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Book review - Get Tough, Stay Tough

Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-1918

Cover of Get Tough Stay Tough

By Kenneth Radley

Helion, Warwick, 2018, 424pp

9781912174737 - Paperback

Reviewed by BRIG Chris Roberts AM, CSC (Retd.)


Following on from his excellent study of the 1st Canadian Division during the Great War (We Lead, Others Follow) Kenneth Radley’s Get Tough, Stay Tough: Shaping the Canadian Corps 1914-1918 considers the Canadian performance on the Western Front through a slightly different lens.  In his first book, Radley analysed why the 1st Canadian Division was such an effective fighting formation, and sought his answer through examining three themes: command and control, staff work, and training.  In Get Tough, Stay Tough, he follows a similar approach, this time “assessing the in-fluence of discipline, morale, and officer - other rank relationships, as they stood within the Canadian Corps, upon combatant officers and men”.

In this well documented, thoroughly researched, and balanced study, one senses that Radley (a former officer in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada) has concerns about current attitudes towards discipline which diminish its importance, with officers who seek an over familiarity with their soldiers, and with those who lack the moral courage to install high standards. As he rightly says “[d]iscipline, morale and the officer - Other Rank [sic] relationship are so fundamental in war and in soldiering that major shortcomings can severely diminish or even ruin effectiveness.” This is a view shared by anyone who has experienced combat, and which was starkly evident in the incidents that led to the disbandment of the Canadian Parachute Regiment in 1995. Radley pulls no punches in this well written and forthright examination of these matters and his book is one that all aspiring officers and historians (who feel competent to judge such issues) would do well to read.

Those looking for an operational analysis of the Canadian Corps will not find it here. Get Tough, Stay Tough is very much concerned with the three subjects mentioned above. Stepping-off with an excellent introduction, Radley outlines the fundamentals of these matters, acknowledges the difficulties in writing about discipline and morale, and discusses the limited number of books addressing these subjects. In doing so, he reminds us not to judge attitudes and norms of a century ago by to-day’s standards. He opines that historians with no military background lack a real understanding of soldiering or war. Quoting the words of historian David Graves he observes that “[t]oo often the civilian historians who write about military operations are like the man who knew all the words and sang all the notes but somehow never quite learned the song.”  We then get into the meat of the book, with six chapters devoted to discipline, five to morale, and two to officer-other rank relation-ships, in which he addresses the theory and the practice of each.

Throughout the work, Radley discusses these topics in depth, supported by lashings of views and commentary from Canadian and British officers and soldiers who served during the Great War.  He supplements these perspectives with his own incisive, candid and relevant comments. Furthermore, when using terminology that is not in common use, he explains what it actually means (or meant) at the time of the Great War, and describes how the systems that shaped military practice and relation-ships worked at that time.  Those who feel military justice was somewhat peremptory will do well to read the very educational chapters on Crime and Punishment which provide a synopsis of military law, and how it was applied in practice, especially in relation to crimes carrying the death sentence.

Throughout the book, Radley does not gild the lily. He clearly believes the effectiveness and sound combat performance of the Canadian Corps was founded on strong discipline, which in turn led to high morale.  While he recognises the Canadians were less disciplined than their British counter-parts, he considers they were more so than the Australians. Indeed he, and it seems the Canadians on the Western Front, had little time for the Australian military and their attitudes towards discipline.  In citing poor performances amongst the Canadians, he draws the conclusion that all soldiers know - that culture, effectiveness, and battle performance of a unit is set by its commanding officer.

If there is a criticism of this book, it is that Radley writes too much about each of these subjects, and quotes too much from participants to make his points.  This reviewer feels he could have captured all he has to say in fewer words. Nonetheless, this is an excellent, well rounded book that still has resonance today. It is a work that should be standard reading for military officers to reinforce just how important strong discipline, morale, and officer-other rank relationships are to an effective fighting unit.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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