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The empire needs you! Recruiting drives use every tactic available, including humiliation, badgering and charge of cowardice.

In the summer of 1915, as casualties mounted on the Western Front, enlistment in Canada stalled. In July, the Militia Department cut its standards for height and chest measurement. In August, married men no longer needed their wives' permission to join up. Two battalions accepted "Bantams," men below the minimum height of 5'2", while two others accepted "Sportsmen." Five companies enlisted university students to fill the depleted ranks of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Increasingly, the recruiting leagues turned their fire on the government, which seemed to be doing nothing to help. Patriotic rallies heard demands for conscription or at least national registration so that "slackers" and "shirkers" could be identified and prodded to "do their bit."

Earlier drafts had taken the British-born, the passionately patriotic or unemployed men, leaving behind those who had jobs. Militia officers now targeted this previously untapped source for recruits, although farms and factories, both essential to the war effort, needed men as desperately as the army. Lord Shaughnessy, president of the CPR, warned that Canada's commitment might cripple the economy. "Piffle!" replied Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia.

Taking advantage of thousands of soldiers returning from summer training at Camp Niagara, recruiting officers in Toronto staged an enormous parade through the city, hoping that the sight of old friends in uniform would encourage others to come forward. Ten thousand troops, accompanied by no fewer than sixteen military bands and all their equipment--field kitchens, ambulances, transports, and the big gun carriages of the field artillery--formed up at the Exhibition Grounds and marched to Queen's Park where they were reviewed by Sam Hughes, Premier William Howard Hearst, and Mayor Tommy Church. Vehicles in the parade carried signs bearing the slogan, "Your King and Country Need You. Step on Board." By the time they arrived at Queen's Park they were filled with volunteers, waving to the cheering crowds.

Almost everyone in the city saw the parade. People stood six or seven deep along the entire route, while others sought better vantage points from rooftops, trees, and lamp posts.

The Citizens' Recruiting League organized rallies around the city. The largest of these took place at Riverdale Park on the evening of August 9, 1915. Originally scheduled to mark the anniversary of Canada's declaration of war, the rally was delayed five days because of rain. Once the weather cooperated, the park became the scene of what The World described as the "vastest and most spectacular patriotic military demonstration held in Canada since the outbreak of war." Between 75,000 and 100,000 people lined the natural amphitheatre formed by the hill sloping down from Broadview Avenue to the Don River. A huge electric sign in the centre of the valley beamed a Union Jack superimposed with the words "Your King and Country Need You. Enlist Now!" Massed bands played The Maple Leaf Forever, Rule Britannia, O Canada, Tipperary, Soldiers of the King, and Onward Christian Soldiers. Fireworks lit up the night sky at half past nine.


The annual Labour Day parade was "shot through with marchers wearing the King's uniform," the Globe reported. Twenty trucks were filled with children of working men serving at the front, carrying banners which read: "Daddy's at the Front, Why Not You?" "Daddy Loves His Union and Serves His Empire," "Our Daddy's Fighting for Peace and Fair Wages," and "Our Daddy Carries a Union Card and a Rifle."

To keep up the momentum, recruiting officers canvassed businesses to determine how many men they could spare. Some business leaders, however, argued that recruiting efforts were drawing too many men from the work force. Cards left at the T. Eaton Company were accepted, but Sir John Eaton made no promise that they would be distributed. "We have already sent approximately 1,400 men to the front from this store," he pointed out. Cards were handed out in movie theatres, pool halls and restaurants. Even the Boy Scouts got into the act, distributing handbills from house to house that read:

"1. If you are physically fit and between 19 and 40 years of age, are you really satisfied with what you are doing today?

2. Do you feel happy as you walk along the streets and see others wearing the King's uniform?

3. Do you realize that you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life? Gee! And have to look at yourself in the looking-glass every time you shave too.

4. If you are lucky enough to have children do you think it is fair to them not to go unless you are going to leave them hungry?

5. What would happen to Canada if every man stayed at home? Your King and Kitchener and 100,000 more Canadians at the front are calling you."

Recruiting efforts used every possible approach from shame to appeals to patriotism. Colonel Vaux Chadwick, commanding officer of the 123rd Battalion, led the way in shaming tactics, urging women to "refuse your favours to lily-livered men who will not fight for their country."

Across Canada, the Speakers' Patriotic League organized meetings and parades where army recruiters harangued young men about their duty. City streets, train stations, post offices, and other public places were plastered with regimental posters enticing men into the service. In Montreal, the Citizens' Recruiting League distributed 20,000 booklets pleading with "mothers, wives, and sweethearts ... to think of your country by letting your sons go and fight."


Women were encouraged to humiliate so called "slackers" who had not come forward to volunteer. They sang Muriel Bruce's new song Why Aren't You in Khaki? which became the official anthem of the recruiting leagues. Members of the militant Women's Home Guard, dressed in khaki skirts and Norfolk jackets, handed out white feathers--a symbol of cowardice. Charles Haddlesey of Vancouver recalled that "all the girls were going around with white feathers. They'd stick one of those feathers on you if you were not in uniform." Haddlesey found himself getting the white feather treatment even though he'd been rejected for service as medically unfit.

Martin Colby of London, Ontario, recalled that "I used to be asked, 'Why aren't you in the army?' and I had difficulty even when I told them I had bad ears because I'd had Scarlet Fever. 'Come on, try again. Try again.' I tried often enough, but oh Jesus; they used to pressure the life out of you. It was hell."

The temper of the times was recalled by Pierre van Passen, a young Dutch immigrant. Van Passen was accosted on the rear platform of a Toronto streetcar by a woman in mourning for her sons who had been killed at the front. "Why aren't you in khaki?" she demanded. "Why do you dare stand there laughing at my misery? What don't you go over and fight? Fight, avenge my boys!" When van Passen tried to explain that he was not a Canadian, she began to scream that she, "the mother of three heroes who had died for their King and country, had been insulted by a foreigner, a slacker, a German spy, a Red." When the beleaguered Dutchman managed to get off the streetcar at the King Edward Hotel, she followed him into the lobby, still screaming about spies and Germans. A crowd of businessmen gathered around and watched impassively as she pushed a white feather on a pin through his lapel and into his chest.

The Imperial theme The Empire Needs You! was an important part of the recruiting drive. "Britain has given you freedom ... she has given you peaceful years ... Will you help her now? She is in the gravest peril she has ever known and only her men can save her." The posters and advertisements also gave play to growing Canadian nationalism: "This is Canada's war. If Germany wins, your freedom will be lost."

The recruiting leagues had some success. In January 1916, 28,185 recruits came forward, the best month until March, with 33,960. Then the totals fell: 10,059 in June, 5,717 in September, 4,930 in December. Almost no one volunteered for the infantry. Parades, rallies, white feathers, speeches by war heroes--nothing made any difference. Instead of the 500,000 men that Sam Hughes had envisaged, the Canadian Expeditionary Force ended 1916 with 299,937 in its ranks. Most who joined after mid-1916 enlisted in the Canadian Forestry Corps or the fast growing Corps of Canadian Railway Troops, not the infantry battalions.

In the autumn, R.B. Bennett, a millionaire lawyer and Calgary MP, reluctantly agreed to chair the National Service Board. Its role was to conduct a national registration through the distribution of cards, although their completion and return was not compulsory. Four out of five recipients filled out the cards and 286,976 were deemed "available" for service. But, as the recruiting leagues found out, available did not mean willing to enlist. Those Canadians who would "do their bit" had done it. Volunteerism was over.
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Title Annotation:World War I
Author:Twatio, Bill
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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