Get Tough Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918, Kenneth Radley

Get Tough Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918, Kenneth Radley

This book covers a rather wider topic than the title might suggest, and is an examination of what makes an army effective, and in particular the role of morale and discipline, how they are generated and maintained and the problems when one or the other fails, as well as the nature of the relationship between officers and other ranks.

In places this is can be a rather infuriating book. There are worrying signs in the introduction. The author clearly has something of a chip on his shoulder about several books on the First World War. He warns us of the importance of differentiating between a brigadier and a Brigadier. His list of reasons why men might query orders includes an unwillingness to tolerate discipline and orders, bloody mindedness, self-preservation, drunkenness or crime, but fails to include more creditable reasons, such as querying an illegal order or a blatantly stupid one (despite later praising an officer for doing just that). He is also of the opinion that only former soldiers can write military history (and later on implies that only former soldiers can really read it). It is of course true that only people who have combat experience can really understand what it is like to be on the battlefield, and many former soldiers have become truly excellent historians. However there is also an ever present danger of former soldiers assuming that their experiences are universally applicable, and lessons learned in their military careers can also be applied to earlier periods (the further back you go, the bigger the danger). Here there is a tendency to overstate the special nature of the military and a rather patronising attitude to business. Mistakes in civilian life are dismissed as causing minor inconvenience or loss of profits, but they can also cause bankruptcy, unemployment, homelessness and poverty, while mistakes in heavy industry often led to death or serious injury (the memories of former miners, steel workers or other heavy industrial workers often have a lot in common with the memories of lower ranked soldiers).

The big question is thus does this tone continue on into the main text itself? Thankfully that generally isn't the case, and in the main text Radley concentrates far more on producing a well argued examination of his topic. The main text is well organised, splitting this large topic into logical segments, and the individual arguments are clearly explained and supported by an impressive amount of detail. There is a clear understanding that the first priority of a wartime army is to fight the battle, and not the welfare of the soldiers (something that not all modern commanders appear to understand).

The author is willing to criticise individual officers at all levels, but rather less willing to criticise the system they operated under. One example is the account of the decorations system, where after listing a whole series of flaws, some of which could fairly easily have been fixed, he describes it as the best that could be contrived. On the other hand he is willing to examine the relative merits of the Canadian divisions, and is quite clear that they weren't all elite units.

Despite the occasion irritation, this is a valuable piece of work, giving us a detailed and well argued account of the nature of military discipline, morale and the problems related to it, and the relationship between officers and other ranks, focusing on the Canadian Corps of the First World War, but highly relevant to the entire British army of that conflict, and discussing concepts with a much wider scope.

1 - With the Colours
2 - Make Me A Soldier
3 - Discipline: Powers and Responsibilities
4 - Trenches: Alarms and Excursions
5 - Crime and Punishment: System
6 - Crime and Punishment: Practice
7 - Morale - Concepts
8 - Morale - Basics
9 - Morale - Welfare
10 - Morale - Esprit
11 - Officers and Other Ranks - Differences
12 - Officers and Other Ranks - Relations
13 - Finis

I - Field General Court-Martials July 1915-July 1916, January-July 1918
II - Canadian Corps order of Battle

Author: Kenneth Radley
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 424
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014

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