Raymond Chandler’s Attestation Papers
(August 14, 1917, Victoria, British Columbia)
Although he was an American citizen, Raymond Thornton Chandler enlisted with the Canadian Army in August 1917, as his attestation paper above shows. Some have suggested he chose the Canadian Army due to his fondness for all things British (Canada being part of the Commonwealth), although his choice may have been decidedly more pragmatic. The Canadians, unlike the Americans, offered additional money to soldiers to help maintain their families’ standard of living. In Chandler’s case, that was his mother.
But whatever the reason, only months after the Americans had joined the Allied cause, Chandler at the age of twenty-nine, journeyed north with his pal Gordon Pascal (yes, Cissie’s stepson) to Victoria, British Columbia, where he enlisted with the 50th Gordon Highlanders Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
By March 1918, Chander was in France, and his battalion, the 7th Canadian Infantry, was almost immediately dispatched to the trenches at the front. They were under almost constant bombardment and gas attacks. A few weeks later they were moved to the front line in the area of Vimy Ridge, and later to the Arras region of northern France. As Sarah Trott in an article in The Strand points out, “That made three front line tours during the three short months Chandler was stationed in France.”
It was a pivotal point in Chander’s life (does anyone go to war, and not come back changed?), arguably having a huge impact on his later writings and on the creation of Philip Marlowe, and yet it’s gone relatively unexplored. With the release of his wartime service records (over eighty pages) by Library and Archives Canada, perhaps a little more light can be shone on this period of his life.
Several of Chandler biographies’s tell of him being injured on the front line, witnessing the death of most of his platoon, or receiving a medal for his heroism, are none of these are supported by any evidence in his military file. This doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, mind you, and there’s absolutely no doubt that during his time at the front, Chandler saw a considerable amount action — Canadian regiments were commonly used pretty much as cannon fodder by the British at that point in the war — and by all accounts Chandler did conduct himself with honour and courage, earning a promotion to sergeant after only two months at the front, which put him in charge of thirty men. By summer, however, he had been transferred to the Royal Air Force where he was training to be a fighter pilot at the 6th School of Aeronautics in England at the time of the Armistice.
“I have lived my whole life on the edge of nothing,” Chandler wrote in a personal letter to a young female fan in 1957, “Once you have had to lead a platoon into direct machine-gun fire, nothing is ever the same.”
Which may have been the idle boasting of a lonely, depressed old man nearing the end of his days, or a profound understatement. “Although it has been known by various names—nostalgia, shell shock, combat neurosis—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) fits with Chandler’s post-combat symptoms. From here, it isn’t a huge leap to suggest that some of those symptoms were projected onto his detective,” suggests Trott, and then goes on to point out that Chandler, “like so many other soldiers, would have been inevitably tormented by what he experienced.”
It’s an interesting premise, and one that suggests further investigation may be in order.
One final note: Chandler did receive a medal, the Canadian Army (Class A) War Service Badge, “For Service at the Front,” awarded to those “men who were honorably discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force, usually due to poor health or physical injury.”
- Raymond Chandler and The Trauma Of War
Sarah Trott looks at Chandler’s war record (
- When Raymond Chandler Came to Victoria to Fight the Great War
Tom Hawthorn also checks out how those records shed light on Chandler’s military career. (August 2018, The Tyee)
- Chandler’s Military Records
- A brief overview, with links to his complete Attestation Papers and full Service Record, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Photo of Chandler Photo is from the Imperial War Museums, London.