W.G. Gwatkin, n.d.
Canada in the Great World War..., vol. 2 (Toronto: United Publishers of Canada, 1918-1921). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

W.G. Gwatkin, n.d.

Early on in the First World War, Gwatkin, a British regular officer, was seconded to Canada's militia headquarters to provide expert advice to military and political officials concerning the mobilization of troops.

Not until a month after the Sarajevo killings and barely a week before the outbreak of the war did the reality of the crisis impinge on public consciousness. On 25 July 1914, the Edmonton Bulletin ran its first headline on the situation: "GREAT WAR THREATENS EUROPE." (15) Four days later came the first real indication that Britain might be involved and, on the final day of July, the first speculation about Canadian participation. The headline on 5 August read, "CANADIAN MOBILIZATION WILL BE ORDERED TODAY." (16) Minister of Militia Sam Hughes announced that Canada would send a full division of at least 21,000 men, all volunteers, as soon as possible. Those with a direct interest in military affairs assumed that the division would be organized by selecting some of the better organized militia regiments from across Canada, recruiting them up to full strength, forming them into brigades, and adding the necessary ancillary troops to complete the divisional organization. A plan for doing exactly that had, in fact, existed since 1911. Colonel Willoughby Gwatkin, a competent mobilization officer, had directed the creation of the plan. Gwatkin was one of the small group of British regular officers who had been seconded to militia headquarters to provide as much professional expertise and advice as the Canadian political authorities were prepared to accept.

Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, ca. 1915.
Ashley G. Brown, ed., The Prairie Provinces of Canada: Their History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources (London: Sells, 1914). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, ca. 1915.

On 5 August 1914, Minister of Militia and Defence Hughes set out plans for Canada to contribute a considerable force -- at least 21,000 men -- to the conflict in Europe.

Gwatkin's professionalism was exactly the problem as far as the erratic Sam Hughes was concerned. The British regulars had thwarted Hughes' efforts to personally serve in the Canadian contingent in South Africa. By 1914, this episode had come to be interpreted in his mind as an attempt by the regulars to prevent the heroic citizen-soldiers from winning the war on their own. (17) When, on 28 July, the British government cabled the dominions to put into effect the precautionary stage of war planning, Hughes was confronted with the realization that, if he put the existing plan into effect, the selection of units and officers to command them would be largely in the hands of the professionals. His response was to scrap the Gwatkin plan and improvise his own. Near total confusion descended upon Canadian war preparations. Subordinates received orders before their commanding officers, and units were told they would be going to Britain only to have the orders cancelled a few days later. In Edmonton the men of the19th were told on 8 August that they would be contributing a squadron of 200 men to the first contingent. Three days later, these orders were cancelled. Two weeks later another reversal occurred, and the squadron, including Major Griesbach, finally departed for the east. (18) The original plan called for the troops to assemble at Petawawa, near Toronto, the only camp in Canada large enough to accommodate a division. Instead, Hughes ordered the immediate construction of a massive new facility at Valcartier, north of Quebec City, and the volunteers were sent there. Amazingly, contractors managed to get the camp at least partially ready within a month.

Training Camp, Valcartier, QC, 1914.
Mary Plummer, With the First Canadian Contingent (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

Training Camp, Valcartier, QC, 1914.

The mobilization and initial training of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was a shambles. This situation was largely due to the arrogance and erratic tendencies of Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence. Hughes ordered that training would take place at a new facility, Valcartier, instead of at the pre-existing facility at Petawawa, Ontario. Valcartier was miraculously made ready in time for training, no thanks to the impulsive Hughes.

In the chaotic atmosphere of early August 1914, nobody in Edmonton was sure what would happen from day to day. The 19th and the 101st were busy recruiting from the many eager volunteers but they were no longer the only military units on the scene. Hamilton Gault, a wealthy Montreal businessman and militia officer offered, when the war began, to pay for regiment to be composed entirely of former British servicemen living in Canada. Since it was generally believed the war would be short, a unit of experienced soldiers would be immediately useful. Hughes agreed to the creation of the Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) on the condition that it accept no active members of the militia. (19) The PPCLI recruited in Edmonton, and, by 14 August, 200 recruits had departed for Ottawa to join the new unit. To the considerable annoyance of the officers of the 101st, several of their men could not resist the call of immediate action and joined the Patricias despite the ban on recruiting from the militia. (20) By September, ad hoc units were organizing and drilling all over the city. Among the groups formed were the Legion of Frontiersmen and the Edmonton Home Defence Corps (which included in its ranks the eminent and elderly Member of Parliament Frank Oliver). The University of Alberta also formed a volunteer battalion, and Robertson College contributed a company. Another group began organizing a highland regiment, and, in early October, the Bulletin began publishing a regular column entitled "Military Matters" to keep its readers abreast of the proliferation. (21)

On 3 September, 1,200 men recruited by the 101st left Edmonton for Valcartier. Because Hughes had scrapped the original mobilization plan and because the Canadian government was unsure of the legality of sending existing militia units overseas, the 1st Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) consisted entirely of new battalions created at Valcartier. Almost all the Edmonton men became part of the new 9th Battalion, and Hughes agreed to appoint their choice, Colonel Maynard Rogers, as commanding officer. The Bulletin did not openly criticize this loss of local identity, commenting philosophically on its editorial page, "The 101st under any other name will do its duty." (22) But acceptance of the decision could not conceal a frustrated desire to have a combat unit with a direct connection to the community. By cutting the symbolic ties between communities and regiments, Hughes was throwing away the most effective recruiting tool at his disposal. With volunteers competing for the opportunity to sign up, however, his decision didn't seem to matter at first. Soon it would.

Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Hamilton Gault, n.d.
Canada in the Great World War…, vol. 3 (Toronto: United Publishers of Canada, 1918-1921). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Hamilton Gault, n.d.

Gault, a wealthy business and military officer, made his contribution to the war effort by paying for the establishment of a regiment. The Princess Patricia's Light Infantry (PPCLI) was to be comprised only of former British servicemen residing in Canada (and not active members of the militia). Despite the ban on recruiting militia members, however, the Edmonton recruitment campaign saw several members of the 101st Regiment enlist in the PPCLI.
  • 15. Edmonton Bulletin, 25 July 1914.
  • 16. Ibid., 5 August 1914.
  • 17. Ronald G. Haycock, Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916 (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986), p. 179.
  • 18. Edmonton Bulletin, 8 August, 12 August, and 26 August 1914.
  • 19. David J. Bercuson, The Patricias: The Proud History of a Fighting Regiment (Toronto: Stoddart, 2001), p. 23.
  • 20. Edmonton Bulletin, 12 August 1914.
  • 21. Ibid., 2 October 1914.
  • 22. Ibid., 10 September 1914.

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