Saturday, 23 September 2017

Segregating the Canadians

Segregating the Canadians
By Lacey Amy
From Saturday Night magazine, Toronto, Canada, 28 October, 1916.
Digitized 22 September 2017 by Doug Frizzle for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca
With thanks to Irene Kuhirwa, and Robert Higgins from the Dalhousie University Library.


FOR the past few days a section of the London press has been in throes of anxiety concerning the rumored decision of the Canadian authorities to place the Canadian wounded in a “concentration area,” in other words, to treat them in hospitals of their own instead of scattering them through the country in Imperial and in pseudo-Canadian hospitals.
The protest was started by Lady Drummond, whose work in the offices of the Red Cross has earned her a right to speak. In a long letter to “The Times” she quotes Sir Robert Borden’s early-war utterance on the “immense advantage of the association” of the soldiers of the Empire, and a similar opinion from Mr. Arthur Balfour. To that she adds a vague declaration of “a General Officer” that “Canadian soldiers wish to be treated like soldiers of the Empire and not like anything else.” Later came a letter along the same lines from Mrs. Goodcrham. also a high official in women’s Empire work.
“The Times” and another Northcliffe paper, as well as one or two others, took the matter up editorially, always adhering to the protest side. There followed letters from a Canadian honorary Major connected only with the “Eye- Witness” phase of active service, from a French-Canadian civilian, who saw fit to compare such action with the Indian reserves in Canada, from an unnamed officer—but not one to date from the only person concerned, the Canadian private.
There are some features of the discussion that impress a Canadian in England. In the first place the question is so essentially a domestic one for Canada that it is difficult to justify the interference of the London papers. That they entered it honestly is no doubt true, but when it is known that they consistently refused publication to a number of statements of the other side, the existence of some other motive is apparent.
It is remarkable that the protests come only from those whose connection with the Canadian soldier is but general. Lady Drummond is too busy, I am sure, to get out among the Canadian Tommies for their personal opinions; her sphere is too large for that. The Canadian “Major’s” experience on Sir Max Aitken’s staff, can scarcely be said to make him an authority—especially as most of his life has been spent in England—and even a Canadian officer is not expected to discuss in a friendly way with his privates their preference in hospitals.
A detail that puzzles me is that Lady Drummond herself is concerned with a “segregated” branch of an organization, devoted exclusively to Canadians. Mrs. Gooderham is the much-appreciated donor of a hospital for Canadian officers. The “Major” is connected with a segregated end of the news service. But poor Tommy isn’t expected to have anything to say about his segregation so long as the officers may have their exclusive hospitals, the Red Cross its exclusive Canadian branch, the publicity service its exclusive Canadian staff.
It does not require, I think, more than a glance to appreciate the mistake of discussing in London papers a matter of policy so essentially Canadian. Its very essence implies a comparison between the virtues of Imperial and Canadian hospitals, treatment and methods. To Canada it is an important question for her private settlement.
Personally I can speak from an intimacy with the Canadian wounded denied the protestants. The Canadian Tommy, in my experience, is not apt to express himself freely either to women or to officials of any kind. I am fortunate enough to be neither.
And this is my unqualified statement: In intimate conversation with many hundreds of Canadian privates I have not heard one express himself otherwise than preferring treatment in Canadian hospitals. And it is a favorite topic of conversation among them. I am willing to accompany any opponent of segregation to any hospital in England without previous preparation and accept the verdict of the Canadian patients. The result would be somewhat staggering to those whose vague ideas of Imperial advancement overtop their consideration of the wounded. Apart from those Canadians whose residence in Canada has not been long enough to break the bonds of the Motherland, I doubt if five per cent would not favor segregation.
The reason is apparent enough, one would think. Let any Canadian at home imagine himself sick in England. Would he not prefer to lie among his friends, to be treated by those who understand him and whom he understands? Does any civilized nation urge the casting of its sick to the care of strangers when they can be as effectively treated at home?
Did the protestants see, as I have seen, scores of times, the flood of joy that comes to the face of the wounded Canadian in an Imperial hospital, when a Canadian voice sounds in his ears, they would realize that there is a homesickness in illness four thousand miles from home, that is unknown to health. I have visited Canadians in the finest London hospitals, where their treatment was perfect, who have almost wept with pleasure when they discovered that I even knew their home towns, or a friend, or an officer of theirs. I am willing to admit that the Canadian officer in a London hospital, his wounds on the mend, may prefer the opportunities afforded by an Imperial hospital for extended entertainment. But there is woe of that for the private.
There are many more reasons for segregation than the wishes of those whose happiness of body and mind should be our first consideration. -The Imperial hospital, in plain fact is not suited to the Canadian, admirable as it is for the Imperial soldier. The hours, numbers and quality of English meals are disturbing even to a Canadian in health. At Epsom Camp, where the Canadians predominate, where Canadian officers are in charge, but where the Imperial War Office is in control, the afternoon meals are at 4:30 and 8 p.m. And the average Canadian private longs for his good old sapper from five to six. I have heard Canadians complain that the constant succession of meals at an Imperial hospital made them unable to eat.
There is, too, a difference between the Canadian and the Imperial nurse. It is admitted—I have it from some of the biggest English doctors at the front—that the Canadian nurse stands alone. She comes from a different level of society, as a rule, is paid enough to make a lengthy and complete training worth while; and, of her Canadian patient and his whims. But there is, understand, no fault to be found with Imperial nurses. I could not but feel regret that the grand Ontario Hospital, at Orpington, provided by Canadian money with the best of doctors and nurses and equipment, should be enjoyed by Canadians to only about a fifth of its capacity. (My figures do not pretend to be exact, but are near it.) And away off in lonesome semi-isolation are thousands of Canadians to whom Orpington would be home. There does seem something wrong in depriving our boys of their friends for the sake of Imperials and Australians who would be quite as happy elsewhere.
It is admitted here that the Englishman does not know how to handle the Canadian. The English Tommy is a different creature, brought up to different treatment, accustomed to the galling class distinctions that exist here. It is not lack of sympathy which attempts often to apply the same methods to our boys.
And there are many reasons whose discussion even in Canada would be unwise. I need only say that they are matters of temperament, moral standards and discipline. What reasons the authorities may have as affecting administration and economy are for them to consider.
And now to approach the question from the only argument of the protestants. Their sole contention is that a mingling of the units of the service is good for the Empire. My own experience has been directly opposite. In mixed hospitals the Canadians, Australians and Imperials mingle so little that I have never yet talked to a group not composed entirely of one or another. It is notorious that the Canadians and the Australians have no great affection for each other, and association only increases the division. There is, too, such a wide disparity in the pay of the different countries that human nature cannot view it with equanimity. The shilling-a-day Imperial is not likely to be impressed with the justice of facing the same danger for one quarter the pay of the Canadian and one sixth that of the Australian.
The very kindness of the English people has brought dissention into many an Imperial hospital. I know one, at least, where the Imperials dub the Canadians “mother’s pets,” or similar terms. Twice a day English visitors call with motors for the Canadians and ignore their own soldiers. It is an injustice far which the Canadian is in no way to blame. For the Canadian soldier in England is a much feted man. The result is doubly serious—an envious Imperial, a somewhat spoiled Canadian.
The very atmosphere of a hospital is antagonistic to an improvement of relations. A sick man is an intolerant one, and the slight differences in temperament and training becomes tremendous to lads in unhealthy condition of mind and body. A Canadian admires the English soldier in the field; in the hospital they see through magnifying glasses each other’s smallest uncongenialities.
The discussion simmers down to the purpose of hospital treatment, even if the contentions of Imperial theorists be true. Is the purpose of the hospital to advance some speculative Imperial interest of the distant future or to give our wounded boys the best treatment we know of? Is it to use the wounded for ulterior motives or to make them happy or contented? Must our war hospitals become further sacrifices for the wounded? In all reason is it to be expected that a sick boy is as happy among strangers as among friends? There is good reason for to segregation. It has been declared by more than one London paper that the Imperial soldier is improved by association with the Canadian. My personal opinion js that our boys are out here to fight, not to evangelize during their off hours. Giving one’s life is about all to expect of a man at one time.
I am gravely anxious that nothing I have said should be interpreted as a slur on Imperial hospitals. I have heard no more adverse criticism of them than of our own. A Canadian in such a hospital is sure of the best attention available, as the Imperial is in ours; the Empire’s facilities are a unit in that. Neither do I impute to the London papers more than an understandable selfishness which they do not view as meaning any sacrifice to us. Canada can never say that England has not been appreciative. Indeed, to the strict Imperialist England’s almost extreme kindness to Canadians implies that which we Canadians do not agree with—that our participation in the war has been a favor, an unexpected sacrifice, an expression of friendliness justice would not have demanded. The Canadians who have protested against concentration are so seriously convinced of the theoretical righteousness of their claim that they have neglected, I fear, to consider the subject from the standpoint with which one can become acquainted only by the closest intimacy with the soldiers.

Most people are more concerned about the war than about advertising Canada through our wounded. To blazes with Imperialism and Canada’s boom in 1917 until we’ve won the war that settles the existence of Empire!

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.