“A Serious Piece of Business” Part IV

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 IV.


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

Part IV “The English Trip”: Conclusion

It is important to note that the expedition of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in 1910 was not a harbinger of further expeditions to come.  Though a proud moment in the regiment’s history, it was an exception to the norm, never to be repeated (which in part explains the revelry of the 1939 reunion). The soldiers of the Queen’s Own were the fortunate beneficiaries of the largesse and somewhat self- important ambitions of a commanding officer at the pinnacle of his wealth and pride; a commanding officer who, through personal connection and resources, was able to afford bringing nearly 640 men on a trip that was as self-celebration as it was hard training. Without Sir Henry, and specifically his 1910 vintage, there was no trip. What’s more, no other units would follow the Torontonians’ example, and training for militia units in Canada would largely remain restricted to summer camps like that in Erindale until 1914. [108]  And the changes wrought then would be for entirely different reasons.

Thus it is with great care that one must approach the story of “the English trip” when attempting to extract significance. In almost every manner of its planning and execution, it was exceptional. And yet it did not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, where the story of Pellatt and his “crack Canadians” becomes important is in its reflection of the intellectual currents and values of a changing military and nation; or, as Wood puts it, of a time when the “inherited traditions of a late-colonial society” were clashing with the “values of a North American nation,” particularly one whose potential at the time “seemed unlimited.” [109]   The parades were grand but, so too were the manoeuvres. Seven courses lunches were paired with new equipment and sophisticated exercises against His Majesty’s best in a way that suited both lords and lieutenants. Sir Henry ran the show, but the Queen’s Own were seen both home and abroad as representatives of Canada, an emerging (and to some, equal) partner in imperial policy. And the line between King and Country had never been so blurred. The Aldershot expedition, in short, shows a militia in transition: a transition between old and new, between local and international, between show and skill, between imperial and national. Often, it was all these things at the same time. It also reminds readers of Canadian military history that where was an active force worthy of study far before the more dramatic events of later years.

There is one more event of interest from “the English trip.” As mentioned, King George V had taken particular interest in the activities of the Queen’s Own from the very beginning. In the middle of the exercises, he issued a royal command through the Duke of Connaught inviting a small deputation of Canadians, led by Sir Henry, to the royal residence at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This was to take place while the main body was enjoying the sights and sounds of London. Sir Henry hand-picked a detachment representing the entirety of the unit: four commissioned officers, two colour-sergeants, two corporals, and eight privates. The detachment left Euston station on 11 September and arrived in Ballater (two kilometres from the castle) to a small but boisterous reception served by 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, the King’s guard of honour. From there, the men changed into the traditional rifle-green dress and marched – Sir Henry was ferried by carriage – to Balmoral, where the King awaited with his Queen and Princess Mary, as well as Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hands were shook and pleasantries exchanged, and then a small parade was formed for the real purpose of the trip: the conferring of honours to the invitees. Sir Henry received the Royal Victorian Order (3rd Class, or Commander), while Major Rennie and Captain Higginbotham received the same in 4th Class (Lieutenant) and Colour-Sergeant Macdonald was presented with the silver medal of the Order.

Speeches were given on both sides and the troops were given a tour of the castle, before a sumptuous dinner on the grounds. [110]

In a later telegraph published in Toronto newspapers on 14 September, the King relayed through the Governor-General the following message:

I had the pleasure of receiving to-day at Balmoral a representative detachment of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and of hearing of their successful work at manoeuvres. The spirit thus shown by the Dominion is a good augury of the future of the Imperial Army. [111]

A skillful display on the battlefield, an audience with the King himself, and Sir Henry had his medal.

As Barnard concludes, the mission of “the great 1910 trip” had “definitely…been accomplished.” [112]

The complete bibliography can be found in the pdf version of this paper on our Research Page.


[107] Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 102-3, and Oreskovich, Sir Henry Pellatt, 1167-8.

[108] While the 65th Rifles of Montreal and the Governor General’s Foot Guards of Ottawa publicly expressed doing something similar in the aftermath, neither would gather the funds or interest to do so. See Wood, Militia Myths, 166.

[109] Wood, Militia Myths, 2.

[110] “The Visit to Balmoral,” The Times, 12 September 1910; “Deputation for Balmoral,” Morning Advertiser, 12 September 1910; “Inspection by the King To-Day,” The Standard, 12 September 1910; and particularly “A Royal Inspection,” unsourced, undated; all in scrapbook 2251, #68, and scrapbook 2232, #18. Also, see Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 100.

[111] As quoted in Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 100-101.

[112] Ibid., 101.

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