At least it didn’t rain. After 24.6 mm (almost an inch) of rain the day before, the troops were no doubt grateful that it was dry and warm, but not too warm, for the great inspection by Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia. (1)
Sir Sam was something of a character in Canadian military and political history. I am being kind. Let me quote Tim Cook, instead, describing Hughes two years earlier when mobilization for war began:
Sam Hughes cleared things up by embracing utter chaos. … With his close-cropped grey hair, iron jaw, and furious stare, … Hughes was loud and boisterous. He craved to be the centre of attention. And now he was. Hughes [revelled] in the publicity engendered by headline-grabbing diatribes and hyper-patriotic speeches. (2)
Here is a sample of further descriptors applied to Hughes by Cook, quoting Hughes’s contemporaries: unstable, volatile, fiery, cocksure, meddling, tiresome, damaging, cheeky. (3) The on-line profile of Hughes by the Canadian War Museum calls him charismatic, talented, energetic, unhappy and disruptive. (4) He was also brave. This quality, demonstrated in the Boer War, was not sufficiently recognized, according to Hughes, who felt he deserved not one but two Victoria Crosses, the highest award given in the British Empire for bravery. (5)
In May 1916, he rather thought he ought to be appointed Commander of the Canadian Corps, but Sir Douglas Haig named a British cavalry general to the position. Sir Julian Byng was a coming man, and this appointment was not a step up — but he proved the right man for the job. (6)
So Hughes was in Toronto, watching twelve thousand Exhibition Camp soldiers parade before him. His opinion of what he saw was not reported in the Globe. The usually enthusiastic reporter had to admit that the show was not up to previous standards. It was understandable, since those who had been longest in training had recently left Exhibition Camp for Niagara, leaving “a great many who had but recently donned the khaki,” and who were “obviously much in need of elementary physical training.” The reporter thought it quite a commendable appearance, nonetheless, and was sure that they would be more presentable once they had undergone the “severe drill exacted of them at Exhibition Camp.” (7)
(1) Government of Canada, Historical Climate Data.
(2) Tim Cook. At the Sharp End. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 1. 1914-1916. 2007. 31
(3) Cook. 31-33, 37
(4) Canadian War Museum. “Sir Sam Hughes“. This is also the source of the image, a portrait of Hughes by Harrington Mann, in the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
(5) Cook. 38
(6) Cook. 344
(7) The Globe (1844-1936). May 24, 1916. 6. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.