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Remembered Today:

Get Tough, Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-1918


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Get Tough, Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-1918 Kenneth Radley, Helion & Company, Solihull, 2014. 423pp.

    Following on from his excellent study of the 1st Canadian Division during the Great War (We Lead, Others Follow) Kenneth Radley’s  Get Tough, Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-1918 looks at the Canadians on the Western Front through a slightly different lens.  In his first book Radley analysed why the 1st Canadian Division was such an effective fighting formation, and sought his answer through examining three themes: command and control, staff work, and training.  In Get Tough, Stay Tough  he follows a similar approach, this time “assessing the influence of discipline, morale, and officer - other rank relationships, as they stood within the Canadian Corps, upon combatant officers and men”. 


    In this well documented, thoroughly researched, balanced study, one senses Radley, a former officer in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, has concerns about current attitudes towards discipline which diminish its importance, and officers who seek an over familiarity with their soldiers and lack the moral courage to install high standards. As he rightly says “Discipline, morale and the officer- Other Rank [sic] relationship are so fundamental in war and in soldiering that major shortcomings can severely diminish or even ruin effectiveness.” - a view shared by anyone who has experienced the sour taste of combat, and starkly evident in the incidents that led to the disbandment of the Canadian Parachute Regiment in 1995. He pulls no punches in this well written and forthright  examination of these matters, which all aspiring officers, and historians who feel competent to judge such issues, would do well to read. 


    Those looking for an operational analysis of the Canadian Corps will not find it here. Get Tough, Stay Tough is very much concerned with the three subjects mentioned. Stepping off with an excellent Introduction Radley outlines the fundamentals of these matters, the difficulties in writing about discipline and morale, and discusses the limited number of books addressing these subjects. In doing so, he reminds us not to judge attitudes and norms of a century ago by today’s standards, and that historians with no military background lack a real understanding of soldiering or war - quoting the words of historian David Graves “Too often the civilian historians who write about military operations are the like the man who knew all the words and sang all the notes but somehow never quite learned the song.”  We then get into the meat of the book, with six chapters devoted to discipline, five to morale, and two to officer-other rank relationships, in which the theory and the practice are considered. 


    Throughout the work Radley discusses them in depth, supported by lashings of views and comments from Canadian and British officers and soldiers who served during the Great War, while the author’s own comments are incisive, candid and relevant. Furthermore, he explains what the terminology he mentions actually means, or mean’t at the time of the Great War, and describes how the systems worked during the war.  Those who feel military justice was somewhat peremptory will do well to read the very educational chapters on Crime and Punishment providing a synopsis of military law, and how it was applied in practice, especially in relation to crimes carrying the death sentence. 


    Nor does Radley guild the lily. While he believes the effectiveness and sound combat performance of the Canadian Corps was founded on strong discipline, which in turn led to high morale, he also recognises the Canadians were less disciplined than their British counterparts, but more so than the Australians. Indeed he, and it seems the Canadians on the Western Front had little time for Australian attitudes towards discipline,  In citing poor performances amongst the Canadians, he draws the conclusion all solders know - the culture, effectiveness, and battle performance of unit is set by its commanding officer. 


    If there is a criticism, it is perhaps that Radley writes too much about each of these subjects, and quotes too much from participants to make his points.  This reviewer feels he could have captured all he has to say in fewer words. Nonetheless, this is an excellent, well rounded book that has resonance today. It is a work that should be standard reading for military officers to reinforce just how important strong discipline, and from it morale and officer - other rank relationships are to an effective fighting unit, while historians and those with an interest in military history will also gain much from it. It is the best study yet published on the interrelated matters of discipline, morale and officer - other rank relationships.

Edited by Crunchy
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Another insightful review, of another book in my to-be-read pile, thank you. I did wonder about getting 'We Lead, Others Follow' but, sadly, the prices quoted online are way beyond my budget.

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That's a shame Paul.  IMO We Lead, Others Follow is the better of the two books, but as you say it is a hideous price, even second hand.


Thank you for your kind words.




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  • 4 years later...

Just reading this. 

Not what I expected from the cover and the blurb on the Defence Library catalogue, but a very good book and a good lesson in leadership ! 


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