After my mother passed away two years ago, we helped her husband, Jim pack up their house and get it sold. As we went through years worth of accumulated ‘stuff’, we came across some really interesting items from the past. In particular, Jim’s father, Frank J. Payne served in the Canadian military during World War 2 and rose through the ranks to eventually become a Major. We found his military foot locker filled with a treasure trove of artifacts from the military, as well as some personal items like correspondence, his induction papers, his discharge papers, military newspapers, a graduation photo of his mates from the Acadia Collegiate and Business Academy (1916) in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and a single photo of his very young wife.
What came out of the foot locker was probably common for officers serving in the late 1930’s-1940’s. For a non-military person of the Internet generation, I found the contents absolutely eye opening. Our ultimate goal for the foot locker is to donate it to one of the military museums or organizations. Until then, I want to share some of the fascinating items I found. Most of the items were shared by the Canadian military with its Officers during World War II.
Military Strategy Books
The first book (larger book in the center above) is a hand bound collection of monthly Canadian Army Training Memorandums (or pamphlets) from 1941 (#10) to 1942 (#20). The memorandums show the chain of command, how to properly hold and present weapons, different types of military units, how to read and use maps, basic training objectives, and so much more. This was the pre-Internet way training information was disseminated through the Officers in the Canadian military.
The other 2 hand bound books, with a handwritten index, are actually a collection of military strategy pamphlets distributed to Canadian military officers to assist them in their war effort. Each pamphlet includes a tactical objective complete with definitions, considerations, diagrams, risks, contingencies, and strategies.
I am absolutely certain that this printed information was in addition to actual physical training and practice, but the level of detail and depth to these military memorandums is quite astounding.
Sampling the subjects from the various pamphlets, I uncovered topics including:
- Leading an offensive;
- Leading a defensive;
- How to withdraw;
- Supply in the field;
- Deploying mines and booby traps;
- Breaching minefields and booby traps;
- Tactical handling of Armoured Divisions;
- Tactical use of snipers;
- Utilize airborne troops;
- Tank hunting and destruction;
- Flame warfare;
- Use of gas/chemicals in the field;
- Defense against gas/chemicals in the field
- Aids to visual deception;
- and, dozens of other military strategic necessities.
Can you imagine an infantry officer having been told to expect armoured support for an upcoming military objective, reading up on how to use armoured divisions the night before a big battle. In my mind’s eye, I see an officer sitting on his bunk trying to determine whether a single flank tank attacks would be less effective than a double flank tank attack based on his the topography of his military objective. More likely, these guides were coupled with days, months or years of practical training as well, but it is intriguing to think about how this resource was used in the field.
It is a tribute to the Canadian military how effectively these pamphlets lay out the topic, challenges, options, benefits, and risks associated with each tactical subject. Remember, there was no Internet or even libraries nearby and on the battlefields, challenges would rapidly change. Officers would have depended on the knowledge that was in books, like these, to achieve his objectives and defend his troops.
Intelligence in the field
Three manuals on ‘Military Intelligence in the Field’ from 1938 to 1939 are depicted above. Again, these would have been shared with officers who in term would have shared with their men on a need to know basis. Subjects in these pamphlets cover the roles within military intelligence like soldiers in the field, air reconnaissance, maps, politicians, enemy troop deployments, and administrative intelligence.
An interesting talking point in one of the pamphlets is the treatment and disposal of prisoners of war. It also tells soldiers what they can (Name, rank, and serial numbers) and cannot say (anything else) if captured. The document also included an interesting section covering the numerous scenarios that an enemy may use on prisoners to covertly acquire military intelligence.
Again, I find myself imagining military intelligence in a world without the Internet we take for granted. The pamphlets, in my opinion, are a surprisingly efficient way to share information through the chain of command to the common soldiers.
Army Bureau of Current Affairs
Another collection of pamphlets came from the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. These documents looked like they were published every 2 weeks (fortnightly) and covered a range of global topics. The three ‘Current Affairs’ pamphlets are from the end of 1944. One, from Dec 2nd, 1944, looked at the impact of wars and modernization on birth rates. Countries like Wales and England saw declines in birthrates from almost 36 children per 1000 people per year decline to 15 children per 100 people per year at the peak of WW II. It raised a very real concern that the number of deaths each year would outpace the number of births. It is interesting, in hindsight to contrast that very real fear with the unexpected baby boom that followed the end of the war as the soldiers returned home. By the 1980’s, we were worried about the opposite…too many people on a planet with finite resources.
Another pamphlet, Men from the Dominions looked at the future of the commonwealth and the other allies from WW II. The third pamphlet looked at the “Japanese Way” and the reason we need to fight them — ‘Because their aim is world domination’. The report explores the risks of fighting or not fighting the Japanese empire. It looks at how Japanese people live and think and how that may become a greater threat. It was fascinating to look at Japan through a 1944 lens and compare that to modern day Japan. Again, the end of the war with Japan, and after this report was made, the U.S.A forced a fundamental shift to the role of Japan within the world as part of Japan’s surrender.
Dumbarton Oaks Proposal
One of the final documents caught me by surprise when I found it. It was called the ‘Dumbarton Oaks Proposals for the establishment of a General International Organization and I didn’t recognize its importance until I read it.
The pamphlet proposes, post-World War II, the need for the establishment of a United Nations organization to guide and oversee future global affairs. The proposal covers the purposes, principles, membership, and core functions (general assembly, Security Council, International Courts, and a secretariat). The proposal was agreed upon by representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States, the U.S.S.R, and China at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, U.S.A in October 1944. The document was being circulated by the Canadian Government in advance of discussions in Parliament.
Now, from my perspective, I cannot remember a time when there was not a United Nations. Whether one believes that United Nations is currently working as it should, reading a proposal to form such an organization and why its founders thought it was important was truly inspiring.
The other thing that occurred to me as I was reading all these documents was how important they must have been to Major Frank J. Payne. In World War II, these documents would likely have contributed to the success of his troops in combat. The fact that he kept this locker and its contents for his entire life, and then that his son kept them for most of his life says a lot of about the intrinsic personal value. I can imagine the thoughts, hopes, fears, successes, and likely heartbreak that were associated with these items.
You can also sense the obvious pride of being part of the Canadian Military from the contents in that foot locker. It has been an intriguing look back at a time and a war from 80 years ago. The gallery below includes some of the other, non-personal, things I found.