Canada's Three Years of War

By Frank Yeigh

[The New York Times/Current History, August 1917]

When Father Time ticks off the 4th of August, 1917, Canada will have ended three years of experience as a war country. Looking back on this stirring period and on her record as a participating ally, the Dominion can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that her response to the call of the motherland and civilization was as prompt as it was definite. The story of the enlistment of the first troops, their initial training in a hastily improvised camp, and their passage overseas, guarded by a part of the British fleet, will long be a creditable chapter in the history of Canada. The first Canadian contingent, comprising nearly 33,000 men, 7,500 horses, and 70 pieces of artillery, was the largest military force that up to that time had ever crossed any ocean to go to any war.

When war was declared, and Canada without delay promised England her aid, the plan of voluntary enlistment was adopted as the one best suited to a country so democratic and in which strong emphasis is placed on individual liberty. The cry of the recruiter was at once heard throughout the land; appeals were made from platform and press, organizations of all kinds became recruiting agencies, and the Church added its voice in solicitation. This method resulted in the raising of the first 400,000, but it now seems unable to go further. The chief criticism of the plan is that it is unfair and unequal in its operation. This is illustrated by the fact that only one man out of fifty joined the forces from Quebec, as against one out of sixteen in Ontario and one out of twelve in the Canadian West. It also left many a slacker untouched, while married men with home ties and responsibilities, or valuable toilers, felt the call and enlisted.

Total Enlistment Figures

Canada's total enlisted force, up to June 15, 1917, was 421,767. According to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by the Minister of Militia, there were, of the above total, in May last 136,400 troops of all ranks in France, with 747 in the Near East and 120 at St. Lucia. There were at the same time 180,326 in England, not counting those in hospitals and convalescent homes. On June 1, 1917, there were 17,353 troops of the Canadian expeditionary forces of all ranks in Canada, gathered in a series of military training camps.

Of the men sent overseas 14,100 were French Canadians. The number of native-born Canadians speaking the English language who have gone overseas is given as 125,245, and the number of British subjects born outside of Canada who have gone overseas, 155,095. The British-born members of the Canadian Army outnumbered the Canadian-born by about 15,000.

It is estimated that Canada has 1,583,549 men of military age, (based on the census of 1911,) of whom 760,453 are single and therefore the first subject to any conscription call, and 680,307 married, between the ages of 20 and 45, or nearly a half-and-half proportion.

A system of national service registration was next adopted. This was obligatory on men beyond the military age, and called upon them to describe their present occupations and responsibilities and to place themselves at the disposal of the Government for whatever service it might determine. A million and a quarter responded, but it is asserted that few practical results have ensued, and that as a source of military strength it has proved ineffectual. The same might be said of the putting into force of a longstanding Militia act, under which men of military age are liable to be called out for home defense. Enlistments were asked under this act, but with few results. Volunteers said in effect that they were willing to be stay-at-home fighters, but drew the line at overseas service.

The increasingly imperative need for further reinforcements, not only to bring up the Canadian Army to the standard of half a million promised early in the war by the Premier, but to replace the wastage in the ranks, led the Government in June, 1917, to bring in the Military Service bill, which is, in essence, like that of the United States, a selective conscription plan. At the present writing this bill is under discussion in Parliament and throughout the country.

More Than 100,000 Casualties

The casualties in the Canadian ranks have passed the 100,000 mark. On June 22, 1917, there were nearly 30,000 hospital cases; of this number 22,067 were in the United Kingdom and 7,271 in Canada. There were 2,295 Canadian prisoners of war in Germany. Canadians had won, up to the first of January, 1917, 2,715 decorations, including six Victoria Crosses, 329 Military Crosses, and 1,138 military medals.

It is estimated that the war thus far has cost Canada $600,000,000, and that it is now costing over a million a day. The estimate for the year 1917 alone is $433,274,000. To meet this expenditure and establish a line of credit with Great Britain, three Government bond issues have been floated, totaling $350,000,000. Each was largely and quickly oversubscribed, and a fourth is foreshadowed for the Fall. They bear 5 per cent, interest. As financial aid to England the Dominion Government has contributed $200,000,000 as a loan to the Imperial Treasury, in connection with the financing of munition orders; it also has arranged with the Canadian banks for advances aggregating another $100,000,000. England, on the other hand, advanced to Canada, up to March 30, 1917, $692,000,000. The imperial and international financing is one of the most remarkable features of the war.

The war expenditure is responsible for a steady increase in the public debt of the Dominion. Whereas the debt stood at $327,000,000 before the war, it had risen to $722,111,000 by Dec. 31, 1916, and it is estimated that it will reach a total of $1,200,000,000 by the end of 1918 if the struggle continues until then.

Canada's special war taxes are yielding approximately $65,000,000 a year, made up, for the last fiscal year, as follows: Excess profits tax, $15,600,000; war tariff, $37,000,000; bank tax, $1,000,000; loan companies, $400,000; spirits and tobacco, $7,000,000; extra postage, $6,000,000. The excess profits tax, which raised $12,500,000 the first year, is expected to produce $20,000,000 during the current year under an increased schedule. An income tax is also foreshadowed.

Millions for Relief Work

Canada's war gifts, Governmental and private, have been on a most generous scale. Private benefactions, through such agencies as the Red Cross, the Patriotic Fund and other relief funds, total $60, 000,000, and the ratio of giving is continually rising. Every province gave, during the first year of the war, large stores of flour, grain, and other food products, coal and horses. These included a million bags of flour from the Dominion, 250,000 bags from Ontario, and 50,000 from Manitoba; 4,000,000 pounds of cheese from Quebec; 500,000 tons of coal from Nova Scotia; oats, cheese, and hay from Prince Edward Island; 100,000 bushels of potatoes from New Brunswick; 1,200,000 cans of salmon from British Columbia, and 1,500 horses from Saskatchewan. The Patriotic Acre in Saskatchewan has produced tangible results. The school children, too, have raised large sums in the aggregate, through food production and otherwise, and have presented some ambulances to the Red Cross. In a word, every section of the Dominion and almost every class of the population have contributed and are still doing so on a substantial scale.

Some of the most generous gifts of men and means have been made in connection with the hospital service at home and overseas. Several of the larger Canadian universities have equipped war hospitals and manned them with doctors and nurses, and supplies therefore are provided as a gift from those at home. The universities have sent thousands of undergraduates to the front, so that their halls are practically empty and educational work is almost at a standstill. Officers' training corps of students have been popular from the outset, and these are also being maintained as a source for supplying officers.

Provincial Governments are aiding in providing practical work for the returned soldiers. Ontario has made a start in this direction by training a number of men on the Monteith Government Farm in Northern Ontario. Following the training the men will be given homesteads free of cost, after proving their fitness for the work. They receive soldiers' pay while in training. Alberta also is active in the care and re-employment of those who need help of this kind. A Soldiers' Aid Committee is operating in 500 different places, seeking not only to act as the friend of the soldier in a variety of ways but to assist some in settling on Government lands. No less than 3,693 returned soldiers have been given positions in the Government service, and vocational training is being conducted in a number of centres. The great war veterans' association, with a membership of over 10,000, is also looking after the interests of the homecoming men.

Caring for the Wounded

The care of the returned soldier who is invalided is under a Military Hospitals Commission appointed by the Government. On the arrival of the men at a Canadian port, such as Halifax, St. John, or Quebec, distribution is made according to their condition and ultimate destination. At Quebec the commodious immigration buildings of the Government are being utilized for this work. For transportation of the more serious cases, sleeping cars, specially fitted up as hospital cars, are used. A large number of military hospitals have been provided in different sections of the country, many Government institutions being used to house hundreds of men.

The Canadian Patriotic Fund, a remarkable voluntary achievement, has raised over $30,000,000. A million a month is being paid out through this channel as an auxiliary help to the soldier and his dependents, in addition to the Government pay of $1.10 a day to the private and a separation allowance for his family. This fund has done much to stimulate recruiting by assuring the soldier of a degree of support for those dependent upon him. The Red Cross has been no less generously supported; in fact, almost every city exceeds the sum asked from it.

In addition to the Government pay and the patriotic funds, several municipalities, like Toronto, have insured their enlisted men, mostly for $1,000 each. Many corporations and large employers of labor are performing a similar service for their employees.

W. J. Hanna, a Cabinet member, was appointed National Food Controller in June, 1917, and is working in harmony with Mr. Hoover, who occupies a similar position for the United States. The Canadian Food Controller, like the American, has been given wide powers and has already issued a manifesto to the people urging maximum production, prevention of waste, and the largest possible consumption of perishable foodstuffs in order to liberate the storable foods for transportation. A National Fuel Controller has also been appointed, to whom has been given wide powers, especially in reference to the coal situation both for manufacturing and domestic use.

Munitions and Aviation

Canada has become an important munition supplying country, operating under the Imperial Munitions Board. The board had placed, up to April last, $850,000,000 worth of orders in the Dominion, employing over 250,000 persons in 630 factories.

Britain is now spending $80,000,000 in aviation training in Canada. Formerly these aviation camps were left partly to private enterprise, but the Government has now installed large ones in several of the provinces. Several aero squadrons are in process of enlistment, and large numbers of machines are to be made in Canada.

The effects of the war on Canada, commercially and industrially, have been most marked. The circulation of extra millions of dollars is felt in a new buoyancy of trade, though the trade channels are necessarily changed from their prewar directions. The 22,000 industrial plants of the Dominion are working for the most part to their capacity, often on day and night shifts. The flour and saw mills tell the same story, while the 500 branch United States industries established in Canada find themselves fully occupied.

Exceptionally high wages prevail, though the cost of living shows a steady increase that offsets the wage scale and creates an alarming condition for those on small fixed salaries. Some of the railways are suffering from a lack of adequate rolling stock to meet the exceptional demands. Gauged by the bank figures, both as to deposited savings and loans made, the country is enjoying a degree of economic prosperity that is enabling it to handle the war cost. The Dominion, for example, had a surplus of $60,000,000 during its last fiscal year as between the current revenue and expenditure.

The Governments, both Federal and Provincial, have appointed commissions to deal with resources and to conduct thrift and food production campaigns. A scientific research council is at work. The Governments are using their legislative powers to the utmost, especially in the Federal realm, through the appointment of food, fuel, and other controllers. The mobilization of the resources of the country, both in men and resources, is being carried on to an ever-increasing extent. Along with the movement for conscription of men there is a strong demand for the conscription of wealth and of profits to an extent not yet reached.

Such, in brief, is the three-year story of Canada at war. The period presents an interesting study of development under absolutely new conditions. Errors naturally crept in at first, but the machinery of war is working more smoothly now, and the national will is becoming more and more fixed on seeing the struggle through to a satisfactory end.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury