The objective of this project is to explore the links between the town of Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex and Canada. There is a rich history of Canadian links to the town, developed primarily during the two world wars, which have yet to be fully explored. This project is both an academic and public engagement exercise.
From an academic standpoint, I would like to investigate how the presence of Canadian soldiers in the town during the world wars contributed to some of the broader political questions occurring in Canada at the time. A particular aspect that I am interested in exploring is how the Canadian Officers Training School (CTS) in Bexhill from 1917-1918 helped to shape a sense of Canadian identity at a time of national development in Canada. At the time of the First World War, Canadian foreign policy was controlled by Britain and military command during the conflict was under the control of the War Office in London. The CTS in Bexhill was established in order to improve the training of officers within the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Bexhill was chosen as the location for the CTS because its promenades were ideal for military drills and it had an abundance of hotels to house troops. The current academic literature notes that in 1915 the CEF was “little more than a rabble of enthusiastic amateurs. Yet by 1917-18, it had become an accomplished professional fighting force” (Brennan, 2002: 5). Furthermore, it is widely noted that Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden sought an enhanced role for Canada in the Peace Negotiations at Versailles at the conclusion of the conflict. My objective is to understand how the CTS at Bexhill contributed to the ‘professionalisation’ of the CEF. Most importantly, I want to determine whether the CTS helped to develop an enhanced sense of ‘Canadianness’ and, if so, how, if at all, this contributed towards Canada seeing itself as an international state in its own right at the conclusion of the conflict. I envisage that this research on the First World War will help to develop any future research on the Second World War.
From a public engagement perspective, I would like to help inform and engage the residents of Bexhill about the strong Canadian links with the town. The preliminary research has shown that there is much interest in these links; for example, as a result of family links and/or personal experience. Moreover, I hope that this research will also be of interest to Canadians who, for similar reasons, may have a connection with Bexhill. It is my intention to showcase this research beyond just academic circles. At the very least, upon the conclusion of the project, I will donate all the material gathered to Bexhill Museum.
Brennan, Patrick. H. 2002. “Byng’s and Currie’s Commanders: A Still Untold Story of the Canadian Corps.” Canadian Military History 11 (2): 5-16.