Birth of a Regiment

 

Canadian Official History

It is in the early part of this period that the official Canadian History of the First World War is finally published.  Duguid’s stillborn plan for an eight volume work that would rival the British and American versions is replaced by a single volume prepared by Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, then Deputy Director of the Army Historical Section.  Constrained by the limitation of a single volume, Nicholson chose to follow the practice of earlier works by virtually excluding the perspective of the ordinary soldier. With the benefit of some distance from the events depicted, we see none of the overblown heroic imagery of jingoistic language of the heroic period.  Nevertheless, the image of the Canadian Corp “as gallant a band as ever bore arms in the service of their country” who were “tough resourceful fighters, well trained and well commanded” with a “sense of national unity which permeated the Canadian Corps”[i] reinforces the conclusions of earlier works.  What is new in this account is the beginning of a discussion of how much has changed in the meaning of Canadian since 1914 and how the war contributed to that change.  Thus, we find discussion of events behind the lines parallel to the primary battle narrative taking up about 25% of the volume.  For issues like the Somme, Nicholson tries to take a balanced middle ground between Liddell-Hart’s condemnation and Haig’s self-justification.[ii] The Patricia’s once again are given a privileged position in the narrative with more references that any other battalion and more they even accorded its parent 7th Brigade.  While this might be attributed to the unique position of the regiment in 1914-15, Nicholson’s own service with the Patricia’s may also have played a role.

We also see an updated albeit condensed PPCLI regimental history by Jeffery Williams published during this period.  First published in 1972 and revised in 1985, the Williams account has added significance because it served as a virtual history handbook for members of the regiment for more than thirty years.  In a quite remarkable manner, Williams managed to condense the four hundred pages of Hodder-Williams in a scant twenty.  There was little room for any innovation and thus we see the initial myths established by Hodder-Williams simply reinforced.  Despite its brevity, we are introduced to some of the regimental characters like the “bear hunter” Corporal James Christie who help to reinforce the image of the soldier toughened by the frontier. Our challenge will be to replicate the core narrative in a similar manner while adding context to enable today’s reader to better understand the transformation that took place during the war.  Our statistical analysis will enable us to probe the reality of the frontier image.

[i] Nicholson 534-535
[ii] Nicholson, 198

Print Friendly, PDF & Email