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