Colonel George Cooper Royce VD was born 29 July 1865 in Toronto, son of Allan Royce and Sarah Jane Gilbert, and attended Jarvis Collegiate and the University of Toronto. A younger brother was a surgeon and also served in the First World War -Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Royce, MD.
After being appointed commander of the 255th in July 1916, he organized a mass public campaign to gather volunteers. The “Give Us His Name” drive called on civilians to submit the name and address of friends or relatives not yet in khaki. Royce explained, “We have a very difficult proposition before us and therefore want the assistance of every citizen.”
Rather than compulsion, Royce described the effort as “moral suasion.” Advertisements distributed in Toronto newspapers provided a coupon for readers to fill out another’s name and residence. Once the battalion office received the information, recruitment sergeants visited the man’s home to judge his fitness as a soldier. Royce reasoned if he could show a potential recruit “that fifteen or twenty of his friends think he ought to be in uniform he would have trouble refusing.”
According to the 255th Battalion’s own advertising, by January 1917, over 8,000 names had been received of which 1057 had been investigated. Of the 99 who actually agreed to join only half were determined to be physically fit. The failure of the “Give Us His Name” and similar volunteer recruitment strategies convinced many Canadian military leaders and politicians that conscription was the only method to secure critical reinforcements. The 255th sailed for England in June 1917 with less than three-hundred volunteers.
In his civilian life he was a businessman and a member of Orange Lodge No. 207.
The Royce family was very involved with electricity and would form the Davenport Street Railway which would later become the Toronto Suburban Railway Co Ltd both of which George would serve as General Manager. Later he would run the Royce Agency which represented the British Firm Ferranti in Canada, before becoming general manager in 1912 of Ferranti Electrical Company of Canada Ltd.
The Royce brothers were also first cousins of Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce fame.
Earlscourt Park, one of Toronto’s busiest parks, was originally home to the Cooper family who lived there as far back as the 1830’s, then sold to the Royce family. The house, Preston Villa, was built around 1854, and included many classical details with a distinctive regency awning (at least until 1934). It stood on a slight rise just north of Davenport, east of Caledonia Road. In 1920 Colonel Royce sold the house and the 32-acre (13-hectare) estate to the City of Toronto for a park, which had its official opening on on Saturday, October 23, 1920. Preston Villa served as a community clubhouse and park superintendent’s home over the next 35 years, before it was eventually demolished in 1955.
George Royce maintained his family’s close and longstanding connection with Davenport United Church and actively assisted with their fundraising.
- 1885 (or 1883) – Enlisted as a Rifleman with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada
- 20 Jul 1893 – 2nd Lieutenant (Provisional)
- 16 Aug 1893 – Gazetted 2nd Lieutenant
- 15 Jul 1897 – Promoted Lieutenant
- 22 Aug 1901 – Promoted Captain
- 1901 – Orderly Officer at Niagara
- 1914 – Major
- Jan – Jul 1916 – Commandant – Kapuskasing Internment Camp
- 22 Nov 1916 – Promoted Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Commanding Officer, 255th Battalion, Queen’s Own Rifles, Canadian Expeditionary Force
- 17 Aug 1917 – Struck off strength of 255th Battalion after it was broken up for reinforcements and was disbanded at the end of August
- 1917 – Awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers Decoration (V.D.)
- 18 Mar 1920 – Appointed Colonel Commandant of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada
- 12 Mar 1921 – Relinquished appointment
- Matthew K. Barrett: The Shame Monger