Topic: Battle Honours
Authority for the Saskatchewan Battle Honour
Exploring the files available on line from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) can produce some interesting historical trivia. From the records of the office of the Governor General we can discover correspondence related to the criteria for and award of Battle Honours to Canadian regiments. Buried in the exchanges between Ottawa and London, England, is the matter of eligibility for the Battle Honour "Saskatchewan" awarded to The Royal Canadian Regiment.
In reply to a 1905 request for the design of Colours for The Royal Canadian Regiment (to be prepared before the Regiment concentrated its Headquarters and six new companies at Halifax), came this coded telegram:
Luckily for us, the decoded version, dated 3 May 1905, is also found in the LAC files:
In reference to earlier correspondence on preparation of the Royal Canadian Dragoons guidon and The Royal Canadian Regiment's regimental colour, clarification was being sought on whether the "headquarters and half the strength of unit [were] present in cases [of identified battle honours] other than South Africa."
This led to an admission of a serious oversight.
But first, the bureaucratic reply admitted nothing. On 15 May 1905, the Governor General replied. Based on a letter received from the Deputy Minister of Militia and Defence, which was enclosed, the reply stated that "in no case were less than two-thirds of the total strength of the units present in cases other than South Africa."
This prompted, as might be expected, the demand for further clarification (and the completion of the requested information). The next decoded telegram, dated 1 June 1905, read: "Referring to your despatch … whether headquarters were present in each case."
This time, the full text of the Deputy Minister's reply, dated 9 June 1905, and forwarded under the Governor General's signature to London on the 12th, provides the critical admission:
"I have the honour, by direction of the Minister in Militia Council, to request that His Excellency the Governor General may be moved to inform the Right Hon. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, in reply of his cable of the 1st instant, that the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Dragoons (Cavalry School Corps) were present in cases other than South Africa, but that the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Regiment were not present, only one company ("C") of the Infantry School Corps being engaged during the North West, Canada, 1885, Rebellion. Attention is, however, called to the fact that His Excellency the Governor General in Council was pleased, by General Order 49 of 1899, to authorize the word "Saskatchewan" being borne by the Royal Canadian Regiment."
Lyttleton's response exposes the error committed:
"Referring to your telegram of 12 June please report under what authority Governor General sanctioned word "Saskatchewan" in General Order No. 49 of 1899. No trace of correspondence with War Office bearing on the subject can be found."
We can only imagine the reactions throughout the establishment from the Governor General's office to the Militia Department and downward within regimental circles. The 20 June reply from the Department, again signed by the Deputy Minister, is a masterful piece of staff work which admits no overt intention to circumvent due process.
"In reference to the cable from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 20th instant, inquiring upon what authority His Excellency sanctioned the word "Saskatchewan" in General Order 49 of 1899, which has been referred to this department for report, I have the honour, by direction of the Minister in Militia Council, to say that upon the application of the Officer Commanding the Royal Canadian Regiment, the then General Officer Commanding Major-General E.T.H. Hutton, C.B., A,D,C., recommended that the distinction of "Saskatchewan" be given to the Royal Canadian Regiment in consideration of services rendered during the North-West 1885 Rebellion, and that the same was submitted by the Minister of Militia and Defence for the approval of His Excellency the Governor-General in Council, with other General Orders, bearing date 1st May, 1899, and received His Excellency's approval. His Majesty's sanction does not appear to have been obtained."
"The distinction applied for was granted to the Royal Canadian Regiment for service rendered to the Canadian Government within the Dominion of Canada, and the necessity for obtaining His Majesty's approval appears to have been overlooked."
"I am further directed to request that instructions may be obtained for the further guidance of this department in the matter of granting distinctions of this kind."
This reply was forwarded by the Governor General on 28 June 1905. In August the Militia Department pressed the Governor General to obtain an answer on the provision of Guidon and Colours, declaring there to be an "unreasonable delay" for which there was certainly no admission that the provenance of the "Saskatchewan" battle honour may be factor. This element of the matter was identified in detail by Lyttleton's reply of 27 October, 1905.
"With reference to your despatch No, 274 of 23rd August, I have the honour to inform you that His Majesty has signified his approval of the grant to the Royal Canadian Dragoons of the distinctions "North West Canada 1885" and "South Africa 1900", and to the Royal Canadian Regiment of the distinctions "North West Canada 1885 Saskatchewan" (sic), "South Africa 1899-1900" and "Paardeberg" but with regard to the Royal Canadian Dragoons I have to explain that they are entitled only to the distinction "South Africa 1900" and not to "South Africa 1900-1901", since the records at the War Office show that the headquarters of the regiment left South Africa in the "Roslin Castle" on 13th December 1900."
"Instructions are being given that the inscription of these honours on the guidon and colours of the corps and the addition of the Royal Cypher to the King's Colour of the Royal Canadian Regiment may be put in hand immediately."
"I observe the expressions "unreasonable delay" in the letter from the Deputy Minister of Militia and Defence to your Military Secretary of the 22nd August but I would point out that it was impossible to proceed with the matter until your despatch No. 233 of the 3rd July was received, and the further delay which has since arisen is due to the fact that the Royal Canadian Regiment are entitled strictly to neither "Saskatchewan" nor "North West Canada 1885". I would add that the waiving of the requirement for the presence of headquarters in this case must not be regarded as a precedent. I will forward to you later a complete statement of the conditions which must be fulfilled before recommendations for the grant of military distinctions can be submitted to His Majesty."
Through this series of exchanges we discover that the granting of battle honours to the Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment in 1899 for the North West Rebellion had not followed proper protocols. Discovered during the process to acquire new guidon and colours in 1905, this resulted in the Secretary of State for the Colonies coordinating the necessary Royal assent for these awards including the grace of approving the award of "Saskatchewan" and "North West Canada 1885" to The Royal Canadian Regiment when they did not meet the established criteria.