[The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939]

By Zuehlke, Mark; Spooner, Kevin | Journal of Canadian Studies, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

[The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939]


Zuehlke, Mark, Spooner, Kevin, Journal of Canadian Studies


The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Mark Zuehlke. Vancouver/Toronto: Whitecap Books, 1996.

Are Canadians an "unmilitary" people? We might be forgiven for thinking so. Since the 1950s, Canada has become peacekeeper to the world par excellence. Canada has consistently provided armed forces to serve the United Nations on peace support missions throughout the world. And, understandably, Canadians take pride in this role. Images of peacekeepers adorn coffee-table books, monuments, stamps and even our money. At a time when other nations resolve their differences through war, Canadians claim to be the world's observers and umpires. All of this, however, has a tendency to overshadow two important facts. First, while peacekeepers may preserve peace, they are none the less trained soldiers. Second, Canada does have a significant military history that both predates and coincides with our career as a peacekeeper. This history includes participation in five wars during this century alone.

Military topics in Canadian history continue to attract public and academic interest. Early work in the field of military history often produced little more than "blow by bloody blow" accounts of battles. While this writing served a purpose, its preponderance resulted in the neglect of significant dimensions of the Canadian military experience. Aside from the tales of war heroes, the human element was overlooked; the experiences of the "ordinary" soldier remained largely untold. The "new" military history has made progress by recovering these unheard voices from the past and expanding the range of subjects considered worthy of study. Topics now include training grounds, the home front and even the reactions and experiences of "the enemy." The books examined in this review each reveal something of the changes in the way military history is being written. All of them remind the reader of the individual, or collective, human cost of war.

Allan English's The Cream of the Crop is a significant departure from traditional military history. There are no accounts of air battles and bombing missions in this study of Canadian who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. Instead, English provides a "behind the scenes" exploration of key issues that had a direct bearing on the effectiveness of the Allied aerial war effort. Aircrew selection and training receive considerable attention, as does the controversial issue of crew removed from service on the grounds that they had demonstrated a "lack of moral fibre" [LMF]. By taking into account these two issues, English's analysis sheds new light on the overall effectiveness with which British and Canadian authorities organised people in the production and operation of the machinery of war. This, English suggests, was of "fundamental importance" to Canada's war effort (5).

Early work in the field of aviation medicine, carried out during the First World War, is discussed and provides context for English's assessment of this medical field's development during both the inter-war period and the Second World War. He finds that lessons learned in the earlier conflict, particularly those relating to aircrew training, went unremembered. None the less, scientists and medical practitioners came to play a prominent role in the organisation and assessment of aircrew. In Canada, psychologists were regularly used in the development of candidate screening and training. While in Britain, psychiatrists became very influential; as specialists in human behaviour, they provided explanations for the mental breakdown of aviators. These explanations focused primarily upon "the inadequacies of the individual aviator" (68). Both physicians and psychologists are clearly seen to have played a significant role in the "managerial metamorphosis" that took place in the conduct of air warfare during the first half of this century (146). …

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