
Command of the Militia
This military machine required leaders. From 1867 to 1874 its commanding officer, provided by the British army, held the rank of Adjutant General. In 1874 the new position of General Officer Commanding was created, to be used until 1904; the incumbent was also a British professional holding the rank of colonel and above, although in Canada he could become a major-general or even a lieutenant-general. The position of adjutant-general remained on the organizational chart, and from that time on it was held by a Canadian.
One might have hoped that the British officer assuming control of Canadian defence would display some degree of objectivity with respect to the two major political parties that took turns governing the country. In theory, his professionalism should have led him to work in favour of a better militia rather than to pursue narrow partisan interests. Unfortunately the objectivity displayed by the General Officer Commanding in his dealings with Canadian politicians quite often resembled subservience to the grand imperial objectives of British politicos. As can be imagined, this attitude occasionally clashed with the nationalism of the Canadian ministers, timorous though it might have been at the turn of the century. In his annual report, the General Officer Commanding would frequently allude to concerns that had little to do with Canada. For example, General Edward Selby Smyth wrote in 1877 that "we must not for one instant let communism make with impunity some great experiment in the least corner of the British Empire." 3  The good general spoke about Canadian independence, which naturally had to be protected, and about another enemy, much more distant than Canada's immediate neighbour, an enemy he made only subtle reference to but which was already becoming a problem: Russia, a country with whom Britain had frequently come into conflict.
Were these men sent to Canada by Britain - these men who, often with justification, confronted Canadian ministers over certain appointments redolent of patronage - the best of their profession? As we shall see, not necessarily. What is more, they found the Canadian system of defence generally incomprehensible. How they would have loved to take it in hand and mould it into an instrument dedicated to the achievement of British objectives!
Faced with the more or less universal apathy of Canadians, fluctuating budgets tied to the vagaries of the economy and a degree of animosity displayed by incumbent ministers, the General Officers Commanding tried to get things moving. Between 1890 and 1895, for example, Major-General I.J.C. Herbert reorganized the militia by increasing the staff at his headquarters, which comprised only three officers and an aide-de-camp, and reducing the number of officers in the districts. As for the permanent force, he reorganized into regiments the infantry and cavalry schools that had emerged over the years, sent a number of their officers to train in England, raised the criteria for recruiting and selecting men, and endeavoured to modernize their equipment.
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