Ruin and Redemption: Losing and Regaining Honour in the Canadian Officer Corps, 1914—1945

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Barrett, Matthew
court martial , crime and punishment , dismissal , First World War , honour , dishonour , masculinity , military culture , officers , Second World War
This dissertation is the first comprehensive study to trace the evolution of military dishonour and dismissal from an historical perspective in the Canadian armed forces during the First and Second World Wars. Using extensive general court martial records, archival documentation, and restricted personnel files, this study examines judicial sentences of cashiering and dismissal as well as administrative punishments used to deprive officers of their commissions for misconduct, inefficiency, and incompetence. An officer’s failure to follow the formally and informally enshrined rules and values recognized as honourable in military culture deprived him of the right to respect among peers and the right to command subordinates. As this thesis is concerned with the construction of the concepts of honour and dishonour within the officer corps of the Canadian army and air force, I analyze the complicated social, economic, medical, and cultural consequences of officers’ disgraceful termination from military service. Examining institutional responses to officers’ misconduct offers important insights into the espoused values, beliefs and practices prioritized in both military culture and in the wider society. Derived from a British military heritage the idealized form of martial masculinity was best exemplified by dual identity of a man as an officer and a gentleman. Within the martial justice context, examining the nature of officers’ crimes and misbehavior provides historians with the opportunity to explore the boundaries of acceptable forms of gentlemanliness. Perceptions of what exactly constituted ungentlemanly and scandalous conduct in the military exposed the contradictions that underpinned divergent codes of masculinity. The model officer and gentleman was at once expected to be restrained and dignified while also exhibiting aggressiveness and virility. Misbehaviour whether in the officers’ mess, in public settings before civilians or on the battlefield revealed how the social conventions and commitments fundamental to an officer’s identity often depended on a sense of honourableness that was not nearly as stable as government and military authorities preferred to believe.
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