Thursday, December 22, 2016

Canadian Postal Censorship: A Disgruntled Canadian Rant, Spring 1942

Canadian postal censorship reports of the Second World War are fascinating sources for soldierly vernacular.  There is no shortage of excerpts from browned-off soldiers grousing in their letters about the travails of military life. For all the complaints of tasteless food, freezing barracks, and pointless fatigues, those back at home would be forgiven for forgetting that the war was on!

While household-name military historians like C.P. Stacey, Terry Copp, or Jonathan Vance, have used postal censorship in the past, up-and-comer Robert Engen has recently published the most systematic look at these sources in his excellent work Strangers in Arms. Engen's book may become this generation's version of John English's The Canadian Army in the Normandy Campaign: A Study of Failure of High Command. Engen's provocative thesis challenges notions of primary group and regimental fealty as the key to combat motivation.  Where English challenged the competency of Canadian senior leadership and doctrine, Engen argues against the time-honored tradition that the bonds of the regimental family and the combat-hardened band of brothers kept men fighting in the line. Postal censors' reports are just one part of a whole range of interesting sources that Engen uses to create a sociological overview of the Canadian Army at war.

Engen largely uses the quantitative aspects of these reports and their summaries, but a whole ream of excerpts from letters also accompany Canadian Army Postal Censorship files.  Here is an example of a particularly long excerpt that officers felt deserved repeating for its vitriol. The letter was written in early 1942, as Canadians trained, and trained some more, waiting for their shot at combat.
I don't know what you are reading in the papers about England and the war etc but so help me they sure deserve to have the pants trimmed off them.  Nobody worries a damn bit about the real problem at hand, which is killing and defeating Germany, physically, spiritually and morally.  All they talk about is silly trivial stuff like 'saving waste paper' and 'we must back Russia to the utmost' with everything but men it seems.  The latest propaganda howl all over the bloody place is 'Remember Hong Kong'.  Have they forgotten about 13 other total defeats including the far Eastern stronghold, Singapore?  I was over at N.... for tea on Sunday, and they have a cousin in the Artillery, a Sarjeant.  He heard last week he may be going overseas somewhere, so has applied for a commission so that he can go to an O.C.T.U. and therby stay in England 6 months.  This from a middle class intelligent man? of 32!  And we came over here to protect bastards like that.
So much for press, propaganda, and shirkers.  Our correspondent continued with a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon (and anti-Semitic) diatribe against the black market.

WC'42 By M. Covarrubias.
After nearly 2 1/2 years at war they are trying to decide whether to pass the death sentence on those hundreds of people engaged solely in supplying the 'Black Market'. Black market, in case it is foreign, is food clothing and niceties supplied in any amount to those who can afford to pay the highest and is a criminal offence if caught in Russia, Germany, Japan and Italy, it's a firing squad, and no questions asked.  But in England the majority engaged in this illicit trade is our friend the JEW, and we, the almighty, the cricket-playing, home-loving Englishmen, cannot be accused of race discrimination.  Night clubs are always packed.  On Saturday or Sunday in London and suburbs it is next to impossible to get into a movie, those with the necessary money and connections are never without ample gasoline to run even the most expensive cars and when John Doe sees old Churchill grin and give the 'V' sign he just calmly thinks about the type of carrots he will be planting in the spring and says 'good ol' Winnie, he'll pull us through', completely ignoring the news in his own newspapers telling him the 'Empire' is unfortunately going to pieces, but it simply can't be helped, ol' boy, we just haven't got the planes.
Even raids across the Channel Coast didn't cheer our thoroughly skeptical correspondent.
The Raid On St. Nazaire, March 1942.
Order the board game today?
And then when the public begin to get a bit anxious they pull a 'huge' raid off on the French coast with about 50 men, its probably about one of the weakest spots on their tremendous frontier, but next morning great headlines of a 'daring victory'.  I heard some wag in a pub say: 'you know we really have given them a rough time on the French coast.'
At the end of it all, the war would result in nothing less than the complete destruction of Canadian sovereignty.
I have come to the conclusion the average Englishman's indifference and modesty is put on to the point of absurdity.  They make you sick, so high and mighty, instead of realising that when this war is finally over we shall have Russian and U.S.A. to thank our lucky stars that the British Empire still exists. I wonder who will have the job of rolling up the 49th Parallel Wire and dumping it in the Pacific Ocean?
It seems safe to say that not all Canadian soldiers had high morale in the first half of 1942!

Letter from "Notes on Mail examined during Period 2ndto 17thMarch, 1942," Field Censors (Home), FCH/CR 21. DND File 46-3-3/INT Vol 1, "Censorship Reports: Field Censors (Home) Sep-DEc 41 January – May 42.", 215C1.98(D332) Censorship Reports Vol. 1 Jan-May 42, RG24 Volume 10705, LAC.

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