“A Serious Piece of Business” Part II

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 II.


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

Part II “The English Trip”: The Prelude

“The Secretary of the War Office announces that the Army Council have decided to accept the generous offer made through the Canadian Government by Col. Sir Henry M. Pellatt to bring the regiment under his command (The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada) to England at his own expense for the purpose of participating in the Autumn manoeuvres of 1910.” [13]   It is with this formal announcement on 12 December 1909, printed in The Times of London, that the expedition of the QOR to the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland was first announced to the imperial public. That the “Canadian Government” was mentioned as an interlocutor between Pellatt and the War Office was perhaps  political courtesy; as an official Canadian confirmation in The Daily Mail on 17 February 1910 admitted, “The Queen’s Own were to go to Aldershot this summer to take part in the manoeuvres but  the Government would not bear any portion of the expense.” [14]  The voyage was the result of negotiations between Sir Henry and Governor-General the Earl Grey, to whom Sir Henry was close and indeed Honourary Aide-de-Camp after 1907, as well as King Edward VII himself, who would not live to see the event but would be willingly replaced by his son George V. [15]   The story goes (as gospel to Barnard, with scepticism by Oreskovich) that George V demanded the regiment come as soon as it could once he heard of the offer. Though this is impossible to confirm, it is true that the coded cable approving of the gesture came straight from Buckingham Palace through the Governor General’s office. [16]  As will be demonstrated later, the visit of this colonial militia unit attracted interest from the highest orders.

In many ways, this expedition would serve as the culmination of a military career that had been building towards this ceremonial climax. A young Henry Mill Pellatt had joined the Queen’s Own as a rifleman at the age of seventeen in 1876, saw “action” at the violent Grand Trunk Railway strike in Belleville in 1877, taken his commission in 1879 at the age of twenty, and had risen through the officer ranks to eventually command the unit as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1901 (in advance of officers of higher seniority). [17]  He was a man who loved the idea of being a soldier perhaps more than actual soldering – his only campaign medal was a small iron one made for those at Belleville, though he always bore it proudly – but was also someone who took that role seriously: he had once suggested to Sir Frederick Borden that those who avoided military service be taxed. [18]   He was also a man for whom imperial honour meant a great deal, as evidenced by his incessant lobbying to Borden again to be put on the 1905 honours list. [19]   This was ultimately successful, and in 1905 Henry Mill Pellatt became a Knight Bachelor, with the above-mentioned Aide-de-Camp honour coming soon after. As Lord Grey’s private secretary wrote after the fact, “Pellatt is full of glory being Sir Henry an Hon. A.D.C. – and is playing up to it as well as he knows how.” [20]

It was not merely personal glory that drove Sir Henry, however. He was also a lover of Canada and its soldiers: as Barnard records, he saw in the regiment “the finest traits of Canadian character.” [21] Pellatt was in some ways the embodiment of Berger’s conclusion that “imperialism was one form of Canadian nationalism” in the pre-World War One era. [22]   More specifically, Pellatt, like many others of his time, understood Canadian nationality as “grounded upon a definite conception of Canada’s past,  her national character, and her mission in the future,” which included “the sense of power to be exercised within the Empire, of responsibility to imperial duties, of attachment to imperial ideals, and of co-operation in the achievement of imperial destinies.” [23]   By 1910, this manifested in “a yearning for significance and a desire to obliterate the stigma of colonialism.” [24]

Thus it was by conscious effort that the trip managed to neatly coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the regiment’s founding in 1860. On top of a garden party at Exhibition Place with nearly 4000 attendees, a parade involving the entire Toronto militia district, and the unveiling of a memorial window to the Ridgeway dead at University College, Pellatt celebrated Canada and the Queen’s Own in June of 1910 with a final two-hour pageant involving 1200 participants, two military bands, bagpipers, 400 school children, “magnificent scenery, gorgeous costumes, stormy battles, and grand tableaux.” Canadian history was split into four “epochs” that were acted out by volunteers, with each ending in battle and victory for the nascent colonials. [25]   Cost was again no issue: the important thing was that “Canada was brought to life as a country of adventure and opportunity with a colourful and romantic history; that Canadian history was integral with British history and that, in the early hazardous days, the regiment” – as they would in Aldershot – “had played a full part.” [26]

These sentiments would both drive and frustrate Pellatt in the two official trips he took to the United Kingdom prior to 1910: in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee under Lieutenant- Colonel W.D. Otter (himself a QOR alum), where he had the honour of leading the Colonial Guard of Honour for the Queen at St. Paul’s Cathedral; and at the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, where he lead the Canadian contribution to London (with two officers and five riflemen in the larger body of 26 and 603 respectively being QOR members). The first visit had a profound effect on Pellatt’s own plans for imperial recognition for himself, the regiment and Canada. He was dismayed to find upon arrival in London that the Colonial Guard of Honour included members of Commonwealth dominions with unified “national” uniforms, which contrasted sharply with the varied jackets, coatees and tunics of Canada’s ever disjointed militia units . Furthermore, the trip was dogged throughout by bureaucratic issues, not least of which was the failure of the Canadian government to budget for provisions; these were eventually paid for by the members out of their own pockets. Always dedicated to put his nation (and himself) forward in a positive light, Pellatt sidestepped procedure for the 1902 trip and decided to pay at his own expense for the QOR Bugle Band to accompany the Canadian contingent across the Atlantic, after the Canadian government informed him that there would be no public allowance for such. [27]   Pellatt knew from these that there was much to learn, and he made it clear that his own voyage to Aldershot would be a “serious piece of business,” where the first object was to “learn from a practical point of view, [which] we believe it will be of the best interests of the Canadian militia generally.” [28]

Pellatt was not alone in wishing to see Canada celebrated on an imperial stage, nor in his frustration over the government’s failure to provide the practical elements necessary for such a celebration.  Indeed, it is important to note that the expedition to Aldershot came with two major  events in Canadian militia history in recent view, events that produced similar reactions in other observers of Canada’s militia. The first was the Second South African or “Boer” War. Over thirty members of the QOR had contributed to Toronto’s “C” Company of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, and others managed to get in the quotas of other contributing units. [29]  Though today a minor episode in the broad narrative of Canada’s military history, the effect of this conflict on contemporary Canadian appreciation of the militia cannot be understated: Paardeberg was the “proving ground” and “the landmark in in the development of Canadian nationalism” long before Easter Weekend at Vimy Ridge. [30]  A new militarism became intertwined “with the optimism of a young and expanding nation,” and inspired Laurier to declare that “a new power had arisen to the west.” [31] Canadian contributions – and early Boer victories against British regulars – helped convinced many in Canada that its citizen volunteers made for more “effective soldiers” over the “slum-born, undernourished, British Tommy,” who “lacked the stamina and initiative to defend the Empire.” In a humourous but slightly worried speech to the Empire Club entitled “The Fatuous Insolence of Canadians,” Captain A.T. Hunter opined that the war led “every loose-waisted, paddle-footed, undrilled man in Canada…to think that by virtue of being a Canadian he is a natural-born rifle-shot, warrior, and strategist.” [32]   While this is likely an exaggeration, James Wood agrees that the war confirmed to Canadians a long-held truism: the citizen army was the “backbone of the nation’s defences,” and that this defence was in fine shape. [33]

When the Aldershot expedition was announced in the United Kingdom, these themes were repeated frequently as part of a near-universal approval of the “colonial visit.” The London Telegraph in particular offered much praise for the “free life in foreign lands,” which “developed…these qualities in the colonial soldier: ready, alert, self-reliant, keen of his eyes, quick in his hands, resourceful and alive in every faculty.” [34]   That the Queen’s Own was from downtown Toronto was conveniently ignored. Much was made of the “crack” regiment’s “daring deeds” and military history: their founding in reaction to the Trent Affair of 1862, their blooding at Ridgeway during the Fenian Raids, their participation in the North-West Rebellion of 1885 and, above all, their contributions in South Africa as the “heroes of Paardeberg.” [35]   These histories were repeated in all the newspapers covering the event. That all these engagements (minus the last one) were relatively small affairs compared to other battles of His Majesty’s regiments-of-the-line seems not to have mattered; the papers were determined to make them to be imperial heroes.

More than anything else, the British newspapers made one point clear: that the Canadians had earned the right to be the first full “colonial” regiment had participated in military manoeuvres in Great Britain. [36]   While most would assume this to be a point of pride – and it certainly was to many – the egalitarianism this implied worried some high-ranking militia-minded individuals back home in  Canada. That Canadian soldiers now began to believe that they were brothers-in-arms of the their British counterparts, or even worse, that their “fatuous insolence” was beginning to look like arrogance, discomforted some who had hoped to use the lessons of South Africa to increase commitment to and  the training of a properly-trained militia, with eyes towards an expanding United States and troublesome developments in Europe. The same A.T. Hunter ended that Empire Club speech with a cautionary and resignedly downbeat conclusion that “the day of national modesty…is gone forever,” as there was now “no Canadian of thirty [who will refuse to] back his opinions against any Englishmen that ever lived.” [37]   In the same vein, an anonymous contributor to the Canadian Military Gazette opined that

Just now, Canada is suffering from the widespread belief that “she’s alright” from the military standpoint – a belief born, to a great extent, of the Bower War. Because a handful of men went from this country to Africa and did good work, our people have jumped to the conclusion that what the Canadians cannot do is an impossible task.  Worse than that, they have been led to think that Canada is prepared for anything in the fighting line, and, worse still, that our people are born soldiers who can take the field without training. [38]

That the domestic news sources and their British counterparts had united in ‘Tommy’-bashing did not help matters; a later article in the same Gazette warned that “we colonials are getting too conceited, if we may judge from our press with its many allusions to the thickness, etc., of Tommy’s skull – and, on the other hand, how many references we find to our own Heaven-born wisdom.” [39]   In its own way, the Aldershot expedition offered an opportunity to validate the claim of one practical columnist that “courage and intelligence combined will not ‘improvise a rifleman’. Practice is necessary to give our people that skill in the use of the rifle which would make them, combined with the other good qualities we have named” – such as fieldwork, discipline, and an understanding of fortification – “strong in defence in spite of their small numbers.” [40]   Pellatt’s call for a “practical point of view” was in line with these humbled views as much as it was with the newly-won pride.

Much of this caution also had to do with the second important military event immediately preceding the Aldershot voyage: the Tercentenary celebrations in Quebec City in 1908. There and then, over 12,000 Canadian soldiers and militiamen – over half of the entire force – descended on the Plains of Abraham to partake in the event, along with a squadron of the Royal Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. What had begun as a local commemoration was transformed into “celebration not only of Champlain’s landing in Canada but also of the imperial connection” by a Governor-General in Lord Grey who wanted “to teach Canadians…pride in belonging to the mighty British Empire.” [41]   Nothing of this scale had ever been attempted in the young country before. The Prince of Wales (George V again) was invited from the mother country to personally inspect the parade, and he came with the popular  Catholic campaigner the Duke of Norfolk and Field Marshal the Lord Roberts, the renowned imperial hero of Afghanistan and South Africa. “Bobs” had particular significance for the Queen’s Own: he was their honourary colonel, and Pellatt made sure he incorporated the field marshal into the actual parade  to celebrate the regiment’s connection with the man. Characteristically, Pellatt had requested to bring his entire regiment, but space limits at the Lévis camp forced him to bring only a battalion. As will be demonstrated later, the more celebratory events of the Aldershot trip would, as Wood observes, “borrow much of [their inspirations] from the Tercentenary,” with the “imperial connection prominently displayed before a receptive audience of admiring civilians.” [42]

The huge display evidently impressed the Prince of Wales: he wrote in his diary that “considering they were Militia with very little training,” the parade “was most creditable, the horses excellent.” [43] Lord Roberts confirmed in telegraph to Governor-General Grey that “Canada appears to me to be dealing adequately with the problems affecting her militia and with care and improved organization to be building up a very useful force.” [44]   If the battles against the Boers had spurred confidence and a drive towards increased autonomy, the Tercentenary parade was about re-affirming the “proscenium arch” that was Empire in the Canadian understandings of the military’s purpose. As much as the logistics and effort necessary for the parade demonstrated military competence and the capability of local leadership, Nelles correctly notes that “everything occurred under the cope of British power, in the presence of the prince…[and] with the [British] fleet in the background.” [45]   Lord Grey certainly spared no effort in making “a really impressive Imperial splash.” [46]   Here was the perfect demonstration of Berger’s conclusion that “imperialism, military preparedness, and militarism, or the admiration and exaltation of the martial virtues, were inextricably bound together” in the years before the First World War. [47]   Lord Roberts’ conclusion that the militia showed themselves to be “useful” is also telling: it speaks to a certain strand of British paternalism that would make itself clearly evident in the reaction to the trip of 1910.

Beyond the bright uniforms and imperial approval, however, there were issues.  In-fighting  over the allotted budget between Frederick Borden (Minister of Militia) and now-Major-General Sir William D. Otter, Chief of the General Staff, led to preparations being pushed to the last minute and resulting in much Parliamentary bitterness. [48]   More immediately, the Tercentenary had exhausted regimental coffers: the Toronto Militia District’s Thanksgiving exercises for 1908 had to be cancelled as the regiments looked to recuperate the financial expense of taking their regiments to Quebec (the Queen’s Own included). Such expenditure on pageantry frustrated many militia observers, as it was   felt that the focus on flashy uniforms had “revers[ed] much of what had been achieved in recent years  in terms of encouraging practicality and efficiency.” [49]  Add to this the increasing divide between rich urban regiments (like the Queen’s Own) and those from rural counties who could not afford the nicest dress uniforms – and who would be derided by some aesthetic-focused newspapers for being “perennially ragged performers” – and the Tercentenary was definitely seen by some as a step backward, and not in tune with the realities of what was necessary in the new twentieth century.

In the end, the “English trip” was thus not completely out of the blue; it emerged from a environment in which pride, practicality, imperialism, and nationalism were combining to both maintain and break traditional notions of what the Canadian militia was supposed to do, be and think. Sir Henry and the Queen’s Own were one part of this changing dynamic, and it is to their journey that we now turn.

Part III 


[13] The Times, 12 December 1909, as recorded in Lieutenant-Colonel T. Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 92.

[14] The Daily Mail, 17 February 1910, as recorded ibid.

[15] Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 91, and Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada,

[16] The full text is contained in Oreskovich’s biography and is heavily coded; a slightly confusing bit of security surrounding so public a visit.

[17] For full details of Pellatt’s military career, see the chapter “Rusty Knight in Shining Armour” in Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 30-40, and Major C.B. Lindsey, “The English Trip,” in the 1910 re-union programme, AQOR, as well as Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

[18] Public Archives of Nova Scotia (PANS), MG 2/164 11000/F4, Pellatt to Borden, 31 December 1904, as recorded in Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt,

[19] Public Archives of Canada (PAC), GG, RG7, 621 684, series of letters between Lord Grey and Laurier and Pellatt and Lord Grey, as recorded in Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 35-8.

[20] PAC, MG 27/11B, 1/23, Sladen to Minto, 23 May 1906, as recorded in Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 39

[21] Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 86.

[22] Berger, The Sense of Power, 259. This work remains mandatory reading for those studying Canadian nationalism and imperialism in the subject time period.

[23] Ibid., 259-60.

[24] Ibid., 259.

[25] For full details, see “Dressing Up History,” Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 82-90, and Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 86-91.

[26] Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Barnard concludes in a jingoist fashion that “[Sir Henry] loved Canada: not in the pale, anaemic fashion of today but with an intensity and single-heartedness that would be quite foreign to many of the present generation.”

[27] Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 32-5, and Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 77-85.

[28] “Ties With the Empire,” The Standard, 14 August 1910, in scrapbook 9999, #20, AQOR

[29] Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 72-7.

[30] Wood, Militia Myths, 82.

[31] As quoted in Carman Miller, Painting the Map Red:Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902 (Montreal and Kingston: Canadian War Museum and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993), 440

[32] A.T. Hunter, “The Fatuous Insolence of the Canadians, Empire Club Speeches, 1903-04 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1904), 64

[33] Wood, Militia Myths, See the chapter “Don’t Call Me Tommy: 1901-1904” for further discussion.

[34] As quoted in “The Colonial Soldiers,” in The Canadian Military Gazette, 15, 13 (3 July 1900): 10

[35] For some examples, see “The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada,” Whitehall Review, July 1910; “Canada’s Crack Corps,” Daily News, 3 July 1910; “Records of Famous Regiments: The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada,” unsourced, 13 August 1910; and “A Crack Canadian Regiment,” unsourced, undated; all found in scrapbook 9999, #2-15, AQOR

[36] “Famous Regiment in Camp at Aldershot,” The Standard of Empire, 2 September 1910 is one example, but scrapbooks 9999, 02233 and 02251 are full of Evidently a small troop of New Zealand cavalry had visited some months before, but this was discounted quickly and quietly by every article that bothered to mention it.

[37] Hunter, “The Fatulous Insolence of the Canadians,” 63

[38] “Comments,” Canadian Military Gazette, 19 March 1908, as quoted in James Wood, Militia Myths, 84

[39] “Comments,” Canadian Military Gazette, 16, 3 (5 February 1901): 3.

[40] “The Summer Camps,” Canadian Military Gazette, 15, 10 (15 May 1900): 10

[41] Wood, Militia Myths, 139; Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building, For a complete understanding of Quebec’s Tercentenary of 1908, Nelles’ work is essential.

[42] Wood, Militia Myths, 142-3.

[43] As quoted in Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building, 210

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 199.

[46] As quoted

[47] Berger, The Sense of Power, 233

[48] Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building, Colonel Denison, a staunch imperialist and old foe of Otter, was particularly incensed at the lack of initial support for the parade. For further discussion, see the citation.

[49] Wood, Militia Myths, 142

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