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Canadian Generals

The Film











Running Time
06 min 24 s

Canadian War Records Office, Ministry of Information

The footage was filmed by Walter Buckstone, cameraman with the CWRO, and contains images of the Canadian Scottish Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, along with brief close-ups of Brigadier-Generals James H. MacBrien and Victor Odlum, smiling and speaking to the camera. This is followed by group shots of Canadian officers. Towards the end of the clip we see images of the American pilot Eddie Rickenbacher and of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.

Brigadier-Generals MacBrien and Odlum were among the most capable of Canada’s commanding officers. They had been appointed through a process initiated by Lt-General Sir Julian Byng that aimed to recognize merit rather than “connections” to Sam Hughes when filling senior positions. Lt-General Sir Arthur Currie considered them among his favourites and was considering them both for promotion in the closing weeks of the war. Both were key participants in Currie’s efforts to develop a more thorough system of military planning, as new methods of warfare rendered 19th century military methods obsolete. The new system of “organized learning” entailed unforeseen levels of pre-battle preparation and meticulous post-battle analysis.

MacBrien was one of the few Canadian commanders who was a professional soldier at the outset of the war, having recently completed training at the British Staff College in Camberly. When the war started he was initially employed as a staff officer with the 1st Canadian Division. He had his first opportunity to command with the 4th Division in 1916, the last division Canada sent into France. He was reputed to be reserved and somewhat aloof but also kind: he is said to have openly wept on the evening of September 2, 1918, when the faulty planning of his superiors had led to heavy Canadian casualties during the attack on the Droucourt-Quéant Line. He remained with the army following the war, going on to serve as RCMP Commissioner.

Odlum had served in the South African War, after which he returned to Vancouver to pursue a successful financial career. Known as outgoing and brave, he frequently joined his men on the front lines and on a few occasions actually led his men with pistol drawn. He was wounded several times in the course of the war. A teetotalling Methodist, Odlum attempted at one point to suppress the daily rum ration, a time-honoured British military tradition. This unpopular move earned him the nickname Pea Soup Odlum. His offer to replace spirits with hot soup did not go over well, particularly as his men witnessed comrades in other units continue to get their daily restorative, and Odlum eventually relented. Odlum and another 4th Division commander, David Watson, came to Currie’s financial aid in 1917 when the issue of Currie’s pre-war debts threatened to become politically embarrassing.

The group of men appearing to pose for a group portrait would have been officers. Each battalion would have about 30 officers, who were responsible for leadership in battle, as well as training and morale. Their leadership styles varied, but an effective officer needed to inspire confidence and possess strong organizational skills. The military hierarchy generally reflected social divisions, with most officers coming from the educated middle classes and most soldiers from the working class. It was a risky job and almost 10% of all infantry battalion commanders died in the battlefield.

Towards the end of the clip we see Sam Hughes leading a group cheer, as well as a close-up of the American pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, with a hangar in the background, and a scene of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig chatting outside with a small group of men.


Sir Arthur Currie with Field Marshal Haig Lt.-Gen. Sir Julien Byng, G.O.C. Canadians, May 1917. General Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, 1914-1916.

Other Materials

Sir Samuel Hughes

The 2nd (Eastern Ontario) Battalion

The 16th (Canadian Scottish) (Princess Mary’s) Battalion