Wednesday, January 4, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The Maple Leaf Belgium Scrapbook, WWII
     I hope everyone is having a smooth transition back to reality after the holiday season! Don't mean to brag, but I am still enjoying some R&R back at home before my final (!!!) semester of undergrad starts on January 9. While I'm still here, I wanted to share with you a fascinating item I received this week which is a great addition both to my personal collection and this blog. It is a Second World War souvenir scrapbook called "The Maple Leaf," which the cover states was "printed in Belgium at cost price to forces overseas." Essentially, it was a Canadian Army newspaper which kept soldiers informed on what was happening around the world and back at home while they were serving. My copy was given to me by my grandpa, who said that it came in a collection of papers from his parents' house (his father served in WWII). It was quite exciting to have a personal connection to the item since I had thought that his war memorabilia had already been dispersed among distant cousins, and I am always looking for more details on his service (like many other professions, historians can be researching any number of in-depth family histories for other people but have limited knowledge on their own). I've looked into the book a bit online and it appears to be quite rare, although the Toronto Public Library appears to have a copy should you be able to access it for yourself.

     A 2013 post on the online auction site includes what seems to be an excerpt from Barry D. Rowland's 1987 book, The Maple Leaf Forever: The Story of Canada's Foremost Armed Forces Newspaper, which gives a nice overview of the paper's history and is definitely being added to my reading list:

     “Captain MacFarlane, I want you to set up a newspaper for the Canadian Army,” said Lieutenant-Colonel R.S. (Dick) Malone, director of Public Relations for 1st Canadian Infantry Division during the Italian Campaign in November 1943.

     LCol Malone was reacting to the wishes of then Defence Minister, Colonel J.L. Ralston — a First World War veteran — who was deeply concerned for the welfare of the troops fighting overseas. But the impetus to deliver a daily Canadian Army newspaper to the frontlines in Italy was not a “top-down” decision; rather, it arose directly from the troops themselves who felt out-of-touch from home.
The Canadian soldier, also known as “Johnny Canuck”, expressed his angst through the chain of command. These concerns reached Minister Ralston’s ears as he arrived in Italy to speak to the troops after five months of hard fighting. Mr. Ralston knew well the fleeting nature of soldiers’ morale and pressed for ideas to shore-up fighting spirit. With Canadian soldiers complaining about their lack of knowledge on the home front, LCol Malone suggested the production of a daily newspaper, delivered directly to the frontlines with the soldiers’ rations.
The paper would be published in Italy with news from Canada and include stories and editorials prepared by military writers and war correspondents attached to the Canadian Division. The paper’s primary audience was the Canadian soldier. In return, the newspaper would not express opinions on domestic issues or report on internal military matters that might detract from morale.
And so Captain (later Major) J. Douglas MacFarlane, a former journalist with the Windsor Star and the Toronto Telegram, was appointed managing editor of the first Canadian Army newspaper. The newspaperman, who became a legendary figure in Canadian journalism following the war, was a natural fit for the job.
Mr. MacFarlane enlisted for wartime service with the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment as a provisional reinforcement officer. He embarked on a long and winding military trail, stationed in Wolseley Barracks, the Officers’ Training Centre in Gordon Head, Vancouver Island, and attended the Advanced Infantry Training Centre at Camp Borden. Capt MacFarlane was then summoned to Ottawa and attached to Army Headquarters as a Public Relations Officer. He proceeded overseas in 1943, where he was eventually attached to General Harry Crerar’s headquarters when he got the call from his superior, LCol Malone – another giant in Canadian journalism after the war – informing him of the new publication.
What to call the paper?
LCol Malone suggested The Liberator, The True North, Northern Light, Johnny Canuck, The Beaver, and The Invader. Capt MacFarlane came up with The Maple Leaf, a reference to Canadian identity.
The first edition of The Maple Leaf rolled off the press in January 1944 in Naples, Italy and was a four-page tabloid. Sports, news, a daily editorial and Sergeant Bing Coughlin’s hapless “Herbie” cartoon character were the main features. The papers were flown to a postal distribution centre near the frontline and delivered to the troops by any and all means available: truck, jeep, lorry, aircraft and mule cart.
Curiously, a French-language edition of The Maple Leaf had been proposed but turned down by French-Canadian soldiers as they didn’t want their exploits restricted to French-copy only; they wished English speaking readers to know of their achievements.
At its height, The Maple Leaf printed 16,000 copies per day.

     My edition was printed in Belgium in 1945. Its introduction includes much of the same story as above concerning the paper's history, and also discusses how the "clippings" or articles in the scrapbook were selected from various departments in order to portray the paper's "general tone and spirit." In this regard, the editor-in-chief wrote, "If you don't like the selection write the editors and give them hell." Clearly, this was an informal and much-loved element in the Canadian soldiers' experience, and there is much to be learned and appreciated from these pages.

     Without further ado, I'll give you a little glimpse into the scrapbook (sorry about the poor lighting!):
This page shows how the paper was assembled like a scrapbook, with numerous photos seemingly pasted together on one page

Of course, it is not without its pinups! This page includes the beautiful Esther Williams

"Here's to You, Canucks!"

Even General Montgomery read The Maple Leaf!
     Overall, the scrapbook is a compilation of comics, poetry, news stories, photos, and articles all assembled for the intended enjoyment of Canadian soldiers far from home. It is obvious just by flipping through a few pages how much comfort and entertainment it would have brought them, and I can't help but think of how thrilled my great-grandfather would have been to have that small enjoyment. It's proven to be an amazing souvenir for both him and myself, and I hope you enjoyed this little overview.
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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