Researching The Royal Canadian Regiment

Battle Honours of The Royal Canadian Regiment

1915: The Beaches of Bermuda and the Battlefields of Belgium

By: Captain Michael O'Leary, The RCR (2006)

On 1 November 1915 the War Diary of The RCR reports that the "Regiment arrived BOULOGNE" and the first soldiers of the Regiment entered the trenches for familiarization training with other battalions on the 11th of November that year. How then, is it that the Regiment has four battle honours for the First World War that predate the Regiment's arrival in France?

"How then, is it that the Regiment has four battle honours for the First World War that predate the Regiment's arrival in France?"

These four early battle honours are:

These battle honours, among others, belong to The RCR through the perpetuation of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (1st Cdn. Inf. Bn.) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

It is also important to realize that the four battles listed above are not the only contributions to our list of honours by the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. Other battle honours won by that battalion, which do not also appear in the 1929 list of honours for actions undertaken by The RCR, are:

Coincidentally, the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. shares every battle honour of The RCR in the CEF.

In 1914, when Sam Hughes created the CEF for overseas service, he did not build upon the existing institutions of the Non-Permanent Active Militia and the Permanent Force. Instead he created a new mobilization force with no direct organizational connection to existing regular or militia units. While soldiers and officers of the Militia were free to enrol in this new force for overseas service, units of the Permanent Force remained subject to the decisions made by the Militia Department for their dispositions.

The RCR was soon called into service, but not, as some might have wished, to embark for the battlefields of France and Belgium. The Regiment's fate is described in "Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War":

"On the outbreak of the European War in August, 1914, the Regiment was mobilized at Halifax, occupying the various forts. It was brought up to war strength by a draft of four hundred volunteers, men from the newly formed Camp at Valcartier, for the Expeditionary Force then being raised. Being trained regular troops, and the only ones available for service Overseas, the Regiment, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel A. O. Fages, was sent to Bermuda on September 9th to relieve the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, and were the first Canadian troops to go abroad. In August of the following year, the Regiment having been relieved by the 38th Battalion, C.E.F., proceeded, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Carpenter, to France, via England, where it was re-armed and re-equipped. It landed at Boulogne, under the command of Lieut.-Col. A. H. Macdonell, D.S.O., on October 31st, and on moving up the line immediately became Corps Troops to the Canadian Corps under Lieut.-General Sir A. E. H. Alderson, K.C.B. It went into the trenches for the first time with the First Canadian Division, opposite Messines." (Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War; Compiled and Edited by M.S. Hunt (Captain R.O.), The Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co., Limited, 1920)

With Sam Hughes allegedly harbouring no great affection for the Permanent Force, it is a matter of conjecture what fate may have befallen the Regiment if Bermuda had not required a garrison battalion. It is possible that The RCR could have been broken up to training establishments, remained as a garrison unit in Halifax or been absorbed into the CEF as individual replacements, none of which would have been enviable fates.

With the soldiers of The RCR reluctantly guarding sunny Bermuda against the wily Hun and other foes of the Empire, we shall return to the tale of our battle honours.

Well before soldiers of The Regiment were resisting temptation to break ranks and sample French wine and women, the First Canadian Division was fighting in the trenches of France and building a proud record of battlefield accomplishments. Before the end of 1915 The RCR would first enter the trenches with units of the First Division for familiarization training, but later be:

"… brigaded with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), 49th Battalion (Edmonton Regiment), the whole forming the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade under Command of Brigadier General (now Major General) A.C. Macdonell, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., and were posted to the 3rd Canadian Division." (A Brief Story of the History of The Royal Canadian Regiment; For the use of Instructors (July, 1917))

With the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. in the 1st Division and The RCR in the 3rd Division, these battalions would cross many of the same battlefields and share a number of battle honours. It was not until after the Great War that the next stage in the progression of those battle honours of the 1st Battalion becoming our own takes place.

Towards the end of the Great War, it was realized that the CEF would cease to exist on demobilization. There was concern that, on reversion to the pre-War establishments in Canada, the Militia would not retain any of the achievements of the CEF because there was no formal organizational structure across which those battle honours and achievements could automatically transfer. (While many of the later battalions of the CEF had links by name and shape of cap badge to existing Militia regiments, this did not reflect official connections at the time.) The means to a solution to this dilemma was an appointed board which became known as The Otter Commission.

General William Dillon Otter, well known to Royal Canadians from South Africa and the exploits of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, was appointed to head a commission tasked to assign links between units of CEF and the units of the Canadian Militia. Establishment of perpetuation between specific units was based primarily on geographical connections to the recruiting areas of the CEF battalions. This concept of perpetuation provided a basis by which the achievements and battle honours of the CEF would be transferred to and carried forward by units of the Militia and the Permanent Force. If the Otter Commission had not been created and executed its work, much of the CEF and its achievements would have no official connection with existing units of the Canadian Army today.

Thanks to the Otter Commission, the battle honours of the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. (although yet to be authorized at that time) would be preserved by a standing unit. Since the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. was raised in south-western Ontario around London it was determined that a unit in the London area should be granted the privilege to perpetuate that battalion. These battle honours, authorized in 1929, were to be first perpetuated by "The Western Ontario Regiment". The Western Ontario Regiment, previously the 7th Regiment 'Fusiliers,' was renamed for the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. in 1920. In 1924 that regiment's name would change again to "The Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)."

At this point, our tale of those early Great War battle honours changes from one of perpetuation to one of amalgamation (which also includes the perpetuation of honours though the shifting structure and names of regiments). After 1924, the Canadian Fusiliers were subjected to relatively minor changes in title five times. During the Second World War they also raised a second battalion, which was mobilized in 1942 and deployed to KISKA in 1943. That active service battalion, titled the "1st Battalion" (the "2nd Battalion" then being the Militia battalion still in London) eventually made its way to England in 1944 and was maintained there as a reserve battalion providing reinforcements to the 2nd and 3rd Divisions until it was demobilized in 1945.

In 1954, The Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (M.G.) was amalgamated with The Oxford Rifles to become the "London and Oxford Fusiliers (3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment)". The Oxford Rifles also brought perpetuated First World War battle honours into this amalgamation.

We would, however, be remiss not to identify one other thread of perpetuated honours in the history of The Canadian Fusiliers. In 1936, the Fusiliers were amalgamated with Headquarters and "A" Company of the 2nd Canadian Machine Gun Battalion. This brought into our regimental heritage the perpetuation not only of that unit of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps (CMGC), but also its own perpetuated unit of the CEF: the 2nd Battalion CMGC.

The inclusion of the "Emma Gees" branch of our regimental story is important here because, like the 1st Battalion CEF, they brought to the Regiment another battle honour that was unique to their participation in the Great War (out of all of our perpetuated units of the CEF). That battle honour is "Cambrai, 1918."

Incidentally, none of our First World War battle honours are unique to The RCR among the various threads of our lineage. Each original RCR battle honour for The Great War is shared with at least one perpetuated unit.

While our regimental history seems quite straightforward up to 1954, the addition of the London and Oxford Fusiliers (3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment), now the 4th Battalion, requires us to look back through the history of our perpetuated units for a broader understanding of our heritage. The RCR perpetuates five infantry battalions and one machine gun battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and two infantry regiments and one machine gun battalion of the Canadian Militia:

a.      Units of the Canadian Militia perpetuated by The RCR:

(1)      The London and Oxford Fusiliers (3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment), which were formed by the amalgamation of:

(a)      The Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), which started as the "7th Infantry Battalion, 'Prince Arthur's Own'" in 1866, and

(b)      The Oxford Rifles, which started as the "Twenty-second Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles, Canada" in 1863,

(2)      2nd Machine Gun Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps (1919-1938).

b.      Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) perpetuated by The RCR:

(1)      1st Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF,

(2)      33rd Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF,

(3)      71st Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF,

(4)      142nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF,

(5)      168th Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF,

(6)      2nd Machine Gun Battalion, CEF, which was formed from:

(a)      4th Canadian Machine Gun Company,

(b)      5th Canadian Machine Gun Company,

(c)      6th Canadian Machine Gun Company, and

(d)      14th Canadian Machine Gun Company.

In 1929 The RCR was authorized 16 battle honours for the First World War by General Order 110. Today, because of the Otter Commission, perpetuation, and amalgamation, the Regiment proudly holds 25 battle honours for that war.

These battle honours were won by soldiers of The Royal Canadian Regiment, the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (CEF), the 2nd Battalion Canadian Machine Gun Corps (CEF) and other soldiers of our perpetuated battalions and regiments. While perpetuation has handed down to Royal Canadians today the proud history of these honours and achievements, hand in hand with that is our responsibility to remember where they came from.

With the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War approaching, we should be ready for the centennial of our first battle honour of that war - Ypres, 1915 (22 April - 25 May 1915).

In April and May of 1915, The RCR was performing garrison duties in Bermuda.

In April and May of 1915, the 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn. was at Ypres, the battalion's War Diary states:

"The casualties suffered during the period 23rd to 30th [April, 1915] were: Officers – killed 3, wounded 7; other ranks – killed 56, wounded 306, missing 34. nearly all these casualties occurred on the 23rd inst.
     "The Conduct of all ranks was all that could possible be desired and their devotion to duty and steadiness remarkable." – F.W. Hill, Lt-Col; Commanding 1st Canadian Bn. (War Diary, April 1915, Appendix A)

Origins of the Great War Battle Honours
of The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR)

The RCR, CEF 1st Cdn. Inf. Bn., CEF 2nd Bn. CMGC, CEF The RCR
(since 1954)
Ypres, 1915Ypres, 1915
St. JulienSt. Julien
Festubert, 1915 Festubert, 1915
Mount SorrelMount SorrelMount Sorrel
Somme, 1916 Somme, 1916Somme, 1916
Ancré HeightsAncré HeightsAncré Heights
Arras, 1917Arras, 1917 Arras, 1917
Vimy, 1917Vimy, 1917Vimy, 1917
Scarpe, 1917Scarpe, 1917
Hill 70Hill 70Hill 70
Ypres, 1917Ypres, 1917Ypres, 1917
AmiensAmiens AmiensAmiens
Arras, 1918Arras, 1918 Arras, 1918Arras, 1918
Scarpe, 1918Scarpe, 1918 Scarpe, 1918Scarpe, 1918
Drocourt-Queant Drocourt-QueantDrocourt-Queant
Hindenburg LineHindenburg Line Hindenburg LineHindenburg Line
Canal du NordCanal du Nord Canal du NordCanal du Nord
Cambrai, 1918Cambrai, 1918
Pursuit to MonsPursuit to MonsPursuit to MonsPursuit to Mons
France and Flanders 1915-1918France and Flanders 1915-1918France and Flanders 1918France and Flanders 1915-1918

The Battle Honours for The RCR (CEF), the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (CEF) and the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps were published in General Order 100 of 1929.

Pro Patria