The featured image for this post is the Reservists of 1870 by French impressionist painter Pierre-Georges Jeanniot. While he’s most commonly known for paintings of the gilded age of Paris, he began his life as an officer in the French Army and served during the Franco-Prussian War.  A lot of his early paintings, which established his reputation as an artist featured scenes from that conflict. I got to see the original along with several other of his works in Les Invalides (the French War Museum in Paris) back in 2008.

The scene shows French reservists mobilizing for war, with (centre, mid-ground) an NCO in the middle taking names while an officer (rocking the 19th century version of the ‘junior general’ tactical binder) looks on. The thing that really caught my eye though was the the character in the left foreground, standing with his back to the viewer. His hands imply he’s an older man, but even if you couldn’t see them you’d know by his rucksack that he was the old fuck who’s had to live rough on campaign before.

While the more professional soldiers of the era were regularly portrayed with textbook perfect packs, this guy’s got what looks like a hand-made quilt bundled up onto his, with another blanket/ground sheet rolled up at the top. He’s a bugler, but his horn is securely strapped to his ruck where it won’t get in the way, because to hell with the parade square, this guy’s expecting to march somewhere.

It’s not entirely the same as Canadian reservists. For one thing, unlike the Reservists of 1870, we actually have uniforms to show up in. But the character on the left is familiar enough, and it’s nice to see that the crusty old fuck was a fixture even back a hundred and fifty years ago.

Edouard_Detaille_bataille_de_Rezonville_1870
As a counter-example, here is the Battle of Rezonville, by Edouard Detaille.  Because it’s not a heroic painting unless the troops in it could pass inspection.

So…the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserves still gets called the Militia, which gets us weird looks whenever we’re training in the US. Unlike the reserves in many European nations, the CAF reserves include young and old troops, who are expected to train to a comparable level as the regular force. In many European armies where they still have universal service, you serve in the regular force when you’re young, then in the reserves as you grow older, doing your couple of weeks’ service per year as you move on through life.

The militia in Canada is a kind of weird institution in that we’re supposed to train to a regular force standard, part time, and include members as young as seventeen and as old as sixty (seriously, we got a guy retiring this December who’s pushing forty years of service). We recruit locally, which means every militia regiment is a reflection of the city or region they come from. Some of the Regiments themselves have some awesomely parochial names like the Brockville Rifles, or the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders to contrast with the more traditional Imperial-sounding outfits like the Governor General’s Foot Guards or the Canadian Grenadier Guards.

Regardless of names, lot of our outfits are historical, and have been around for a century or more. As we’re going to see in a bit with the next part of the deconstruction, it’s not uncommon in Canada to come across all kinds of local memorials in various small towns to commemorate the volunteers who served in one of the World Wars.[1]

Winnipeg is the central hub of 38 Canadian Brigade Group, with the city itself being home to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada (infantry units), along with the Fort Garry Horse (armoured recce) and 38 Regiment Royal Canadian Engineers (combat engineers). In support of these outfits are elements of 38 Service Battalion and 38 Signals Regiment[2].  While the term ‘Regiments’ implies formations of several hundred to over two thousand, militia formations tent to be skeleton cadres around which a full sized army can be raised in times of war, so usually you’re looking at Company plus or something equivalent (100-150 all ranks).

So all things considered Winnipeg itself looks to have maybe five hundred effective troops in the City, with a few hundred more in the nearby region. In terms of training, that becomes more of a hit and miss kind of thing. Primary Reserves receives the same individual training as Regular Force, although in collective training we tend to fall behind. What I mean by this is that while the average soldier will know how to use their various small arms, and other personal equipment to a comparable level, they usually haven’t participated in larger-scale training events using the vehicles and equipment that our Reg Force counterparts do.[3]

Another thing that needs to be understood is that from the mid-90s onwards, the regular force had to regularly draw upon the reserves in order to fill out their own ranks for overseas missions. This culminated during the Afghanistan War with Battle Groups that drew as much as 20-30% of their manpower from the militia.

This means that, at the approximate time that Uprising takes place, your average reserve unit included a fair number of war veterans. In addition, reserve regiments were seen as good places for regular force officers and NCOs to get some experience in planning and organizing, meaning that these regiments would have some regular force personnel on their operations staff. Then there was the occasional ex-reg force members who left the full time service but couldn’t quite free themselves of the army bug. As a grand finale, there’s also the fact that while the retirement age in the regular force is fifty five, in the reserves it’s sixty. A small but venerable number of elder officers and NCOs decide to extend their service by serving as a (very) senior leadership cadre.[4]

Which is a long-winded way of saying that modern Canadian reserve units have a varied level of experience that can reveal some unexpected depths where one least suspects it.

So in the context of Uprising, five hundred or so reservists in a city could be one hell of an asset. While they won’t be holding heavy weaponry or armoured vehicles, five hundred armed soldiers with a working chain of command and a core of experienced veterans is a big fucking deal.

Advance warning becomes the key factor in mobilizing reservists. In any healthy regiment there’s both a formal communication network, and an informal one where news can get passed without drawing public attention. Reservists are typically either students or hold civilian jobs, meaning that attendance for your average exercise is a hit-or-miss kind of affair. Hence the reputation that we’re casuals or lazy. However the reality is that, if you get the word out that the balloon is going up, the overwhelming majority of the troops will show up. If this is the real thing, the troops will be there.

And if the fighting’s in your own city?  Well, here’s the thing: How are you going to stay home if it’s your own home that’s being shot up?

The idea for this post was originally going to centre entirely around the attack on the War Memorial and on Parliament back in 2014.  On 22 Oct of that year, a generally messed up individual (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau) who had become self-radicalized[5] on ISIS ideology, went to the War Memorial and shot Cpl Nathan Cirillo[6] who was standing vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He then raced over to Parliament Hill where (through some freakish luck and confusion) he managed to barge into the Centre Block and wound a security guard (Constable Samearn Son) before being chased into a corner by reinforcements and finally shot.[7]

 

Source.  Source.  Source.

The entire event was over in a matter of minutes, with the attacker being killed before the first news reports even hit the airwaves, but this didn’t change the fact that for several hours afterwards confusion reigned in down town Ottawa as police and security personnel locked down Parliament and the surrounding buildings.

As usual when these things happen, there were reports of multiple other shooters which would prove to be false, and one really unfortunate moment when a group of plain clothes police officers were mistaken for gunmen themselves. It was several hours before it was confirmed that the crisis was over and during that time the only thing that was completely certain was that Parliament had been attacked.

When there’s a crisis like this and there’s no immediate plan, your first job is to track down the people under your command and make sure everyone’s safe and can be reached in a hurry. You then relay this to your boss so that they know what’s what, and that if an order comes down from higher they can get the word out quickly. At the time I not only had a bunch of trained soldiers under me at my home unit, but I was teaching a Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) course. We’d just gone our first couple of weekends of training and a lot of these guys had only just taken the oath a month ago and were very new to the army.

A lot of people noted during the crisis that, as shocking as the attack may have been, there was very little panic on the news or throughout the city in general. The same thing applied to my recruits. Every one of them was stunned by the events, but no one freaked out and none of them seemed dismayed by my instructions to keep their phones on in case we got ordered to do something.[8] I’m not going to suggest this was some kind of grand ‘I am Spartacus!’ moment, but several of these kids weren’t even old enough to drink. Still there was the understanding that they’d taken the oath, put on the uniform, and the job was to be carried out regardless of what else was happening.[9]

This is where time becomes the crucial factor in the event of a mobilization. Rolling a militia regiment out isn’t like a bug out in the regular force. The Sergeants can’t just roll up to the shacks and start hammering on doors while the MPs turn out the Mess and the local bars. Unless the regiment is on block leave,[10] the majority of the troops in a reg force Regiment would be arriving at their lines within a matter of hours, with the remaining holdouts turning up within the day.

For the reserves, the alarm’s going to go out in a flurry of phone calls and e-mails, followed by a shuddering, lurching start as troops start making their way in to their armouries with their kit. As the troops arrive, weapons and radios will be issued.  Sentries will be posted while others set up cots and the chain of command begins to come together.

If the emergency’s already in progress, then further delays can be expected as the members have to find their way in without getting stuck in a police cordon.  In 2014, my boss on the BMQ course ended up being trapped in his down town officer for nearly ten hours until the lockdown was lifted.  A further, crucial reality is that a lot of the armouries where reservists train don’t typically hold large quantities of ammunition. Given that CFB Winnipeg is right there at the airport, I’m assuming that ammunition could be procured pretty quickly.  But this is assuming the fighting hadn’t already broken out.

So the militia is a force of varied experience but genuine commitment that does, however, need time to get rolling. Mobilized early, the troops can sleep on the parade square if they have to.  But if ammunition isn’t pre-positioned getting it to where it’s needed is not going to be easy.

At this point it’s not particularly surprising that Bland doesn’t consider the militia worth thinking about.  In a way it’s almost understandable that, in the world of Uprising, there will be no warning passed on to the Winnipeg-area Regiments (or any reserve unit) that violence may be immanent. Troops not worthy of respect won’t receive the consideration of a fighting chance.


[1] Especially in the First World War this led to a number of tragedies where a Battalion would be annihilated on the Western Front, leading to horrific situations where entire communities and even cities would wake to the news that a generation of young men had literally been wiped out overseas.

[2] A few years back, the army decided to re-number a bunch of the outfits as per their parent brigade.  It’s a thing, and it happened.

[3] One of the running jokes in the reserves is to suggest that an upcoming exercise would include a deployment by helicopter. There’s never a helicopter. In fact, back when we still had the MLVW as our 2.5 ton truck, we nicknamed it the ‘ML-icopter.’

[4] That’s actually the case with the individual retiring this December.

[5] Although it appears that the gunman embraced extremism largely due to his own personal issues and failures, there is (at the time of this writing) some evidence that he was in contact with someone who encouraged him and possibly obtained for him the rifle that would be used in his attack. Whether this individual had any formal connection to ISIS is not known.

[6] Cpl Cirillo was a member of the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise).

[7] Although there were a number of issues with how the gunman gained entry into Parliament, security forces reacted well once he did, moving quickly and without hesitation to box him. The Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons (Kevin Vickers) was the individual who fired the first of over thirty shots that killed the gunman.  Although the position of Sergeant-at-Arms is a predominantly ceremonial one, the person holding it is a police officer and Vickers had a decades-long service with the RCMP before coming to Ottawa.  His participation in the shootout can largely be attributed to the fact that, by going to his office to retrieve his sidearm, he found himself in the same corner as the attacker.

[8] In the case of our recruits, the instructions would largely have to deal with their upcoming training weekend, and the precautions they were to take on their way in.

[9] In the interest of being completely honest, there was one kid who kind of went in the opposite direction suggesting that, since his service rifle was locked up in a vault, he could bring his own rifle from home. I told him ‘No.’

[10] During peace time, there is usually a single block of time where an entire regiment stands down and its members are allowed their alloted leave. In war, balancing leave is much more complicated.

One thought on “Militia Assemble!

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