Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915

Article excerpt

History Andrew Iarocci, Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 362pp. Cased. £32. ISBN 978-0-8020- 9822-1.

As the number of surviving veterans of the Great War dwindles - the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch occurred while I've been preparing this review - the number of books on the conflict continues to mount. Not surprisingly - given the way the war has been interpreted as a crucial phase in their country's transition from colony to nation - Canadian historians have contributed their share, and Iarocci's study joins a plethora of recent works by people such as Bill Rawling, Desmond Morton, Norman Leach, J.L. Granatstein and Tim Cook.

As the title indicates, Iarocci's study concentrates exclusively on the Canadian Corps' experience on the Western Front during the first year of the war, the year of Second Ypres, 'a battle steeped in the mythology of urine-soaked handkerchief gas masks and jammed Ross rifles' (p. 10). His purpose is to counter the traditional view that Canadian soldiers entered the war as poorly trained colonial amateurs and ended it as an élite force, a transformation that somehow mirrors the transformation of Canada itself. Drawing on a wide range of material, from official documentation to the letters and diaries of soldiers, Iarocci shows convincingly that the troops were in fact much better trained and much more effectively led than was once thought. True, they were 'shoestring soldiers' in that they lacked crucial material such as heavy guns, but they were, he argues, as capable as those who followed of winning notable, if bloody, victories. …


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