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Canloan: Canucks with the Brits in WWII.

Among the items on display in the National War Museum is what at first sight seems to be a fairly prosaic rack of battledress blouses. However, a discerning eye would notice that the shoulder titles are somewhat unusual -- the names of tartan patches of famous British infantry regiments above a Canada flash. These were worn by a select group of Canadian junior officers in the Second World War.

In late 1943 the British Army, which had been fighting for years on many fronts, found itself desperately short of captains and lieutenants. The forthcoming invasion of North-West Europe placed further demands on the hard-pressed British. On the other hand the Canadian Army had a surplus of junior officers, "full of piss and vinegar" and eager for action.

For once, some higher-up exhibited a modicum of common sense and, in the fall of 1943, a scheme was devised to enable Canadian subalterns to serve with British infantry and ordnance units. It was named CANLOAN.

Selection began in early 1944. There were several volunteers, eager to get into action. From the Pictou Highlanders alone, seventeen of the 37 officers stepped forward; the unit had been given a high proportion of home-service "zombies" and the officers felt this was an opportunity to get overseas. Many officers dropped one or more ranks to qualify. In some cases lieutenant-colonels commanding units reverted to the rank of captain. In all, 623 infantry and 50 ordnance captains and lieutenants were selected.


After a brief "holding and training" phase in Sussex, NB, under the command of Brigadier Milton Gregg, VC, MC, the first draft arrived in Britain. The remainder soon followed. On arrival, they were posted to British infantry units -- if possible those of their choice. In many cases, CANLOAN officers joined their affiliated "sister regiments." (When I was serving with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), for instance, I found that almost all of our CANLOAN officers had French names, our allied regiment being the Regiment de Maisson-neuve.)

Generally the Canadians were well received. Although their more open manner caused a few raised eyebrows in some of the more fashionable regiments, and the fact that, unlike many of their colleagues, they were as yet untried in battle, on the whole they were made very welcome and integrated well. The only distinguishing features of the CANLOAN officers -- who proudly wore their new units' badges and insignia -- were a Canada shoulder flash and a somewhat heavier paycheck.


George Bernard Shaw once remarked that "the English and Americans are divided by a common language." Certainly, this also applied to Canadians. Doug Gage remembers being posted to a Welsh regiment, to find that many of his troops spoke that language as their native tongue. This was even more evident with the Royal Welch Fusiliers where the CANLOAN officers (from R22eR) were mainly francophone and their men came from the largely Welsh-speaking north of their country; both used limited English as a lingua franca. In his excellent account, "Code Word CANLOAN," Wilfred Smith, a former CANLOAN officer himself and later Dominion Archivist, tells of a Canadian officer who attended "C.O.'s Orders" when one of his men, a London Cockney, was charged. After the alleged malefactor had presented his story, his platoon commander was asked whether or not he agreed with it; the unfortunate CANLOAN officer was forced to admit that he hadn't understood a word.


Some officers pulled strings and tried a number of angles to get into the action. Captain "Paddy" Crehand, who had given up his rank and position as CO of the Irish Fusiliers of Canada, called in a few favours and, together with three more of his officers, joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers in Italy -- the first CANLOAN group to serve in that theatre. Sadly, this gallant officer was killed in action at Salerno. Don Holmes, afraid that he would miss the action while serving with the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment, transferred to the Parachute Regiment and fought in Europe. This placed him in good stead when, decades later, he became Colonel of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.


The CANLOAN officers were involved in most operations, from D-1 to the end of the war. Some landed in Normandy with the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Indeed, several of the uniforms in the War Museum carry the Pegasus divisional sign, reflecting their parachute or air-landing role. Leo Heaps, who became a well-known writer in later years, was awarded the Military Cross after escaping from Arnhem, and Bill Turner received the US Distinguished Service Cross -- second only to the Medal of Honor.

A tragic coincidence befell one CANLOAN officer. Shortly after D-Day, Capt Lloyd Sneath, serving with the York and Lancaster Regiment, was called to view the bodies of 20 Canadians in the grounds of a chateau. They were members of his own regiment, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, who had been executed by SS troops. (This incident is described in the War Amps video Take No Prisoners.)


By V-E Day, 75% of the CANLOAN officers had become casualties, including 128 (29%) Killed in Action or Died of Wounds. They had received 42 British and six foreign gallantry awards -- among them 41 Military Crosses -- as well as numerous "Mentions in Despatches." A number served in Italy, others volunteered for the Far East. Many were promoted, some becoming company commanders, while at least one ended the war commanding his battalion.

Some CANLOAN officers remained in the Army. At least two of them -- Don Holmes and Roland Reid -- became generals (MGen Reid became Colonel of R22eR and Chairman of the Normandy Foundation). Others, like the late Leo Heaps, Wilf Smith, and Jake Hunter, MP, to name but a few, went on to success in civilian life. Others who remained in the forces or re-enlisted served in Korea. The story of one -- Lt J.E "Blackie" Plouffe (US Distinguished Flying Cross) -- appeared in Volume 3 Issue 9.


At their first reunion, Brigadier Gregg was elected President of the CANLOAN Association and urged members to uphold their tradition "until the final two survivors." A Canadian distiller donated a bottle of 1944 vintage whiskey, which will be shared by the last two living members. (It is currently held by Doug Gage, of Ottawa.)

Their story is not yet over. In 1959, in response to a perceived insult to US soldiers by Field Marshal Montgomery, Congressman F.D. Roosevelt Junior (a war veteran himself) accused the British Army of "humbling itself" to ask for the loan of 673 Canadian officers, two-thirds of whom became casualties. (This is a variation of the allegation that Churchill would defend Britain to the last Pole, Canadian, Frenchman, American or what-have-you.) Roosevelt's allegation was quickly refuted, and it was pointed out that CANLOAN was Canada's idea.

On 3 June 1961 -- appropriately, the anniversary of the first day that CANLOAN officers saw action in Normandy -- the Governor General of Canada, MGen Georges Vanier PC, DSO, MC, CD joined by the British High Commissioner and Canadian and British government and veterans' representatives, unveiled a memorial in Ottawa recording the names of the 128 fallen comrades. The inscription reads:

"Erected by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, the British regiments, The CANLOAN Army Officers Association and CANLOAN next-of-kin. Designated CANLOAN 673 Canadian officers volunteered for loan to the British Army and took part in the invasion and liberation of Europe in 1944-45. CANLOAN total casualties were 465 of which 128 were fatal. Their Fallen are honoured in this quiet place in gratitude and remembrance of the cost of liberty."


An ever-decreasing group of CANLOAN veterans gather yearly at their memorial to pay homage to their comrades, then slowly move away, some softly singing an old British Army marching song introduced by Toronto's George Beck: "Lloyd George knew my father, Father knew Lloyd George ..."
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Author:Peate, Les
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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