Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XLIV
The R Men and the A Men--The start of another long dispute over conscription--The disaster of Hong Kong

WHILE the Navy was learning how to sail, the Air Force how to fly, and the Army how to stand and wait, the country behind them was still sorting out its motives and procedures.

No large nation ever came into so large a war with less obvious reason than Canada did when it entered the Second World War. It had no Pearl Harbor to force it in. Unlike France, it had no tanks and guns glowering from the Rhineland and the dragon's teeth of the Siegfried Line. Unlike Britain, it had no threat of being starved by sea, battered by air, and overrun by land. Unlike Russia, it had no vision of setting the whole world aflame and raking up the ashes. Unlike Germany, Japan, and Italy, it had no expectation of booty and more room. Unlike Australia and New Zealand, it was not marooned in the shadow of a hostile giant.

Of all the ultimate participants in the war, Canada had the least palpable and pressing stake of any. This--together with the memories of a not dissimilar situation in 1914 and the conscription troubles of 1917--was the background against which the country mobilized.

The early rush of volunteers was embarrassingly heavy and thousands of them had to be turned away. But when the first surge of excitement wore off, when the military establishment grew far beyond all prediction, and when civilian jobs grew more numerous and better paid, the task of keeping the forces up to strength became an immensely complicated one.

The government was committed to two propositions, each the exact opposite of the other:

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