Friday, November 8, 2013

Brutalized Landscapes: Wayne Larsen on AY Jackson and the Great War (2/2)

Continued from previous post.

Wayne Larsen's A.Y. Young (Toronto: Dundurn, 2009) is a biography of a Canadian war artist who experienced the Great War as a private in the ranks before being picked up by the Canadian War Memorials Fund.  His work for Lord Beaverbrook's organization produced some of the most iconic depictions of battlescapes on record.  After Second Ypres, Jackson accepted the war would not be over quickly, and enlisted in the 60th Battalion.

That A.Y. Jackson was on the cusp of renown when he joined the army, is reflected in the reportage of the Montreal Gazette of June 29th, 1915.

(W.W.I - 1914 - 1918) Lieut.-Col. Gascoigne,
 O.C. 60th Battalion. May, 1917. 
Canada. Dept. of National Defence
/Library and Archives Canada/
When the first five hundred men of the 60th Battalion, under Lieut.Col. F.A. Gascoigne, entrain at the Windsor street station tomorrow night for Valcartier, the force will have on its strength Private A.Y. Jackson, artist, and associate of the Royal Canadian Academy...Mr. Jackson a few years ago traveled through Belgium, sketched its landscapes and its historic monuments, and in that time of peace and prosperity saw the cities that have since been devastated by the Germans - Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Liege and Namur. Now he is anxious to battle on that soil in the common cause." (Quoted in Larsen, p. 72)

Jackson arrived in Le Havre, France in February 1916, and would see four months of action before being wounded. Fifteen years after the fact, he recalled a surreal day in the trenches:
I was just thinking back to another June 3rd crawling along a trench in Sanctuary Wood, and an aeroplane circling overhead like a big hawk, signalling to the artillery who were trying to blow us up. It was a day of glorious sunshine and only man was vile, in general, individually they were magnificent. I thought a cup of cocoa in a dressing station was an undreamed of luxury. (Quoted in Larsen, p. 73) 
A little over a week later, Jackson was wounded in the Battle of Mount Sorrel. After his recovery, when training at Shoreham, England, in the summer of 1917, he received the news that Tom Thomson had drowned.  The event was shrouded in mystery, and has since been the subject of much historical speculation.

It was in the summer of 1917 that Jackson's fortunes as a common soldier changed. While digging a latrine in Shoreham, he was approached by a member of the Canadian War Memorials Fund, who told Jackson of the opportunity to work for Lord Beaverbrook as an official painter. After he proved that he had the skills for the job, he was promoted to Lieutenant, which was a source of some embarrassment. As Larsen wrote, "Whereas Private Jackson had avoided saluting officers by taking alternate routes down quiet side streets, Lieutenant Jackson now had to keep to the busy main roads to avoid being saluted." (Larsen, p. 80)

AY Jackson. Gas Attack, Lievin. 1918. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum. 19710261-0179

Later that year, when he made his way to Flanders, he again felt embarrassed traveling around in a staff car, while the poor bloody infantry slogged on through the endless muck. Soldiers were generally cold to him until they learned that he had been wounded in combat. Larsen suggests that something in the changed nature of warfare, the estrangement of artillery, chlorine gas, night attacks, and tunnels, meant that old depictions of battle no longer sufficed. Jackson's memory supports this: 
When the War Records of World War I were organized, the artists started off thinking in terms of the kind of war art popularized by the Graphic and the Illustrated London News. It gave one the feeling of something left over from previous wars, the old stock poses, the same old debris lying around like still life, and smoke drifting whenever the composition gave trouble.

The machine gun had destroyed the old death and glory picture which depended on a mass of cavalry or infantry hurtling forward with the shot-riddled flag clutched in the striken hero's hand. There pictures were mostly painted by artists who had no first-hand information and it was not long before we realized how ineffective they were. (Cited in Larsen, p. 81)

Portrait of t Robert Shankland, 
The Victoria Cross, 1917.
 Canadian War Museum. 
Beaverbrook Collection of
 War Art Photo Credit 

While Jackson did paint a portrait of Victoria Cross recipient, most of his work, the largest of any war artist, were depictions of landscapes decimated by battle. "He knew that by painting what would have otherwise been peaceful landscapes, now battered beyond recognition by the modern war machine, he could instil in the viewer a sense of devastation that could be measured in human terms." (Larsen, p. 81).

A Copse Evening. AY Jackson, 1918.

The winter of 1917-18 was spent in his London studio, and it was on his return to the battlefields in the spring of 1918 when he painted A Copse, Evening, one of his best known works of the war. The German spring offensive pushed the artists off the continent, and curiously, Jackson did not return to capture Canadian advances during the Hundred Days campaign. Jackson was instead ordered back to Canada to prepare to join Canadian troops to Siberia.

It is here that Larsen leaves the reader wanting more.  Why did Jackson go back to Canada at this time instead of heading back to the front as the British pressed forward in 1918?  The Canadian Siberian Expeditionary force, was sent to aid the White Russians against their revolutionary foe, in hopes to allow Russia to fight the Germans in the east. The expedition sailed in October of 1918, yet Larsen notes that on the 11th of November, Jackson was on Sainte-Catherine Street, Montreal when he heard the church bells ringing to announce the end of the war. So when Larsen writes, "of course the trip to Siberia was automatically cancelled", part of the story is missing. (Larsen, p. 86)

Personnel of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force
 with truck Date(s)ca. Jan. - May 1919PlaceVladivostok, Russia. 
Credit: Raymond Gibson / Library and Archives Canada / C-091749
Troops were still sent to Siberia in December 1918, in fact, some of them mutinied in Victoria before sailing. Was the action no longer considered part of the First World War and thus no longer justified commemoration under the Canadian War Memorials Fund? Was no other artist available to go with the expedition other than Jackson? London to Vladivostok is a long journey, was no one closer that could have done the job?

Larsen can't answer every question about Jackson's motivations and attitudes towards the war, especially in a full length biography of which 1914-1918 is but one small component.  He does relay an amusing anecdote about Jackson and the Siberian Intervention. He notes that in preparation for the trip, Jackson purchased twenty tubes of white paint so that he would have enough to capture all the snow. With his trip cancelled, he had more white paint than he would need for years. He joked that it was this stash of white paint that prompted him to become a painter of snowy landscapes in the following years, "as I had to find some use for it." (Larsen, p. 86)

A.Y. Jackson’s In Jasper Park, 1924. A Y Jackson's painting In Jasper Park. Thomson Collection at The Art Gallery of Ontario Photo Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves Westbridge Fine Art

In the years following the First World War, Jackson painted troopships in Halifax before being officially discharged. He would soon become affiliated with the Group of Seven, working to promote a distinct Canadian way of art.  Some argue that the war altered his style to shift from early-modernist impressionist styles to more post-impressionist expressions of landscapes.  Some of Jackson's work is available for viewing at the Glenbow Museum's Transformations exhibit, which examines the development of Jackson's nationalism and its relation to the Great War.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Distant Trumpets: Wayne Larsen on AY Jackson and the approach of the Great War (1/2)

Wayne Larsen's A.Y. Jackson: The Life of a Landscape Painter (Toronto: Dundurn, 2009), is a handsome book which offers a biography of one of Canada's most renowned artists, illustrated richly by the painter's works. It provides an excellent primer to an ongoing exhibition at the Glenbow Museum (Calgary) featuring Jackson's work alongside the landscapes of Otto Dix, and emphasizing the various conceptions of nationalism affected by the Great War.  Jackson is a quintessentially Canadian painter, but Larsen makes it clear that the future Group of Seven member, was indebted to European impressionists in his pre-war works.

Larsen argues that Jackson's most important role was that of promoter of Canadian art, and his post-war resolve to continue to support the Group of Seven's desires to form a dynamic national style. Larsen notes that it was the core Group of Seven members' discovery of Jackson's The Edge of the Maple Wood in a 1911 exhibition in Toronto, which connected the artist to these influential painters. This was the first time that Jackson applied his Parisian training to Quebec subjects, depicting a sunny day in the Eastern Townships. (Larsen, p. 5-7)
The Edge of the Maple Wood (1910) A.Y. Jackson Canadian, 1882 - 1974 oil on canvas
54.6 x 65.4 cm Purchased 1937 National Gallery of Canada (no. 4298)
Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves

Sweetsburg, Quebec (1910)
 Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves
54 x 64.1 cmoil on canvasBequest of Dr. J.M. MacCallum,
 Toronto, 1944National Gallery of Canada (no. 4730)
Jackson had traveled to France and had studied at the Academie Julian in September 1907, but  art dealers and collectors were little impressed by Jackson's works upon his return. As he would later write, it was European art which was in demand: "Dutch pictures became a symbol of social position and wealth...The houses bulged with cows, old women peeling potatoes, and windmills." (Cited in Larsen, p. 33). Another work which applied impressionist style to Canadian subjects was Sweetsburg, Quebec (1910). The depiction of mud in front of a dilapidated barn suggests that decaying, barren, and muddy landscapes were a part of Jackson's work before the Great War.

Autumn in PicardyA.Y. Jackson1912
Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves
21.2 x 27 cm oil on wood
Gift of members of the Arts & Letters Club, Toronto, 1914
National Gallery of Canada (no. 6529r)
By 1913, after a further sojourn to Europe, Jackson had taken the plunge and moved to Toronto, where he was championed by Lawren Harris and and JEH MacDonald. As the inheritor to the Massey-Harris farm implements fortune, Harris had the time, energy, and money to commit himself to art, which he did with great zeal. In 1913, Harris was in the process of building a major new studio space to foster Canadian artists, scheming to introduce Jackson's works to the National Gallery. Without asking the Gallery whether it would like Jackson's work, Harris pooled money from members of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to give Jackson's Autumn in Picardy to the Gallery. He then proceeded to advertise the fact to the press, putting National Gallery director Eric Brown in a difficult position. While the stunt finally came off, it was hardly necessary, as the Gallery had already accepted Jackson's The Drive as well as Sand Dunes at Cucq.

The pre-war years were a time that Jackson began to gain some notoriety for applying Impressionist techniques to Canadian landscapes, yet he still had his traditionalist academic detractors. It was at this time that Toronto Star critic HF Gadsby coined the term "The Hot Mush School", in reference to these new artists, noting "all their pictures look pretty much alike, the net result being more like a gargle or gob of porridge than a work of art." (Larsen, p. 57-61).

Tom Thomson Algonquin Lake, 1914.
Credit: Franklin Carmichael
/ Library and Archives Canada / e007914169
In 1914, Jackson was in the Rocky Mountains, on a commission by Canadian National Railways to paint the mountains for hotel lobbies. Very few of these paintings would survive, as Jackson threw many of them into the fire when he learned that the company went bankrupt. Jackson was his own sharpest critic, and destroyed many of his own paintings over the years.  One day when he returned from hiking the mountains to a small mountain construction camp, he learned that Canada was a war. (Larsen, p. 66-67) Jackson did not rush home to join a regiment, however, instead heading to Alqonquin Park to join Tom Thomson.

Larsen suggests that Jackson did not sign up in the Canadian services believing, like many, that the war would end very quickly. (Larsen, p.69) It was the Spring of 1915, when the painter learned of the Canadians being gassed at the Second Battle of Ypres, that he realized the grave nature of the conflict. He wrote, "At the railway station one morning I heard the first news of the Battle of Saint-Julien. I knew then that all the wishful thinking about the war being of short duration was over." (Cited in Larsen, p. 71)

In addition to Larsen's book, the National Gallery of Canada has a large range of Jackson's paintings online, for those wishing to examine his earlier works.  Many of his sketches from his time in Paris exist, and a sense of his early European influences are clear.  Soon after the shock of Second Ypres, the landscape painter would cross the Atlantic himself, and was wounded on service before finding his role as Canadian war artist and promoter of a national school of art.

For more on Jackson and the Great War, see the following post.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Alexander Young Jackson, the Group of Seven, and the First World War

Many historians have claimed that the First World War was a transformative period, ushering in a new modern era of bureaucracy and state control. For Canadian historians, the dominant narrative surrounding the war, has been that of colony to nation. In art history, this nationalist tone rings true as well, for it was during the Great War that key nationalist artists who would later become known as the Group of Seven developed their skills and were broadly publicized through patriotic efforts linked to the conflict.
Group of Seven, 1920. From left to right: Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Fairley, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and J. E. H. MacDonald. It was taken at The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. Photo: Arthur Goss.

Four future Group of Seven artists were officially commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund to depict the war. On the homefront, Arthur Lismer and Frank Johnston depicted Canadian efforts, and overseas, AY Jackson and Frederick Varley captured the battlefields of Europe. Unofficially, a fifth member, JEH MacDonald, lent his hand to the war effort by producing illustrations for honour rolls, posters, and other patriotic impressions.

The Group of Seven are the quintessential Canadian visual artists, known for depicting a stark Canadian wilderness which some argue bears the mark of military experience. As Colleen Sharpe, (curator of a previous exhibition at Calgary's Military Museums on the emergent Group of Seven and war), wrote in 2009, "The iconic features of the Group of Seven's art - disturbed ground, prominent rocks, muddy colours and skeletal tree trunks - have not been widely acknowledged as originating in the landscape of the First World War, yet it seems no accident of chronology that these men painted many of their seminal art works directly following the war."(Colleen Sharpe, "Artists and Soldiers", in Art in the Service of War: The Emergent Group of Seven (2009), p. 3) Maria Tippett also saw a direct military connection in the formation of the Group's style, writing that "The low-keyed colours of no man's land and the trenches - muddy brown, yellow ochre, and cool grey - came to permeate the post-war canvases of Varley, Jackson, and others who had lived and painted at the front." (Maria Tippett, Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art, and the Great War (Toronto, 1984), p. 108)  She also notes that exposure to British modernists during their time in England, was a wartime connection that would bring change to Canadian art.

The Canadian War Memorials Fund was the organization which did the most to support Canadian war art during the First World War. Headed by Lord Beaverbrook, the Fund commissioned artists to create a permanent artistic record of the conflict. It prioritized the documentary aspects of art, giving artists the opportunity to explore the battlefields and sketch what they observed. The Fund supported British artists as well, but historians have argued that its major contribution was the support of artists, and the organization of critics and gallery executives, "which enabled a national school of art to fluorish." (Maria Tippett, Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art, and the Great War (Toronto, 1984), p.6.) From November 1916, the CWMF gave artists full-time officer's rank and wages to memorialize the war.

The Great War occurred at a time when artistic taste was changing. As Jackson himself wrote, the war would let Canadian art "emerge from all its tribulations. Its worst foe materialism is being walloped, and will never be quite so formidable again. And all the academic bunch are dying off, gradually very gradually ... the future will take care of us." (Tippett, p. 7) For Jackson, more traditional means of portraying battle no longer rang true. As he put it, depictions of clashes of arms, with crisp lines, and vibrant colours had, "gone underground. There was little to see. The old heroics, the death and glory stuff, were obsolete." (Tippett, p. 13)

House of Ypres
Painted by Alexander Young Jackson
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
CWM 19710261-0189

Private A.Y. Jackson c.1915
60th Battalion, enlisted June 1915
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives
AY Jackon created one of the largest bodies of work of any battlefield war artist, and had served in the 60th Battalion before being committed full time as an artist. He would write that "Lawren Harris wanted me to apply for a commission and offered to defray all expenses in connection with it, but I knew nothing about soldiering and decided to start at the bottom as a private in the infantry." (Art in the Service of War, p. 4) During his time in the line, Jackson put his artistic skills to military use, by drawing diagrams and details from military maps. (Tippett, p.12) Jackson was wounded at Maple Copse near Ypres, which fortunately kept him out of the fighting in Passchendaele. The artist was no stranger to France, having spent some time studying there a decade previous to the war.

Jackson spent time convalescing in France before being sent back to England. He was taken on strength of a reserve battalion and in Shoreham Camp when he heard about the CWMF and decided to approach Lord Beaverbrook. The environment in the battalion contributed to this decision. Jackson noted there was "not enough food and too many military police" with disgruntled soldiers being "drilled and disciplined by men who had not been in France". (Tippett, p. 14) Shortly after he left the battalion a mutiny broke out in the unit.

It was the battlefield itself that inspired; the alien mudscapes, and shattered woods.  Maria Tippett wrote that, "Nothing came to symbolize the war for the artist and the combatant as much as the land upon which it was fought....Pock-marked with gaping water-filled craters, strewn with bones, metal, and all the refuse of modern warfare, the topography of the front line offered few familiar associations....The machine had superseded God's handiwork; his landscape was being reshaped by man's instruments." (Tippett, p. 58) Tippett notes that it was this violent new meaning and manifestation of the landscape that made Romantic-Realist conventions seemingly out of place. Jackson felt that his style needed to be adjusted as well: "the impressionist technique I had adopted in painting was now ineffective, visual impressions were not enough." (Tippett, p.59)

A Copse, Evening
Painted by Alexander Young Jackson
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art

These landscapes and the new techniques used to portray them were directly influential in the development of a national school of art for Canadians after the war. As Tippett writes, "After the war Jackson and his fellow artists deliberately sought to paint 'swampy, rocky, wolf-ridden, burnt and scuttled country with rivers and lakes scattered all through it.' The Group of Seven's concern to demonstrate...the 'spirit' of painting in Canada, was thus associated with a sense that this could best be done by employing methods and techniques they and their colleagues had either seen used or themselves employed to paint the war-torn landscape of the Old World." (Tippett, p. 109)

The Glenbow museum of Calgary is currently exhibiting the work of AY Jackson and Otto Dix, drawing comparisons around the idea of nation and the influence of the Great War on their art.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Norman Dixon on the "Instictive" Profession of Soldiering

Norman Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (London: 1984, 1976), serves as an apologetic for historical British military stupidity.  Instead of a simple lack of intelligence, the blunders of the military past are shown to be the product of authoritarian personalities, torn between their conscience and a pathological need for aggression.  Dixon doesn't have much good to say of the military profession, nor of military institutions.  He notes that the armed services are a place where anti-intellectualism reigns supreme, and where aggression, order, and obedience attract authoritarians.  Perhaps apologetic was the wrong word?  Dixon suggests that strategic mistakes were made, not due to a lack of intelligence, but due to the military environment fostering unstable authoritarian personalities. 

A Freudian analysis typifies much of the work, which at points emphasizes the anxieties surrounding sex, elimination, eating, and death.  Perhaps his most quotable passage, comes in analysis of the soldierly profession as a "instinctive" one.

Broadly speaking, human activities may be regarded as falling into one of the other of two main groups: those which are directly instinctual and those which are not.  Into the first, which involves what have been succinctly described as the 'three Fs' - feeding, fighting, and 'reproduction' - fall such robust pastimes as pugilism, professional pie-eating, prostitution, and soldiering.  Into the second group fall all those other vocations which, though sometimes subserving the basic drives, do not have as their end-product the original consummatory response. (Dixon, p.169-170)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"To suffer death by being shot": Canada's sole military execution of the Second World War

Up to a few years before Confederation, there were vast array of crimes that colonial governments in British North America saw fit to hang people for.  Some 200 activities could get one executed including sodomy, stealing turnips, or wearing a disguise in the woods.  By 1865, only murderers, traitors, and rapists were considered loathsome enough to hang.  Soldiers, however, were subject to military law, and those who were found guilty by courts martial of desertion, cowardice, or murder could be sentenced to death.  Clearly, when it comes to punishment for one's transgressions, soldiering has its disadvantages.  The distinction between military law and civil law is critically assessed by Chris Madsen in Another Kind of Justice:
With little pretence to lofty ideals, military law serves strictly utilitarian and practical purposes in the maintenance of discipline within armed forces. Its endearing qualities are few. The application of military law is sometimes arbitrary and is heavily influenced by situation; it places the interests of service and group before the individual, and tends toward severe punishments. (Madsen, p. 3)
In the First World War, twenty-five (or twenty-six depending who is counting) soldiers were executed, largely on charges of desertion.  These soldiers' fate, and the administration of courts martial was largely trusted to British officers.  By the end of the conflict, the lack of a supreme Canadian authority to oversee courts martial decisions was trumpeted as unjust by advocacy groups who wished to abolish the death penalty.  While the end of death penalty for murder in Canada would have to wait until 1976, by the Second World War authority to execute a soldier had been transferred to Canadian hands.

The Canadian Army sentenced three soldiers to death during the Second World War, but only one unfortunate soul, Harold Pringle, was actually executed.  Harold Joseph Pringle was born on January 16th, 1920, at Port Colborne, Ontario, and had enlisted in early 1940.  By late 1940 he was overseas and was beginning to tally up what would become a large number of convictions for absence without leave.  In February 1944, he was dispatched to the Italian theatre, corroborating the (somewhat exaggerated) complaints of officers there that the theatre was being used as a dumping ground for undesirable personnel.  After serving with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in the Liri Valley, Pringle again went away without leave and in June of 1944 joined a gang of black marketeers in Rome.  Association with these outlaws would be his ultimate undoing.

© IWM (TR 1844) Capt. Tanner.
It was in Rome on the 1st of November, 1944, that a fight erupted between Pringle and other members of the gang, which resulted in the shooting of Private "Lucky" McGillivary, a fellow criminal.  The gang took Lucky outside of the city, where they riddled the body with bullets and left it for dead.  On the 12th of December 1944, Pringle was taken into custody by the military police and charged with murder.  While his defence attempted to argue that McGillivary had died of his previous wounds when Pringle later shot him, and that there was insufficient evidence to convict him, the officers at the court martial were not convinced, and Pringle was sentenced "to suffer death by being shot." (Army Headquarters Report No 91, p.97)

The report of the Chief of Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters (London) to National Defence Headquarters (Ottawa) of May 1945 regarding the review of the Pringle case shows the legal grey areas in a case of murder or other civil offenses, especially, at the end of the war:
The fact that the accused and the victim were both members of the Canadian Army, and that the trial was by a Canadian Court Martial, is not, in my view, the controlling feature of this case.  In essence, this is a case which arises out of the shooting of one Canadian citizen by another Canadian citizen.  Considering the matter in this way, I have come to the opinion that the fact that the war is now over and won should not influence me to treat the matter otherwise than simply as a case of murder. (Chief of Staff, CMHQ to NDHQ, 12 May 1945, DVA (WSR) file C-5292 as cited in Army Headquarters Report No 91, p.98)
Three other cases of Canadian personnel sentenced to execution by British civil courts show that the murder of civilians was treated as a civil offence.  (See Jonathan Vance, Maple Leaf Empire, p.178)
A Telegram confirming Pringle's sentence.  RG24 Vol 12718. Library and Archives Canada

British courts martial had meanwhile tried two others in the Pringle case, and in the Spring of 1945 Sapper CHF Honess and Fireman WR Croft were executed. It took until 5 July 1945 for the Pringle sentence to be conveyed by order in council.  A post-war Army Headquarters Report recorded, in its dry prose, "The finding and sentence were promulgated at Avellino, Italy, at six o'clock on the morning of 5 July, at which time Pringle was informed of the disallowance of his petition by the Governor General in Council.  Exactly two hours later the sentence was carried out by a firing squad." (Army Headquarters Report No 91, p.99)

Sympathy for Pringle greatly varies among historians.  Andrew Clark wrote a biography which writes of Pringle in a sympathetic light portraying him as a victim of the war and the military system.  (Review by Lukits) He would likely agree with Chris Madsen, who noted that those executed in the previous war were not "bad apples", but ordinary men pressed into extraordinary circumstances who simply could not bear the strain.  (Madsen, p.46)  Jack Granatstein, however,  was not convinced that we should pity the deserter, criticizing Clark's "overly sympathetic treatment of Pringle, which all but demeans the suffering and sacrifice of those who stuck it out and fought."

Granatstein's comment brings to light a philosophical question about honoring soldiers and commemoration.  Pringle is buried in Caserta cemetery with the honours accorded all Canadian soldiers by the Commonwealth War Graves Commision.  On first glance, this seems to be a place of respect which was not earned by this deserter and murderer.  When we think of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries, with their symmetric rows of identical tombstones, we consider their eternal residents' memory in relation to their sacrifices as soldiers.  A murderer who was put to death by the military seems rather out of place in this context.  Certainly many other soldiers buried in the cemeteries would have had military rap sheets, and civilian cemeteries bury the good with the bad, but the very fact that Pringle was killed by the military he served for seems problematic in light of the meaning of military cemeteries. 
Caserta Cemetery CWGC

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Great Fly-Killing Competition: Sudan 1941

A recent edited volume of primary documents, Combat Stress in the 20th Century is an excellent addition to the literature on psychiatry at war.  Editors Terry Copp and Mark Humphries have selected a broad range of articles from medical journals, archived reports, and accounts by medical officers and laymen alike which show the development (or some would say lack thereof) of military thought on mental breakdown and treatment in the commonwealth armies.

For those of more eccentric historical taste (you've come to the right place!), there are plenty of accounts of the more extreme sides of the subject, including electroshock therapy, barbituate sedation, or insulin shock therapy.  On the scale of strange, however, it is hard to top the account of FM Richardson's competitive health preservation.  It seems that to remove the risk of malaria and the sheer annoyance of the omnipresent fly, all Second World War British officers needed to do was start counting:

In a camp in Sudan where fly infestation was very bad and made life intolerable despite intensification of all the usual measures and the efforts of a strong daily fly-swatting patrol almost unbelievable results were achieved in little over a month by a fly-killing competition.  The unit was divided by tents and other convenient groups into teams of ten to twelve men and a running total of the number of flies killed by each team was published weekly.  A standard tin of which the fly content was known was kept by the G.M. Havildar to whom the teams brought their daily bag to be counted, recorded and burned.  The results soon became apparent and it was not long before the 100,000 mark was passed.  The I.H.C. sepoy would do a lot for a few rupees and a good curry bat, and enthusiasm soon rose so high that the best hunting grounds had to be allotted on an official programme like the blocks in a shooting jungle.  Finally the few remaining flies were being stalked by the more resolute competitors and one could see none where recently they had been swarming.
Allied Advances in the East African Campaign. Image by historicair
 This may all sound rather ridiculous but I was later discussing it with a man who had lived in Rumania, where, he said, flies had been innumerable.  A similar competition on a village basis for big money prizes was organized by the Government, and the results, he assured me, were so remarkable that flies virtually disappeared from the country and the disposal of the rubbish which the flies would have eaten became quite a problem.  I accept no responsibility for this statement which may have been merely a dramatic way of emphasizing the success of the scheme, but it is a stimulating thought for medical entomologists.  (FM Richardson, "Competitive Health Preservation in the Army", text of a presentation at the USAREUR and Seventh Army Medical Surgical Conference at Garmisch, Germany, 18 May 1981.)
In civilian life, cold hard cash was necessary to promote fly-killing! 
 Mansfield Advertiser, Mansfield, Penn., June 24, 1914
via State Library of Pennsylvania via
 Questionable Advice and Advertisements
Richardson is best known for his work Fighting Spirit which is a socio-psychological look at men in combat.  He suggested applying the  health competition to battle exhaustion cases.  This seems like a questionable cure for the malady.  If soldiers took the competition seriously, and paid attention to the publicized battle exhaustion rates of various competing units and formations, they would condemn those with symptoms of breakdown.  Hence, it is more likely that those suffering from combat stress would be under even more pressure from their peers, complicating their malady further.  In consideration of how important acceptance by the group is to soldiers, letting their unit down further in the competition may have increased their shame, reducing the already low chances of rehabilitation and return to unit.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The poor to the madhouse, the rich to the spa: Neurasthenia in the 19th Century

The history of mental illness and psychiatry is a fascinating field that is always generating interest.  One would only need to glance at the program for the recent University of Calgary Conference "History of Medicine Days", to find new research on asylums, psychiatric pharmacology, or combat stress.  On this last topic, Terry Copp and Mark Humprhries' 2010 work Combat Stress In the 20th Century: The Commonwealth Perspective, compiles an impressive collection of primary sources from the archives and medical journals which outline the development of an understanding of mental breakdown on the battlefield.  Their introduction to the first chapter, "From Railway Spine to Traumatic Psychosis: Doctors Confront Trauma in the Modern Age, 1865-1918", shows how class and gender affected early thought on mental illness.

In the nineteenth century, public asylums could resemble medieval dungeons more than places of recuperation and rest.  Those committed to them were largely the impoverished, homeless cases deemed unstable and disruptive.  More affluent families with any compassion for a relation would certainly attempt to avoid incarcerating them here.  Instead of diagnosing these patients as insane, doctors would allow them to be classified as having "nerves".  As Copp and Humprhies write, "nerves allowed those with enough money to pay for treatment and a respectable diagnosis to wrap many of the more common mental illnesses in a linguistic cloak thus avoiding the stigmitization of the asylum". (p. 4)
Opening in 1247, London's St Bethlehem Hospital or "Bedlam"
 as it was known was the first dedicated strictly  to those with mental disorders.

Insanity was considered to be inherited, yet nervous disorders were thought to be acquired, and thus these were socially acceptable conditions.  Insanity reflected poor blood, while a nervous disorder may have just been reflective of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Psychiatrists, alienists, and neurologists were happy to be able to escape the practices of the asylum, and so by classifying the nervous disorders into neurasthenia, hysteria and traumatic neuroses, they looked forward to private practice with more well-heeled patients.
“Mistress and her maid,” by Jean Louis Forain.
University of Virginia Art Museum.

Neurasthenia was thought to be a loss of nerve substances from the body.  Modernity, with its  railroads, electrification, and mechanization was thought to increase this dissipation of "nerve force".  While veterans of the American civil war were first to diagnosed, medical culture soon began to associate it with those who were on the cutting edge of the latest technologies.  Copp and Humpries record, "...a diagnosis of neurasthenia was often quite fashionable because it indicated that one was engaged with the modern world.  It grew in popularity so quickly that soon the link between veterans and the diagnosis was all but forgotten."  (p. 5)
Charcot demonstrates a case of 'hysteria' c. 1885

Hysteria was a condition that was hard to distinguish from neurasthenia, and carried negative connotations with its diagnosis.  By the late nineteenth century it had become associated with undue sensitivity, moral weakness, and impulsiveness.  "Although it was similiar clinically to neurasthenia, hysteria resulted from the patient overexciting their own nerves through some specific idea or act.  Masturbation, obsession with romantic relationships, grief, and worry were all thought to unnecessarily tax the nervous system and sap the energies of the patient and, in extreme cases, produce a shock which resulted in the more pronounced hysterical symptoms like paralysis, blindness, and mutism." (p. 5)  With this contrast, it is clear which diagnosis was preferable for the patient!

The authors' note that it was the patient's class and sex that differentiated the two conditions to most doctors.  Patients from the upper class, of course, had "superior moral constitutions" and were less likely to succumb to the temptations which would bring on hysteria.  Women, however, thought to have less willpower and tendencies towards emotional outbursts, were also thought to be at risk.  It appears that wealthy women could turn a doctor's diagnosis in the favourable direction, as "...women of means were often able to find a doctor willing to label them neurasthenic." (p. 6)

Copp and Humprhies emphasize that after the Civil War, nervous disorders were increasingly accepted as a "more benign form of mental illness." They note that it was the pace of modernity that many blamed on the acute manifestation of these disorders:
At the heart of the diagnosis of neurasthenia was the notion that modernity itself was traumatic.  The mechanized, industrial slaughter of the Civil War and the hurdling pace of modern life were symptomatic of the trials and triumphs of the modern age and it was to be expected that man's feeble body would recoil in horror as it was further disconnected from an agrarian, rural past.  In the decades after the Civil War, doctors on both sides of the Atlantic were increasingly faced with victims who suffered from the after-effects of these head-on collisions with modernity. (p. 6)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Burned in Effigy: The Vagaries of Symbolic Arson

Nothing voices disapproval like building a mannequin, parading it about town under abuse, and torching the thing in public.  When it comes to over-the-top antagonistic symbolism, it is hard to beat the power of incineration.  And who doesn't like a roaring bonfire?

Over the years Canadians have taken to the streets in protest for scores of reasons.  Most often, politicians are the source of public ire, and so scarecrows in their likeness have faced the flames.  At other times, the more creative members of unruly mobs have worked artful metaphor into the performance.  A handful of protests over a hundred years of Canadian history prove that economics was often a cause that brought the torch to the tinder.

Revolutionary Lego Men protest British Taxation
without Representation.
Cooperman Brick Foundry

While trade and tariffs may not seem like a topic that could kindle the ritualistic arson, the student of Canadian history will know the subject has raised ire since the colonial era.  One need not be an expert to know that taxes have provoked their fair share of revolt over the years.

An early account of symbolic arson arose in the colony of New Brunswick when the British mercantile system was teetering on the breach.  Timber became a profitable export after Napoleon's European blockade halted the supply of Baltic wood to Britain.  After the War of 1812, the lumber barons of New Brunswick were quick to press authorities for a preferential tariff against non-imperial timber so they could still turn a profit.
"View of the Town of St. Andrew's with its magnificent Harbour and Bay", ca. 1840.
 Coloured lithograph by William Day (Day and Son Lithographers) after a sketch by Frederick Wells. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-016386.Family Heritage

An 1831 description of pyrotechnics in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, shows the great enthusiasm for news of a British ruling which maintained the tariff.

A boat said to be Baltic built, was filled with a cargo of combustibles and ... towed into the harbour, where she was moored. The Effigy of a distinguished supporter of the Baltic interests was suspended from the mast with a paper in his hand bearing the superscription "Baltic Timber Bill" - several pounds of gunpowder were concealed under his waist coat, and there was a large quantity in the boat. The combustibles were set fire to, and in due seasons, poor ______ was blown to atoms." (Cited in Graeme Wynn, "On the Margins of Empire", Illustrated History of Canada, 2007, p.199)

The protectionism of Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy proves tarriffs were still a pressing issue after confederation.  In the Conservatives last electoral victory with The Old Chieftain, reciprocity in trade (free trade on many goods) was on the receiving end of a symbolic scorching.  Historian D.J. Hall noted that when John A. Macdonald's Conservatives won the 1891 election, supporters in  Brandon, Manitoba, hit the streets in a victory parade.  The procession included the burning of a bin of "Liberal" rubbish labelled "Unrestricted Reciprocity."   Hall notes that "the Liberals were consoled when, despite the Tories' best efforts, it resolutely refused to ignite." (Hall, The Young Napoleon, p.50)

Glenbow Museum and Archives File number: NA-3561-1
Title: Social Credit rally poster, Fort Macleod, Alberta.
Date: July 2, 1935
During the deprivations of the Great Depression, there is no wonder that ordinary people again vented their frustrations at an economic system that had left them desititute.  When Alberta's Social Credit party under William "Bible Bill" Aberhart won an astounding majority in the provincial election of 1935, the village of Chancellor was witness to a conflagration.  As John Irving notes in his work The Social Credit Movement in Alberta (1959),

To celebrate the victory they piled up packing cases, boards, and poles in the main street and built a huge bonfire.   They made a straw man, to represent the former member and defeated U.F.A. candidate for Bow Valley, Jonathan M. Wheatley.  Around this effigy they wrapped the election posters of all the opposing parties, and heaved it into the flames with a pitchfork.  This act, they explained, was not to be understood as an attack on Mr. Wheatley.  They meant nothing  personal: they were burning the monetary system. (Irving, 332)

Mr. Wheatley's reaction to his stunt double's use in this fiscal allusion is not recorded.  The crowd's sentiments suggest the specious dogma of Social Credit financial ideology had taken a firm grasp of the Albertan psyche.  Wheatley's treatment shows there could be sinister undertones to such pageantry, with the threat of violence directed at the effigy's mold.

Protest of Maine Liquor Laws in Saint John N.B.
featured burning effigies of US authorities.

Economics and symbolic arson is just one theme in the fascinating history of Canadian public ritual.  When the mob takes to the streets one never knows what allegories the more creative participants may procure.  Fire is a powerful symbol in all cultures, and has the added bonus of offering a little light in the days before electrification.  While the burning of figures as economic symbols seems innocent enough, a more malevolent side to these rituals arises with the burning of models of politicians or local people No matter how jovial a crowd of revellers may seem, one MUST feel attacked when observing one's own likeness go up in flames!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Airminded Patriotism: Second World War social history takes flight

Studies of the Canadian home-front in the Second World War are becoming increasingly frequent, indicating that military historians in the country are becoming comfortable with the previously terrifying methodologies of social history. The wartime citizens of Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Verdun have all been the subject of recent scholarly examination and the University of Calgary has a brand new edition to the literature in Sarah Sewell's masters thesis, "Making the Necessary Sacrifice: The Military's Impact on a City at War, Calgary, 1939-1945."

A rising star in the constellation of published works is Jeff Keshen's Saints, Sinners and Soldiers, which is finding its way onto the lists of graduate seminars and comprehensive examinations alike. Keshen's work is a mirror image of your typical Second World War survey, as it crams the fighting overseas into a single chapter, a treatment traditionally reserved for the impact of the war at home. Keshen challenges the notion of a patriotic consensus, showing resistance to growing government control by farmers and workers, along with the selfish actions of profiteers. In Keshen's account, "The Good War" loses much of its moral lustre.

Another recent work by an undisputed heavyweight champion of Canadian military history, who has long sparred with social theory, is Jonathan Vance's Maple Leaf Empire. Vance's work is beginning to be assigned as an undergraduate text, as it concisely surveys the Canadian military relationship with Mother Britain from confederation to the Second World War. While Vance does touch on moments of dissent, noting friction and misunderstanding between Canadians and Britons in the early years of the second war, his account is largely focused on Anglo-Canadian solidarity. The major Canadian presence in Aldershot, the Vale of York and Londonderry, are shown as a kind of reverse colonization, where, (especially after those damn Yankees arrived), the Canadians were welcomed with open arms.

Members of the "Eager Beavers" entertainment troupe from Montreal, who are visiting Aldershot, England, 4 July 1945.  Lieut. Arthur L. Cole / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152136

Vance notes that one expression of solidarity with Britain on the Canadian homefront was particularly air-minded. With the major threat to Britain in the early war coming from the Luftwaffe, it is no surprise that Canadians wished to purchase aircraft to do their part in defence. In 1939 the Wings for Britain Fund was established to channel patriotic contributions to the Air Ministry, and in August 1940 the cause was given a great leg-up by Canadian millionaire Garfield Weston. Upon hearing of the loss of 16 Spitfires in August 1940, Weston signed a cheque for ₤100,000. Weston claimed, "As a Dominion man, I've dug deep into my jeans to help with the war [...] But I've got my money on a winning horse." (Cited in Vance, p. 164) Others soon stepped forward, with the publisher of the Montreal Star J.W. McConnell donated $1 million for a whole squadron built in Canada.

Even prisoners contributed! Globe 1940
Elites were not the only ones to respond to the call for money for machines. A particularly novel approach came from one Dorothy Christie of Montreal, who sold some of her finer apparel to start a mailing campaign to every other "Dorothy" she could find. Her card's read, "Is your name Dorothy? If so, rally around and help buy a Spitfire for Britain." (Vance, p. 166) Dorothys across the country held some 20,000 tea parties, concerts, car washes and yard sales.  Presumably the presentation Spitfire named "Dorothy of the Empire and Great Britain" was the result.

The UK film "The First of the Few" was known as "Spitfire" in the United States.

Wings for Britain eventually purchased more than 2,200 aircraft, including 1,600 Spitfires, speaking to that model's ability to capture the public imagination. Similar campaigns such as the Buy-A-Tank campaign, capitalized on the popular fascination with the machines of war, and contributed to a discourse of mechanization which pervaded the era. Added incentive for those that purchased a whole plane (the Air Ministry put the cost of a fighter at ₤5,000 for fighter, which actually only payed for the airframe), was selection of the name of the craft. Vance notes a puzzling choice of one Herbert Morris, who dubbed his spitfire "Dirty Gerty Vancouver"!

Advertisements featuring "Canada's New Mechanized Army", stirred the imaginations of young Canadians as well. As Cynthia Comacchio notes in her chapter, "To Hold on High the Torch of Liberty: Canadian Youth and the Second World War." in a recent edited volume, Canadian youth supported the war effort with an eye to the skies. Around 40,000 high school boys worked on modelling ninety different aircraft for British Commonwealth Air Training Plan purposes. (Comacchio, p. 43) The models were to be used to familiarize aircrew with a variety of allied and enemy planes. Comacchio notes that girls got in on the building as well, perhaps tiring of knitting socks for soldiers overseas. In some schools girls protested that boys were delegated modelling duties, and demanded participation. As Saturday Night magazine noted, "In these cases the knitting needles are idle while the young ladies cut patterns and paint up the finished models." (Saturday Night, 19 December 1942, as cited by Comacchio) Comacchio, as can be expected for a scholar with a keen eye for the construction of gender roles, notes, "Their participation, however, clearly stayed within the domain of traditional feminine skills."

The "Little Happy Gang" children's knitting club, who are knitting for Canadian soldiers and for the Canadian Red Cross Society.  Victor Bull / National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / C-053880

These patriotic responses offer a counter to Keshen's mirror image of the "Good War"Far from offering a black or white picture of the conflict, however, new works show that, despite the tankers of ink spilled examining the Second World War, complex new approaches may still be found. For Vance, "The speed and efficiency with which the Canadian community in Britain mobilized to support charitable causes like the Wings for Britain Fund demonstrates that Canada's empire in Britain from the First World War had never really disappeared." (Vance, p. 166) With a nod to Veronica Strong-Boag's A New Day Recalled, Comacchio's study notes that "what imprints individual and collective memory, is not the universality of experience so much as the fundamental elements of age and life stage." (p.28) War could become a shortcut to adulthood, yet also "inspired generational solidarity". (p.56) There is no questioning that the shared experience of the war shaped the Class of '45 in schools across the nation.

Further Reading:

A article from Legion magazine further elaborates on the Spitfire funds and patriotic contributions:

One of the Garfield Weston spitfires was discovered in an Irish bog: 

Hayes, G., M. Bechthold, and M. Symes. Canada and the Second World War: Essays in Honor of Terry Copp. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012.

Keshen, Jeff. Saints, Sinners, and Soldiers: Canada’s Second World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.

Vance, Jonathan.F. Maple Leaf Empire: Canada, Britain, and Two World Wars. OUP Canada, 2012.