Reluctant Warriors is the first in-depth examination of the pivotal role played by Canadian conscripts in the final campaign of the Great War. During the “Hundred Days” of the First World War, over 30 percent of conscripts who served in the Canadian Corps became casualties. Yet, they were generally considered slackers, shirkers, or malingerers for not having volunteered to fight of their own accord.
Challenging long-standing myths about conscripts, Patrick Dennis examines whether these men arrived at the right moment, and in sufficient numbers, to make any significant difference to the success of the Canadian Corps. He examines the conscripts themselves, their journey to war, the battles in which they fought, and their largely undocumented but often remarkable sacrifices and heroism. Apart from chronicling the seminal events that created the need for compulsory military service, he also focuses on the commanders who employed these conscripts and how their decision making was affected by a steady flow of reinforcements.
Reluctant Warriors sheds new light on the success of the Military Service Act and provides fresh evidence that conscripts were good soldiers who fought valiantly and made a crucial contribution to the success of the Canadian Corps in 1918.
Reluctant Warriors will be of interest to scholars, students, and readers interested in the First World War in general, and conscription in particular.
This is a first-rate book, well written and coherent. It is very readable and I recommend it to both serious scholars of the war and to the casual historian.
Patrick M. Dennis's Reluctant Warriors, another compelling entry in the UBC Press/Canadian War Museum Studies in Canadian Military History series, is a topical and long overdue examination of a fascinating chapter of Canada’s Great War experience … The work has immense emotional resonance, a welcome change from the detachment so common to operational history, buttressed by the author’s personal connection to the story … Reluctant Warriors is ... a cri de coeur that demolishes old assumptions about conscripts in combat and provides an important contribution to the larger question of what Canada gained – and lost – in the First World War.
Diligently researched and engagingly written, Dennis's book adds significantly to our understanding of Canada and the First World War – in particular, the experiences of tens of thousands of men who served their country less than willingly during the conflict and the vital contributions they made to the great victories of the Canadian Corps in France and Belgium from August to November, 1918.
Conscription represented one of the most difficult problems Canada faced during the First World War. Consequently, the place of more than 100,000 conscripts in our memory of the conflict has always been unsettled. Patrick Dennis has done a great service by finally telling the story of Canada’s involuntary soldiers of the Great War, the conscripted thousands who arrived on the Western Front during the final, terrible months of 1918.
With his fine research and careful analysis, Patrick Dennis has corrected the story that I and others told for so long. Some conscripts may have been shirkers – so were some volunteers – but most did their duty in a succession of great and terrible battles that broke the German Army.
Foreword / By J.L. Granatstein
Introduction: Slackers, Shirkers, and Malingerers
1 “The Blood Dimmed Tide”
2 Canada’s New Fighting Forces
3 The First Canadian Conscripts in Combat
4 Conspicuous Gallantry at Amiens
5 “Draft Men” and the Battle of the Scarpe, 1918
6 The Hardest Single Battle: The Drocourt-Quéant Line
7 Canal du Nord and the Brotherhood of Arms
8 A Dangerous Advance Continued
9 Cambrai and Iwuy: “For a time hell was loose”
10 Honour and Duty in the Pursuit to Mons
11 The Equal of the Best
Conclusion: Evidence has a Way of Dissolving Theories
Notes; Bibliography; Index
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