Be­hind the lines, great ef­forts were made to keep the sol­diers fit and en­ter­tained as a way of boost­ing morale.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - — Mark Collin Reid

The hor­rors of mod­ern war were un­bear­able. That’s why Canada and other na­tions used en­ter­tain­ment and ath­let­ics to re­lieve sol­diers’ stress.

The Great War strained sol­diers’ minds as well as their bod­ies. The ar­tillery that pul­ver­ized bod­ies, the ma­chine guns that mowed men down by the thou­sands, and the gases that boiled lungs and blis­tered skin were sim­ply un­bear­able. But the hor­rors of war were some­what mit­i­gated by ef­forts be­hind the front lines to al­le­vi­ate sol­diers’ stress.

The Cana­dian army used ath­let­ics and en­ter­tain­ment to help to main­tain the morale of the troops.

Sports com­pe­ti­tions, from races and base­ball games to tug-of-war events and be­yond, al­lowed men to blow off steam and to earn brag­ging rights for their bat­tal­ions.

Sol­diers also at­tended con­certs and vaude­ville shows put on by trav­el­ling en­ter­tain­ment troupes.

The most pop­u­lar group was known as the Dum­bells. Founded in 1917, the troupe was made up of real sol­diers who sang and per­formed com­edy skits.

In their down­time, the men were buoyed by the ca­ma­raderie they shared with their fel­low sol­diers. They played cards, cracked jokes, and shared items from the care pack­ages they re­ceived from home.

Sol­diers of­ten adopted an­i­mals as pets and mas­cots, tak­ing com­fort in car­ing for cats, dogs, and other strays. Some mas­cots, like “Sargeant Bill,” the goat of the 5th Bat­tal­ion, gained a level of no­to­ri­ety for their an­tics.

All of these fac­tors may help to ex­plain why Bri­tish Em­pire armies largely avoided the mass de­ser­tions that be­set the French army near the end of the war.


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