Unending Seige

The Canadian Officer

To become an officer, a volunteer had to hold a militia commission and have his colonel's permission or the approval of a militia commanding officer. Infantry officers were trained less stringently than their gunner colleagues. The theoretical part of their training became sketchy when it took place in armouries in small communities; their city brethren fared better in this department.

Of the 44 senior officers in the first two contingents that left Canada in 1914 and 1915, only nine belonged to the Permanent Militia. Of the 1,100 officers who left, more than 200 had no known qualifications, and 184, including 27 lieutenant-colonels - those in command of fighting units - were not qualified for the ranks they held.

Our picture of the First World War officer is still hazy. Using information collected and analysed during and since the war, however, we can note a few common characteristics. Most of the officers were apparently professionals or bank employees, but there were also farmers, workers and students. A slim majority of officers were Canadian-born.

There were some basic criteria governing officer status. For example, one had to be at least 5'4" tall and 18 years of age. The volunteer had to be able to survive the tough living conditions imposed by war. A future lieutenant took courses that would supposedly teach him to lead his platoon with confidence. He was initiated into military law and trained as much for coping with health problems among his men as for leading a march or patrol. The lieutenant had a good knowledge of the weapons that would be used (including the machine gun) and the various types of trenches. He could gauge distances with accuracy, see that his men got fed and organize guard parties. For assimilating all this knowledge and putting it into practice on the battlefield under conditions that were almost always complex, dangerous and arduous, he received $2.60 a day.