Hardly a week goes by without finding an interesting object even though our our collection is relatively small compared to many museums. One such object is an “emergency” ration used by Canadian and British troops during the South African War – also known as the 2nd Boer War – 1899-1901.
Generally produced by the Bovrill company in England, these cylindrical lead “tins” were about 14 cm (5.5″) long and 5 cm (2″) in diameter, were actually two separate tins joined together by a metal strip with a pull tab that could be used to separate the tins. The whole piece was wrapped with a paper label that instructed “Only to be used with permission of an officer.” Each section also had its own lid on which were glued instructions on how to prepare them for eating.
They usually consisted of 4 ounces of concentrated beef (Pemmican) in one end, and 4 ounces of cocoa paste in the other. Ideally both were to be used with water – the beef to be soaked for 15 or so minutes in water to create a sort of beef soup – but in theory either could be eaten from the can if necessary. They were said to be able to sustain a soldier for 36 hours if consumed in small quantities!
Normally a mobile “field kitchen” would provide at least one hot meal a day but there were occasions when this was not practical. For instance during the Battle of Paardeberg, troops were pinned down for much of a day and night.
Certainly rations have come a long way since 1899!
The Museum held their latest annual volunteer recognition reception in the Library at the Royal Canadian Military Institute on Thursday February 7th. The purpose of the evening was to give thanks and recognition to our dedicated and hardworking volunteers. In 2018 our team put in just over 1900 hours although we can be sure there were more hours that weren’t recorded!
Besides our weekly volunteers, three members of the museum’s Board of Governors were present. We were also pleased to have Commanding Officer, LCol Frank Lamie, and MWO Jeff Johnston on behalf of the Regimental Sergeant Major, who both expressed their appreciation for the work of our volunteers and the importance of the museum both internally and externally.
And of course being museum nerds, we were also pleased to receive a tour of new exhibits installed in the last year by the RCMI Museum Curator, Ryan Goldsworthy.
Museum board chair Jim Lutz presented appreciation certificates to the following volunteers who as of 31 December 2018, had provided at least 25 hours of service since 2012 (issued in 25 hour increments):
25 Hours – Mr Colin Sedgwick-Pinn
25 Hours – O/Cdt Steven Ye
50 Hours – Pte Ashley Patoine
50 Hours – Mr Matt Noel
75 Hours – Ms Meryn Winters
200 Hours – Capt Ken Kominek
425 Hours – Ms Cheryl Copson
700 Hours – Sgt Graham Humphrey
750 Hours – CWO (Ret’d) Shaun Kelly
Certificates will also be provided to the following who were unable to attend the reception:
200 Hours – Mr Alex Meyers
425 Hours – Ms Briahna Bernard
Our museum team has a great cross section of serving soldiers, former serving soldiers, museum professionals, and public historians. If you’d be interested in joining our team and helping at the museum on Thursday evenings, please see our volunteering info page and complete a volunteer application. Of if you have questions, you can email the Curator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are unable to volunteer but would like to support the work of the Regimental Museum, please consider becoming a sustaining donor!
During some recent research, an original letter relating to the Battle of Ridgeway was “rediscovered”, it provides some good insight into the conduct of the battle by someone who would have been well aware of the events and is the subject of this Artifact Spotlight.
At the time the Queen’s Own were called to active service to fight the Fenians in June of 1866 the Commanding Officer, LCol Durie, was assigned to staff duties at the headquarters in Toronto and Maj Charles T Gillmor was acting CO. Col Booker of the 13th Regiment of Volunteers was in command of the force but Maj Gillmor commanded the 450 men of the Queen’s Own who were in the front line fighting the Fenians for much of the brief engagement. Four days after the battle while the Regiment was still on active duty in Stratford he submitted a report to Col Lourie who was with the 47th Regiment of Foot of the British Army.
Gillmor praises the conduct of all the Volunteers at the engagement and credits the partially trained and ill-equipped soldiers with a cool determination not normally found in Militia soldiers. He pinpoints the critical turning point in the battle as the moment the Volunteers mistakenly identify the advancing left flank of the red-coated 13th Battalion Volunteers as British regulars under Col Peacock who they had been expecting to relieve them, at which point the Volunteers turned and began withdrawing from the field.
The original letter is in the possession of the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum and can be viewed at the links at the bottom of the page. Here is the document transcribed with minor corrections for better understanding:
June 6 1866
I have the honor to report that on the 2nd Inst [of the current month] I left Port Colborne with about 450 men of the Queen’s Own also the 13th Battalion of Hamilton Volunteers and the York & Caledonia Rifles all under command of Lt Col Booker. We proceeded by train to Ridgeway Station and then marched towards Stevensville where we were ordered to meet Col Peacock at 9 to 9.30 am.
About 7 am the advanced guard of the Queen’s Own signalled the enemy as in sight, I extended three Companies with supports and advanced. The enemy were posted behind rail fences and after a few rounds retired, one officer of Queen’s Own was killed and two or three wounded. At this time a telegram was forwarded to Col Booker from Col Peacock to say that he (Col Peacock) could not leave at 5 o’clock as in his order of instruction of the night previous he had arranged to do but would do so at 7. The situation of the Volunteers was thereby rendered most critical as it seemed improbable we could hold our position for the two hours we were thus left unsupported. However, I conceived an advance and repulse of the enemy our only chance and sending out flanking parties necessary in consequence of the enemy being seen in woods right and left we advanced still driving the enemy for a mile or more having relieved Skirmishers with supports and the entire of the Queen’s Own having been engaged (some companies twice over). I asked Col Booker to relieve me with his right wing which was promptly done and his men advanced gallantly as my Skirmishers were coming in. Col Booker gave me the command to prepare for Cavalry which I obeyed but failing to see Cavalry I reformed Column and ordered the two leading companies of the Queen’s Own to extend and drive back the enemy then fearfully near us, this was done in splendid style. I had then necessarily to retire the rest of column consisting of Hamilton Volunteers and one or two companies of Queen’s Own. While retiring they observed the left wing of the Hamilton Volunteers advancing and imagining it the advance of the 16th and 47th [Regiments of Foot British Army] cheered on which the wing turned and ran and a scene of confusion ensued. I endeavoured to get the men into order aided by many officers of 13th of whom I could recognize Major Skinner and Mr. Routh the later fell close beside me while earnestly urging his men to rally. We then had to retire our ammunition being almost exhausted and, keeping the enemy in check, retired by Ridgeway to Port Colborne.
I annex list of killed, wounded and missing.
As I had never seen a shot fired before in action my opinion can be only taken for what it is worth but I do not believe ever men went into action more coolly and fought more gallantly than did the Officers and men of Queen’s Own that day. In many instances they had to advance from fence to fence one or two hundred yards under a galling fire and this was done with quiet and steady determination and I have the honor to say that I consider the conduct of all the officers and men as beyond all praise quite up to and beyond what I could have expected when like myself not a man had been in action before. So many acts of individual gallantry came under my observation that I cannot attempt a selection of names but I must mention to you the cool and gallant demeanor of Mr. Lockie who in the uniform of the London Scottish Volunteers joined us as we left Toronto and whose cool steady and unflinching bravery was the admiration of the Regiment.
On the evening of 9 June 2018, the Regiment marched from Moss Park Armory to St James Cemetery where they joined our museum team and other members of the regimental family to dedicate a new grave marker for Bugle Major Charles Swift.
Swift first served with The Queen’s Own Rifles in 1866 at the age of 14 as a boy musician at the Battle of Ridgeway. In 1885 Swift and the QOR were again mobilized in response to the North West Rebellion. As Bugle Major for 46 years, he helped raise the international profile of the Regiment, leading the band on tours to England in 1902 and 1910. He served with the Regiment for an incredible 57 years!
The short ceremony included a recitation of Swift’s service, a prayer of dedication, the Last Post, Rouse, and Sunset, and of course the unveiling.
After the unveiling, those in attendance broke into three groups and were led on tours of the graves of other members of the Regiment who were buried in St James – including three casualties from Ridgeway, the first Commanding Officer, and the CO who led the Regiment through most of Europe during WWII. Soldiers in each group placed small QOR flags at each QOR grave.
You can find the complete walking tour of twenty four QOR soldiers buried or memorialized at St James, below:
The Regiment then marched back to Moss Park Armory where some awards and promotions were presented, after which everyone enjoyed a BBQ dinner prepared by the QOR Association Toronto Branch.
As every member of the Regiment knows, the first soldier of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada to fall in combat was newly commissioned Ensign Malcolm McEachren of No. 5 Company. He was taking part in the Battle of Ridgeway on 2 June 1866 and died shortly after being mortally wounded in the abdomen by the American Fenian invaders.
One hundred years after that battle, the tunic he wore that fateful day was presented to The Queen’s Own Rifles by Old Fort Erie of the Niagara Parks Commission having been handed down by McEachren’s daughter.
After 152 years, it has obviously suffered its share of insect and light damage although without any condition reports surviving, its impossible to know when this damage occurred. We do know that it has faded from rifle green to almost olive drab – although not under the arms or at the back – and the light damage has also made the material brittle. And museum staff have often joked that the exhibit case it was stored in, was old enough to qualify as an artifact itself!
We can’t reverse the deterioration that’s taken place, but my goal from day 1 of becoming Curator in 2012, has been to find a way to preserve THE most valuable object in our collection for the future.
And now after 6 years it has finally become a reality! Thanks to a very generous bequest from the estate of the late Chief Warrant Officer Scott Patterson, we were finally able to place an order with Zone Display Cases for a custom-made museum quality case with frameless UV filtering glass, Abloy security locks, and an airtight exhibit compartment with desiccant tray to ensure a constant humidity level.
This week it arrived at the museum and last night our museum team set up the new case and moved the tunic into its new home which we hope will help to preserve this extremely important object for many years to come. In the new year, we will be redesigning the complete Battle of Ridgeway exhibit and of course this tunic and its new case will continue to have pride of place.
The Patterson bequest covered about 75% of the costs for this project and we are still hoping to raise the remainder before the end of our 2018 fiscal year. Thank you to all those who have contributed to date, and to those who would still like to help, you can make a donation online to the QOR Trust fund via CanadaHelps.
Yesterday at the Regimental Church, we said a final farewell to Captain (Ret’d) Larry Hicks, CD who had been a valuable member of our museum team for the past five years. Below are remarks I shared as Curator, during the funeral service.
“I’m John Stephens and I first met Larry almost 40 years ago in 1979 or 80 when I was a young Cadet Instructor Cadre officer with a QOR affiliated cadet corps, and Larry was also a young officer with the regiment. I recall that for the next ten years or so (and unlike some of his colleagues who had less time for the cadet program) he was always friendly and helpful on our occasional participation in regimental events or my visits to the mess.
By the early 1990s I was working with a cadet corps affiliated with the 48th so saw less of Larry through the army. But we were both involved with Scouting and I would sometimes see him at the 5,000 acre Haliburton Scout Reserve. It was there that I first came to know of his love of the outdoors and particularly canoeing, and of his appreciation for wildlife.
Another decade would pass until I would see Larry again at the Christmas Officers’ luncheon:
“So Larry – what’s new?” (It was always easy to pick right up again with him.)
“I’ve just retired from both the Police and the Army” he said.
“Very nice! So any plans for retirement?”
His response was along the lines of “More canoeing, more time at the cottage, and more time on my photography hobby.” My ears perked up – photography hobby? Hmmmmm….
“So what are you up to these days?” he said. “Funny you should ask” I replied with a smile.
Earlier that year I’d been recruited as the Curator for the Regimental Museum – big shoes to fill in a line of very long serving and dedicated predecessors! We’ve started re-cataloging all the objects in the collection I explained, but – baiting the trap – we really need someone with a high skill level to help us photograph them as part of that process. It would only be “one night” a week – Do you think that’s something you might consider helping with?
“That sounds like it could be interesting” Larry replied. “Great” I said, slamming the trap shut. “I’ll see you on Tuesday night!”
And so began our past five years of working closely together in preserving and sharing the regiment’s history.
I don’t recall Larry ever saying anything bad about anyone – he was easy going, ALWAYS willing to share a story, and I don’t ever recall seeing him flustered. He did have some mixed feelings about finding himself in so many photos in a museum but that’s understandable.
He approached his photography tasking as a professional, bringing all the skills and expertise from his police work and applying them to our often chaotic situation. Always offering suggestions on how to improve our process and manage the massive collection of photographs we were creating. And he was always on hand at museum and regimental events to create the newest photographic record. As per the original plan, we used his photographs in our collections database but we also created a Flickr account that has over 11 THOUSAND photographs organized in about 75 albums– almost all taken and curated by Larry. He was so valuable to our team that when he had an early conflict with our work nights – we changed the night to Thursdays!
His most recent project was he was “de-framing” hundreds of photographs from frames that were damaged or had broken glass or mold starting to form. After removing them he would take them home to scan them, then put them in acid free folders, label them, and place them in archival boxes – all with a genuine concern from preserving them for the future.
And Larry was always will to pitch in whatever task – or rush to move exhibits and cabinets – was needed on any given night.
That “one night a week” turned into over 800 hours of work for the museum over the past 5 years, and I was very pleased that the CO and RSM agreed with my recommendation that Larry be presented with the CO’s Commendation and the Command team coin at our February recognition night.
You’ll be sorely missed tonight in your makeshift photo studio tucked in the back corner of our attic storage room; and you’ll be missed at our post volunteering pub visits at Mayday Malones where we’ll raise a final glass to you; and you’ll be missed by all of us as both a colleague and a friend – sleep well.”
Our museum is extremely lucky in having original copies (i.e. one of three copies made when then were first typed) of the World War II war diaries for what would become the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (CASF).
These documents provide a wealth of information about the regiment’s participation and progress throughout the war – from the efforts to form the battalion in June 1940, through duties in Newfoundland, training in New Brunswick and England, the successful but devastating landing on D-Day, the continued fight through Europe, to finally to the German surrender on 8 May 1945.
We are also very lucky to have most of the Routine Orders issued during the war and while often administrative in nature, they help to fill in some of the gaps left by the war diaries – particularly in regards to personnel postings and casualties within the battalion.
Unfortunately the original documents are fragile and not particularly user friendly as there is no way to easily search through them. So in order to protect them, and at the same time make them more accessible, we have undertake to transcribe and post on our website all these war diaries. We’ve also scanned all of the routine orders and posted them into the war diaries at the appropriate places.
And if that wasn’t enough, we added maps to help illustrate where the battalion was at various times and where it was headed, and inserted photos from our collection into the appropriate location in the timelines. These photos add some amazing sense of place and time. Lastly we added links to more detailed profiles on our website for many of the key soldiers mentioned in the diaries by name.
Now when I say we, I really mean one of our curatorial assistants, Sgt Graham Humphrey and more recently, with the help of Kate Becker. Graham and Kate have spent literally hundredsof hours on this project over the past three and a half years – scanning, transcribing, creating maps, and inserting photos. The result though is a spectacular resource that serves to both protect our archival documents while sharing them with the world. Even without any official announcements, these page have been viewed over 16,000 times to date.
And the importance of making this information available today is even more critical as fewer and fewer WWII soldiers are left to share their stories first hand.
Bravo Zulu to Graham and Kate on their outstanding work to see this project through to the end, and I strongly encourage you to take some time read through this important story of some of our regiment’s finest hours:
I would presume that most people working in museums inherently believe that preserving history is important – I would certainly hope so at least. And while preservation can be a monumental task all on its own, it’s really only half of the challenge. The real value comes in being able to share this history – to make it accessible in some ways.
When we think of museums, the first method of achieving this that usually comes to mind is through exhibits. Visitors can see – and in some cases touch – real artefacts and are provided with additional background, context and perspectives to better understand the history we present.
This might be considered the ideal approach and while over 350,000 people visit our museum’s exhibits each year, we also know that many people around the world with some link with our Regiment, may never get that opportunity. With that in mind, we’ve tried to digitize much of our collection and make it available online, here on our website, on our Flickr site (over 10,000 photos currently), Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And we’ve also made our collection catalogue available online as well with images and descriptions of almost 2,000 objects entered to date.
All of this takes an incredible amount of work and coordination, and most of our volunteer team have contributed to this effort in some way or another. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally wondering if anyone actually accesses any of this information, and if all this work is worth it. The stats tell us that our Flickr site has had over 1,000,000 views and our website gets about 80,000 page views annually which is very exciting but still somewhat impersonal.
Occasionally though we get comments on our website about how the information helped them connect with a relative or letting us know they have more information to share – even objects to donate, and those always seem to make our efforts worthwhile.
Last month though, we received an email that couldn’t help but recharge the whole museum team:
“My name is Liz Grogan and I am the granddaughter of Sgt. J. Lutton 6164.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting with my 95 year old mom, John’s middle and only surviving daughter, Kathleen ( Kae) Smith who was browsing through a book I was reading for my book club called “The War that Ended Peace, The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan.
Knowing that her father, my grandfather had been in WW1, I decided to google his name, and you can imagine my surprise and excitement to discover this:
I had researched his name prior to Remembrance Day on other occasions , but I had not seen this letter before!
So Mom and I sat together and I read the letter out loud as mom watched the screen. I had not scrolled through to see how long it was, so my thanks to WO Emily Kenny for her hard work!
I can’t express how magical this moment was, that I will never forget. We laughed, we cried and we were simply in awe of having this amazing opportunity to have a personal peek at the life and love between mom’s future mom and dad and my future grandmother and grandfather.
And to reflect that this letter is 100 years old is beyond magical!!”
When I read this email, I couldn’t help but smile and was clearly reminded that our efforts are definitely worthwhile!
Of course Liz was interested in how we came to have the letter. In June a stamp collector in Nova Scotia contacted us because he had this letter in his collection and had found online that we perpetuated the 198th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. We quickly accepted his offer and the letter was soon in our collection. WO Kenny just happened to be directing staff on a music course at CFB Borden for the summer and offered to transcribe the letter in her spare time so we could put it online. The letter is long and rather rambling, and proper punctuation was not Sgt Lutton’s strong point but she soon had it done and we posted it to our website.
While this was happening we also researched Sgt Lutton’s life and service. While training in England he contacted meningitis and was hospitalized for 6 months before being found unfit for overseas service and returned to Canada where he was hospitalized for another three months. Though he never made it to the trenches of France or Belgium, his story does illustrate the other dangers many soldiers faced from diseases and poor health conditions they faced just getting to the front.
Lutton was lucky enough to recover from his meningitis and married Annie in 1919. He died in 1948 and is buried in Park Lawn Cemetery.
We’re very thankful that Liz took the time to share their experience and to send us the delightful family photo below of Annie and John.
For the last several years, a dedicated team of volunteers has revolutionized the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum by preserving its treasures, recording its inventory on film, and developing dramatic displays that tell the regiment’s story to the thousands of Casa Loma visitors each year. While much good work has been done, much more can still be done. Towards that end, the Museum’s Board of Governors commissioned a strategic planning process to identify the objectives of the Museum and the many projects we could undertake in future years.
The strategic planning process began with four research projects, designed to identify what people enjoyed in the Museum and what improvements they would like. We began with a facilitated brainstorming session with 15 Museum volunteers, who gave us enough great ideas to keep us busy for the rest of the century. We also surveyed samples of visitors to Casa Loma, key members of the regimental family, and digital visitors to our website.
Based on all this research, our strategic planning team drafted a document to serve as the Museum’s strategic plan for the next five years. This team consisted of Mr. Jim Lutz, MA (member of the Museum Board and Regimental Senate), Mr. Alex Meyers, MA (Museum volunteer), and Major (Retired) John Stephens, CD (Curator of the Museum).
The strategic plan seeks to achieve the Museum’s Vision, which is to be “a modern, historical, educational and rewarding experience to ‘all’ who visit Casa Loma, and continue to be known by peers as the best example of a volunteer organized and managed ‘specialized’ museum and archival collection”. The planning team identified five strategies that will help us achieve this Vision:
Preserving the regiment’s history
Promoting the regiment’s history and current mission to the public
Serve the interests of a wider community through outreach and digital presence
Support and benefit from Casa Loma’s tourist business
Ensure the effective governance and management of the museum to accomplish the above
You may read the approved plan, and you will see the extensive list of projects we can undertake to achieve these goals. With the help of all our volunteers, supported by the Liberty Group management of Casa Loma and our regiment, we can now focus our efforts on the most productive and valuable projects we have identified to achieve our goals for the Museum.
Bugle Major Charles Swift began his 57 years of service with the regiment as a 14 year old boy bandsman at the Battle of Ridgeway and would become the longest serving Bugle Major in our history – from 1876 to 1922 – an incredible 46 years!
During the 1885 North West Rebellion he was attached to Battalion Headquarters, but his skills as an accomplished and renowned musician resulted in leading Bugle Band trips to England in both 1902 and 1910. By now a Captain, the 70 year old Swift died of pneumonia in May of 1922 and his coffin was laid to rest by his fellow Queen’s Own officers.
Because he died unmarried and had no close family, the regiment purchased his grave marker. As you can see from the photos it hasn’t weathered the last 95 years very well and the only vaguely legible wording left is his surname Swift. Sadly his memory is at risk of being forgotten.
A very distant Swift cousin recently contacted us about replacing the marker and while that isn’t practical, The Regimental Trust Fund has agreed to add a small ground level plaque similar to those created for the Ridgeway casualties a few years ago.
The cousin will be making a contribution but we also invite members of the regimental family and friends of the regiment to help us reach our goal for the remaining $2,100. Donations of any size are appreciated and a charitable tax receipt will be issued by CanadaHelps. And if you allow CanadaHelps to share your contact info with us, we’ll be sure to invite you to the plaque dedication ceremony.
On the afternoon of Thursday June 8, 2017, a plaque was unveiled next to the site of the Tip Top Tailor building by Heritage Toronto, the Dunkelman family and the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, honouring the legacy of distinguished military officer and entrepreneur Ben Dunkelman.
Below are remarks given by Lieutenant Colonel Sandi Banerjee, CD, Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada:
Major General Holmes, Member of City Counsel and Heritage Toronto, The Dunkelman Family: Rose, Lorna, Deenah, Daphna, David, Jonathan, Members of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Ladies and gentlemen.
It’s an honour for me to bring greetings from Ben’s Regiment on this historic occasion.
On the day I took command of The QOR, I received a very appropriate gift from a friend and mentor. Like Ben, this gentleman was also a warrior and Brigade Commander – he sent me a copy of Dual Allegiance, which reminded me all too well of the challenges and the conflicting demands one faces as a ‘citizen soldier’.
In his book, Ben mentions a special parade in Toronto, one to honour returning soldiers from the First World War. Thought he never glamorizes warfare, he states, “…from the moment of that Toronto Parade I have been sure of one thing: I am a Canadian, proud of Canada’s heritage and proud – if need be – to fight for it.”
Today I stand before you equally proudly of the fact that our Regiment welcomed Ben and all Canadians equally those many years ago. Without thought to religion or family background, The QOR of C has been a home to tens of thousands of proud Canadians with the same thoughts as Brigadier Dunkelman: not to seek conflict, rather to serve those who cannot protect themselves.
Toronto and Torontonians have a rich history and association with Canada’s Armed Forces. We stand in front of HMCS York, steps from Fort York Armoury and historic Old Fort York. We are standing very near the grounds where The QOR of C gathered before stepping off for Ridgeway to protect southern Ontario from invading forces 151 year ago. Though our early days, sending expeditionary forces to the Nile and Boer Wars, the World Wars, the Korean conflict, peace enforcement missions and the war in Afghanistan, or todays’ deployments in the Middle east, Africa and eastern Europe: Toronto has always supported our men and women in harm’s way.
The Regiment recently returned from two very special events overseas: the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and just prior to that, our commemorations in Normandie, where Ben and his fellow Band of Brothers served. There we received not one but two honours: The Freedom of the City of Bernier sur Mer, where we were the only Toronto Regiment to land on D-Day, and the FotC of Anisy, where again, this Toronto Regiment was the only Allied unit to achieve their D-Day objective. These came at enormous costs, but as Ben showed by his personal example, the costs of freedom, of human dignity and decency, are borne by ordinary citizens accepting extraordinary responsibilities in times of great need.
I can also tell you that the people of Normandy, of France, have never forgotten the sacrifices of this Toronto Regiment and of the million Canadians who liberated them through two World Wars.
It is entirely appropriate then, that we gather here today to similar remember: to honour a proud Torontonian and Canadian who served twice to protect those in harm’s way. I would like to thank the City of Toronto and Heritage Toronto for bestowing this honour on a member of our Regiment and our city. May it serve as a reminder to all who come across it of a great man and our joint history together, a reminder of our City and her soldiers who have carried a part of Canada with them across the globe.
Thanks also to Captain Rob Chan and his family for their efforts in working with Heritage Toronto to make this happen.
This article first appeared in RCMI Members’ News March-April 2017, written by Ryan Goldsworthy, Curator, RCMI Museum.
Photo credits: Billy Bishop: Department of National Defence; Lewis and Vickers: Eric Morse.
“Keep it up, boys; do not let them get through!”
The artifacts being featured in this edition of RCMI Members’ News‘Museum Pieces’ are the Vickers Machine Gun and the Lewis Gun. Both the Vickers and Lewis were widely used by the Allies in the First World War and both proved to be extremely reliable and effective. These particular weapons are being featured in this edition as a pair, because both guns were recently installed in dynamic displays on the 3rd floor short bar of the RCMI. The examples on display at the RCMI, both dating to 1915, were originally donated to the Institute in 1966 by Captain S. G. Sigel. Though the RCMI has been in possession of these weapons for over 50 years, they have never before been on display for members and their guests.
The 1915 Vickers on display in the RCMI is exhibited as it would have been mounted on the Western Front. The Vickers display is complete with a fluted barrel, tripod, water can and hose, ammunition box, 250-round canvas belt, and an oil can and brush. The RCMI’s Vickers is a spectacular specimen of its kind and this specific artifact was originally a gift from the 5th Prime Minister of Nepal of the Rana dynasty to the British Army in 1915. The Vickers Machine Gun, with a calibre of .303, was accurate from 2,000m and fired at a rate of 400-500 rounds per minute, but it could also fire indirectly as far as 4,000m. It was preferred by Allied soldiers in the First World War, because it rarely jammed or malfunctioned, it was relatively simple to operate and it had considerable range and power. The Canadians used the Vickers to great success at Vimy Ridge, utilizing its coverage and power to “thicken” the barrages that liquefied many of the German defences in the lead up to the battle. Indeed, the Vickers established itself as one of the iconic instruments of the Great War and it was notably featured on the badge of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s Machine Gun Corps.
The Lewis Gun, though significantly smaller than the Vickers, fired the same calibre and had a more rapid rate of fire at 500-600 rounds per minute and was air-cooled instead of water. Though the Lewis was only accurate up to 800m, it was more portable than its larger and heavier counterpart and was used by both the army and the air force. The 1915 Lewis on display at the RCMI is suspended in a vertical case accompanied by several of its original tools, required for repair and maintenance, and a very rare anti-aircraft sight on the barrel. Unlike the belt-fed Vickers, the Lewis is instead loaded with a pan magazine on the top holding 47 rounds—which can be seen on display (the air force used 97-round magazines, pictured on Bishop’s aircraft). The Lewis was a versatile weapon that could be mounted by its bipod into nearly any terrain on the Western Front including trees and stumps. Becoming a Lewis-gunner in the CEF was equivalent to a trade and those proficient with the weapon had an “LG” patch stitched on to the arm of their tunic.
The Lewis Gun has also been featured in several citations of Canadian Victoria Cross winners during the Great War in otherworldly acts of heroism. In June 1918, Cpl. Joseph Kaeble of Saint-Moise, Quebec, repulsed or killed over 50 advancing Germans with a Lewis Gun on his hip. Despite being wounded numerous times by shrapnel and bullets, Kaeble “emptied one magazine after another into the advancing enemy” until he was mortally wounded and finally succumbed to his many wounds (his last words are the titular quote). During the Hundred Days Offensive, Pte. Thomas Ricketts of St. John’s Newfoundland, was able to save his entire platoon. When his Lewis Gun had run out of ammunition and his platoon was exposed to the advancing Germans, Ricketts ran over 100 yards and back through withering fire to procure more ammunition and then returned to his Lewis Gun to pin the Germans into a nearby farm. His platoon was then able to move forward without a single casualty and captured 4 field guns, 4 machine guns, and 8 prisoners.
In a last example, and perhaps the most famous, Capt Billy Bishop of Owen Sound, Ontario earned his VC in 1917 with a Lewis Gun affixed to his aircraft. Bishop single-handedly attacked a German aerodrome and downed several German aircraft—emptying out several drums of his ammunition. Though all three of these VC acts of “most conspicuous bravery” are rightly and roundly about the individuals who earned them, they also speak to the effectiveness of the Lewis Gun.
Ultimately, the strength of both the Vickers and the Lewis is confirmed by their longevity, both being used through WWII and well into the Twentieth Century. I would highly recommend the new exhibit of these weapons to all RCMI members, as they represent an important part of Canada’s military history.
Royal Canadian Military Institute
Last week we were pleased to hold our volunteer recognition ceremony at The Queen’s Own Rifles Sergeants’ Mess to thank many of the 86 volunteers who provide 1,731 hours during 2016.
Volunteers do a very wide range of task: painting, construction, cataloging, database entry, creating exhibits, cleaning, photography, social media, taking the museum on the road, planning, renovations, creating labels and background panels, research, transcription, digitization, re-enacting, events – I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of other activities.
Some volunteers put in a few hours each year and several a lot more but all our appreciated for the skills, expertise and commitment they bring to the museum.
Fourteen of our volunteers have put in more more than 25 hours and our top five were thanked with some gifts provided by Museum Board member Adam Hermant:
Capt (Ret’d) Larry Hicks (the most hours again in 2016 and our indispensable photography technician.
Over 150 hours:
MCpl Graham Humphrey
CWO (Ret’d) Shaun Kelly
Over 100 hours:
Over 75 hours:
Over 50 hours:
Nicole Lines (nee Simpson)
Over 25 hours:
WO Emily Kenney
Cpl Justin Dremanis
Cpl Dave Strachan
We also want to thank the Commanding Officer LCol Sandi Banerjee and RSM CWO Paul Martin for their outstanding support and for joining us at our reception.
Thanks also to the Sergeants’ Mess for hosting us and to our generous supporter for offsetting the costs of the reception!
If you are interested in volunteering at the Regimental Museum – whether you’re a serving or former member of the regiment or just someone who thinks this might be a cool way to spend their Thursday evenings, you can find out more information on our Volunteer page.
With the increased rate of withdrawal of British regular regiments from Canada in the 1850’s came the need to provide storage and training facilities for the volunteer militia companies and battalions that would fill the void. In 1860 the Queen’s Own were parading out of St. Lawrence Hall on Front St and a building at the north-east corner of King and Nelson (now Jarvis). The first “purpose built” drill shed was completed in June 1864 and was located on Simcoe Street just east of the old parliament buildings between Wellington and Front Streets; although no pictures or photos have been discovered, it is known to have been 400’ long by 80’ wide with a vaulted roof.
“The drill shed, a large building with arched roof of single span (since destroyed), was situated on the west side of Simcoe Street, adjacent to the old Parliament Buildings and extended through from Wellington Street to Front Street. It was built in the hollow of the old Russells Creek, a portion of whose valley is still to be seen in the Lieutenant Governor’s garden, and the hard earth floor of the shed was far below the level of Wellington Street. From this street a stairway led down to a small entrance door at the north end and at the south end were the broad double doors by which the regiments marched out direct on the lower level to Front Street.”
[The Fenian Raid of 1866 by Barlow Cumberland]
Shortly after its construction it was the mustering point for the soldiers called-up for active duty during the Fenian Raid June of 1866;
“At 6:00 P.M. Major Charles T. Gillmor, the recently appointed commanding officer of the QOR received orders to assemble 400 men by 5:00 A.M. in the recently constructed Simcoe Street drill shed and to proceed to the Toronto docks where at 6:30 A.M. they were to board the steamer City of Toronto for a three-hour trip across Lake Ontario to Port Dalhousie.”
The Simcoe Street drill shed lasted into the 1870’s but it seems there was damage and it was replaced in 1877 by a newly built drill shed behind the City Hall, between Jarvis & Market Streets south of Front Street.
“Amongst the difficulties which the Battalion had to contend with at this time, not the least was that, the old drill shed on Simcoe street having been partially destroyed, the several companies were compelled to perform their drill in empty warehouses and halls.”
“It was not until April 4th, 1877, that a new drill shed was provided. On that date, the new drill shed, in rear of the City Hall Buildings, erected at an expense of some $16,000 by the City Council and the Government, was opened and regular and systematic work made possible.”
The Armouries on University Avenue, when completed in 1893, was the largest of its kind in North America. It was the longest to be used by the regiment so far, and was the starting point for thousands of Riflemen going to fight in South Africa, WWI, WWII and Korea.
“Built in 1891, the Toronto Armouries officially opened on May 17, 1894. Its inauguration was celebrated by a military tournament featuring different regiments—the Queen’s Own Rifles, 48th Highlanders, Royal Regiment, Royal Dragoons Toronto, and the Governor General’s Body Guard. The building had massively thick walls that were faced with red bricks and bonded with red mortar to create a continuously smooth appearance. Built on a solid foundation of Kingston limestone, the same type of stone was used as trim around the smaller windows and the huge arched windows on the west facade. The trim on the top of the towers, which were mediaeval in appearance, were also detailed with limestone.
In the interior of the armouries was a great drill hall measuring 280’ by 125’, with a ceiling that soared 72’ above the floor. The drill hall was sometimes used to host banquets and automobile, trade, and fashion shows. Included were offices for military staff, mess halls (dining areas), classrooms, and kit rooms (storage). In the basement there was a rifle range and a bowling alley to provide recreation for the men.
The Toronto armouries served as a training facility for troops that fought in the Boer War (1899-1902), the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean Conflict. The Boer War was when Canadian troops first fought on foreign soil. During World War 11, because of the proximity of the armouries to Osgoode Hall, judges in the courtrooms complained that the gun salutes rattled the windows of their courtrooms causing them to fear for their safety.
However, by the 1950s, high-rise buildings increasingly dominated University Avenue. Despite efforts to preserve the armouries, the need for space to expand the law courts at Osgoode Hall was given priority. On the site today there are provincial courthouses and a historic plaque stating, “On this site stood the University Avenue Armouries, the home of famous Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army and centre of Militia activities in Toronto from 1891 until it was demolished in 1963.”
Between the destruction of University Avenue Armoury and the completion of Moss Park Armoury at Queen and Jarvis the regiment was temporarily put up in an industrial building on Richmond Street near Jarvis. Not a purpose built armoury it is said to have had many support columns making drill difficult.
Moss Park Armoury is a large, purpose-built, multiple unit armoury shared by the Queen’s Own since it opened in 1966 with the 7th Toronto Regiment (Royal Canadian Artillery), the 48th Highlanders, and 25 Medical Company and originally 2 Toronto Service Bn and the Canadian Intelligence Corps. The building is equipped with an underground “Gun Park” (for vehicles, artillery pieces and maintenance), a large parade square, multiple offices for administration, lecture rooms and messes for the various different ranks to relax in on the second floor. As of writing (2017) the regiment still parades at Moss Park Armoury.
From 2006-2015 Buffs Company had been parading out of Dalton Armoury off of Milner avenue, between Markham Rd and McCowan in Scarborough.
At the conclusion of our QOR Day at Casa Loma 2016, Corporal (Ret’d) Romeo Daley, a Korea War Veteran, presented museum volunteer Master Corporal Graham with a quilt in recognition of his various contributions. Below is the presentation narrative.
“We have had the privilege of getting to know MCpl Graham Humphrey through our friends , Sgt Allan Kiss and his lovely wife Karen.
We have met Graham many times over the past few years, specifically at the Veteran’s Appreciation Luncheon in Oakville where he volunteers, and more recently at The Battle of Ridgeway Battle Site for the 150th Anniversary of that battle in which The Queens Own Rifles of Canada fought.
We are aware of some of what MCpl Humphrey does for the military, in particular for The Queens Own Rifles of Canada, and know that his list of achievements continues to grow.
In 2006 in Western Canada a couple of women saw Veterans who had returned from Afghanistan with limbs missing and wanted to do something to make Canadian Veterans know they are not forgotten. They were quilters and decided to make quilts to present to Veterans. It started with three soldiers receiving Quilts. The soldiers were so moved by this act of kindness that Quilts of Valour was formed. Each quilt made is unique and made up of quilter’s blocks from across Canada and are then put together for presenting. To date more that 8,000 of Canada’s military have been presented with a Quilt.
As a proud member of The Queens Own Rifles of Canada, MCpl Humphrey has thrived and will continue to do so. His hard work and volunteer service to Canada and his Regiment including volunteering for The Queens Own Rifles of Canada Museum and this is why I am proud to present MCpl Graham Humphrey with a Quilt of Valour.”
Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ve installed WordPress’ new Google Translate Widget, which allows you to instantly translate our website content into 103 languages currently supported by Google Translate. You can find the “Translate our Site” drop-down on the right side of all our pages, and just choose the language you want to read in.
We all know that Google Translate isn’t perfect but it has come a long way over the past few years and will certainly help make access to our content easier for those researchers and historians in other countries.
And a big thanks to WordPress for providing this new “widget”!
The Regimental Museum Board of Governors has undertaken a strategic planing process to guide the museum over the next five years. This survey is one of several steps being used to consult with our broader museum community and includes questions not only about the physical museum located at Casa Loma, but also about possible interactions you may have had with the museum through the website and other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr.
Even if you have not visited the museum in person or connected through the internet, we value your input. And your input is strictly anonymous.
This survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete – maybe 12 if you have a lot you want to suggest to us! 🙂
Please remember to hit the SUBMIT button at the end to record your responses.
The survey will close at end of day November 30, 2016.
In response to our last post about our exploration of St James Cemetery, Bill Paton kindly forwarded a photo of General William Dillon Otter’sgrave marker:
He also reminded us that the QOR’s first commanding officer, Colonel William Smith Durie was buried here as well. And while Rob, Shaun and I knew this was located here and had indeed seen it on our wanderings that day, I’d completely forgotten to mention it!
Bill also kindly included a link to the fascinating story of Colonel Durie’s son Captain William Arthur Peel Durie and who was killed in action during the First World War and the efforts of his mother to have has body returned to by buried in St James Cemetery. Link to his mother’s story here.
And lastly I completely forgot to include Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Lett, DSO who assumed command of The Queen’s Own Rifles in August 1944 and served until the conclusion of the Second World War. The museum was very pleased to acquire his medals in early 2015.