Unending Seige

The Canadian Combatant

An Infantryman’s Training in Canada

The training programme for Canadians and members of other imperial armed forces had been modified since the South African war. Though the parade ground was essential, battalions had been split up to create half-companies and platoons subdivided into 10-man sections. Non-commissioned officers had gained importance in battle management. In Canada, where the myth that militiamen were superior to professionals continued to flourish, there was a particular reliance on the soldier's initiative and intelligence. From 1906 on, he was taught the rudiments of the profession and then trained in sections, platoons and companies.

In 1911 the permanent force held a large exercise at Petawawa. It would be the last exercise, as Sam Hughes, the apostle of the citizen soldier, was convinced that Canadians could do without them. Result: The real amateurism of the militia and the defective resources available to the professionals were the two major liabilities Canada would take into the war.

The volunteer's enthusiasm was immediately dampened by an inescapable fact that cost him valuable time: a shortage of qualified instructors in Canada. Not until 1917, when the flood of volunteers had dried up, would there be a basic 14-week training programme.

Thus far, the volunteer's daily round scarcely prepared him for action. He rose at 6 am. After a period of gymnastics, ablutions and inspection, he had breakfast. Training began at 8:30 and ended at 4:30, with a one-hour break for lunch. In this typical day, the recruit learned to parade and to charge with a bayonet, one of the favourite exercises of Sam Hughes, who liked to demonstrate it himself. The men did a lot of marching while carrying 60 to 80 pounds of equipment. They got little use out of their weapon and attended numerous theoretical courses that had little to do with combat as it was practised in 1914.