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Soldiers a bargain in 1950


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Soldiers a bargain in 1950
By PETER WORTHINGTON Last Updated: 6th July 2009
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Few things underline how different today's Canadian army, navy and air force are from their counterparts of the past, than the pay scales of 60 years ago.

Mike Czuboka, vice-president of the Manitoba Korean Veterans Association (KVA) Unit 17, and editor of its Rice Paddy newsletter, has an irreverent sense of humour and an eye for the unusual.

In the June edition of the newsletter he recalls the basic pay scale of the army in 1950 when he joined the Princess Pats as a private to go to Korea -- a far different pay scale than soldiers today who enlist to go to Afghanistan.

For example, the private in 1950 who got $90 a month, today would get nearly $2,600 a month -- and that's basic pay, not including years of service raises, or trade, or signing bonuses, or danger pay. In 1950 a major-general got $786 a month -- roughly one-quarter of what a private today draws.

Here are 1950 monthly basic pay rates itemized in the Rice Paddy, with today's basic monthly pay rates in brackets beside them: Private $90, ($2,585); corporal $103, ($4,345); sergeant $119, ($4,991); 2nd lieutenant $162, ($4,136); lieutenant $195, ($4,507); captain $234, ($5,714); major $312, ($7,727).

Canadian Forces don't like to advertise pay rates for colonels and above, but in 1950, a lieutenant-colonel's basic monthly pay was $367 for commanding a battalion, with a brigadier drawing $689. Today they'd get $10,000 a month or more.

Today, army doctors and dentists get a $225,000 bonus if they sign up for four years, $80,000 if it's only two years.


Czuboka tries to put the 1950 rates into perspective by noting such things as hockey sticks costing $1.98, a vacuum cleaner $19.94, a used car $100.

Bread cost 10 cents a loaf, gasoline 20 cents a gallon, $2,000 was a good yearly salary. A decent house could be purchased for $10,000.

(My first newspaper job at the Vancouver Province in 1954 paid $35 a week, or $1,820 a year. I joined the Toronto Telegram in 1956 at $60 a week, or $3,120 a year. My new Nash Metropolitan convertible cost $1,500).

The newsletter also reprints a curious order issued by the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Canadian Black Watch that served in Korea after the truce in 1953.

Col. R.M. Ross was offended at the number of cats that infested the battalion area, most of which, he said, "have grown fat and indolent."

He ordered that a program be started to "weed out and destroy old and useless cats," and that a "hunter class" of cat be developed "by diet and training for use as a rat exterminating agent."

Old cats were to be "destroyed ... despatched (sic) out of hand," while others were to be "deliberately starved and set loose at night" to kill rats. When they succeeded, they'd be rewarded.

The colonel's order concluded: "When hardened to hunting condition ... trained cats will be disciplined ... by being struck into activity. Smart and efficient cats will be given small amounts of extra food and attention. Breeding will be discouraged."

Captain Queeg-ish
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I read this article this morning prior to coming to work, and was perplexed by Worthington's intentions on writing it. One the one hand, he offers some context to what the dollar could buy you in 1950, but then makes no to attempt to compare it to what it can buy you today, which is not much I might add. Is he saying that today's privates are well off enough, or not? Today's professional soldiers are a bargain compared to what a private security contractor can make overseas, from US$350 up to US$1,500 a day. Maybe he is just musing or thinking aloud?
I suspect it Mr. Worthington was on a tangent, as older folks are wont to go on.

I found the part about "Fat and Indolent" cats and developing a "hunter class" of cats to be both disturbing and hilarious. I for one let my fat and indolent cat out for a daily hunt, and I chide her mewling to be let in without accomplishing any useful work.
Peter Worthington's work is great. It could be greater if he would link the policy dating from at least 1945 of deploying a small force and asking it to do big things and what this has achieved.

HIs service in the Korea era did big things but the mind of his reader has been  refocussed over the last 50 years not on the benefits of confronting threats to the Empire or NATO to internal threats - like the Canadian Nanny State. Canadians want their gravy and they haven`t been persuaded they need a powerful Army - although they now have their hunter killer cats.

In short - as we spend tax dollars internally - we can`t deploy this effort externally - which is the inverse to the era he served in.
The 1950 pay rates he cited were not bad for the era, especially as free R&Q were provided for living-in members.

On to something a little different, the two years - 1950 and 1951 - saw a complete change in Canadian defence policy and even in culture. Previously we had used the regular army to train and mentor the reserves with an aim of conducting a mobilization in order to provide a field force in a year or so. The creation of NATO and the Korean War saw the regular army go through an expansion not too different from the one of 1939. For example, we went from three understrength infantry battalions to 15 in two years. This increase was mirrored by all the other arms and services except the RCAC, which stayed at a two regiment strength for the next few years. Even so, the armoured corps got brand new Centurion tanks.

This expansion worked because the 1950 army was almost a clone of its 1945 counterpart. We also had lots of relatively modern equipment in stores from the war and most of the Second World War veterans were in their late-twenties or early-thirties.

Edit to add: Since 1950 we have been an army based on forces-in-being with garrisons based on the frontier between the western world and the barbarians, if that's not too strong a word.
In 1977 pay for a reserve gunner was $18.00 a day plus lunch. Mind you beer was cheap in the mess.
From an old publication I have titled Corporal to Field Officer, Fourth Edition Amended Up to Date by Lieut.-Colonel R.J.S. Langford, October 1940

From the section concerning pay and allowances which is noted as “. . . a general résumé on the subject as set forth in P. and A. regs.”

2. Rates of Pay.  (not applicable on active service). 

i. Officers:
2nd Lieutenant ....... $3.00 per day
Lieutenant ....... 3.60 per day
Captain ....... 5.20 per day
Major ....... 6.50 per day
Lieutenant-Colonel ....... 7.70 per day

ii. N.C.Os. and O.Rs.
Boy ....... $0.60 per day
Private ....... 1.20 per day
Lance-Corporal ....... 1.40 per day
Corporal ....... 1.60 per day
Serjeant ....... 1.90 per day
C.Q.M.S. ....... 2.20 per day
C.S.M. and other W.Os., Cl. II ....... 2.80 per day
Regimental Serjeant-Major ....... 3.70 per day
All other W.Os. Cl. I ....... 3.40 per day


Some of Worthington's writing has begun to meander in the last few years, but the part of his article about the cats did have my mind meander back to memories of Ismailia some 30 years ago and the operation to control our feline population.