Postwar Period

Postwar Period

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Canadian Discharge Depot

The Film

 

Préférences

 

Version 


 

Format


 

Accessibilité


 

Year
1919

Running Time
03 min 15 s

Producer
Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau

This footage, which could have been filmed in France or England, features the massive demobilization that followed the Armistice in November 1918. The first scene is at a discharge depot as wounded men board a military ambulance and other men wave them off. This is followed by a scene of men at another location loading kit bags into a truck. A third segment documents men boarding a ship, and the final sequence, shot from a ship’s deck, shows a long line of military personnel, including army nurses, coming aboard.

Demobilization involved the repatriation of over 250,000 Canadians, a daunting task at the best of times. Several factors further complicated the effort.

First, there were differing views on how the Corps should be transported back to Canada. Gen. Currie favoured returning troops by unit, but despite its practical appeal, this approach clashed with the principle of “first over, first back” — the idea that volunteers who had entered the war early should return before recent conscripts. Currie’s approach prevailed. In keeping units together, the authorities hoped that middle-class officers would keep the working class “rankers” in check. In the days following the Armistice, there were fears that the one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit of the Corps would revert to divisive class consciousness among the troops.

Secondly, the shortage of shipping slowed down the process. Not only were ships in short supply, but many were ill equipped for the task. The poor conditions suffered by returning Canadians on the S.S. Northland caused a scandal, and the resulting commission of inquiry called for basic minimum standards on all troopships. This was laudable, but created more delays. Furthermore, the railway links from Halifax and St. John, the only ice-free ports, were not up to the task of moving the enormous numbers of returning troops.

Meanwhile in Britain, fuel shortages and labour unrest slowed down traffic in the ports, making an unusually cold winter even worse. Battle-weary Canadians awaited repatriation at camps where sagging discipline and impatience took their toll. Anger came to a head in March 1919, when reports that the conscript-heavy 3rd Division was boarding ships at Liverpool sparked riots at the Canadian camp at Kinmel Park. Five men were killed and 25 wounded, sparking sensationalistic reports in British newspapers. Although similar disciplinary problems had occurred among British troops, some of the English press published accounts of “crazed Canadians,” linking the unrest to the new spectre of Bolshevism.

The incident soured relations between Canada and Britain for a period, but ultimately helped speed up repatriation. In March 1919, over 40,000 Canadians left for home, up significantly from 15,243 the previous month. By April 1, a total of 110, 384, along with 17,000 dependents, had been repatriated. A dockers’ strike in April created delays, but by August there were only about 13,000 Canadians left in England.

The task of supervising Canadian demobilization fell to Sir Albert Edward Kemp. A successful Toronto manufacturer, Kemp had been appointed chairman of the War Purchasing Commission in 1915 and later replaced Sam Hughes as Minister of Militia. In 1917 he was sent to England as Minister of Overseas Military Forces and was part of the Imperial War Cabinet. Fairly or not, it was Kemp and his staff who would shoulder much of the blame for the S.S. Northland scandal and other demobilization problems, although under the circumstances, it is generally agreed that they did a good job.


Pieces of History

Dissolving Canada’s Great War Army


Images

Active Militia Discharge Certificate CEF Discharge Certificate of Corporal Romuald Huet Honourable Discharge Certificate

Other Materials

Demobilization


Teaching Materials

The Battles: In Flanders Fields