“A Serious Piece of Business” Part I

Recently Master Corporal Nikolas A. E. Mouriopoulos of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) completed a paper for his Masters Degree in History which he undertook at the University of Toronto. Last fall he approached the museum with the hope of researching Canada’s oldest continuous infantry unit. While exploring the archival storage rooms he found several scrapbooks neatly filled with newspaper clippings on the Regiment’s 1910 trip to England, organized and financed by Major General Sir Henry Pellatt. After some further thought and discussion with his advisor, his paper’s them evolved into a comparison of the rampant imperialism of the time vs. rising Canadian nationalism:

“…the voyage of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada to the Aldershot exercises of 1910 serves as an excellent metonymic device for helping to understand Canada’s military history and sense of nationhood within the Empire at an important moment in the country’s history. That it is such a unique story only makes it better in the telling.”

Our thanks to MCpl Mouriopoulos for allowing us to reprint his paper in a multi part series on our blog. Here is Part I.

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“A Serious Piece of Business”:
Sir Henry Pellatt, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and the “English Trip” of 1910

Part I

On Friday, the 6th of January 1939, a gala dinner was held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto for members both past and present of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR). The dinner was to honour two events: the eightieth birthday of Major-General Sir Henry M. Pellatt, C.V.O., V.D., D.C.L., once-Officer Commanding of the regiment and proud servant to his unit for over sixty-three years; and the twenty-ninth anniversary of “the English trip,” or “the occasion in 1910 when the Regiment moved off to England and learned a lot of soldiering with the British Army,” as the reunion programme describes it. Those veterans of the trip who had survived the Great War and old age congregated for a black-tie affair in which a traditional “Aldershot buffet” was served, toasts to royalty were proclaimed, and Sir Henry, slowed and near penniless by this time but once of the wealthiest men in the Dominion, was stylishly fêted one last time before his beloved regiment. [1]  The timing was important, as in two months Sir Henry would be dead, commemorated in a funeral that would attract thousands to St. James Cathedral in Toronto. [2]

“The English trip” was in fact the journey in August and September of 1910 of nearly the entire regiment, nearly 640 men and officers total, to participate in the summer exercises of His Majesty’s armies at Aldershot, Hampshire, in the United Kingdom. The men and officers were gone for over a month, leaving behind jobs, friends and family in order to participate in hard training, visit the King, and tour both London and the English countryside. As both Canadian and British newspapers at the time made clear, the voyage was remarkable for two reasons: for one, it was the first time a “colonial” regiment had visited the mother country for the purposes of training, or indeed at all as a complete unit; and secondly, that its resulting wages, equipment, and transport there and back was paid for almost entirely by Sir Henry Pellatt, then-Colonel of the regiment’s two battalions. These same newspapers covered the story throughout and cheering crowds greeted the regiment at every stop along the way, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In light of the fact that the First World War was still in recent memory – a war to which the regiment contributed, and suffered, much – and rumours of another one in the near future were beginning to abound, the above reunion appears to have made much of a relatively insignificant historical event. A pleasurable trip, yes, and of some practical value to be sure, but not worthy of the same study or commemoration due to Ypres or the Somme, to 1914 or 1918. And yet, it is clear that this was not the case for those who undertook it. The memories of this event persevered into 1939 and beyond and today form a major part of the regiment’s own sense of history, if displays at Casa Loma – Pellatt’s one-time mansion and current home to the regimental archives – can be taken at face value.

Moreover, for the modern reader of history, the voyage of the QOR to Aldershot in 1910 provides a fascinating window into the complex and often competing understandings of Canadian militia development prior to the Great War, understandings that have only recently been analysed at length by historians.

On the one hand, the expedition to Aldershot was very much the product of one man’s ambition to be the ultimate imperial servant, both in his own mind and in others. It speaks to the incredibly personal nature of the Canadian militia in 1910 that Sir Henry, driven in part by a desire for honours and in part for a desire to bring fame to his home and regiment, was able to outfit and control a massive military undertaking with only the barest of auspices of control from the federal government, the nominal head of militia affairs. He was referred to in his lifetime by friends as “the most generous and enthusiastic amateur soldier in Canada,” [3] and the title is not without some merit in this instance: the  cost of the expedition was staggering. A figure of £20,000 was repeated throughout newspapers of the time (occasionally £30,000), while Pellatt biographer Carlie Oreskovich estimates the cost to have been anywhere from $30,000 to almost as high as $150,000 in contemporary Canadian currency. Today, the value of those amounts is anywhere from one to three million Canadian dollars. [4]  Though the British government contributed approximately $11,400 for rations at the camps, there is no doubt that the Aldershot expedition was very much Pellatt’s project. [5]

And yet, the expedition was also both the product and symbol of a very dynamic and conflicted point in Canada’s nascent military development. As will be demonstrated in this study of the “English trip,” Pellatt’s motives and the QOR’s participation in military exercises in 1910 very much stemmed from a context in which the militia was slowly shifting from Victorian traditions and parochial idiosyncrasies towards something resembling modern professionalism, preparation and self-awareness; and a country in which the lines between imperialism and nationalism were becoming increasingly blurred, often as much in conjunction with one another as they were separating. What’s more, the “English trip” was also just that: a trip to the mother country, and a mother country at that whose own ideas of Canada and its armies came from and were manifest in a very different perspective than that present in Toronto. Seen in this light, the voyage of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada to the Aldershot exercises of 1910 serves as an excellent metonymic device for helping to understand Canada’s military history and sense of nationhood within the Empire at an important moment in the country’s history.

That it is such a unique story only makes it better in the telling.

A Note on Historiography

It is one of the great misfortunes of Canadian historical writing that so vibrant and dynamic a figure as Sir Henry Pellatt left so little in the way of personal records. As Pellatt biographer Carlie Oreskovich notes in his preface to Sir Henry Pellatt: The King of Casa Loma (1982), Pellatt “left no massive tomes of personal thoughts nor insightful, random musings or diaries.” He was a businessman first and foremost, and “not a literary person.” [6]  His later financial troubles and the auction they necessitated to support him have only made the task more difficult. Oreskovich’s work is still the only full-length biography of the man: while it is to be celebrated for this, the work suffers occasionally from its attempts at romantic narrative construction and occasional hagiography.

Still, Oreskovich at least offers a starting point in his three chapters on the Aldershot voyage. Unfortunately, few works in the growing Canadian military genre discuss Pellatt or the expedition to Aldershot in any length, if at all. From George F.G. Stanley’s Canada’s Soldiers: The Military History of an Unmilitary People (1954) to J.L. Granatstein’s Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace (2002), or Stephen J. Harris’ Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army, 1860-1939 (1988) to Desmond Morton’s A Military History of Canada (revised in 2007), these works’ focus is on the traditional subjects of military history: the battlefield, the wars in general, or in Harris’ and Morton’s case, the politics in Ottawa that shaped Canada’s military organization approach to these things in its first decades. [7]   Desmond Morton’s earlier work Ministers and Generals: Politics and the Canadian Militia, 1868-1904 (1970) mentions Pellatt once, but only in regards to the patronage involved with his appointment to lead the coronation contingent for Edward VII in 1902; it too focuses on Ottawa and the development of the militia at a national level. [8]   There is no place in these for the peacetime project of a financier with no obvious connections to national defence ambitions.

A few key studies, however, do offer some valuable insight into the world in which Sir Henry and his Queen’s Own were operating in 1910. R.G. Moyles and Doug Owram’s Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British Views of Canada, 1880-1914 (1988) and Carl Berger’s classic The Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914 (1970), for instance, offer interesting analyses of contemporary Canadian and British perceptions of Canadian nationalism as expressed through the military, while H.V. Nelles’ The Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec’s Tercentenary tells of a specific event that sheds much light on both these perceptions and the state of Canada’s militia in the years just before the Aldershot voyage. [9]   Stepping outside military studies, Cecilia Morgan’s ‘A Happy Holiday’: English Canadians and Transatlantic Tourism, 1870- 1930 (1999) provides valuable insight in to how Canadian visits to the United Kingdom played a role “forging and sharpening…identities and perceptions.” [10]   The chief work on the subject of the militia in Canada’s society and culture at the turn of the 19th Century, however, is James Wood’s recent Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921, published in 2010. A study of “ideas and attitudes” more than “the reality…of defence planning and wartime achievements,” it seeks to explore the realities and perceptions of the citizen-soldier myth and how these ideas “formed the basis of a distinctly Canadian military culture,” a hybrid of old and new and imperial and autonomous far before the traditional starting point of 1914. [11]

A final mention must go to the regimental archives of the modern-day Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, still serving Canada as a Reserve Force regiment over 150 years after its founding. Located appropriately in Casa Loma, the archives are maintained by a volunteer force who dedicate weeknights and weekend days to preserving the history of Toronto’s most senior infantry regiment. The archives offered two vital sources of information for this study. The first was Lieutenant-Colonel W.T.  Barnard’s The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 1860-1960: One Hundred Years of Canada, produced on the centenary of the regiment’s founding. [12]  While prone to hyperbole, a veteran’s rose-tinted glasses and a lack of professional bibliography, Barnard’s history rests as the only organized and lucid  chronicle of the regiment’s early history, which is particularly helpful for a time period when records of this nature are few and far between. The second source emerged during a peremptory visit before this paper was started, when a trip to a rarely-used storeroom led to the discovery of almost a dozen similar- looking heavy scrapbooks, all full of newspaper clippings from various Canadian and English newspapers that covered the expedition from start to finish. While not organized in a perfect chronological fashion, these books were clearly crafted with care by those who partook or had connections to the visit, as the clippings are almost as clear as the days they were printed almost 100 years ago. These articles form the backbone of the primary research into this topic, and are where this study will begin.

Notes:

[1] Major B. Lindsey, “The English Trip,” in the 1910 re-union programme, Archives of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, hereafter referred to as “AQOR”. The abbreviation “QOR” will denote the regiment for the rest of this paper, along with the shortened “Queen’s Own.”

[2] Carlie Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt: The King of Casa Loma (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1982), 5

[3] As quoted in Henry James Morgan, , The Canadian Men and Women of the Time, 2nd ed. (Toronto, 1912), 894.

[4] Values obtained using historic currency converter at MeasuringWorth, “Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1270 to Present,” accessed 20 August 2014 at http://measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/

[5] The Evening Telegram, 3 October 1910, 13, as quoted in Carlie Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt,

[6] Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, xi-xiv.

[7] George Stanley, Canada’s Soldiers: The Military History of an Unmilitary People (Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1960); L. Granatstein, Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); Stephen J. Harris, Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army, 1860-1939 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada, 5th ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2007).

[8] Desmond Morton, Ministers and Generals: Politics and the Canadian Militia, 1868-1904 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970), 20

[9] Moyles, R.G., and Doug Owram, Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British Views of Canada, 1880-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Carl Berger, The Sense of Power:Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970); V. Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec’s Tercentenary (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).

[10] Cecilia Morgan, ‘A Happy Holiday’, English Canadians and Transatlantic Tourism, 1870-1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 19.

[11] James Wood, Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), 2

[12] Lieutenant-Colonel W.T. Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 1860-1960: One Hundred Years of Canada (Don Mills: The Ontario Publishing Company, 1960).

 

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