Amid the Guns Below: The Story of the Canadian Corps 1914-1919
Larry Worthington

McClelland and Stewart Limited, Toronto/Montreal, 1965

WorthingtonAnother gem from the FCWM's Used Military Books Room. This book was published fifty years ago, but just because it is "old" does not make it less valuable, because the insights of fifty years ago are often at least as relevant as those contained in more recent "better" books.

Especially in this case, because the author of this book was the wife of MGen F.F. Worthington, generally considered to be the father of the Canadian Armoured Corps in the Second World War. General Worthington served in the First World War, and so any insights shared by the author are most likely based on the first-hand recollections of her husband.

As for style, Worthington's style is reminiscent of that of her son, Peter Worthington, of Toronto Telegram/Toronto Sun fame: passionate and direct.

This is a very short book, only 165 pages, but it captures the passion and esprit-de-corps of the Canadian Corps on the Western Front in World War I. More recent histories of this period tend to focus on getting the details right (a laudable objective to be sure), but in the process they take on a dispassionate academic tone; the immediacy and urgency are lost.

(In many respects, this book is the antithesis of Hew Strachan's 2004 book "The First World War" also reviewed on this blog. Strachan's book presented the grand view, deliberately understating the contributions of individual nations; Worthington's book is the opposite.)

But the principle antagonist in this story is Arthur Currie. Currie started the war as a militia Lieutenant-Colonel, landed in France as a Brigadier, assumed command of the Canadian Corps after the battle of Vimy Ridge and, over the remaining eighteen months of the war, oversaw its greatest triumphs. In addition to describing the campaigns, this book describes Currie's sometimes rocky relations with his superior officers in the British Army, and also his relations with his political masters in Canada. Despite disagreements, and despite his "colonial" background, by the end of the war Currie was very highly respected by his brother officers in all countries -- while simultaneously being shunned by Canada's political leadership at home. Worthington makes no bones about wanting to rehabilitate the reputation of an officer who, in her view (and increasingly the view of many more recent observers), should be regarded as one of the finest military leaders that Canada has ever produced.

(A detailed account of Currie's battles with his Canadian political masters can be found in Tim Cook's 2011 book, "The Madman and the Butcher".)

There is also a sub-story, that of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, conceived, organized and led by Raymond Brutinel. At the time, armies had not generally embraced the idea of substituting firepower, particularly machine guns, for manpower. Brutinel was responsible for developing organizations and tactics for the use of machine guns, including the use of armoured motorized vehicles, that were eventually adopted throughout the British and French armies. His ideas made a huge contribution to the combat capability of the Canadian Corps and other British and French formations. .

Brutinel emigrated to Canada from France in 1905, and then after the war returned to France for personal reasons where he died in 1964. As is the case with Arthur Currie, interest in Brutinel's life and accomplishments has revived in recent years. (See, for example, the article by the CWM's Cameron Pulsifer in the January 2001 issue of "Canadian Military History".) Worthington's husband, MGen Worthington, served as a Captain in Brutinel's Machine Gun Corps during World War One.

(One of Brutinel's original motorized machine gun carriers is on display in Gallery 2 at CWM.)

A very interesting book. Not primarily for serious students of history but, for laymen in particular, a good introduction to a very important facet of Canadian history, showing us why we should indeed be proud of what Arthur Currie and the Canadian Corps accomplished in World War One. Now long out of print, but well worth reading if you can find a copy.

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