June 18, 2004


(You may want to read the post that started all this before going on.)

The premise: that it's possible to generate a better list of 15 genuine Canadian military greats than the history-challenged CBC could.

The result will be idiosyncratic, of course. Nothing to stop anyone from making their own, though. Here were my groundrules:

1) The military figures picked are not necessarily the most influential (which would tend to reward generals), or the most courageous.. but they had demonstrate a measure of both. Their actions have to have had an obvious influence on Canada's fortunes, on the battlefield and/or off.

2) They have to demonstrate a record of greatness, not just a passing moment, or flashes of greatness counterbalanced by erratic behaviour in other ways or at another time. Everyone gets lucky sooner or later, but great leaders should be living refutations of any Peter Principle, among other things. Surely a valid sign of greatness is consistency; those who are truly emulable may have average days, but never awful ones, and are never promoted beyond their ability.

3) Finally, and this will be the most contentious I'm sure, the figures on this list must have demonstrably fought for Canada. If they came after Confederation, they have to have sworn allegiance to this nation. Those who came before are obviously harder to tease out motives for, but from this viewpoint, they have to have fought out of more than a sense of professional military obligation, and in the cause of a British (or French) North America. Living here after their fighting days were over is a good start.

The allegiance proviso rules out a talented separatist warrior like Dumont; the residency proviso excludes Tecumseh. And excluding the professional warriors of other armies, who fought here because they were ordered to, excludes pretty much everyone else in the Grade 10 history book, too: Brock, Wolfe, Montcalm. After all, if we're going to call Wolfe or Brock a Canadian, there's no reason to likewise call Garnet Wolseley one, who spent around as many years here, had his own profound effect on Canadian military and political history, and visibly loved the locals more than any of the others did. But we all understand why that would be absurd, so why do we grant honorary Canadian status to the others?

So what does that leave? Well, you're about to find out. Here's the first three of the Flit fifteen, in order from the bottom:

15) Brig. Gen. Raymond Brutinel (1882-1964): Canada has had its fair share of military theorists, actually. George Denison's mounted rifles musings attracted the Czar of Russia; McNaughton (more on him later) practically invented indirect counterbattery fire. But Brutinel is less known or remembered than either of them, and that's just wrong. His creation of techniques to use machine guns in an indirect role became a key part of all the Canadian, and later other Commonwealth, attacks, in WW1 Flanders, and played a major role in the Canadian victories at Vimy and Amiens. His "Independent Force" was the first successful motorized infantry unit, using cycles, motorcycles, and armoured cars in an attempt to bring exploitation back to the World War One battlefield, and a precursor of Liddell Hart's all-mechanized experiments, or O'Connor's 1940 desert force. As a pre-WW2 mechanized warfare theorist, Griffiths and others have rated Brutinel as the peer of Fuller or Liddell Hart. Returning to his birthplace France in his old age, but still fond of his adopted country, he would play a role in spiriting Canadian war hero and future governor-general Georges Vanier out of Paris as it fell in 1940.

14) Col. James Fitzgibbon (1780-1863): We've talked about Fitzgibbon before. He was part Sgt. Harper, part frontier sheriff. A Brock protege of sorts, a physically imposing Anglo-Irish sergeant commissioned from the ranks because the general thought he had smarts, too, the-then Lt. Fitzgibbon is best known for the Brock-like act of accepting the surrender of 462 Americans with 46 of his own men at Beaver Dams in 1813, by giving them a choice between an Indian massacre and surrendering to his passing white troops. (In truth the Indians were near-exhausted and the battle stalemated before he arrived.) The act won him a captaincy in a Canadian regiment, and he stayed on after wars' end. Blessed with a flair for self-promotion, it is true, and hardly immune to corruption, Fitzgibbon also had undeniable physical courage, and became known for breaking up local riots single-handedly. Mackenzie and other reformers considered him the elitist "Family Compact's" hired muscle, and with reason: in 1837, he led the ragtag militia force that, for lack of a better verb, "defeated" Mackenzie's rebellion in Toronto. But it is fair to say that, if he hadn't been in command of the militia at the time, and defied the governor's orders about moving quickly against the rebels, that that particular rebellion would not have been snuffed out before it had really started, with unpredictable consequences for English Canada's future.

13) General H.D.G. Crerar (1888-1965): Harry Crerar's is not a well-known name, by any measure. Yet as commander of 1st Canadian Army, he was Canada's senior field soldier in WW2. He had previously won the DSO as a brilliant junior artillery officer in Flanders, where he worked with McNaughton and Brooke. A limited man in many ways, still it is largely due to his organizational efforts that there was more than a couple Canadian divisions in Europe at all. To field a five-division army, he pushed the recruitment system to the breaking point, nearly sundering the country over conscription. At times praised and at others loathed by his superior, Montgomery, he was not loved by his troops, either. Like his equally cold subordinates Simonds, Foulkes and Burns, he was respected by the men, at best. He cannot escape his share of responsibility for the early debacles of Hong Kong and Dieppe. But in the end, the Canadian army in World War Two was built on Crerar's plan, led and kept together, once the fighting had started, by Crerar. And at the end, his creation was dismantled and folded back into civilian society under Crerar, and postwar command left in the able hands of Foulkes, his protege/doppelganger. He's more a Brooke or Marshall-type figure than a battlefield commander like Monty or Bradley, but he was estimable in his own right, and certainly had a profound influence on Canada's land force performance in Europe, and since.

Tomorrow: entries 9 through 12.

UPDATE: "Tomorrow" on Friday can sometimes mean Monday, it seems.

Posted by BruceR at 07:57 PM


"In the minutes before the arrival of a hijacked airliner, the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians could depend on rapidly scrambled U.S. combat jets and a desperate telephone call to an Ottawa cabinet minister to secure a timely "shoot-down" order..."

"U.S. combat aircraft at bases in Syracuse, N.Y., and Swanton, Ohio, would probably be the closest fighters to Canada's largest city in case of an urgent threat."

--Globe and Mail, today

Posted by BruceR at 10:00 AM