Category Archives: Riflemen

Bill McAndrew: Part I

Bill McAndrew joined the army at age 17, was commissioned the following year and served the next eleven years as an infantry officer in Canada, Korea, Germany and Ghana. On leaving the army, a high school dropout, he attended Glendon College, York University as a mature student and gained his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. McAndrew taught at the University of Maine at Orono and directed that university’s Canadian Studies programme before joining the Directorate of History in Ottawa from which he retired in 1996. His particular interest has been in the battlefield behaviour of soldiers.

This is an excerpt of an article which originally appeared in Canadian Military History, Autumn 2013 issue and is reprinted with permission of the author. 

Joining the Army

I joined the army in October 1951. My motivation was not unusual, I expect, in those days. I spent my adolescence in wartime Halifax and Charlottetown where I had been an army cadet and both a reserve soldier and sailor. But the primary drive was need; there were few opportunities for a high school drop-out on the Island short of Toronto factories or the military. Besides the Korean war was on and adventure loomed.

So after a summer as a sailor, and a voyage on HMCS Swansea to
Britain at the time of the Festival of Britain, I made my way across Canada and was lucky when I went into Vancouver’s No. 11 Personnel Depot. The recruiting sergeant, Smokey Smith whose Victoria Cross ribbon was unmistakable, asked me if I wanted to go to Officer Candidate School [OCS] . I didn’t know what that entailed but said sure and assured him that I was eighteen, really seventeen, and had grade 12, which I hadn’t. He completed the paperwork, I was sworn in and in a few days was off by train for Camp Borden. Many years later I learned the cause of the casual recruiting; each depot had a monthly OCS quota to fill and at the end of October No. 11 needed bodies.

The train took me to Toronto,  then a local went north to Angus near Camp Borden and knee deep in snow. A truck met the train and dropped me and the small cardboard suitcase holding my worldly possessions at the Orderly Room where my army career began with a bang. Sergeants pounced and I was on a non-stop run for several days until the course started. Run to the quartermaster stores, run to quarters, run to meals, run to nowhere and back again.

The training programme to produce a second lieutenant was two months at OCS, three months at a corps school, three months with a regular army unit as an understudy, and a final three months back at the corps school. The initial OCS phase was to select out – the failure rate was around 70 percent – and gauge suitability. For me it was also basic army training that most of the others had not only completed but instructed. The tenor was to push us as far as possible, physically, psychologically, emotionally, to see how we reacted and if we persevered. There was only one other direct entry young guy like myself in the course the rest being veteran NCOs going for a commission. Failures could be voluntary, for example, an RCR {Royal Canadian Regiment] warrant officer who left because he preferred being a company sergeant major to a second lieutenant platoon commander, or by decree as when the other direct entry wasn’t there one morning.

I managed to survive. My roommate was Jack Hanley an RCR sergeant and tough veteran who adopted me and guided me through bad patches. It helped that I had hunted deer and rabbits and birds as a kid so was familiar with weapons and the woods. Several group leadership exercises that seemed pointless were duly noted by strange officers with notepads. For the rest I just did what seemed needed. One obstacle course I recall had three tunnels running off a covered hole in the ground. You dropped in, were told to find a way out, and the hole was covered. Two of the holes led nowhere. The third arced downhill into water that rose the further you went. There was light further on but the last few metres to the outlet were almost completely under water. I reckoned that they wouldn’t want to fish out a corpse so kept going. I imagine its purpose was to test for claustrophobia.

We were in the midst of drill training for our passing out parade towards the end of December when I was told to report to the CO’s office. This was scary as he was a godlike figure totally remote from my experience. The RSM, Mickey Austin who wore a MC ribbon from his time with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, marched me in and the CO, Mike Dare, asked about my age and education. I told him the truth, fortunately, as he had a background check on his desk. He gave me two choices: be discharged, or revert back to the next course when I would be eighteen and of age. The thought of repeating the course was not exactly welcome but the alternative of being turned loose in the middle of a very rough winter was even less so. So I chose to repeat the course and he gave me a few days leave over Christmas.

My new roommate, Pat Paterson, had fought in Normandy with the Sherbrooke Regiment. During a Staff College battlefield study in Normandy a few incarnations later one of the veterans on the study, Syd Radley Walters, told me that Pat had commanded a Firefly 17-pounder gun Sherman tank in his squadron near Cintheaux on the road between Caen and Falaise on the morning of 8 August 1944. This was at the end of the first phase of Operation Totalize when four German Tiger tanks counter-attacked. All four were destroyed, one of which was commanded by the German ace, Michael Wittman, who earlier had single-handedly stopped a British Armoured Brigade. One claimant for the hit was a rocket-firing Typhoon, and another a British tank squadron on the east side of the road, but Rad was convinced that it was Patterson who got him.

The second course went more easily than the first. My birthday duly came, I graduated soon after and moved down the road to the School of Infantry. Why infantry I now wonder. I was strangely influenced by Charles McDonald’s, Company Commander, his memoir of the awful operations in the Huertrgan Forest and an account that should have driven anyone but a naive romantic to a safer job. In any case that two month course was a snap compared to OCS. We learned minor tactics, fired a variety of weapons, threw grenades, choked on gas, drove several types of vehicles including bren gun carriers which we jumped over high embankments making sure to keep the tracks moving quickly to ease the drops. In early May I was posted to 3 RCR in Wainwright where it was preparing to go to Korea.

Wainwright was at that time very basic, a few buildings and lots of bush. The battalion was trying to organize itself despite the chaos at that time that left hundreds of recruits unaccounted for, some coming in and leaving at will after getting clothing and a few meals. I was supposed to understudy an experienced officer but there were none around so I got my own platoon of brand new recruits. Soon after getting kitted out we joined the rest of the battalion for a lengthy exercise in the bush starting with a twenty mile march. With no NCO’s I had a Second War vet among them act as platoon sergeant. It was a rough beginning for unconditioned troops with new boots but we survived to reach a lake out there somewhere where I had the platoon strip and marched them into the water for a swim.

We scrambled through the summer, me learning an awful lot from the innumerable mistakes I was bound to make. We made one long compass march across trackless country towards another lake that felt like a real accomplishment when we made it within a couple of hundred yards of our aiming point. The CO, Ken Campbell, visited and must have been highly relieved that this novice had not killed someone or become hopelessly lost. That night we bivouacked on the shore and were awakened by a yowling that turned out to be a band of coyotes running through us. Later in the summer we went up to Jasper where a training camp had been set up in hills and mountains that resembled those in Korea. It was a valuable experience in preparing us for moving with full kit through the rough terrain we did find in Korea.

It was, for me, a productive time. I’m not as sure for the platoon. They were in the 3 RCR company that fought the last unit action in Korea when they were hit one night by a large Chinese attack. Several were killed, more wounded and others taken prisoner. I can’t help wondering about the training for which I had been responsible.

Part II – Joining the 2nd Canadian Rifles and The Queen’s Own Rifles.

New Swift Grave Marker Unveiled

Earlier this year……

On the evening of 9 June 2018, the Regiment marched from Moss Park Armoury 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.

The CO, a Swift cousin, and the Director of Music unveil the new marker.

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 forty-seven QOR soldiers buried or memorialized at St James, below:

The Regiment then marched back to Moss Park Armoury where some awards and promotions were presented, after which everyone enjoyed a BBQ dinner prepared by the QOR Association Toronto Branch.

You can find see our complete June 6, 2018 photo album on our Flickr site.

Thanks to all those who donated to this project:

  • Josef Amodeo
  • Beverlee Bamlett
  • Kevin Bishop
  • Cheryl Copson
  • Linda Di Felice
  • Grant Dunbar
  • Kathryn Emanuel
  • Philippe Escayola
  • John Fotheringham
  • Tim Hannan
  • Graham Humphrey
  • Jason Keddy
  • Shaun Kelly
  • Darnel Leader
  • Sheila MacMillan
  • Dave Marsh
  • Henry McCabe
  • Jason McGibbon
  • Harry J. Rollo
  • Mark Shannon
  • John Stephens
  • Swift Family
  • Usman Valiante
  • John Wilmot
  • Susan Wilson
  • Andrew Zamic
  • The QOR Sergeants’ Mess
  • 2 x Anonymous donors

New Grave Marker for Bugle Major Swift

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.

Please take a moment to support this project and help preserve the memory of one of the regiment’s most iconic members.

You can read more about Charles Swift on our museum website.

NOTE: Any funds donated for this project in excess of what is required to complete it, will be directed to the Regimental Trust’s Memorial Fund.

Special thanks to Randy Singh for his help with the creating the video for this campaign.

Ben Dunkelman Heritage Toronto Plaque Unveiled

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.

You can read more about Ben Dunkelman here.

Dunkelman, Ben Heritage Toronto Plaque

Major General Malcolm Mercer


Written by  Gordon MacKinnon and originally published in Vol 8, Issue 1 of the Canadian Military Journal.  Mercer was killed one hundred years ago today.

Deafened by a German artillery barrage, his leg broken by a stray bullet as he tried to move to safer ground, Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a British artillery counter-offensive trying to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements.

The highest ranking officer of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to be killed in action in the First World War, General Mercer succumbed to his wounds in the early hours of 3 June 1916 in No Man’s Land at the foot of Mount Sorrel near the ill-fated town of Ypres, Belgium. But for the quick thinking and perseverance of a Canadian corporal sent out to locate and bury soldiers killed in the area, Mercer’s body might have been lost forever in the quagmire churned up by the shelling.

Instead, the general was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery on 24 June 1916 in a full military funeral with all battalions of the Canadian Mounted Rifles represented. He was also posthumously Mentioned in Despatches by General Sir Douglas Haig for his valiant conduct, the third time he was so honoured.1

Except among the Mercer family and students of the Great War, General Mercer’s name is virtually forgotten today. The absence of letters and documents has meant that historians have overlooked the contribution of this hard working, amateur soldier who endeavoured to solve the problems of the new trench warfare of 1914-1916. However, the contents of a diary written by Mercer during the period 22 August 1914 to 10 November 1915 – now part of the collection of the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum – give some insight into the conscientious officer who became the first General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the CEF’s 3rd Division.

Mercer was born on the family farm in what is now north-west Toronto. Until age 25 he worked on the farm, acquiring a high school diploma and then enrolling at the University of Toronto in 1881. He must have felt embarrassed at being older than other first year students because he under-misrepresented his date of birth by three years. The Great Fire at the university in 1890 destroyed the student records, so it is not possible to know exactly when he made the change. Contrary to dates in published biographical sketches, census evidence is conclusive that he was born on 17 September 1856.2

Mercer graduated in 1885 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He then studied law at Osgoode Hall and was called to the Bar in 1888. While at university, he enlisted as a private in the Queen’s Own Rifles of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, a prestigious battalion of volunteers. Mercer did not exploit the social position open to him as an officer as he nonetheless rose steadily through the ranks. However, he did excel at rifle shooting, resulting in several trips, not only to provincial and national competitions, but also to the Bisley Rifle Competition in England – as a competitor, and, in 1909, as the adjutant of the Canadian team. The Queen’s Own Rifles grew to two battalions, and, in 1911, Mercer became Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, replacing Sir Henry Pellatt, who was promoted to command the 6th Brigade.3 All known portraits of Mercer show him in the uniform of either the Queen’s Own Rifles or the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He stood ramrod straight, six feet tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes, as well as a generous moustache that completely hid his mouth. Most observers noted that, upon first meeting, he created an impression of cool reserve.

Mercer established a comfortable law practice in 1889 with classmate S.H. Bradford that lasted until his death. The contents of his estate, auctioned in 1925, showed him to have been a collector of art, and included European and Canadian paintings, sculpture, porcelain, and antique furniture. Many of the Canadian paintings were by Carl Ahrens,4 whom Mercer had supported financially when Ahrens was a young artist.

Later, a fellow officer described Mercer as “a man who above all else took a sane view of life; quiet and reserved, with a touch of cynical humour but great kindness of heart, he impressed one as a born leader of men.”5 His “even temper, kind and open nature” continued to be noted by his friends and admirers well after his death.


Moonrise Over Mametz Wood by William Thurston Topham. The painting has been described by veterans as “an eerily accurate impression of the Somme battlefield in 1916”. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, CWM 19710261-0752

The Call to Arms

During the early part of the 20th Century, Canada’s only perceived threat by land was an expansionist United States, and the country had depended upon maintaining good relations with its American neighbours to avoid a repeat of military invasion last seen in the War of 1812, followed by some unofficial armed incursions by the Fenians in 1866. Britain, then in control of Canada’s foreign and defence policy, followed a similar course of action and withdrew its troops in 1871, except for those garrisoned at the Royal Navy base at Halifax.6 Until 1904, by law, the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia had to be a British Regular,7 and the few remaining British troops were withdrawn from fortresses only in 1905 when the British decided to cease using Halifax and Esquimalt as naval bases.

The Canadian defence force in 1914 was very small, consisting of 3000 Permanent Force Active Militia and 55,000 Non-Permanent Active Militia, and a navy of just two ships.

 …the total authorized establishment of the [Permanent] Force was 3110 all ranks and 684 horses. It…comprised two regiments (each of two squadrons) of cavalry – the Royal Canadian Dragoons and Lord Strathcona’s Horse; the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery with two batteries, and the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery with five companies; one field company and two fortress companies of engineers; one infantry battalion – the Royal Canadian Regiment; together with detachments of various service and administrative corps. The Permanent Force’s main peacetime functions were to garrison fortresses on either coast and assist in training the militia.8

Entry into the widely anticipated war was never in doubt, and plans to raise quickly a force of 30,000 volunteers had been made before 4 August 1914. However, this 1911 plan to give the commanders of the existing six Military Districts of Canada responsibility for recruiting the overseas battalions was peremptorily changed by Colonel (later Lieutenant-General Sir Sam) Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence in Sir Robert Borden’s Conservative government. Hughes initiated matters through a night lettergram to 226 militia commanders, ordering them to recruit volunteers.9 This impractical, impromptu, chaotic methodology eventually had to be modified, but it led to the CEF being composed mainly of numbered battalions, not battalions carrying the names of existing militia units.

Because there were very few professional officers, senior militia officers who appeared to be competent and had the right political affiliations and opinions were given senior appointments within the new CEF. Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer had never seen active service, but he possessed the political and religious qualifications needed to impress the Minister of Militia. He had even accompanied Sir Sam on a pre-war military reconnaissance tour of Europe, resulting in both men concluding that war with Germany was inevitable.10

When Mercer left Toronto on 22 August 1914 for Camp Valcartier, then under construction near Quebec City, he was in charge of the soldiers from the Queen’s Own Rifles. At Valcartier, he was given command of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, composed of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4thBattalions recruited in Ontario.

The 1st Contingent of the CEF left Quebec City on 25 September 1914 on a fleet of passenger liners destined for England. Delays in the Gulf of St. Lawrence while waiting to rendezvous with its Royal Navy escort, followed by embarkation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, compounded with the slow speed of the convoy, resulted in a 20-day journey to Plymouth. One man fell overboard and another was operated on unnecessarily for appendicitis; otherwise, the voyage was undoubtedly as dull as the weather was fine.

The Canadian Contingent was under the command of Colonel V.A.S. Williams, one of the few Permanent Force officers on board. This Permanent Force officer shortage was due to the fact that the Royal Canadian Regiment had been sent to Bermuda on 6 September to release a British Regular unit, the 2nd Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment, for deployment in Flanders.11 Williams, a graduate of the Royal Military College, Kingston, and the Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, would ultimately play a role on Mercer’s last day.

Winter in the Mud and Rain

Upon arrival at Plymouth, a British Regular, Lieutenant-General E.A.H. Alderson, who had been appointed after previous Canadian government consultation, took over command before the troops disembarked.12 Mercer was placed in command of Bustard Camp on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge. The troops resumed the routine commenced in Canada that would continue their transformation from civilians into professional soldiers: route marching and physical exercises for fitness, and entrenching, bayonet drill, musketry and other instruction to improve their military skills. The conditions were appalling. The rapid expansion of the British forces meant that there was no extra barrack accommodation. Consequently, the Canadians were housed in tents. Contractors were building huts, and hundreds of carpenters and bricklayers were seconded from the Canadian Contingent to speed up construction.13 Slowly, the troops were moved into the huts or were billeted in private homes in the small villages nearby. There was never enough space, however, and Mercer’s brigade was the only one that spent the entire winter under canvas. Several severe storms blew down most of the tents and marquees. It rained 89 out of the 123 days that they were so quartered. Surprisingly, the health of the troops remained good, and those in huts and billets suffered more illness than those in tents.14

The 1st Canadian Contingent was renamed the 1st Canadian Division, and British staff officers were added to this largely amateur army. Inspections were frequent, and Mercer must have felt satisfaction when, after a Royal Inspection on 4 November 1914 by King George V and Queen Mary, accompanied by Field Marshal Lord Roberts (who was Honorary Colonel of the Queen’s Own Rifles at the time) and Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, he recorded their comments in his diary: “No finer physique in the British Army. A fine brigade. Splendid.”15

Malcolm Smith Mercer

Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer as General Officer Commanding of the CEF’s 3rd Division. Courtesy of the Woodstock Museum NHS.

Mercer Takes Command and Learns on the Job

All three brigade commanders of the 1st Division had spent many years in the Canadian Non-Permanent Active Militia, but only Brigadier-General R.E.W. Turner, VC, DSO, had combat experience. He had won his decorations as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Dragoons during the South African (Boer) War. Turner was the GOC of the 3rd Brigade, and, for a brief time, was also GOC of the 2nd Division. Controversy over his eventual handling of the Battle of St. Eloi Craters (June 1916) would result in his transfer to a staff position in England. Brigadier-General Arthur W. Currie, a Vancouver real estate broker and speculator, commanded the 2nd Brigade. He would later become commander of the Canadian Corps, earning a reputation as one of the war’s outstanding allied generals. Mercer had been in the Queen’s Own Rifles (QOR) for more than 30 years, but had never led troops in battle. The brigadier-generals and their soldiers would just have to learn on the job.

Four days before the brigade embarked for France on 9 February 1915, Mercer was promoted to full colonel.16 The training routine intensified in France and Belgium, where units of Canadians were placed in the front line at Armentières, along with experienced troops of the British 4th and 6thDivisions. Then the Canadians moved into the trenches at Fleurbaix, where their role was to hold the trenches defensively while the British 1st Army attacked at Neuve Chapelle. Mercer received another promotion on 2 March, this time to temporary brigadier-general. The brigade was at the Fleurbaix front from 1 to 24 March. Rotations of four days each in the trenches interspersed with four days in reserve billets resulted in the troops enduring 16 days and nights in the trenches. As it materialized, neither side attacked. However, Mercer demonstrated that he was not a ‘château general’ – to understand fully the conditions his soldiers endured, he visited the trenches on 16 occasions and the billets on five.17 After 1 April, the 1st Canadian Division took over four kilometres of trenches north of Ypres, where the British were assuming more of the line from the French. Training and inspections continued. On 12 April, Mercer records that General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the 2nd British Army, under whose orders the 1st Canadian Division operated, complimented him and the troops, saying that, “for steadiness and precision this Brigade was the finest Salute he had ever seen.”18

Although fatal casualties at Fleurbaix totalled only one officer and 29 men, the Ypres Salient was to be a much more lethal introduction to war. On 22 April 1915, for the first time in warfare, an enemy attacked using clouds of poison gas. The French colonial troops on the left flank of the Canadians were hardest hit by the gas and fled in panic, but the untested 2nd and 3rd Canadian Brigades filled in the gap and held despite the lack of any better protection from the gas than urine-soaked cloths.19 Mercer’s 1st Brigade was in Divisional Reserve in Vlamertinghe. Its 2nd and 3rd Battalions were transferred to the 3rd Canadian Brigade at 2130 hours on 22 April. Early on the morning of 23 April, Mercer was ordered to march the 1st and 4th Battalions across the Yser Canal, and attack in the direction of Mauser Ridge west of Kitcheners Wood. The attack failed for several reasons: there was little time for planning and coordinating the British, French and Canadian forces involved, and the Canadian troops had never attacked before. French troops failed to advance along the canal on the Canadians’ left flank and, in the same area, Geddes’s Detachment of British battalions under Colonel A.D. Geddes, commanding officer of The Buffs, 2nd East Kent Regiment, was attached to the Canadian Division, but was not under Mercer’s command.20 Mercer, with only two battalions at this time, had a complete brigade headquarters staff. Geddes had four to seven battalions but almost no staff. Of note, Colonel A.F. Duguid, in his official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, infers reluctance by the British to put a Regular colonel under orders of a Canadian militia brigadier-general.

[Mercer]…could have handled several attached battalions with ease. On the other hand Colonel Geddes was a regular officer, a graduate of the Staff College, and tried in the 1914 campaign. It may be noted that no regular British battalion was in the line under a Canadian brigadier during the battle.21

There were casualties of over 400 in each battalion, and the remnants of the 1st and 4th Battalions withdrew to Wieltje on the afternoon of the 24th. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions continued to fight under General Turner’s command on 24 April when another gas attack was launched. During the evening of the 25th, the 1st and 4th Battalions marched west across the canal, and the 2nd and 3rdBattalions rejoined the brigade at night. The 3rd Battalion, partly composed of men from the QOR, reported more than 400 men captured.22 On 28 April, the entire 1st Brigade was again under Mercer’s command, guarding the canal bridges and in billets for reorganization.23 For their conduct under fire, he and the three other Canadian brigadier-generals were named Companions of the Order of the Bath (CB) by King George V in his Birthday Honours List of June 1915. The award is given for military service of the highest calibre and only 144 military CBs have ever been awarded to Canadians.24

After two weeks of refitting and adding reinforcements, Mercer’s brigade marched southeast to Festubert, where it relieved the 3rd Brigade in the front line on 22-23 May. A company of the 3rdBattalion assaulted from the Orchard on the night of the 24th. A shortage of troops caused by casualties sustained at Ypres made it necessary to use the dismounted Canadian Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier-General J.E.B. Seely as additional infantry in this attack.25 In spite of further heavy casualties, no real progress was made. By the end of the month, Mercer’s brigade was back in billets in Béthune. On 10 June at Givenchy, a short distance from Festubert, the 1st Brigade relieved the 3rd Brigade in the trenches and was to be the main Canadian formation in the attack that began on 15 June.26 For the first time in battle, they would use the Lee-Enfield rifle in place of the Canadian-made Ross rifle that had caused problems in previous engagements. The Ross was an excellent target rifle, but could not stand up to rapid fire with British-made ammunition in muddy conditions.27 While more time was available for planning the assault, a shortage of shells and strong German resistance doomed the action. On the following day, an attack by the 3rd Battalion ran into heavy machine gun fire and was forced back into its own trenches. On the 17th, the 1st Brigade was relieved, moving back into billets. Mercer had protested to General Alderson that orders for Canadian troops to man the front trenches while a mine was exploded under the German lines were both dangerous and unnecessary. He was overruled, and subsequently, there were many casualties.28 By this time, Mercer was developing a reputation as a general who frequently visited his troops in the front line trenches to assess the situation for himself, and as one who was concerned about his soldiers’ welfare.29

At the end of June, the Canadian Division was sent to a ‘quiet’ section of the line near Ploegsteert; quiet only in comparison to the active areas they were leaving. The brigade received reinforcements and continued to integrate the new men through marching and training. Mercer notes that Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander-in-chief of the British forces, inspected the brigade on 14 July and was “very eulogistic on the quality of the Canadian troops at Ypres, Festubert, and Givenchy.”30

Back in Canada, enlistment continued vigorously. More troops had arrived in Britain; a second division had been formed and sent to France at the end of September 1915. This resulted in the creation of the Canadian Corps, with Lieutenant-General Alderson as General Officer Commanding (GOC). Major-General Currie became GOC of the 1st Division, and Major-General Turner took over as GOC of the 2nd Division.31 A third division was planned, and Mercer notes in his diary that on 23 September, “Gen A called – said he had a new position in prospect for me.”32 On 19 October, Alderson told him that he was being recommended for the position of GOC of the Corps Troops from which the 3rd Canadian Division was to be formed.33 The official notice of the appointment was issued on 22 November. Mercer subsequently was struck off strength of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade on 4 December and appointed GOC 3rd Division with the temporary rank of major-general.34 Thus, the GOCs of the three Canadian divisions had risen from lieutenant-colonels in the Non-Permanent Active Militia to major-generals in the Canadian Corps within 14 months. They had earned quick promotions, not only because of their achievements, but also because the Canadian government insisted that Canadians be promoted to command positions in their own army.


No Man’s Land by Maurice Cullen. This was the drab reality of the Western Front. It was also where General Mercer would die. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, CWM 19710261-0134

A Last Reconnaissance in the Trenches

When the 3rd Division was formed in December 1915, “…the six regiments of Mounted Rifles [CMR] were converted into four battalions of infantry, making the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Battalions of the 8thBrigade under Brigadier-General Victor A.S. Williams.”35 They were holding the line at Mount Sorrel on 1 June 1916. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) held Trenches 47-53 on the brigade right, and the 1st CMR held Trenches 54-60 in the left sector up to Sanctuary Wood; while the 2nd and 5th CMR were being held in brigade reserve at Maple Copse. On 1 June, the Germans dug a trench joining the heads of the saps they had made opposite Trenches 51 and 52.36 As an aside, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng had been appointed GOC of the Canadian Corps a few days before on 28 May to replace Alderson.37 Under Byng’s command, the CEF was to develop into a formidable fighting force.

On the 1st June, he [Byng] visited Major-General Mercer, who explained the situation at Mount Sorrel and Tor Top [Hill 62]. General Byng then told Major-General Mercer that he wanted him to carry out a reconnaissance with a view to a local operation to improve it. Later he went round all the headquarters in front of Ypres. Whilst he was at 8th Brigade headquarters, Major-General Mercer came to make arrangements with Br-General Williams for this reconnaissance, and asked General Byng if he would come. After a considerable pause, General Byng said. “No. You had better go yourselves tomorrow and make your own proposals. I will come around and see them on Saturday.”38

Major-General Mercer and Brigadier-General Williams met the Commanding Officer of the 4th CMR, Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.H. Ussher, in his battalion headquarters, “…in a dug-out in the immediate support trench, about twenty-five yards back of the front line”39 to evaluate the situation. Just as the generals had completed their inspection of the 4th CMR trenches, German artillery smashed the 3rd Division’s front from 0830 hours to 1300 hours with the most intense bombardment witnessed up to that time. A shell explosion deafened Mercer and seriously wounded Williams in the face and head. Mercer’s Aide de Camp, Captain Lyman Gooderham, was knocked unconscious briefly but was not wounded. Williams was taken to the dressing station in a long, narrow tunnel that had two entrances: one a shaft dug from the communication trench known as O’Grady Walk, and the other in a shelter trench called the Tube. Mercer, Ussher, and Gooderham remained in the 4th CMR headquarters.40 Ussher went to the tunnel to check on the condition of General Williams and was trapped when enemy shelling blocked both exits. The German infantry occupied Mount Sorrel above after detonating four mines.41 Gooderham attempted to move Mercer from the headquarters dugout to safety across the open stretch, since all trenches had been flattened. In the process, a random bullet broke Mercer’s leg. Gooderham bandaged the wound and the two men sheltered in a ditch. That night, British artillery fired shrapnel shells to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements. Gooderham, who had stayed with the general throughout this ordeal, recorded that between 0100 hours and 0200 hours on 3 June, shrapnel from these British guns pierced the general’s heart and caused his instantaneous death.42 He was three-and-a-half months short of his 60th birthday.

Major-General Currie had learned from earlier battles that saturation artillery bombardment was essential to infantry success. Employing this technique with some innovations, his 1st Division recaptured the lost ground within one hour on 13 June 1916. “The first Canadian deliberately planned attack in any force” states the British Official History, “had resulted in an unqualified success.”43 Several German counterattacks were defeated, and the fighting ended in a stalemate typical of trench warfare.


PA 004356 The grave of Major-General Mercer. 

Recovering the Body

Corporal John Reid of the 4th Battalion was one of a group of men assigned to explore No Man’s Land at night, tasked to locate and bury soldiers who had been killed in the German attack of 2-3 June. On the night of 21 June, his party found and buried approximately 30 corpses.44 Corporal Reid’s letter describing the finding and recovery of General Mercer’s body was published subsequently in a Toronto newspaper.

… I was examining bags of stuff that had been taken off the dead the night before when I came across a pass with “General Mercer” signed on it. Just think of the excitement then, as we believed he was in the hands of the Hun. I called Pioneer Range, as we were together out searching the night before and he said that must be the spot where they opened the machine gun on us…The real excitement then started for we were spotted as soon as we left the dugout and [it is] thanks to some shell holes that we ever got there. They were not contented putting the machine guns on us. They even sent coal boxes [heavy shells] over, and some near ones too. Anyway, by six o’clock, we got the body dragged to a shell-hole about five yards from where we dug it out, where it had been buried except one boot and about four inches of a leather legging sticking out of the mud. That disinterring was really the worst part of the lot, as we had to lie face down and scratch until we got the General’s body uncovered, and then we searched the body again and saw the epaulets with crossed swords and star. I then cut off the General’s service coat and placed the body in a shell-hole till after dark.45

Williams, Ussher, and Gooderham had all been captured by the Germans and became prisoners of war.46 Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) wrote at the time of Mercer’s death: “It is tragic to think that such a brilliant soldier, who had risen to the command of a division by sheer force of ability, should have died just as his new command was going into its first big action and needed his services so greatly.”47

Equally tragic, perhaps, was the fact that the fatal injuries Mercer suffered in the opening bombardment in the first major battle fought by his 3rd Division makes it impossible to evaluate his tactical competence. Organizational ability and hard work were his contributions to the development of the formidable Canadian Corps. He organized the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade out of partly trained amateur soldiers, and then trained it so that it was able to withstand the first shock of battle at Second Ypres. He took 12 battalions of partly trained troops, of whom only the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had much front line experience, and from them created the 3rd Canadian Division, which, under his successor, was to become one of the best combat divisions in the British forces.

Gordon MacKinnon, MA, a retired Toronto high school history teacher, served as a teacher and vice principal in Department of National Defence Schools Overseas, Metz, France, 1962-1966.

  1. At this time, the only valour awards that could be made posthumously within the British honours system were the Victoria Cross and the Mention in Despatches.
  2. Census of 1861, District 3 Township of Etobicoke, p .37. Census of 1871, District No.13 South Oxford, Sub-District A, Township Dereham, Division No. 3.
  3. Lieutenant-Colonel W.T. Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada 1860-1960 (Don Mills, Ontario: The Ontario Publishing Company, 1960), p. 104.
  4. Catalogue of Highly Important old and modern Pictures and Drawings, Piranesi etchings, fine old Delft Pottery…and works of Art of the Late Maj.-Gen. Malcolm S. Mercer C.B., …under Instructions from Executors, Toronto, Jenkins Galleries, 1928. Toronto Reference Library, 708.11354 J25
  5. University of Toronto Archives, [UTA] A73 0026/318/43.
  6. Desmond Morton, Understanding Canadian Defence (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003), p. 32.
  7. Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962), p. 8.
  8. Ibid., p. 7.
  9. Ibid., p. 6.
  10. J.E. Middleton, Municipality of Toronto: A History, Vol. 2 (Toronto & New York: Dominion Publishing Company, 1923), p. 39.
  11. Nicholson, p. 24.
  12. Colonel A.F. Duguid, Official History of The Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919, Vol.1 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1938), p. 120.
  13. Ibid., p. 137.
  14. Ibid., p. 142.
  15. Unpublished manuscript diary of M.S. Mercer, 22 August 1914-10 November 1915, QOR Museum, Casa Loma, Toronto, 4 November 1915. Hereafter referred to as ‘Mercer’s Diary’. No diary for 11 November 1915 to his death on 3 June 1916 is known to have survived.
  16. Ibid., 5 February 1915.
  17. Ibid., March 1915, passim.
  18. Ibid., 12 April 1915.
  19. Tim Cook, No Place to Run – The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999), p. 25.
  20. Nicholson, p. 67.
  21. Duguid, p. 266. The Buffs had a regimental association with the QOR. Colonel Geddes was killed on 28 April 1915.
  22. Mercer’s Diary, 25 April 1915.
  23. Ibid., 28 April 1915.
  24. Veterans Affairs Canada website
  25. Nicholson, p. 102.
  26. Mercer’s Diary, 10 June 1915.
  27. Ibid., 13 June 1915.
  28. Ibid., 16 June 1915. On 6 July 1915, he protested orders that 200 of his exhausted men be employed as a working party. On 7 August he records his indignation when his men are kept waiting for an inspection that had been cancelled without informing them.
  29. General Mercer was in the trenches nearly every day that his troops were in the front line. During the period from 1 March 1915, when Mercer’s 1st Canadian Brigade assumed active control of front line trenches, until 10 November 1915, when his Personal Diary ends, Mercer records 57 personal visits and inspections of trenches held by troops under his command. Mercer’s Diary, passim.
  30. Ibid., 14 July 1915.
  31. Nicholson, p. 115.
  32. Mercer’s Diary, 23 September 1915.
  33. Ibid., 10 October 1915. The promotion was announced in the London Gazette, 21 December 1915.
  34. Personnel Records Envelope, LAC RG150 Box 6121-45, Casualty Form.
  35. Captain S.G. Bennett, The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles 1914-1919 (Toronto: Murray Printing Company Limited, 1926) p. 12.
  36. War Diary 1st CMR, 2 June 1916, War Diary 2nd CMR, 1 June 1916, War Diary 4th CMR, 1-2 June 1916, War Diary, 5th CMR, 1 June 1916.
  37. Jeffrey Williams, Byng of Vimy, General and Governor-General, (London: Leo Cooper, 1983), p. 120.
  38. Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, History of the Great War Military Operations France and Belgium, 1916 (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1932) p. 231, fn.1. There is no source cited for Byng’s statement.
  39. J. Castell Hopkins, Canada at War 1914-1918 (Toronto: The Canadian Annual Review Limited, 1919) p. 146.
  40. War Diary 4th CMR, June 1916, pp. 3, 4, 5.
  41. Hopkins, p. 148.
  42. Letter from Lyman Gooderham to Professor Oswald Smith, University of Toronto Archives, UTA A73 0026-318/43.
  43. Quoted in Nicholson, p. 136.
  44. The 8th Brigade’s casualties for the battle of 2-3 June were 74 officers and 1876 ORs.
  45. The Globe, Toronto, 15 July 1916, p. 9, ‘Signed Pass Permit Finds General’s Body – Corporal Reid Tells Dramatic Story of Locating Remains of Gallant Mercer.’ There is no mention of this event in the 4th Battalion War Diary.
  46. The three officers were released in prisoner exchanges before the end of the war. Williams returned to Canada in late 1918 and was promoted to major-general in command of Military District 2 based in Toronto. The most senior Canadian to become a POW, he died in 1949 at the age of 82.
  47. Lord Beaverbrook, Canada in Flanders,Vol.II, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1917), p. 175.

Artifact Spotlight: March 1866 Nominal Roll

QOR museum volunteer Alex Meyers recently graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a Master’s degree in Public History.  He has worked on the City of Toronto’s “Great War Attic” project, researched historical plaques for Heritage Toronto, served as a Curatorial Assistant at London’s Fanshaw Pioneer Village, and a Historical Interpreter at Toronto’s Pioneer Village. With the skills and experience Alex brings, we are very pleased to have him working on our team!


In the early hours of 7 March 1866, the men of the Queen’s Own Rifles were called to arms. They enthusiastically assembled and paraded at the drill shed near Toronto Habour, and remained on active duty for the next few weeks. In winter and spring 1866, Canadians were wary of the threatening Fenian Brotherhood, a group of militant Irish nationalists, who were openly organizing in the United States. The Fenians talked about seizing part of Canada, to be used as a bargaining chip towards Irish independence from the United Kingdom. The QOR were called to active duty in anticipation of trouble around St Patrick’s Day (March 17), which was frequently a day of sectarian conflict between members of Toronto’s Protestant and Catholic Irish communities.

Toronto Globe, 10 march 1866
Toronto Globe, 10 march 1866

One particularly revealing document we have of that period is the regimental nominal rolls, a record of every man and officer in the regiment. The roll was written in a large hardcover book, the black cover is heavily worn. This particular book was used by the Queen’s Own from 1866 to 1882. Inside, there are more than 400 pages, each page number is neatly printed in the top outside corner. The pages are ruled and lined book like a school notebook.

The nominal roll as a physical artifact is quite fragile. It is at least 150 years old and was in active use for 16 years. Fortunately we don’t need to use the artifact to study its contents. The nominal rolls were manually scanned by some anonymous, but much appreciated, archivist. The whole book can be viewed as a PDF through the Archives section of this website. Being able to scroll through the nominal rolls as a PDF on my computer screen is great but to really understand it, I needed to sort and manipulate the data. If the tables of the nominal rolls were typed I could have used an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program, which interpret scanned text and turn it into machine-readable ones and zeros. But even the best OCR programs have trouble with handwriting, so the next step was to transcribe the data for the whole regiment, nearly 600 men.

Nominal Roll, March 1866
Nominal Roll, No. 3 Company, 20 March 1866

Military clerks would take a record the regiment’s strength at regular intervals during times of peace and active-duty. This task fell to rotating cast of Non Commissioned Officers (NCO). The rolls are not without gaps though. Human error shows up from time to time. A whole page seems to be missing between No. 6 and 7 coys, so the record for both companies is incomplete. There is also a note where No. 10 coy should be, indicating that the roll of that company was never brought to the orderly room, so we lack a record for that company as well.

Each pages neatly drawn into a ledger. The data being collected changes from year to year. We chose to analyze the entry for March 1866 because it is the first entry in the book, it contains the most data, and because it marks the beginning of a particularly active period for the regiment. The nominal roll entry for March 1866 tells us a lot about the regiment at the time. This entry collects the following data: Rank, Name, Date of Service, Country, Religion, Trade or Calling, Age, and Remarks. From this data we can learn about the demographics of the regiment, and draw comparisons to Toronto of 1866 and 2016.

In some ways the QOR represented the demographics of Toronto in 1866, in other ways it did not. Like the general population of Toronto, the members of the regiment were almost exclusively born in Great Britain or a British colony. Fifty five percent of the regiment are listed as born in Canada, but in the year before Confederation that would be the Province of Canada, composed of Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, each represented in the nominal rolls by one individual, were still distinct colonies. Finally, three soldiers were born in the United States. The soldiers born in Canada were patriotic British subjects, but there was an emerging sense of uniquely Canadian identity.

Country of Orgin
Country of Orgin

The regiment was as overwhelmingly Protestant as it was British. More than half the soldiers identified as Episcopal, another name for the Church of England and Ireland. Taken together with the Presbyterians (22%) and the Wesleyan/Methodists (17%), the three dominant Protestant denominations made up 94% of the regiment. British and Protestant identities were central to military service and feelings of loyalty. The proportion of Roman Catholics in Toronto peaked at 27% in 1861, but they are disproportionately underrepresented among the QOR, making up just 2%. Almost all of the Catholics in Toronto at the time were from Ireland. Catholics were considered outsiders by the dominant Protestant culture, but unlike the small numbers of Jews, Germans, and Italians in the city they were not considered ‘foreigners’.

Religious affiliation
Religious affiliation

British Protestants were not the only Torontonians ready to defend Canada from the Fenian menace. The Globe newspaper reported [10 March, 1866] that 120 men of the city’s “coloured population” had assembled in two companies and had offered their services to the government. Toronto had a small population of people of African descent, some of whom had come to the city along the famous Underground Railroad after escaping from slavery in the United States.

By 1866, Toronto was established as a regionally-important commercial, administrative, and educational centre. It was also valuable as a transportation hub for the export of Canadian agricultural products and the import of manufactured goods from Britain. In addition, it was becoming an important centre of industrial manufacturing. The men of the regiment represent 66 different occupations and reflect Toronto’s increasingly diverse economy. The heterogeneous occupational composition of the QOR provides an interesting contrast to its homogenous religious and ethnic origins. Several companies of the regiment were initially affiliated with particular trades or institutions and later became numbered units: Merchant’s Company, No. 5 Coy; Civil Service Company, No. 7 Coy; Trinity and University companies, No. 9 Coy. Students from the city’s colleges, universities and medical schools were the largest occupational group, making up 26% of the total; 8 and 9 coys were almost exclusively composed of students. The students were closely followed by clerks who made up 23% of the regiment, many of them concentrated in the No. 5 coy (Merchant’s Company). No other occupations were nearly as numerous as the students and clerks, but several were well represented, including merchants (17), shoemakers (13), laborers (11), and printers (9). There are also many more niche trades among the regiments, including Private R. Watson, silversmith; Private J.C. Smith, sailmaker; and Corporal J.B. Howe, dentist, age 19.

The nominal rolls for 1866 provide a glimpse into the spiritual and working lives of the Queen’s Own Rifles and of Victorian Toronto. The city retained its British Protestant identity well into the 20th century, even as it became increasingly diverse. The QOR has also evolved to reflect the cosmopolitan city.

See also The Fenian Raid 1866.

Help needed transcribing South African War Diary of Edgar Henry Redway

Edgar Redway
Edgar Redway


Thanks to the diligent efforts of Corporal Michael McLean, an Electronics-Optronics Tech based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, we have now completed the transcription of Redway’s Diary.

You can read it here.


We recently received a donation of a diary kept by Queen’s Own rifleman Edgar Henry Redway written during part of his service during the South African War. We would like to transcribe this diary to make it more accessible for research.

If you are interested in helping in this project please email before you start, indicating which pages you’d like to transcribe. We’d like you to transcribe in groups of 10 pages to keep the administration simple realizing that this may not cover a complete date entry.

“In progress” beside the page list below means someone is already working on that group of pages. “Completed” means its done and dusted.

Before starting please review the instructions following the page list below.

  • Page 1-10 – Completed
  • Page 11-20 -Completed
  • Page 21-30 – Completed
  • Page 31-40 – Completed
  • Page 41-50 – Completed
  • Page 51-60 – Completed
  • Page 61-70 – Completed
  • Page 71-80 – Completed
  • Page 81-90 – Completed
  • Page 91-100 – Completed
  • Page 101-110 – Completed
  • Page 111-121 – Completed

The pdf of the diary can be found on here on our website.

Transcribing Guidelines

  1. Send your transcription in text format (not tables). You can use Word or simply paste them into the text of your email.
  2. Transcribe exactly what is written – including spelling mistakes and abbreviations or acronyms.
  3. Do not use bold or italics.
  4. If you are unable to determine a word or phrase, please put a simple [?] in place of the undecipherable text.
  5. Do not worry about replicating how it is laid out – it is easier to read if we just make paragraphs on our web page.
  6. Do not include page numbers.
  7. Please make sure you review or better yet, have someone else review your transcription for accuracy particularly if there are sections you are unsure of. Transcribing Redway’s handwriting can be tricky and a second set of eyes can sometimes catch something you may have missed.

Thank you in advance for your assistance!! If you have any additional questions, please email us at



History of the Lance Corporal Rank in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada

The practices throughout the history of the Regiment come and go, and over time you see reference to “Lance” rank but only used in the Regiment as an Acting Corporal. During the Second World War you see the use of Lance Corporal on parade states and promotion list but you will not see a photo of the wearing of a one chevron on the uniforms of any QOR Rifleman. Simply they just wore the rank of Corporal since it is an Acting Corporal rank in a Rifle Regiment. Below is a write up of a Memo that was written for the Regiment in 1942 but rewritten in 1954.



This book contains quite a lengthy and comprehensive article entitled “The Lancespessade and the History of Lance Rank” in the British Army, and covers a period of several hundred years, giving quotations from many authoritative sources on the subject.

The following are several quotations taken from the article:

“The term lance as a qualifying prefix to non-commissioned ranks, is peculiar to the British Army today, and is an interesting link with that period which the Military Organization of the Middle Ages was being transferred into that which, in its essentials, is still current: that is to say, with the end of the 15th, and the beginning of the 16th centuries. The word is derived from the italian lancia spezzata, literally a broken or shattered lance, Lance Corporal usually defined as the title of that rank which was granted to the lowest officer that “hath any commandment” and “signifies Deputie Corporal.”

“By the beginning of the 17th century, in England at least, the Lancespessade had become and Infantryman only, and almost exactly the equivalent of the Lance Corporal of present day.”

“Lance the Corporal of the Cavalry unit is to supply and do all duties of the Corporals and Lancespessades of the Foote.” The definition of a Lancespessade is given as “he that commands over ten soldiers, the lowest officer in a foot company.”

The article makes it quite clear that the rank of Lance Corporal was peculiar to the Infantry alone in the British Army, until long after the organization of Rifle Regiments, and it contains no reference to this rank ever having been introduced into Rifle Regiments.


These Regulations were originally issued in 1800, by Colonel Coote Manningham, who is usually referred to as the originator of rifle regiments, and has become the first Commanding Officer of the Rifle Corps, now the Rifle Brigade. They are reprinted in a book bearing the same title, published in 1890, with certain amendments added.

Article 11 dealing with the Formation of the Corps, in so far as it relates to Sergeants and Corporals states as follows:

“The four Sergeants are to command a half platoon or squad each. The senior Corporal of each company is to act as Sergeant in the first squad.

The four Corporals are to be divided to the four half platoons. One soldier of peculiar merit is to act in each company as Corporals, and to belong to the third squad.

The Acting Sergeant and Acting Corporal are to be the only non-commissioned officers transferable from squad to squad.

In every half platoon one soldier of merit will be selected and upon him the charge of the squad devolves in the absence of both non-commissioned officers of it. As from these four Chosen Men (As they are called) all Corporals and Acting Corporals are to be appointed, the best men alone are to be selected for this distinction.

The graduation of rank and responsibility, from the Colonel of the Regiment to the Chosen Man of a squad, has how been detailed, and on no instance to be varied by whatever officer may command it.”


These Standing Orders issued in 1911, make no mention of Lance rank, wither in the text or in the various sample forms of parade states, reports, etc., in the back of the book. Acting Corporals are shown.

Article 11 – Formation of the Regiment, section 18 states:

“Corporals and Acting Corporals are responsible to the Sergeants of their respective sections.”

A copy of the Standing orders referred to above was received by me from the O.C. The Rifle Brigade in 1925, and he states at that time that they were the last published Standing Orders, and that no material changes or amendments had been made since date of issue.


In several volumes of the above covering a period of from 1820 up to some time in the 1890’s. There are a number of parade states, casualty lists, awards of various kinds such as good conduct badges, marksmen’s badges, etc., I could not find in these volumes any reference to Lance rank, but Acting Corporals are mentioned.




Regimental Orders are complete from the first R.O. Issued in 1860 until the present date, and are on file in the records of the Regiment.

From the first R.O. Issued in April 26, 1860 until 1866, there is no mention of Lance rank in any form whatever. There were, however, appointments made as Acting Corporals.

R.O. May 19, 1865 states “The proper regulation chevrons for NCO’s of the QOR are as follows and will be worn on both arms:

For Corporals – 2 black stripes on a red ground.”

There is no mention of Lance Corporals, or the chevrons that they would wear.

In R.O. January 22, 1866, the promotion of a private to the rank of Lance Corporal appears for the first time. Further promotions to that rank appear in subsequent orders up to the year 1874, when they cease, and from that year on appointments to be Acting Corporals appear again, and continue to the present time. There has not been an appointment to Lance rank since 1874, a period of 68 years.

No R.O. Appears in 1865, 1866 or any subsequent year authorizing Lance rank, nor does any R.O. Appear in 1874 or subsequent years abolishing them.


The nominal rolls of all companies and units of the Regiment for the Annual Muster parade each year are complete from 1860 until the present time, and are on file in the records.

On these Muster Rolls Acting Corporals appear from 1860 until 1865 inclusive. In the years 1866 to 1874 Lance Corporals appear, and commencing with the year 1875 until the present time Acting Corporals are shown, but no Lance Corporals.


Regimental Standing Orders were issued only in the years 1862, 1872, 1880, 1883, and 1925. Copies of all these are on file in the records.

There is no mention in any of these Standing Orders of Lance rank, not even in those issued in 1872, a year in which some Lance Corporals existed in the Regiment. The lowest rank mentioned is that or Corporal, and the lowest rank badges provided for this is of Corporal.


  1. Lance rank originated in the Foot Regiments, later Infantry, of the British Army, and was peculiar to that branch of the service for several hundred years. During the 19th century it was adopted by some other red-coated regiments of other branches of the service, but not by Rifle Regiments.

  2. Lance rank was not in force in The Rifle Brigade in 1925, as will be seen by their Standing Orders issued in 1911, and the statement of the [Officer Commanding] that unit in 1925, and it is extremely unlikely that it now exists in that regiment.

  3. Lance rank was not in force in The King’s Royal Rifle Corps as will be seen from their chronicle up to the South African War.

  4. The Queen’s Own Rifles, when authorized as a rifle regiment, on organization in 1860, undoubtedly adopted the “Regulations for Rifle Corps” as was practised at the time by The Rifle Brigade and The King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

  5. The deviation from Regulations for Rifle Corps and the Standing orders of the Regiment, in The Queen’s Own Rifles from 1866 to 1874 is hard to account for now.

    It is possible that the Officer Commanding in 1866, through carelessness or otherwise, permitted this unauthorized deviation from the Regulations to creep in. It is quite clear, however, that he did not provide for the change in Regimental Orders, nor did he change the Standing Orders to provide for it.

    By 1872, another Officer Commanding was in command of the Regiment. He revised Standing Orders in 1872, but again no provision was made for Lance rank.

    By 1874, the late General Sir William Otter has assumed Command of the Regiment, and was, as is well known, a great stickler for regulations of the service and tradition. It is quite evident that it was he who abolished the unauthorized Lance rank in the Regiment no doubt to conform with the standing Orders of the Regiment which were based upon the “Regulations for Rifle Corps.”

    He did not issue an order abolishing Lance rank, probably because there had never been a regimental order authorizing it, but just let it fade out.

  6. With the exception, therefore, of the short period 1866-1874, when Lance rank was entirely unauthorized in The Queen’s Own Rifles, it has not existed in the Regiment. Nor has there been at any time during the Regiment’s 82 years of existence, and order authorizing it in the Regimental Standing orders.

  7. It is quite clear from the foregoing, that The Queen’s Own Rifles, in having Acting Corporals instead of lance Corporals, is following not only a Regimental custom, but a Rifle custom which was duly authorized on the organization of Rifle regiments in the British Service, and is still the practice in two of the best known Rifle regiments in the British Army.

I hope you enjoyed this article as it shows reflection into the history and traditions of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and our sister regiment’s in England. Throughout my research and studying of photos of The Queen’s Own Rifles throughout the history I have only found one photo (pictured below) that shows the wearing of one chevron and this photo was taken when the Regiment was deployed to Korea in 1955. After the above article was written you will see in photos the addition of a QOR Collar Dog above the Corporal Chevron (pictured below) which would be the present “Master Corporal” or meaning the Section Commander.


MCpl Graham Humphrey


Seen here is an Acting Corporal during the Deployment to Korea in 1955
Seen here is an Acting Corporal during the Deployment to Korea in 1955 – QOR Museum Photo
Rifleman in line to call home - QOR Museum Photo
Rifleman in line to call home – QOR Museum Photo

D-Day Rifleman

Here is a visual of what a Rifleman would have looked like on D-Day.


Field Service Marching Order with respirator slung. Gas cape rolled on Belt. Veil camouflage around neck. Shell dressing under netting of helmet. Emergency rations in hip pocket.

A.V. Battle dress will be worn, patches, (Canada & QOR), sewn on, when other collected.

The A.V. Battle dress will be worn for a minimum of 48 hrs, as soon as possible. If any effects on body are noticed, they will be reported immediately.


  • Mess tins
  • Holdall (towel, soap, razor, etc.)
  • Knife, fork and spoon
  • 24 hour rations
  • Cardigan
  • Beret
  • Boot laces
  • 4 x 2
  • Cigarettes
  • Pair of socks
  • Brown mug


  • Leather jerkin
  • Boots (anklets if required)
  • Cap comforter
  • Towel
  • Boot brush, dubbin & polish
  • Canvas shoes
  • Shirt, Angola
  • Boot laces
  • Drawers, Celular
  • Writing kit
  • Vest, Summer
  • 3 pairs socks
  • Housewife
  • Cigarettes
  • Greatcoat packed on outside of pack, held on by kicking straps


  • Respirator of Assault marching personnel only attached to pack.
  • G-1018 blanket, folded as for kit layout rolled in ground sheet, strongly lied and properly labelled. (This makes a roll about 2 ½ feet long.)
  • All packs, Haversacks, Greatcoats (inside belt), ground sheet, to be marked with Rank, Name, Number and Coy mark.
  • Assault troops are all that land on “D” day.
  • 1 suit of denim to be collected at a later date.
  • Serge suit for all assault personnel, both riding & marching, less those with coys, will be turned in when notified to coy stores. They will be marked as laid down. They will be returned after “D” day.
  • Serge suit for those on follow up vehicles will be put in their Blanket rolls.

Here are some Pre Invasion photos from our Archives:

May 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
May 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo
Pioneer Cpl 1944 - QOR Museum’s Photo
Pioneer Cpl 1944 – QOR Museum’s Photo

To see the War Diaries for Pre and Invasion visit the link below


MCpl Graham Humphrey

What is the story of YOUR remembrance coin?

Units of the Canadian Armed Forces often follow the tradition of presenting new members of the unit with a regimental coin.  These coins are normally serialized, based on the member’s date of service with the unit, with a registry of coins being held by regimental headquarters.

The coin is meant to be symbol of membership within the unit, with members expected to carry their coin at all times.  

During Lieutenant Colonel Fotheringham’s first term as Commanding Officer, then Company Sergeant Major Shaun Kelly created a unique initiative which incorporated the exclusive membership aspect of a regimental coin whilst also honouring the history of the Regiment.  Instead of a coin which is serialized to the member based on the date of service with the unit, members of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada are issued a coin with the particulars of a member of the Regiment who died during one of the wars which the Regiment fought in. They were first presented to members of the regiment on Remembrance Day 2002.

QOR Remembrance Coin reverse
Reverse of Remembrance Coin of Museum Curator Maj (Ret) John Stephens, CD.157601
Rfn E. Honeyford
D/W (Died of wounds)

The antique pewter like coin is 39mm in diameter. The Obverse has the Primary Badge surrounded by the name of the regiment and the regimental motto “In Pace Paratus”. The Reverse has inscribed the particulars of the member whom the coin is dedicated to:

  • Service Number;
  • Rank, Initials, Surname;
  • KIA or D/W; and
  • date of death.

A coin is presented to each member of the Regiment by the Commanding Officer or Regimental Sergeant Major on the first Church Parade which the member participates in after having been “badged” into the Regiment.

The Names Behind the Coins

 But carrying the coin is just the first step. Riflemen are strongly encouraged to research the soldier named on their coin and many do. This makes the act of remembrance much more meaningful.

On our Regimental Museum website we have a section called “Soldiers of the Queen’s Own” in which we are adding biographies of soldiers who have served in the regiment – during any period since 1860 – or in the First World War battalions that we perpetuate. To date we’ve only added a very tiny sampling.

But we want to continue to expand this depository particularly as we approach the centenary of the First World War. If you’ve researched the soldier named on your coin, we strongly encourage you to send us whatever information you have – it can be in point form – so that we can add it to our website.

Please email your information to and make sure you include all the details from your coin as a starting point.


Major (Ret) John Stephens, CD

Rifleman John Harriman Mewburn

John Harriman Mewburn, died of wounds while in Fenian captivity during the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866

Mewburn served with the volunteer company (No. 9) of University of Toronto students that was a company of The Queen’s Own Rifles.

On June 1st, he was called out from his final exams to go to Ridgeway to defend Canada against the Fenian invaders. He sustained a head wound. He was left on the field and he died in Fenian custody. The Fenians behaved relatively gallantly everywhere, but in this one case, they treated him rather roughly. He was tied, thrown onto a floor of a cabin and he died on the floor of a cabin.

Chief Warrant Officer Mark Shannon (left) and Lt.-Col. John Fotheringham, of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, examine the tombstone of Niagara Falls rifleman's John Mewburn at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church. Mewburn was one of nine members of the Queen's Own who was killed during the Battle of Ridgeway on June 2, 1866.
New (November 12, 2011) gravemarker of Rifleman John Harriman Mewburn, killed at the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866

Ensign Malcolm McEachren

Ensign Malcolm McEachern, first QOR soldier to fall at the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866

“At thirty-five, he was older than the average militia volunteer. Born in Islay, Scotland and raised in Lower Canada, he came from a humble background and had originally wanted to be a minister. Born a Presbyterian, he had only recently joined the Wesleyan Methodist and was a Sunday school teacher. McEachren was married to Margaret Caroline, aged thirty-one and the couple had five children: two boys, eight and twelve, and three daughters, two, four and six years old. He was a store manager in Toronto with an annual salary of nine hundred dollars, plus free rent for the family in an apartment above the premises. McEachren was sufficiently organized to have purchased life insurance but not sufficiently wealthy to acquire more than a $250 policy – in [2005] dollars about $6,675.

Ridgeway (Vronsky) pp.61-62

He was gazetted as an Ensign March 30, 1866 and was the first to fall in the Battle of Limestone Ridge, fought against American Fenians near the town of Ridgeway in the vicinity of Fort Erie on June 2, 1866.

McEachren’s green tunic with bullet hole in the lower chest is displayed in our Museum.

Tunic of Ensign Malcolm McEcheran, first casualty of the Queen's Own Rifles at the Battle of Ridgeway (or Limeridge) June, 1866
The rededication of Malcolm McEachern's headstone in the Toronto Necropolis is shown. McEachren was Canada's first combat casualty.

Rifleman William Fairbanks Tempest

Rifleman William Fairbanks Tempest, Killed in Action at the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866.

William Tempest was born in Whitby or Oshawa on November 30, 1845, son of Dr. William Tempest and Mary H. Fairbanks.

One of his uncles was Colonel Silas B. Fairbanks, the first commanding officer of the 34th Ontario Regiment which was formed in 1866 after the Battle of Ridgeway in the Fenian Raids. Another uncle was Hugh J. Macdonell, Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the Ontario County Council. A third uncle was Duncan C. Macdonell, Division Court Clerk of Ontario County.

The family moved to Toronto in 1860 and William joined the Queen’s Own Rifles, No. 9 Company (University of Toronto). On June 2, 1866 at the age of 23, he was killed in the Battle of Ridgeway when a bullet cut his jugular vein. In the weeks before the battle, he had premonitions about his death.

Tributes were paid to him by the Ontario County Council, then in session at Whitby and all the town’s businesses were closed from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the date of his funeral in Toronto. The town bells tolled mourning and the Whitby Brass Band marched through the streets playing the Dead March. All flags on public and private buildings were at half mast. He was buried in a public funeral at St. James’ Cemetery in Toronto.

In 1873, the Federal Government granted his mother a yearly pension of $298 in compensation for his death. She died in Toronto on July 7, 1902.

Baker, Frank Nelson

Nelson Frank Baker served with the Queen's Own Rifles in Europe during the Second World War

From Derrick Gray:

“Canada just lost another of its great World War II veteran’s. RIP Grandpa, you will always be my personal hero. “

Nelson Frank Baker December 24, 1924 – April 7, 2012.
Queen’s Own Rifles (QOR), 8th Cdn Infantry Brigade, 3rd Cdn Division.

  • 1939-45 Star
  • France and Germany Star
  • Defence Medal
  • Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
  • War Medal 1939-45.

3rd Battalion at Vimy Ridge April 9, 1917

“On April 9, 1917, the famous Vimy Ridge attack took place. This had been planned and practised most carefully. The 3rd Battalion was on the extreme right of the Canadian Corps and so had the longest distance to go. Nevertheless it took its first objective on time and captured four guns, the first to be taken by Canadians. The casualties were, for World War I, light – 6 officers and 179 men. During the new few days the gains were extended to the flat country east of the ridge.”

From Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 1860-1960: One Hundred Years of Canada,
by Lieutenant Colonel W. T. Barnard, ED, CD – 1960

Major W. E. Curry of the Queen’s Own Rifles was one of the six officers killed in action on June 9th.

See also the appendices to the April War diaries – 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion for Orders and reports during the Battle for Vimy Ridge.

Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, VC

In Holland on the night of 25th-26th February 1945, the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada launched an attack on the hamlet of Mooshof, to capture ground which was considered essential for the development of future operations.

Sergeant Cosens’ platoon, with two tanks in support, attacked enemy strong points in three farm buildings, but were twice beaten back by fanatical enemy resistance and then fiercely counter-attacked, during which time the platoon suffered heavy casualties and the platoon commander was killed…

Sergeant Aubrey Cosens’ during the battle were recognized with the posthumous award of the Commonwealth’s highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross. Read more about Cosens and the full citation of this Victoria Cross here.

Read more here: The Regiment’s “Toughest Scrap” February 26, 1945  Actions on and around the 26 February, 1945 for which Sergeant Aubrey Cosens was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Researched and written by former Queen’s Own Rifleman, Colonel (retired) William C. Ball.