The information front: the Canadian Army, public relations, and war news during the Second World War




Balzer, Timothy John

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War news and public relations (PR) was a critical consideration for the Canadian Army during the Second World War. The Canadian Army developed its PR apparatus from nothing to an efficient publicity machine by war’s end, despite a series of growing pains. Canadian Military Headquarters in London appointed the first PR Officer, William Abel, in January 1940. PR services overseas grew along with the size of the army. The early days were marked by lack of coordination and often jurisdictional and personality conflicts between Abel and the other PR Officers and organizations. The 19 August 1942 Dieppe raid was the low point for both the accuracy of war news and Canadian PR involvement because Lord Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters minimized Canadian PR’s involvement in planning. This resulted in early portrayals of the raid as successful and the British censored a more honest explanation by the Canadian Army. The Sicilian and Italian campaigns provided a learning experience for the PR units. In Sicily, the news coverage of the Canadians was a public success, but PR had trouble with their allies in gaining national recognition and representation. Additionally, the question of correspondents’ priorities and delays getting to the front and transportation difficulties angered the press. Many of these problems continued in Italy until the appointment of Richard Malone, who enjoyed support from the politicians, press, and military. Applying the Mediterranean experience and participating in Allied publicity planning contributed to the excellence of Canadian PR during the Northwest Europe Campaign. PR maintained the confidence of the press while still controlling the correspondents. The army also largely overcame the temptation to censor bad news although this sometimes embarrassed Ottawa. Allied regulations sanitized war news preventing the reporting of the more disturbing aspects of war. Through censorship, the army exercised a great deal of control over the news media, yet this hegemony was incomplete because of need to keep the press friendly. Although a large sceptical minority remained, most Canadians considered their war news to be accurate. In sum, Canadian Army PR was generally successful, portraying the army positively and attracting media coverage.



Canadian Army, Public Relations, War Correspondents, Second World War, Censorship, Dieppe Raid, Sicily campaign, casualty report publication, Normandy campaign, Propaganda, William Abel, Richard S Malone, Louis Mountbatten, Italian Campaign