Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns is relatively well-known to Canadian military historians and to Canadians generally. A professional soldier born in 1897, Tommy Burns attended the Royal Military College, leaving before graduation to serve with the Canadian Corps in France and Flanders during the Great War. He saw much action, won the Military Cross, and decided to remain in the tiny Canadian Permanent Force after the Armistice. Burns rose with rapidity in the interwar years, his career helped by brilliant performance at the British Army Staff College, Quetta, and selection for the Imperial Defence College, London. He had powerful patrons, senior officers such as Harry Crerar who admired his intelligence and skills as a staff officer, traits that occasionally camouflaged his sarcasm and lack of traditional leadership qualities of the kind that can make men willing to follow an officer into battle.

At the same time, Burns’ restless mind was searching for other outlets. He began writing articles in H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury, the magazine of the 1920s. He published a play and a novel, and he wrote sketches for the theatre. And at the same time, the Canadian Defence Quarterly, the military’s one interwar intellectual outlet, featured a stimulating debate on the use of armour between Burns and a young captain, Guy Simonds, who was to develop into the best general Canada was to produce in World War II. Burns, in other words was a man of parts.