Canada in the Second World War


Major-General B.M. Hoffmeister

Bertram Meryl Hoffmeister, born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 15th, 1907; died in Vancouver on December 4th, 1999; Canadian Army officer, businessman.

Lieutenant-Colonel B.M. Hoffmeister, commanding officer of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Sicily, August 1943

Lieutenant-Colonel B.M. Hoffmeister, commanding officer of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Sicily, August 1943
Photo by Terry F. Rowe. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-132779

Bert Hoffmeister discovered the excitement of military life when, at age 12, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders Cadets Corps. Although he was to make his career in the forest industry, he always remained close to the Seaforth Highlanders: in 1927, he enlisted with the Non-Permanent Active Militia. In 1939, he was promoted to Major and commanding officer of a company of the Seaforth Highlanders. He sailed for England with his regiment as early as December 1939.

In March 1942, Hoffmeister returned to Canada to attend the Canadian Junior War Staff courses at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. Upon graduating, he left once more for England and, in October 1942, was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and placed in charge of his old regiment as Officer Commanding.

The campaign of Sicily, which started with the landing of Allied forces on July 10th, 1943, provided Hoffmeister with an opportunity to demonstrate his skills as an officer and as a leader. He was awarded a first medal, the Distinguished Service Order, earned in combat on Sicily’s mountain roads. In October 1943, Hoffmeister became Brigadier and commanding officer of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, to which had been entrusted the difficult task of capturing Ortona, in December 1943.

On March 20th, 1944, Hoffmeister received the command of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, together with a promotion to Major-General. The 5th Division took part in the victorious May 23rd, 1944, attack of the German defence positions that formed the Adolf Hitler Line in the Liri Valley. On August 30th, Hoffmeister’s 5th Armoured Division took on the Gothic Line, which blocked the Allies’ access to northern Italy. In spite of the confusion resulting from violent fighting, Hoffmeister demonstrated initiative and won the day for Canada: on September 1st, the Germans were forced to abandon their positions.

In February 1945, the 5th Armoured Division joined the 1st Canadian Army in the Netherlands, and during the following months, took part in the Allies’ march through enemy-occupied north-western Europe.

Once the war was over in Europe, Hoffmeister was appointed Officer Commanding the 6th Division, the Canadian Army’s Pacific forces. Japan’s surrender in August 1945 put a stop to military preparations and, in September, Hoffmeister became a reserve officer.

Back to civilian life, Bert Hoffmeister resumed his business activities in the British Columbia forest industry. He was CEO of MacMillan Bloedel from 1949 to 1957, British Columbia’s Agent General in London from 1958 to 1961, and Chairman of the Council of Forest Industries of British Columbia from 1961 to 1968. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1982.

Bert Hoffmeister had a real talent for war. He would always make sure he knew thoroughly in what conditions his men were to live and fight. Intelligent and a good listener, a trusted leader, he was attuned to his officers’ ideas and led through consensus rather than sheer authority. His men were proud to be part of “Hoffy’s Mighty Maroon Machine”, as the division was known on account of the colour of the arm patches, a unit that displayed an outstanding esprit de corps.

Suggested Reading:

  • J.L. Granatstein, The Generals, The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War, 1993.