Thursday, April 21, 2011

Conscripting Youth: Children and the Posters of the Great War

Advertisers know that children can sell just about anything.  A grinning cherub armed with an endearing catch-phrase is often used to melt our hearts and open our pocketbooks.  It is no surprise, then, that during the Great War, images of children were conscripted to promote the war effort in many Allied countries.  It was not just the cute appeal of the innocent child, however, that was used to drum up money for war bonds or recruit men to the regiments. In many cases, the strong social bonds of family expectations were used to put pressure on citizens as family members.

As this British poster of the melancholy man shows, fathers were targeted by posters which hoped to recruit men to to the ranks.  Here it is the social pressure of participating in the major event of the generation that is used to coerce fathers into enlistment.  The girl on his knee points to a history book and inquires what her father's role was in this epic adventure.  One can only imagine the shame that the son may have endured in learning his father had stayed at home, missing out on the derring-do of the living-room floor campaigns of his heroic toy soldiers.

Compassion for children as family members was often used to attempt to convince citizens to contribute to war bonds.  A poster sponsored by Curtiss Airplanes has a child praying for a brother overseas.  The consoling mother in this domestic scene helps the youth send hopeful prayers for their soldier's safe return.  The strong coloured vertical lines from the American flag's bars are contrasted with the soft oval portrait.  In a case of patriotic product placement, in lieu of the flag's stars, the Curtis company has inserted its own biplanes.  If only the reader contributes to war savings stamps, the idyllic family will be reunited.
Children were also used symbolically as the youth of a nation. The national siblings of Australia and England are here portrayed as innocent friends with hands clasped.  The clean-handed childhood chums, clad in angelic white over the vibrant yellow seem to suggest that by contributing to the war effort, one would be on the side of purity and right.  Again it is the family member away at war that is used to implore contributions from the public.  Here the message is more explicitly aggressive.  Instead of focussing on bringing the family together again, in this case War loan bonds will help "daddy" win the war.

Children as targets themselves were used by the Red Cross to encourage contributions to their humanitarian efforts.  Here a stoic yet compassionate nurse looms over the destitute French orphans.  The drab outfits of the French citizens and the deep orange of the fire-wracked city are offset by the vulnerability of the infant's pink attire. Again the concept of family is used in the emphasis of motherless and fatherless suffering.

Library and Archives Canada has a vast online archive of war posters, from which all the above images came.

Cowboys, Indians, and Mountain-men: German Perceptions of the Canadian Soldier

Beaverbrook (left) during the Great War.  LAC.
During the Great War, Canadian soldier's fought well due to their rugged backwoods perseverance, and stalwart frontier pluck.  Or at least so Sir Max Aitken, (Lord Beaverbrook to you), would have the readers of his publications in the Canadian War Records Office believe.  Tim Cook notes in Clio's Warriors that "Beaverbrook [and his CWRO officers] constructed an image of the Canadian soldier reflecting his own ideals. Canadians were depicted as a northern race of rugged civilian-soldiers who were separate from their British cousins." (Cook, 38)

Such perceptions of the frontier soldier had survived the interwar years.  It appears that the image of the Canadian soldier as a vigorous worker of the hinterlands had at times a very western flavour. An 9 June 1944, intelligence summary of the I Canadian Corps in Italy noted,

"Enemy PW recently interrogated in Italy gave the following comparisons of the fighting ability of their adversaries:
Canadians:Very good 'cowboy' manner. Tough, good hand-to-hand fighter, very fair in combat.
English: do not like hand-to-hand fighting.
Americans: Avoid hand-to-hand combat."

Bill McAndrew noted that the German assessment of Canadian soldiers was one of excellent field-craft:
He writes that the Germans claimed, “in fieldcraft (Indianerkrieg) superior to our own troops. Very mobile at night, surprise break-ins, clever infiltrations at night with small groups between our strong points.” (McAndrew, 56)

Vokes speaks to PPCLI, Riccione, Italy, 13 November 1944. LAC.
National pride was used to drum up combat motivation  by Major-General Chris Vokes who urged the troops to
"remember that the German is a worthy opponent, but the German isn't born who can stand up to Canadian Infantry imbued with the will to close
and destroy him." 

That the Canadians had been used in Italy as the break-in formation for the stalled offensive on the Adriatic, as well as through the Hitler Line, meant that German command began to form its own opinions of the Canadian's role in the Campaign.  The presence of Canadians in the line became a portent that a major assault was under way.  Kesselring is reported to have noted upon reports of the Canadians moving towards the Adriatic before the battle of the Gothic Line:  "if they really are Canadians....then it will be a true major operation." (McAndrew, 118)

It would be hard to say to what extent the image of the Canadian soldier crafted by Beaverbrook in the Great War influenced foreign conceptions in the Second World War.  Certainly some of this reputation came from the actions of Canadian formations in both conflicts.  The way that they were characterized as cowboys, Indians or mountain-men, however, suggests that beyond military effectiveness there were cultural factors at play in constructing the ideal of the Canadian soldier.

"NOTES ON ACTIVITIES, 1 CDN CORPS." Week ending 19 Oct 44. (Historical Section)
"CMHQ [Canadian Military headquarters] reports - Ops and admn [Operations and administration] -1 Cdn [1st Canadian] Corps." Canadian Military Headquarters London, 1939-1947. Library and Archives Canada. RG24, C-2, Volume 12306. Reel T17907.
Cook, Tim. Clio’s warriors Canadian historians and the writing of the world wars. Vancouver :: UBC Press, 2006.
McAndrew, Bill. Canadians and the Italian Campaign: 1943-1945. Montréal: Art Global, 1996

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jewish Ideals of Canada during the Holocaust

A passage from Frances Swyripa's recent work on ethno-religious identity and the Canadian prairies offers insight into the prevailing European concept of Canada as a land of wealth in the 1940s.  Swyripa writes:

"CANADA. That Was The Name Prisoners in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz gave to the barracks holding the belongings stripped from new arrivals. Jews from the ghettos and villages of eastern Europe, “they associated the sheer amount of the loot and its mind-boggling value with the riches [the country] symbolized.”  it was a place that most of these victims of the unfolding Holocaust would never see, but it existed in their imagination and dreams. "
Goods are sorted in Kanada yard.  Photo: Holocaust Research Project.
The question may be, whether or not Jews in the concentration camp were actually responsible for naming Kanada warehouse.  It seems more plausible that their German captors named the building, in which case the notion of Canada as land of plenty may be placed within the Nazi mind.

Remains of Kanada Warehouse. UMCHGS.
The remains of Kanada warehouse can still be seen in Auschwitz today.  The University of Minnesota Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, features some information and photographs about the site.

Swyripa, Frances. Storied Landscapes: Ethno-Religious Identity and the Canadian Prairies.
Winnipeg, MB, CAN: University of Manitoba Press, 2010. p 94.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review - Cameron Duder - Awfully Devoted Women

Duder, Cameron. Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-1965. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

Cameron Duder's Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-1965, traces same sex relationships of middle-class women from the period of early-twentieth century romantic friendship, through to the post-Second World War era of working-class lesbian bars. The work uses several collections of letters and interviews of middle-class and lower-middle-class women to correct a historiography which focuses largely on post-war bar scene and the rise of political and community groups from the late 1960s. Awfully Devoted Women notes that the experiences of women need not fit into the dichotomy framed by the literature of the allegedly nonsexual "romantic friendship" or sexually charged butch-femme relationships. Duder also notes that, contrary to the historiographical consensus, there is evidence that women in pre-war romantic friendships were physically intimate.
Dr. Duder.  Photo: Social Photography
        Duder's goal is to describe women's lives not to theorize about lesbian identity, yet identity issues are breached in addressing the "medicalized discourses of sexuality" in the post-war era and especially in the power of social expectations. For lower-middle-class lesbians, concerns of respectability, class and safety meant that the bar scene was an unacceptable place to socialize. As the author states, "it would be incorrect to portray these women whether as closeted middle-class women whose place in lesbian history is therefore marginal or as [...] faultless heroines who countered the odds and formed community in the face of homophobia. They are at once both of these things and neither. Their stories indicate, rather, that class and sexual orientation are always entwined and that they can work with and against each other in the same individual and simultaneously."
       Sources are a tremendous limitation for those who would wish to take Duder's emotional and personal analysis further in the pre-war period. In this way, Awfully Devoted Women may be a one-off study. The question arises as to whether universal conclusions can be drawn about visibility and physicality of pre-war lesbian lives from Frieda Fraser's papers at the University of Toronto archives (the "richest collection" of papers in Canadian lesbian history), and the handful of smaller collections available. Duder may be content with correcting historiographical notions, which posit that there was no genital contact in romantic friendships, by offering select cases which suggest otherwise. The reader is left wondering if the few relationships that Duder features were typical of the time. In showing the sexual naivety of lower-middle-class women in the post-war years, the Lesbians Making History collection of interviews, and personal testimony from women themselves, allows Duder to assert a more authoritative statement, from a wider body of evidence. Despite the rise of sex education, a lack of knowledge about sexuality meant that women necessarily experimented when forming sexual relationships.
"Queer Affair" Lori Newdick. Heroines Series. Library and Archives Canada.
        Awfully Devoted Women traces the history of same-sex relationships on emotional, sexual, and social levels. The narrative is driven by the voices of the women subjects, in their letters and interviews, which makes for a very readable account. Bedroom details of genital contact are sure to keep pages turning, but details of how lesbians remained visible to like-minded women, yet still remained respectably distanced from the bar-scene, as well as  relationships with families who were still expected to provide for their lesbian children, are equally interesting. Academics will perhaps rail for more gender-theory, but Duder does address interesting historiographical and theoretical currents without writing explicitly for the expert. A particularly interesting theoretical construct is seen in the use of queer theory in analyzing how pre-war lesbians used Freudian language to describe their "libidinal desires", yet remained aloof from these text's pathological implications of deviant sexually.
        Awfully Devoted Women was selected for the 2011 Over the Rainbow Book List, by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table of the American Library Association. As an important work in Canadian gender history, and perhaps the book on early-twentieth century middle-class lesbianism, it is sure to also grace the reading lists of graduate seminars for some time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Public Discourse of Mechanization: the Buy-A-Tank Campaigns

The Canadian idea of mechanization as the means to save soldier's lives was greatly heightened after the fall of France in May 1940. The so-called Blitzkrieg seemed to be irrefutable proof for arguments that the tank was the war-winning weapon. By the summer of 1940, a portion of the Canadian public had become disenchanted with the scale of Canada's war effort, and sought to raise money to equip the Canadian army with the tools deemed necessary for mechanical, motorized warfare.
The tank, in popular opinion,was deemed the technology necessary for the Canadian Army to modernize and overcome the mechanized German menace.  This public discourse of mechanization is evident in Kitchener, Ontario's "Buy-A-Tank" campaign. Fundraisers called for private donations for the purpose, and set up carnival games which had a particular war-time flavour. One newspaper account noted that "would-be archers pay 25 cents for three bow-and-arrow shots at a likeness of the German chancellor.
Miami Daily News, 4 June 1940.
The Regina Leader Post reported that such enthusiasm was encouraged by Minister of National Defence, J. L. Ralston's announcement that the government welcomed the donation of money and war materials.   A campaign to buy-a-tank was also underway in Prescott, Ontario.  Money was donated from industry, municipalities, and individuals.  The Leader Post reported that a tank from Camp Borden would be featured in the parade that would end the drive.  The paper noted, "firms that wish to have the tank stop in front of their offices for the taking of publicity pictures will pay $10 for the privilege."  The two-week drive in Kitchener was estimated to reach $25,000 total, which would provide for two tanks at the government's official figure of $12,000 at tank.
A year later, the Montreal Gazzette reported boys in a youth parade displaying their patriotism mixed with a strong dose of boyish fascination with the tank.  The sign on the front of their "armoured vehicle", constructed of corn-flakes boxes and bicycle parts, read "Help Buy a Tank, Buy Victory Bonds."

"Operator Offers Slot Machines to Aid Buy Tank", Regina Leader-Post, 13 June 1940, page two.