King's badge Former Canadian Army crest Queens badge
Canadian Provost Corps In Wartime
By Col L. H. Nicholson, M.B.E.
Provost Marshal and Officer Administering the Canadian Provost Corps

The following is Colonel LH Nicholson's forwarding comments that were attached to the original memorandum, "Canadian Provost Corps In Wartime".

 Photo of Col LH Nicholson. In the history of the British Army, various references will be found to the office and function of the Provost Marshal and to the use of troops under his command in the enforcement of discipline. These reference date back to the middle ages and it is of interest to note that at one time the Provost marshal had judicial power and was enabled to impose summary punishment.

While the Canadian Army in the War of 1914 - 18 employed Provost Staff Officers and various Military Police details, it was not until the outbreak of war in 1939 that the need for regular Provost Units became apparent and not until 1940 that "The Canadian Provost Corps", as such, was formed.

From this beginning, with no alternative tradition and no incentive but that of service, the Corps has developed to it's present status. Units are still employed in every Military District in Canada, other Units were included in the Order of Battle of every Canadian Formation overseas while detachments were a part of the Canadian Forces engaged at Hong Kong and Dieppe.

Provost Corps men are expected to carry out their arduous and of times thankless tasks with courtesy, firmness and impartiality. They must be prepared to assist or direct a soldier who is lost or in trouble. In short, they must strive to attain the standard of the good civil policeman who has been described as commanding "the respect of citizens and the fear of the felon".

If any credit is to be given the Corps for it's work during this past six strenuous years, it will be because these principles have been followed, both in the field and while engaged at the more prosaic, but none-the-less essential tasks here at home .

We may with justification point to an excellent esprit de Corps and express the thought that this is founded on the satisfaction of having contributed our part, as a new service, to the overall effort of the Canadian Army.

Signed: L. H. Nicholson

Canadian Provost Corps In Wartime

The Provost must have a horse allowed him
And some soldiers to attend him, and all the rest commanded
To obey and assist, or else the service will suffer for
He is but one man and must correct many and therefore
He cannot be beloved.
And he must be riding
From one garrison to another to see the soldiers
Do not outrage nor scathe the country.

spacer "He cannot be beloved". Ask any veteran of World War I his opinion of military policeman and it will be very surprising if his comments are as mild and polite as the above quotation. At the same time ask anyone placed in authority whether they expect to be beloved and they will probably reply in the negative with the rider that the most they can hope for is respect if they carry out their duties to the best of their ability with equal fairness and firmness.

The "Red Cap
spacer There is no doubt that when the Canadian Provost Corps was first formed in July 1940, they faced a very serious problem in that the old time rough and tough "Red Cap, "having been initially chosen more for his brawn then his brain, had left behind a very unenviable reputation. To get away somewhat from the old stigma, the form "M.P." was dropped and the name "Provost" (a leader) substituted. A new badge, the crown and the lion, the King's personal insignia, was authorized in December, 1940, and though the maintenance of discipline amongst the troops was still a primary function of the Corps, a spirit of co-operation with, and assistance to, other soldiers was fostered and built up.

spacer Though it was not until the middle of 1940 that the Corps was officially recognized as such, the initial provost company, known as No. 1 Canadian Divisional Provost Company (RCMP), was formed. The Company was made up entirely of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on leave of absence from their Force. Subsequently; No. 2 Company was formed as a unit of 2nd Canadian Division and the new military organization commenced it's growth.

The Corps At Home
spacer "To see the soldiers do not outrage nor scathe the Country. " It is an extraordinary thing but when some young civilians first put on Khaki, they appear to forget their past lawful behaviour and take unto themselves all kinds of licence, occasionally of a destructive nature. During the early days of the war, train after train arrived at its destination with its carriages wrecked, windows broken and upholstery torn out; beverage room brawls became common, and becoming boisterous and unruly off duty was considered a soldier's prerogative.

spacer One of the first duties of the Provost in Canada was to control this exuberance and to that end a system of street and train patrols was put into effect. The idea here was not to spoil the soldier's fun but to tone it down so that no "outrage or scathing" resulted. In this way an average of 69 trains, 65 bus or railway terminals and 72 towns were patrolled each day.

spacer In the spring of 1941, the Canadian Provost Corps assumed the responsibility for the movement of Prisoners of War and Internees, and in the next two years more than 26,000 were transferred from ports to camps in 99 separate moves; several of the moves necessitated taking over charges south of the border at such points of entry as New York and Boston.

spacer The administration of Military Detention Barracks early became the responsibility of the provost and by the end of 1943 more then 20 such barracks were in operation across the country. Today the Corps administers 31 of these barracks with a total capacity of approximately 2,800 rooms.

spacer In July 1942, the apprehension of absentees and deserters which had , prior to that date, been carried out by the RCMP, was made a main responsibility of the Corps. To facilitate these duties special powers were granted to Canadian Provost Corps personnel under Order in Council P.C. 3205.

spacer This order gave the members of the Corps the authority to acquire any person to produce his national registration certificate and to question him. If, as a result of such questioning, he reasonably suspected that such a person was an absentee or deserter, the Provost was empowered to apprehend and bring him before a Justice of the Peace to be dealt with according to law. This order applied to absentees and deserters only and not to draft delinquents, apprehension of whom still remained in the hands of the RCMP.

spacer At all ports of embarkation one found the Provost engaged in the thankless job of maintaining good order and military discipline, assisting movement control and generally policing the dock area. Today, the first personnel returning troops meet at the port of disembarkation are the Provost still on the same old job of co-operation and assistance, helping to turn the wheels of "getting home" more smoothly.

The Corps Overseas
spacer Initially, the work of the Provost overseas was very similar to that in Canada, i.e. the policing of cities and towns and the general maintenance of discipline of troops off duty. But behind the scene preparation went on for duties of a more complex nature to be brought into use when the Canadian army came to actual grips with the enemy. The chief duty planned for was that of traffic control. Long hours of thought and practical application were spent in England perfecting these plans so that when the "great day" arrived everything would run smoothly.

spacer That the Provost man on traffic control duty in a battle area had a tough job will be admitted by all who saw him there. He was faced with distractions of every kind yet one error on his part might well have had very serious consequences. he was required to know exactly which way each unit had to go and the best way to get there.

spacer He had to be prepared to accept responsibility with regard to diversions and alternate routes. He knew by heart the serial numbers of every unit taking part and the type of every vehicle, whilst all around him German shells were exploding and aircraft straffing. The Provost doing this all by himself with so much responsibility was, more often then not, a lowly one striper - a lance corporal.

spacer Whilst training in England went on, the Provost were still considered by other troops to be merely "flat feet" and "traffic cops" but after Dieppe it was a different story and the baby Corps commenced to earn the first signs of respect. Here the Provost went ashore with the first wave ready to direct the tanks up the beach and sort order out of the confusion which must necessarily surround any initial landing in enemy-held country. Despite adverse conditions and high casualties, the Canadian Provost Corps came through its baptism of fire with flying colours and was accepted by the troops as "an outfit that perhaps wasn't so bad after all."

Came Into Its Own
spacer Dieppe being just a reconnaissance in force, it was not until the Canadian landed in Sicily that the Provost Corps really came into its own. It was here that they were able to put into practise their traffic control methods under real battle conditions and all troops soon respected the lone Provost standing up amidst shell and mortar fire directing traffic, untangling snarls, apparently oblivious to his own danger and sometimes staying on a corner just a bit too long.

spacer As the advance up the Italian "boot" proceeded, the Provost were always found working well forward. In fact, it was common for troops to come upon Provost placing "Out Of Bounds" signs at one end of a town whilst "Jerry" was still on his way out of the other. Route-signing became a very important part of traffic control and with no railways functioning, a few roads available, and the necessity for getting supplies up, wounded and prisoners back, it had to be very carefully worked out. Certain roads (up routes) were set aside for forward traffic and others (down routes) were used only to the rear, the two being joined by lateral routes. Those in 1st Corps will well remember such signs as SUNUP and BOTTLE DOWN, whilst German place names such as Hamburg, Bremen, etc., were used for laterals.

Special Company
spacer A Special Traffic Control Company of some 254 all ranks was formed in Italy and on a Corps front they were known to place as many as 200 route signs per mile of advance. Incidentally, it was this Traffic Control Company that controlled the ":Gold Flake" route from Marseilles to Cambrai when the Canadians were pulled out of Italy to join their comrades in Northern France, Belgium and Holland.

spacer As the war proceeded, additional duties fell to the Corps. The Provost became responsible for prisoners-of-war and handled them from the Brigade area back to Army where they were taken over by the Corps of Military Police, the British Army equivalent to the Canadian Provost Corps. Cages were built, and as the war was far from static, this involved an immense amount of labour with speed essential. In addition, field punishment camps were constructed and maintained.

spacer As cities and towns were liberated it was found that the civil police forces were no longer existent, and once again the Provost were called upon to take up their duties until such time as re-organization took place.

spacer Special investigations squads were also formed whose particular job was the investigation of serious crime and running down the Black Marketeers. These new duties were taken over with a minimum of fuss and in a short time many would-be profiteers were wondering what hit them.

spacer In North-West Europe, Provost units played their part when the "big show" started on D-Day and moved forward with their formations as the advance progressed from the Normandy beachhead through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany. Many difficult problems in traffic control were met and mastered and of these the Seine crossing will probably be remembered as a highlight. In this theatre Provost signed and manned such well known routes as "Maple Leaf," "London," "Diamond" and "Ruby."

"Had To "Clean Up"
spacer While it is difficult to select any particular feat for mention, perhaps it is worthwhile relating the 0ccasion when a sergeant and detail of men from N. 8 Provost Company were left to clean up a captured town after armoured elements had passed through in pursuit of Nazi tanks. The Provost detachment closely followed the armour, entered the town immediately behind our tanks and was surprised to find itself left alone there; the tank Commander had made a brief pause only and roared on in pursuit.

spacer After having mopped up pockets of resistance and not knowing what else they might find in the way of Nazis, the little body of Provost decided to get with their own job in any case, so set about laying out traffic control and other police arrangements.

spacer When other troops reached the village they were amazed to find Provost already on duty and the position consolidated.

Provost Training
spacer And how did all this come about? It stands to reason that it would have been impossible just to gather up the necessary number of men, put a provost flash on their shoulders, a badge on their caps and throw an "M.P." arm band at them and then expect them to carry out the multitudinous and complex just described. The answer is and was specialized training!

spacer The initial overseas Company was formed from members of the RCMP on special leave of absence and their training in Canada and England was a Divisional responsibility. Other overseas companies set up in the first three years of the war, and with a health sprinkling of ex-civil policemen, were also trained within their own formations. As the companies overseas increased, an attempt was made to co-ordinate training and to this end the Provost Wing, No.1 Canadian General Reinforcement Unit, was formed. This functioned well and finally acted as a concentration point and refresher base for reinforcements arriving from Canada.

spacer In Canada, however, the Corps had its difficulties. It was recognized that brawn was of considerably lesser account than brains, but where to get the men who had it "between the ears" presented a difficult problem in that such combat units as the Infantry, Artillery, Armoured Corps and Engineers had top priority.

spacer The Companies being formed in Canada for home duties were forced to get men where they could and train them as best they were able. District DAPM's and local Company Commanders visited Basic Training Centres in an attempt to sell the Corps to the newly joined recruits - often bashful at the thought of policing his brothers-in-arms - and then arrange for re-allocation to the Corps of those who volunteered to join it and were considered suitable. It became the Company Commander's responsibility to train these new men and attempt to operate efficiently with what they had at their disposal.

spacer The need for a central training establishment was finally recognized and on 1 Nov. 1942, A32 Canadian Provost Corps Training Centre was opened at Camp Borden.

Two Courses
spacer In the beginning the Training Centre drew its men undergoing training from one source only - the Provost Companies in Canada. There were two Courses - one of four weeks duration for categorized men for duty in Canada only, and the other (lasting twelve weeks) designed for overseas reinforcements. On the completion of the Course the men returned to their Companies in Canada, the reinforcements to await their call for overseas service. In 1943, A32 commenced to take in new recruits and ran its own Basic Training. Then it took 17 weeks to turn out trained Provost.

spacer Because it was by now fully recognized that the Provost required "the Cream of the Crop," the qualifications for Provost material ran high. A minimum "M" score of 115 was essential together with at least Grade 9 education and physical condition to meet any emergency. It was stressed that to be a good Provost he must be a soldier par excellence first and be able to do all that the fully trained soldier could do ing even better fashion. He had to drill better, shoot better and look smarter before he was acceptable and as some evidence that this was accomplished it is pointed out that no less than three times during this past year the Basic Training Company of A32 won the Team Shooting Trophy open to all units in Camp Borden.

spacer The young Provost recruit was taught that he was no longer a "care-free" soldier like the other guy; that he must at all times appear smartly and properly dressed, and that though one of his main functions was the maintenance of discipline it was to be a discipline not established by force or fear, but by the use of tact and by the use of his head. "Discipline by Example" was to be his watchword.

spacer In addition, he was taught the gentle art of "judo" the mysteries of mines and booby traps, the taming of the motorcycle and the "jeep," the procedures of military law, the finer points of traffic duty and traffic control and the puzzles of map using, thereby fitting him as much as possible for the arduous job that would be his on arrival overseas.

spacer And so the Canadian Provost Corps has slowly grown up. men of the Corps may have started out with two strikes against them but they hit so many homers that the old score has been completely "washed out." The boys proudly wearing the Lion and the crown have won the hearty respect of all their fellow soldiers who have seen them in action - and won it the hard way. "Discipline by Example" was their watch word and their example has been second to none.

spacer This article was published in a 1945 Canadian Army Memorandum in which the Provost Marshal, Army, Col L.H. Nicholson, (formerly RCMP) outlines the operational function of members of the Canadian Provost Corps in wartime. It was submitted to the C Pro C Association Web Site by Mr Peter Platt, son of former member of the Canadian Provost Corps, the late LCol J.J. (Jack) Platt.