The Canadian minister of militia, Sam Hughes, had proposed the appointment of a Canadian senior officer to command the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). However, Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the British War Secretary, had overruled three of Hughes' selections. He was of the opinion that Canadian officers were too inexperienced and not fit to command anything larger than a brigade.

As a result, on 15 October 1914, Kitchener selected Lieutenant-General Edwin Alderson, a British officer, to command the Canadians. Alderson assumed field command of the 1st Canadian Division when it took up its position in the Allied lines near the Belgian town of Ypres in February 1915. The 1st Canadian Division represented the entire strength of the Canadian Expeditionary Force until the arrival of additional Canadian divisions.

Kitchener's judgement, in this instance at least, was well founded. British commanders were essential until Canadian militiamen gained the necessary experience at brigade level to prepare them for higher command. Even Arthur Currie, who ended the war with an international reputation as the best Allied corps commander, was not ready for challenges any higher than brigade level. Perhaps even more important was the contribution of British staff officers. The presence of British staff officers was absolutely critical, as deficiencies at this level of the command structure had been one of the major shortcomings of the Canadian army in 1914. While there were no British commanders in the Canadian Corps by the end of the war, the Canadian contingent did depend on their staff officers right through 1918. The British officers, who seemed to gladly embrace the dogged determination and methodical, scientific approach that their colonial brethren brought to the war effort, served the Canadian Corps well.

Many British officers brought with them the conservative prejudice for ways learned in peacetime and seemed initially reluctant to try the new methods that the Canadians proposed. Over time, however, they changed their opinions as it became apparent that the old ways could not cope with the overwhelming firepower that caused the stagnation of trench warfare. Lieutenant-General Alderson provides a good example. On 15 February 1915, during an inspection of the Canadian Corps, the King was impressed with Raymond Brutinel's Motor Machine Gun Brigade. He enthusiastically remarked that "this is a pretty useful unit." Field Marshal Kitchener replied that "it would be most difficult to employ and [it would] throw off balance the fire-power of a division." Later in the day, Alderson commented to an enraged Brutinel that "I believe Kitchener is right..." By the time the "Motors" arrived in France to join the 1st Canadian Division, however, Alderson had seen the value of machines and had become an enthusiastic supporter of Brutinel's ideas. He supported the development of new techniques and, as the first commander of the Canadian Corps, endorsed the formation of machine gun companies at brigade and divisional level in 1916.

 

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