Sir Frederick Borden was the minister of militia and defence during the first decade of the new century. The first true reformer to hold this position, Borden implemented a series of significant reforms and was, in the words of Desmond Morton, "probably the most important peacetime defence minister in Canadian history." (Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada (Edmonton, Hurtig Publishers, 1985), p. 111.) He fleshed out the militia. Indeed, in creating a corps of engineers, as well as the ordnance, army service, and medical corps, he created the full range of services needed by a modern army. A start was also made in training staff officers for the militia. His reforms were an essential ingredient of the successful (if chaotic) mobilization of 1914.

In 1911, the Canadian chief of the General Staff, Brigadier-General William D. Otter, had assigned Colonel Gwatkin to draw up comprehensive plans for the mobilization of Canadian troops for service overseas. In October 1911, Colonel Gwatkin, a trained British staff officer, submitted a mobilization plan that would create a contingent of one infantry division and a mounted brigade. This contingent would include a total of 24,352 men.

When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Minister of Militia Sam Hughes ignored the existing mobilization plan and improvised one of his own. He had a mobilization camp hastily constructed at Valcartier in Quebec, and, through Hughes' zealous efforts, the camp soon accommodated 35,000 volunteers. Chaos and confusion, however, marked Hughes' mobilization in the early days. Nevertheless, by 3 October, the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 33,000 men and 7,000 horses, was preparing to embark for Europe.

The first Canadian contingent might have been composed of better-trained soldiers and dispatched to Britain much earlier, however, if the 1911 plan had been implemented. But the bottom line is that "crazy" Sam Hughes' plan did work.

 

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