Lever une armée

Canadian Training School in Bexhill

The Film




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Running Time
04 min 20 s

Canadian War Records Office

These images were filmed in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, a camp established in 1917 to train junior officers for the Canadian Corps. The first segment, filmed with a travelling camera, depicts officers in battalion drill manoeuvres on the parade ground. Officer cadets can be identified by their white cap bands. This is followed by a scene of a platoon commander calling out three non-commissioned officers to deliver instructions. The third section shows the camp’s gymnastics staff, demonstrating bayonet skills. The fourth sequence, filmed on the town’s seafront boardwalk, demonstrates the protocol of paying of military compliments. The final section was filmed on a town street and shows a platoon of officer cadets on parade, observed by a small group of locals.

Although volunteers were plentiful at the outset of the war, the permanent Canadian army was quite small, and there were very few well-trained officers. In Britain, officers traditionally emerged from the country’s universities and so-called public schools – which in fact were private establishments where the privileged classes were educated. In Canada there was no equivalent source for “officer material.” Early in the war it was deliberately decided that non-commissioned officers, from Canadian units serving at the front, would be selected for training. The system proved to be a success, providing Canada with the best army in its history.

Each battalion would have about 30 officers, and the military hierarchy generally reflected social divisions, with most officers coming from the educated middle classes, and most soldiers from the working class. Almost 10% of all infantry battalion commanders died in the battlefield.

The gymnastics staff, wearing their uniform of white jackets, were tasked with the physical training of officers in training, as well as the teacher-training for gymnastics instructors heading back to their units.

The sequence on saluting protocol – the paying of military compliments – presents five different scenarios and may have been used for instruction purposes. The first shows two officer cadets carrying swagger sticks (short thin canes) as they walk past a commissioned officer carrying an officer’s cane. As they pass, the cadets look left while saluting and offering a verbal greeting. The officer responds by turning his head left, saluting and answering their greeting. The second situation shows two cadets giving a “butt salute” – placing their right hand across their rifle butts – as they approach and pass a commissioned officer. The third scenario shows an armed party under the command of a sergeant acknowledging a passing commissioned officer. The sergeant orders an “eyes left” and salutes the officer, who returns the salute. The sergeant would only order “eyes left” (or right) if the passing officer is of field rank – i.e. a major or above.

In the fourth scenario, an officer passes a stationary group of soldiers. Under orders from their senior member, the group stands to attention and salutes. The fifth scenario shows a soldier who cannot salute because his hands are occupied. In this case, he gives an “eyes right” and offers a verbal greeting to the passing officer, who salutes and responds to the greeting.

In the final segment, showing a platoon on parade on a local street, we see a senior officer cadet assume the role of platoon sergeant. He then hands control over to the commissioned officer and falls in behind the troops. Note that the troops are in open order – i.e. they are one pace apart, allowing space for bayonet drills and for inspecting officers to pass between ranks. When the officers issues the order to fix bayonets, the right marker steps forward and the men remove their bayonets from their scabbards. The men follow orders, placing the bayonets on their rifles, and the marker returns to the ranks, who take their timing from the right marker, a custom that is no longer practised. The officer, accompanied by the senior member, now inspects the platoon. Once the inspection is complete, he gives the order to unfix the bayonets.

Notice that the left marker sets the time for this operation. Once the bayonets are back in their scabbards, the officer gives the order to “form fours.” The men form four ranks, turn and march off. The practice of forming fours changed just before the Second World War, when troops began to march in three, not four, ranks. Note that one of the cadets in the final shots is wearing a wound stripe – a strip of gold cloth worn on the left sleeve that indicates an injury sustained during battle. All cadets in this clip would have been front-line veterans who had displayed the leadership skills necessary to become commissioned officers.


Training for Bayonet Fighting - England Bayonet Attack 1914/1918 Training to stab with Bayonets, Witley 1918

Other Materials

The Ross Rifle and other Small Arms in World War I

Teaching Materials

Conscription Debate: A Country Divided

Conscription Debates: Canada on the World Stage