A corporal was a
junior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Canadian Army throughout the
20th Century. In French the rank title is Caporal.
The rank insignia of a corporal was traditionally a 2-bar chevron
worn point down.
pre-Unification military, corporals occupied command positions.
Section commanders in the infantry, for example, in both World Wars
were authorized to hold the rank of corporal. In troops of tanks in
the Second World War, a Troop Corporal was a crew commander in
charge of his own tank.
A corporal could also be appointed Lance Sergeant. He would receive
the pay of a corporal but have the responsibilities and privileges
of a sergeant.
In the Royal Canadian Artillery, the British tradition of unique
rank designations has been emulated, and corporals are referred to
by the title "Bombardier."
In British Rifle
Regiments, a distinction was drawn between Corporals and Acting
Corporals. The appointment of Lance Corporal did not exist, and a
private could be appointed "Acting Corporal" instead and wore the
2-bar chevrons of a corporal. Some regiments were unaware of these
distinctions; the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, for example, carried
soldiers appointed Lance Corporal (and wearing 1-bar chevrons) on
its rolls in the Second World War. The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
distinguished between Acting Corporals and Corporals through the use
of a distinctive "qualification disc" worn above the 2-bar chevrons.
The following notes
on Unification and its impact on the rank system are courtesy David
pre-unification system of rank (Private, Corporal, Sergeant,
Staff Sergeant, Warrant Officer II Class and Warrant Officer I
Class) and appointment (Lance Corporal and Lance Sergeant) were
a development that evolved through the British system for
centuries. It was tried, tested and true for the Army's system
of organization and addressed the whole concept of command and
control efficiently. It attached a degree of prestige and status
to the various levels of supervision/leadership. For example not
everyone was automatically promoted to a higher rank simply for
being a good soldier or doing one's job well. The individual had
to be outstanding amongst his peers, and prove that he was,
through tough training and leadership courses which had to be
passed to certain standard to qualify. Of course battlefield
promotions were another matter where the outstanding qualities
observed alone qualified the individual for obvious reasons.
This older proven system was advantageous for another but less
important reason. Internationally, our ranks and their levels of
responsibility were understood by most other nations. A foreign
soldier - perhaps a belligerent in a UN setting - knew when he
was dealing with a Canadian Corporal that this NCO was a leader
of men, schooled in the art of war and no one to fool around
with. I can remember tours in Egypt and Cyprus where senior
officers would negotiate with Canadian Jnr NCOs almost on an
on-par basis, there was (that much) respect. The
post-unification system has destroyed the status and respect
that several ranks had at one time.
Paul Hellyer's basic concept - integration - was a good one. It
had meant an integration of logistics and support services - why
have three different logistical organizations cutting contacts,
keeping files, and awarding three different contracts for the
same materiel? The government, however, further likened the need
for National Defence in Canada to a US Marine Corps model. This
showed no understanding of what made the three arms (navy, army
and air force) tick in Canada. Tradition to the military is the
food on which they are nourished and provide for a sense of
organization, family and probably most important, ideals to be
used as benchmarks for excellence and ability to prevail on the
One might compare the situation to a case where a politician or
non-elected human rights commissioner descended on the world
renowned Ottawa Heart Institute reorganizing the administration
and operation of the unit. One need only imagine them telling
the heart doctors how they were going to perform surgical
operations, to the point of advising them on which instruments
they could have, to realize how ridiculous it would be.
At the time of
Unification, servicemen were given a raise in pay to keep them
enrolled. Signing bonuses of $200.00 were given for each year to
a maximum of five that they re-enlisted for. $1000.00 in 1967
was a life changing amount, possibly worth about ten times as
much in 1999 dollars. Rank was given away next; anyone who had
ever had a Junior NCO course was automatically promoted to
Corporal. Everyone who had 4 years of service automatically went
on a new Junior Leaders Course to get him promoted to Corporal.
Corporal was now a giveaway, it meant nothing as far as status
was concerned, it was a shoe-in for everyone.
The problem was that at that time, Corporals were then section
commanders. The actual commander now was leading a whole section
of his rank peers. There was actual fighting in the ranks and
discipline was poor. So another level was instituted - Senior
Corporal. But that was not enough, they then introduced the "B"
Corporal (indicating he had qualified Part B of the Junior NCO
Course). They changed the chevrons to have a little crown sewed
on over the hooks.
to right: Standard 2-bar chevron (pre-Unification);
2-bar chevron with qualification disc as worn by a
trained corporal of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada;
insignia of a "B" Corporal as worn on Battle Dress
(courtesy Ed Storey), a CF 2-bar chevron, and an early
pattern 2-bar chevron with maple leaf.
Canadian Forces personnel receiving
refugees from Uganda at Longues Pointes in October 1972. Library and
Archives Canada photo
After Unification, there was much friction between the A and B
corporals. Again, according to Willard:
We took turns
being B Corporals as there were now so many of us. There was no
continuity and of course this was unworkable. Finally instead of
putting it back to what everyone knew was workable, they
developed a new appointment...Master Corporal. But who would
become the Masters? It was decreed that those wearing the B
Corporal crown at the time would become the appointee. New
leadership qualities had to established....this took years and
years to even get to the point where the right people were in
charge. In the process, the rank of Corporal was destroyed in
the Canadian Army. Almost the exact same thing happened to the
rank of Captain.
Master Corporal was
never enshrined as a rank, however, and corporal was deemed to be
the substantive rank of members carrying the appointment of Master
Corporal. On pay documents, for example, for many years corporal was
listed as "Cpl (A)" and Master Corporal as "Cpl (B)".
In the Regular Force, four years of experience was necessary for
non-accelerated promotion to corporal, along with the second level
of trades training; in the Reserve Force, the minimum time in rank
as a private varied from 1 to 2 years.
The rank of Corporal was severaly downgraded after unification,
along with the attendant responsibilities. A corporal in the
Canadian Army in 1967 had the same duties and responsibilities that
a sergeant had after unification.
Another effect of Unification was to delete the appointments of
Lance Corporal and Lance Sergeant.
Willard adds: "The system has been very rapidly changed for the
worse. A better concept would have been "lateral trade progression"
- it is possible to give a man status, prestige and more money
without promoting him in rank. Unfortunately, the Canadian Army
never went this route."