Canada in the Second World War


Major-General J.H. Roberts

John Hamilton Roberts, born in Pipestone, Manitoba, on December 21st, 1891; died in 1963. Canadian Army Officer.

Major-General J.H. Roberts, ca. 1942.

Major-General J.H. Roberts, ca. 1942.
Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-153531.

When the state of war was proclaimed in September 1939, “Ham” Roberts already had a long military career behind him. He graduated in 1914 from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. He served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI and was awarded the Military Cross. Between the wars, he remained with the Canadian Permanent Force, with the Royal Canadian Artillery.

In December 1939, Roberts sailed for England with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. In June 1940, as Canadian and British troops were forced to evacuate France in a hurry, Roberts succeeded in retrieving his regiment’s guns; he was promoted to Brigadier the following month. Starting November 7th, 1941, he was Acting Commander of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, his position as General Officer Commanding being confirmed on April 6th, 1942.

Roberts was put in charge of the ground troops for the ill-fated raid against Dieppe, on August 19th, 1942. From his post of command aboard HMS Calpe, Roberts had only a vague idea of how the operation was unfolding. It is only when troops were recalled towards their transport fleet that Roberts clearly realized how desperate the situation was: almost no objective had been achieved and two brigades out of three had been decimated. Roberts, who had no part in the planning, was not blamed for the failure of the raid; to the contrary, he was even awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In March 1943, Major-General Roberts was severely criticized for his tactical weaknesses during Spartan, a large-scale exercise in preparation for D-Day. In April 1943, he was transferred to the Canadian Reinforcement Units, and would receive no further operational command. Two years later he joined the Commonwealth War Grave Commission.

Suggested Reading

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