In September 1939, the Canadian army, a tiny force of around 55,000 regulars and reservists, began a remarkable expansion.
Building the Army’s Backbone tells the story of how senior leadership created a corps of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) that helped the force train, fight, and win. No army can function without a backbone of skilled NCOs – corporals, sergeants, and warrant officers who serve as leaders, trainers, and disciplinarians. The Canadian army needed to create tens of thousands of NCOs out of raw civilian material. These citizen-soldiers had to become leaders, expert weapons handlers, and instructors proficient in the latest tactics, and they had to do it quickly. Exploring an area that has so far received little attention in academic and popular literature, Andrew Brown uncovers an innovative two-track NCO-production system: locally organized training programs were run by units and formations, while centralized programs were overseen by the army in Canada and Britain.
To bring coherence to the two-track approach, the army circulated its best-trained NCOs between operational forces, the reinforcement pool, and the training system. The result was a corps of NCOs that collectively possessed the essential skills in leadership, tactics, and instruction to help the army succeed in battle.
Scholars of military history throughout the British Commonwealth will find this study of raising and preparing forces engaging, as will military instructors and students, and Canadian personnel with an interest in their army’s history.
Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew L. Brown is an assistant professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada. With over three decades of service in the army, he has served in a variety of positions at home and on operations abroad. His research focuses on army manpower issues in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the Second World War.
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