During a visit to Esprit de Corps Magazine's offices just before Christmas, I learned that the magazine was in need of an article for their next edition. No problem - I could easily select an excerpt from my revised edition of Courage Rewarded which, with minor editing, could make an excellent article on courage in the Second World War.
I was really pleased with the result and I hope all the readers of the January 2013 issue were also pleased. In this excerpt, I write that it is widely accepted that loyalty to the primary group - an infantry setion or tank crew - is most often the key factor motivating an act of courage. Bonds are created between these men for which they are ready to sacrifice their life when in danger. I agree, but I also argue that it is not the only factor. One of the other very important factors is a soldier's sense of pride and personal honour. I write:
"As a social animal, man requires the respect of his peers and without this his entire being is called into question. S.L.A. Marshall believed that, among combat soldiers, “fear is general among men [but] men are commonly loath that their fear will be expressed in specific acts which their comrades will recognize as cowardice…. Personal honour is the one thing valued more than life itself by the majority of men.”. Jean-Charles (Charly) Forbes of Le Regiment de Maisonneuve strongly believed in this sense of personal honour in courageous soldiers, stating in one of his communications to me that:
The power of pride is beyond limits, even to the point of temerity… I believe a good corporal would never behave in a way that would be seen as a failure in front of his men. That is true of a sergeant, and a lieutenant. Circumstances will therefore provide opportunities for showing pride. Remember the youngster who says ‘Look ma, no hands!’ Being on stage, I believe, has something to do with it."
Charly Forbes used the motivating power of personal honour to solve a problem when one of his men refused to participate in the attack on the causeway to South Beveland in November 1944. Forbes knew the man was not a coward since he had been a good soldier all the way from Normandy. In pondering how to deal with the situation, he gave the man a choice – he put the question as to what do with the recalcitrant to the other men: “If your comrades give me permission to send you to the rear, I will; if they tell me to shoot you, I will carry out their wishes … What do you say boys?” The men replied, “Send him to the rear because he is no good anyway.” With this condemnation of his character, the soldier reacted angrily and declared, “I’ll show you who I am. I am going, and watch yourselves!” The man performed well in the attack and kept on going until he was later wounded.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history