The 19th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), was one of 111 infantry battalions raised in the province of Ontario during the First World War.(#sdendnote1sym) Ottawa issued the order authorizing the battalion’s mobilization on 19 October 1914 and placed the unit under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel (Lt-Col) John Inglis McLaren, a businessman, politician, and militia officer from Hamilton who commanded the city’s 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders). The battalion mobilized at Toronto and recruited part of its original complement of personnel there, with the rest of the men hailing from Hamilton, Brantford, Sault Ste Marie, and St. Catharine’s. A number of militia units from these communities recruited companies of men to form the battalion, including the Queen’s Own Rifles, 48th Highlanders, 10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers), 38th Regiment, 51st Regiment (Soo Rifles), 19th (Lincoln) Regiment, 13th Royal Regiment, and the 91st Regiment. Like Lt-Col McLaren, a number of the unit’s senior officers and close to 30 % of its other ranks came from Hamilton,(#sdendnote2sym) thus laying much of the basis for the 19th Battalion’s strong association with that city and with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), the Hamilton regiment that perpetuates its legacy.
At Toronto’s Exhibition Camp the battalion assembled and conducted basic training from November 1914 to May 1915. Over half of the unit’s original strength of 1,105 non-commissioned ranks did not have any prior military service, while those that did varied considerably in the extent of their service before the war.(#sdendnote3sym)
The 19th Battalion departed Toronto by train and embarked from Montreal on 13 May 1915 aboard RMS Scandinavian. The battalion was part of Canada’s Second Contingent of units for overseas service. With recent news of the torpedoing and sinking of the RMS Lusitania fresh in everyone’s minds, all ranks were relieved to reach Plymouth Sound safely, where they disembarked on 23 May.
The battalion spent the rest of the spring and summer training at West Sandling in the region of Shorncliffe near the English Channel. They also carried out manoeuvers with the other units they would serve with on the Western Front. The 19th Battalion would form part of the 4th Infantry Brigade, along with the 18th, 20th, and 21st Battalions – all from Ontario. The 4th, 5th, and 6th Infantry Brigades, plus artillery, engineering, communications, transportation, supply, and medical units, would be organized to form the 2nd Division of the CEF.
The 19th Battalion marched to Folkestone on 14 September where they embarked for France. Landing at Boulogne in the early morning of 15 September, the men made their way inland by train and foot toward the battlefield. With the arrival of 2nd Division on the continent a new Canadian Corps was formed composed of 1st and 2nd Divisions. Later in 1916 they would be joined by 3rd and 4th Divisions.
The men of the 19th Battalion entered the trenches for the first time just east of Wulverghem in Belgium on 20-21 September. The next day casualties began trickling in, mainly due to inexperience and carelessness. In October they moved into the lines at Vierstraat. There, in even muddier and more dangerous conditions the battalion spent the next four and a half months, alternating tours of duty in the front lines with welcome periods in reserve positions.
The 19th Battalion saw action in 2nd Division’s first major operation at the St. Eloi craters in April 1916. The result was a disaster. The Canadians had relieved an exhausted British division in a series of mine craters and then suffered a devastating German counter attack before they could properly consolidate their positions. The 19th Battalion entered the crater sector on 7-8 April as part of 4th Brigade’s relief of the battered 6th Brigade. Heavy fighting ensued from 9 to 11 April, as the 19th participated in counter attacks to dislodge the Germans from the craters. Throughout the fighting Canadian efforts were hampered by inaccurate intelligence which misidentified a number of the craters and resulted in poorly-coordinated attacks that failed to achieve their objectives. Officers and men floundered from one massive shell hole and crater to another and frequently lost their way in the bewildering quagmire.
The 19th Battalion’s ordeal in the crater sector finally came to an end on 12 April as they and other 4th Brigade units were relieved by 5th Brigade. Although they had failed to eject the Germans from the craters, Lt-Col McLaren and his men had acquitted themselves bravely in conditions that some veterans rated among the worst that Canadians faced during the entire war. In the month of April, 2nd Division suffered 1,953 casualties, 125 of which (including 29 fatalities) were members of 19th Battalion. This was a hard blow for Lt-Col McLaren and his men. Unfortunately, these numbers would be dwarfed by losses in future engagements.
The next major Canadian battle occurred during June 1916 around Mount Sorrel in the southeastern portion of the Ypres Salient. From 5 to 11 June the 19th Battalion held the lines near the Ypres-Comines railway, and although they were not involved in the worst of the fighting that month their time in the trenches was difficult and deadly thanks to the German artillery. The 19th Battalion (and the rest of the Canadian Corps) also did not participate in the infamous British offensive on 1 July 1916 at the Somme, and so were spared the slaughter that occurred on that day for so many battalions. The Canadians’ role in the Battle of the Somme would come later that year, when they would be thrown into some of the heaviest fighting. Meanwhile, on 18 July a change of command occurred as Lt-Col McLaren departed the 19th Battalion for Canada to command a training brigade. Succeeding him as battalion commander was W.R. Turnbull, who had also served as McLaren’s second-in-command in the 91st Regiment before the war.
On 29 July, near the end of a marathon sixteen day tour in the lines, four officers and thirty-four other ranks from 19th Battalion executed an audacious daylight trench raid. This was the first such raid executed by the Canadians and possibly the first along the entire British front, for raiding up to that point had been carried out exclusively at night.(#sdendnote4sym) Making skilled use of the terrain in No Man’s Land, which afforded excellent cover in their sector, the raiders penetrated the German trenches just south of the Ypres-Comines Canal at 8:55 a.m. When it was over, they had killed or wounded an estimated forty to fifty Germans, gathered intelligence on the enemy positions and garrison, and destroyed two machine gun posts. In the process, the raiders incurred “slight casualties” numbering between five and eight (according to various reports).(#sdendnote5sym) Coordination with covering artillery had been excellent and the efforts of the gunners were vital to the raid’s success. By daring to raid at an unconventional time, the 19th Battalion contributed to the German view that Canadian troops were dangerously unpredictable.(#sdendnote6sym)
The 19th Battalion began moving south on 24 August to the battlefields of the Somme along with their comrades in the rest of the Canadian Corps. The battalion entered the lines on 10 September and prepared jumping-off positions for other units that would be in the leading wave of 2nd Division’s attack at Courcelette, scheduled for 15 September. During the attack itself, 19th Battalion would provide platoons to follow close behind the assault troops, mop up any remaining German resistance, and consolidate captured positions. However, the Germans nearly disrupted the entire plan with an attack of their own just hours before the Canadian advance began. It took the determined efforts of troops from the 18th, 19th, and 20th Battalions to repulse the enemy assault parties.
At 6:20 a.m. on 15 September the artillery unleashed a deadly creeping barrage ahead of the attacking infantry. Four minutes later the leading waves of 4th Brigade went over the top, followed by platoons of the 19th Battalion. Between 7:04 and 8:40 a.m., the platoon commanders reported that they had reached their assigned objectives and were digging in to secure the morning’s gains. All day they worked under intense German shell fire and around 5:00 p.m. troops of the 5th Brigade passed through their positions to continue the attack and capture what remained of the village of Courcelette.
In the early phases of this difficult day’s work, the men also observed the impact of some of the first tanks to go into action in the history of warfare. Although only two of the six tanks assigned to support the Canadians managed to advance far enough to engage and terrify the enemy, the 19th Battalion reported that the strange machines had played an important part in the attack’s success. However, the cost to the battalion for their part in this victory was high, with six officers and approximately 250 other ranks killed, wounded, or missing on 15 September. It was their first major offensive operation and one that survivors would not soon forget.
But the 19th Battalion was not finished with the Somme yet. They were ordered into action again on 28 September northeast of Courcelette, where they managed to advance around a thousand yards before being forced to dig in by increasingly heavy machine gun and artillery fire. After further patrol work, the exhausted battalion was pulled back into support positions on the night of 30 September/1 October; three nights later, they finally moved back into reserve.
In less than a month, from 10 September to 3 October, the battalion suffered an estimated loss of nineteen officers and 412 other ranks (killed, wounded, and missing).(#sdendnote7sym)
19th Battalion and the rest of 2nd Division departed the Somme battlefront and marched to the Calonne sector, northwest of the infamous Vimy Ridge, where they entered the lines on 17 October. This sector was part of the Arras-Lens front, where the Canadian Corps would concentrate after its formations left the Somme in October and November. There, they would spend the rest of the autumn and winter reinforcing their depleted ranks, holding the line, patrolling, raiding, and training for their next task – the capture of Vimy Ridge itself.
Major Lionel H. Millen took over command of the 19th Battalion from Lt-Col Turnbull, who departed on 17 December 1916, possibly due to exhaustion and ill health exacerbated by a foot wound received earlier that summer. Millen, who had moved to Canada from Britain at age seventeen, was a businessman and militia officer in Hamilton’s 91st Regiment before the war. He was an outstanding leader and would retain command of the battalion for the rest of the war.
From January through March 1917 19th Battalion carried out periods of training interspersed with tours of duty in the trenches of the Calonne and Thélus sectors. Between 27 March and 7 April the battalion conducted more intensive training exercises, practicing platoon, company, and battalion-level attacks, and participating in brigade offensive schemes. This was in preparation for the impending assault of Vimy Ridge, scheduled for 9 April. Major Harry Hatch oversaw much of the 19th Battalion’s pre-battle training, as Lt-Col Millen was in hospital owing to a flare-up of bronchitis. Hatch was another Hamilton businessman with pre-war experience as a junior officer in the 91st Regiment. Millen would return on 6 April, just in time to oversee his battalion’s final preparations for battle.
Leading off the 2nd Division’s part of the Canadian Corps’ attack on 9 April would be the 4th and 5th Brigades. Both would advance through the German-occupied area east of Neuville St. Vaast where they were to seize the first of several objective lines that were colour-coded on their maps. The 19th Battalion would be in the first wave, advancing alongside 18th Battalion. After moving through the German front and support trenches, the 19th Battalion would advance to their final objective, code-named the Black Line, which in their section of the battlefield ran along the German trench known as the Zwischen Stellung. Both 19th and 18th Battalions would halt and dig in along the Black Line while their comrades in the 21st Battalion “leapfrogged” ahead to continue the attack to the Red line, the limit of the 4th and 5th Brigades’ advance. It would be left to the division’s reserve forces, from 6th Brigade and British 13th Brigade, to take the Blue and Brown lines, the final objectives for the day.
At precisely 5:30 a.m., 9 April 1917, the artillery opened up with a stupendous roar as the infantry rose from their trenches, filed out of assembly tunnels, and trudged behind the creeping barrage across the sleet-swept No Man’s Land toward the German front line.(#sdendnote8sym) At 6:07 a.m. Lt-Col Millen received word that his men had captured their assigned portion of the Black line. While the leading brigades mopped up scattered German holdouts and cleared debris from the shattered trenches, the follow-up brigades continued the attack as scheduled, securing the division’s final objectives along the Brown Line by 1:55 p.m.(#sdendnote9sym)
Lt-Col Millen had a great deal to be proud of in the conduct of his men on 9 April. In addition to the territory they seized, the 19th Battalion captured five machine guns, five German “Fish Tail Bomb Carriers,” two light trench mortars, and at least 120 prisoners.(#sdendnote10sym) It was an outstanding morning’s work by all ranks. But the capture of the ridge and subsequent gains in follow-up actions over the next several days were achieved at considerable cost in lives. From 9 to 14 April three officers of 19th Battalion were killed or died of wounds, and six others were wounded. As for the other ranks, the grim toll was thirty-two killed, 154 wounded, and twenty-seven missing.(#sdendnote11sym)
The toll was even heavier in an exceedingly nasty action the following month, when 19th Battalion relieved the 28th and 29th Battalions in the front lines near Fresnoy. The relief was almost complete in the pre-dawn hours of 8 May when the Germans launched a ferocious artillery and infantry assault. Their chief target was the village of Fresnoy, held by British troops along the 19th Battalion’s right flank. When the British were driven back the Canadians were in serious danger of being outflanked. This forced them to withdraw part of their forces on the right. Counter attacks to restore the situation met with initial success and soon 19th Battalion was in possession of its original front line positions. Unfortunately, the neighbouring British units did not have sufficient reserves to restore the situation on their own front, and early that afternoon the 19th was forced to withdraw part of their force once again in order to link up with the British.
The butcher’s bill for this brief but horrific front line tour was eleven officers and 225 other ranks, many of whom were “killed outright with shrapnel” during several savage bombardments.(#sdendnote12sym) Included among these losses was the first significant number of prisoners taken from the battalion. Post-war records indicate that two officers and seventeen other ranks were captured by the Germans on 8-9 May. The fact that no comparably large number of men was captured from the 19th Battalion at any other time in the war testifies to the chaos, ferocity, and close-quarters nature of the fighting near Fresnoy.(#sdendnote13sym)
What remained of the battered battalion was relieved on 9 May. They spent the following weeks until 3 July in reserve, support, and quieter front line duties relieved by periods of reorganization and training. In the meantime, the Canadians would finally see one of their own, Arthur Currie (born in Strathroy Ontario), promoted to command the Canadian Corps. Currie’s first major operation as corps commander would be launched in August against Hill 70, a height of land just north of the German-occupied city of Lens.
The 19th Battalion was assigned a support role in the storming of Hill 70 on 15 August 1917. C Company, serving as “Moppers up” for the 20th Battalion, reached its objective and captured 72 prisoners and a machine gun. On 16 and 17 August elements of the 19th Battalion helped repulse determined German counter attacks, suffering their first exposure to mustard gas on the night of 17 August.
After departing the vicinity of Lens on 23 August, the 19th Battalion moved into billets for rest and training and then to various positions in and around Vimy Ridge. Later in October they entrained for Belgium, where the Canadian Corps had been ordered to take part in Second Army’s offensive efforts to seize the Passchendaele Ridge.
On 25 October the 19th Battalion marched to Potijze in Belgium where they prepared for their part in the massive offensive that had chewed up so many divisions from all over the British Empire. Their first task was to supply working parties for 4th Division, which along with 3rd Division was assigned to carry out the first two stages of a four-stage advance designed by Lt-Gen Currie to reach the corps’ final objective line beyond the village of Passchendaele. On 2 November 19th Battalion moved into the morass of the front lines and the next day the Germans attempted an attack of their own. None of the enemy managed to reach the 19th Battalion’s positions; but Millen’s men did manage to assist a neighbouring Australian battalion in retaking a portion of their own line after it had been seized by the Germans.
On 8 November, two days after other units of 2nd Division captured the smashed remnants of Passchendaele village, 19th Battalion moved up from reserve into the front lines. On 10 November, in the fourth and final phase of the Canadian advance, the 19th Battalion helped to anchor positions on the division’s right while units to their left took what remained of the Canadian objectives just beyond Passchendaele. Fortunately this was their last tour in these lines. On 12 November the 19th Battalion moved out of the Ypres Salient and back to France, reaching camp at Villers au Bois, west of Vimy, on 17 November.
Compared with periods of heavy fighting, the 19th Battalion experienced a relatively quiet winter rotating in and out of the lines from mid-December 1917 to mid-March 1918 in sectors along the Vimy-Lens front. This routine was abruptly broken by two disturbing events, one internal to the battalion and the other external. Internally, Private Harold Lodge was convicted by court martial on one count of desertion and two counts of attempted desertion. He was sentenced to death and shot by a firing squad on 13 March.(#sdendnote14sym) Externally, a grave crisis erupted for the Allied armies on the Western Front.
On 21 March the Germans launched a massive offensive designed to win the war before American military power could make a decisive impact the battlefields. By the third day of the onslaught the Germans had torn a gap in the Allied line approximately fifty miles wide and some forty miles deep, primarily in sectors occupied by formations of Britain’s Fifth Army. Divisions of General Byng’s Third Army, next to the battered Fifth, also came under heavy attack. In order to stem the German tide reinforcements were needed. 2nd Division was therefore temporarily detached from the Canadian Corps and on 28 March was attached to VI Corps in Byng’s Third Army. There they would remain for most of the next three months, holding the line against German raids and executing an aggressive series of patrols and raids of their own against German units in the Neuville Vitasse sector.
By the end of June the situation was finally stable enough for 2nd Division to return to the Canadian Corps, and July would be a month of rest from holding the line. But as August dawned, training efforts were stepped up and a series of clandestine moves to the south brought 19th Battalion and the rest of the Canadian Corps to the Fourth Army’s front to take part in the upcoming Battle of Amiens, scheduled to begin on 8 August.
At Amiens the attack was spearheaded by the Australian and Canadian Corps, and for the first time since the battle for Vimy Ridge 19th Battalion found itself in the vanguard. Holding the far left position of the Canadian battlefront, with the Australians attacking on their left flank, the men of the 19th advanced at 4:20 a.m. behind a massive creeping artillery barrage. They were also supported by tanks of the 14th Tank Battalion. Their objective was code-named the Green Line, situated 500 yards east of the village of Marcelcave and some two-and-a-half to three miles from their jumping-off positions.
After clearing out stubborn pockets of German resistance in cooperation with the Australians and other units of their own 4th Brigade, the 19th Battalion reached the Green Line at 6:55 a.m. Along the way they captured one field gun, twenty-nine machine guns, two Minenwerfers, and around 250 prisoners – the latter including a commanding officer and his staff, complete with medical officers and a chaplain. This was part of a broader pattern of success that day which saw follow up forces continue the advance into the evening hours. By then, the Canadians and Australians had punched their way into German-held territory to a distance of seven to eight miles. For General Erich Ludendorff of the German High Command, 8 August 1918 was “the black day of the German Army in the history of this war.” But for the victors the price in casualties was as grim as the territorial gains were impressive. In the 19th Battalion alone four officers were killed, seven officers were wounded, and 147 other ranks were killed, wounded, or missing.(#sdendnote15sym) Almost three quarters of the officers and over one quarter of the other ranks in the battalion’s four rifle companies became casualties that day.(#sdendnote16sym)
After an additional hard-fought action at Fransart on 16 August, the exhausted 19th Battalion moved into reserve positions at Arras on 24 August. There, the Canadians would be thrust into yet another phase of the Allied offensive. The 19th Battalion was still in reserve for the opening day of the Battle of Arras on 26 August. But the battalion would rotate into the vanguard of 4th Brigade on the following day. It was an exceedingly difficult attack, as so many follow-up operations were. There were problems with coordination of all arms and the artillery barrage was not as effective as on the previous day. Some guns fired short and caused casualties among their own infantry. The 19th moved into support for the third day of the attack on 28 August; but little headway was made against stiffening enemy resistance. Fresh units and time to reorganize were needed before further progress could be made.
At Arras the men of the 19th Battalion participated in the 2nd Division’s advance of over five miles through some of the most difficult and heavily defended territory on the Western Front. In so doing, Lt-Col Millen’s men captured nine German officers and 257 other ranks, contributing a good portion of the 4th Brigade’s estimated bag of 900 prisoners. In addition to numerous machine guns, 19th Battalion also captured an anti-tank gun which was turned over to brigade headquarters for further study.(#sdendnote17sym) The Battle of Arras was considered by Lt-Gen Currie to be “the hardest battle” in the Canadian Corps’ history,(#sdendnote18sym) and it contributed more to the 19th Battalion’s alarming body count which skyrocketed to twenty-eight officers and 486 other ranks for the month. This made August 1918 the battalion’s costliest month of the entire war.(#sdendnote19sym)
After a month of such mauling, the 19th Battalion was not back in the forefront of the action again until the second week of October, by which time other elements of the Canadian Corps had pushed through the formidable Drocourt-Quéant Line, crossed the Canal du Nord, and captured the key city of Cambrai – a vital transportation and communications hub for the German armies. As the fighting moved beyond Cambrai, the Germans fell back in an orderly retreat, pursued doggedly by the Canadians.
On the morning of 10 October, 19th Battalion attacked and captured the village of Naves, northeast of Cambrai. This was followed by further advances that day until A and B Companies had reached their objectives along the main road running from Naves to Villers en Cauchies. By evening the unit had advanced some 6,000 yards from its starting point that morning.(#sdendnote20sym)
The 19th Battalion was also instrumental in helping to repulse an unexpected German counter attack on 11 October. In combination with troops from other Canadian and British units, they faced German tanks for the first and only time in the war. During the fight, one of the officers, Lieutenant V. Crombie of C Company, found a discarded German anti-tank rifle and opened fire on the leading enemy tank (an A7V), damaging one of its treads and putting it out of action. German infantry accompanying the tanks collapsed amid a hail of Lewis gun and rifle fire and the remaining German machines circled around and headed back in the direction from which they had come. The tide irrevocably turned in the Canadians’ favor when a battery of field artillery galloped onto the scene and, in concert with Vickers guns of the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, poured a heavy close range fire into the retreating Germans.(#sdendnote21sym) Casualties in the fighting northeast of Cambrai had cost the 19th Battalion a total of four officers wounded, one officer missing, and 139 other ranks killed or wounded. This amounted to almost all of the casualties suffered by the unit during the month of October.(#sdendnote22sym)
Later, on 19 October, the 19th Battalion reached the bridgehead over the Canal de l’Escaut just north of Neuville where they found hundreds of civilians cheering enthusiastically. This was the first inhabited town that they had liberated from the enemy. Now that they were freeing masses of people who had been suffering under German occupation, some of the soldiers began to think that their own sacrifices and hardships had a purpose after all.
Lt-Col Millen took command of the 4th Brigade on 20 October, temporarily replacing Brigadier-General Eric McCuaig who had gone on leave. As he had done already on more than one occasion, Major Hatch assumed command of the 19th Battalion in Millen’s absence. As it soon proved, the war on the Western Front was in its final weeks. Allied armies, bolstered by a huge American Expeditionary Force, relentlessly followed the Germans in their steady, but still orderly retreat toward the German frontier.
19th Battalion and the rest of 2nd Division had not played a leading part in the Canadian advance since 19 October. That changed on the night of 6-7 November when 2nd Division relieved the 4th Division and took up the advance alongside 3rd Division. Both divisions were in Belgium now, proceeding to the city of Mons where British troops had fought their first battle against the Germans in 1914.
Now the 19th Battalion was fated to take part in the final Canadian action of the war. In support of 3rd Division’s entry of Mons, 19th Battalion was among the lead-off units for 2nd Division. They were ordered to advance on Mons from the south and sweep around its southeastern approaches, capturing the community of Hyon and the height of Bois la Haut. Unfortunately, German troops in the area were given strict orders to fight to the finish. At 10:45 a.m. on 10 November the 19th Battalion approached the outskirts of Hyon but was held up by heavy machine gun fire which inflicted a number of casualties. Major Hatch decided to wait until dusk before making a further attempt at getting forward. When a patrol eventually worked its way into Hyon, it found that the Germans had already evacuated. The way was clear for the Canadians to forge ahead, and both Hyon and Bois la Haut were secured by the 19th and 20th Battalions in the pre-dawn hours of 11 November.
With the outpost line of 4th Brigade secure along the road to the east of Mons, 19th Battalion made its formal entry into Hyon at 7 a.m. An hour later word reached them that 6th Brigade would pass through their positions to resume the advance. But even more momentously, it was also announced that an armistice had been signed and that hostilities would cease at 11:00 a.m. that day. For the men of the 19th Battalion, the fighting was over and they had paid the price of victory with blood. During the war’s final full day they sustained a total of 52 casualties, including three officers and nine other ranks killed and one officer and two other ranks who later died of their wounds.(#sdendnote23sym)
Although the fighting was suspended, the war technically was not over until the signing of a formal peace treaty. In the meantime, 19th Battalion, along with the rest of 1st and 2nd Divisions, participated in the Allied occupation of a number of bridgeheads in Germany along the eastern bank of the Rhine River. After Lt-Col Millen returned from brigade headquarters and resumed his command, the 19th Battalion crossed the Rhine at Bonn on 13 December and took up patrol stations in the area of Siegburg and Neunkirchen. There they remained until 20 January 1919.
The decision to withdraw the Canadians from occupation duties was a welcome one, for the men were anxious to return home. But repatriating Canada’s overseas forces would take time due to issues involving shipping, rail transport capacity in Canada, and a host of economic and administrative concerns.(#sdendnote24sym) After a sojourn in Belgium, the 19th Battalion embarked from Le Havre on 5 April and crossed the Channel to England where they stayed at Witley Camp. Medical and record office parades ensured that the affairs of all ranks were in order before their eventual return to Canada. Leave was granted liberally and five officers and two hundred other ranks represented the battalion in a great victory parade of troops from all over the Empire that was held in London on 3 May.
Finally, on 13 May the 19th Battalion proceeded by train to Liverpool where they boarded RMS Caronia along with the other units of 4th Brigade – their destination: Halifax. By sheer coincidence it was on 13 May four years earlier that they had shipped out of Montreal for England. When they disembarked at Halifax on 22 May, the battalions were loaded onto trains bound for Ontario: the 19th and 20th Battalions to Toronto; the 18th Battalion to London; and the 21st Battalion to Kingston. When the 19th Battalion reached Toronto on 24 May 1919, the men formed up and marched along streets lined with cheering crowds to Varsity Stadium for their final assembly and dispersal.
Prominent among the sea of familiar faces were former 19th Battalion commanders John I. McLaren and W.R. Turnbull. It was especially gratifying for these men to witness the return of their old unit after it had performed so well on the grim battlefields of France and Flanders. Accolades were received by Lt-Col Millen and Major Hatch, both of whom had rendered sterling service in command of the battalion through many of the toughest battles of the war.(#sdendnote25sym)
With demobilization the 19th Battalion effectively ceased to exist as an operational unit in May 1919. However, its disbandment would not be proclaimed officially until 15 September 1920, four years to the day after its members went over the top in their first major attack at Courcelette, and exactly five years after they landed in France.(#sdendnote26sym) In all, the battalion earned 18 Battle Honours in operations stretching from spring 1916 to the end of the war. Ten of these honours were selected for emblazonment on the colours of the regiment perpetuating 19th Battalion’s legacy, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s).(#sdendnote27sym)
From mobilization in 1914 to demobilization in 1919, 118 officers and between 4,731 and 5,004 other ranks passed through the 19th Battalion.(#sdendnote28sym) Of these men, 3,076 were casualties, including 737 fatalities (all ranks).(#sdendnote29sym) Commenting on this remarkable turnover, battalion veteran R.H. (Harry) Neil later declared, “[T]he battalion had changed over in personnel, almost four and one half times…But one thing had not changed – it was the same old 19th.”(#sdendnote30sym)
While Neil’s sentiment is understandable, in fact much had changed since the 19th Battalion first assembled in Toronto in 1914. Experience and training had transformed its personnel from amateur volunteers into battle-hardened professionals. It is highly unlikely that the unit that landed in France in 1915 would have performed as effectively during the Hundred Days as did the battalion that had come through the crucible of St. Eloi, the Somme, Vimy, Hill 70, and Passchendaele. New reinforcements were brought up to speed by rigorous training as well as by cadres of veteran officers and other ranks that served long enough to impart their skills, knowledge, and unit culture to newcomers. These factors helped maintain the battalion’s efficiency and much of its social dynamic, even when many of the faces of its personnel changed.
Dr David Campbell, Mount Saint Vincent University
1Please Note: Information in this summary account has been taken primarily from the official war diary of the 19th Battalion which is cited below among additional sources of information. For passages in the text of this summary that do not feature specific source citations it may be assumed that the information was drawn from the daily descriptions in the war diary. John F. Meek, Over the Top! The Canadian Infantry in the First World War (Privately printed, 1971), 168-171; Paul Maroney, “‘The Great Adventure’: The Context and Ideology of Recruiting in Ontario, 1194-17,” The Canadian Historical Review, 77:1 (March 1996): 63, note 6.
2 According to the battalion’s war diary, of 1117 other ranks originally contributed by the militia units that assembled drafts of men to serve in 19th Battalion, 305 (or 27.3 %) came from Hamilton’s 13th Royal Regiment and the 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders). Library and Archives Canada (hereafter LAC), Record Group (hereafter RG) 9, III-D-3, Vol. 4926, War Diary, 19th Battalion, 6 November 1914 – 31 January 1915, Diary text, 6 November 1914 (hereafter War Diary, 19th Battalion, date); LAC, RG 9, III-D-1, Vol. 4692, Folder 51, File 11, “19th Canadian Battalion, Digest of Service;” LAC, RG 9, II-B-3, Vol. 79, 19th Battalion, Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men, issued with Militia Orders, 1915 (hereafter 19th Battalion, Nominal Roll).According to a contemporary article in the press, “33 per cent of the rank and file” of the 19th Battalion hailed from Hamilton. “Toronto furnished 50 per cent of the strength, and the balance came from Brantford, St. Catharines and Sault Ste. Marie.” Archives of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) (hereafter, ASH), large bound volume of papers and clippings belonging to W.R. Turnbull (hereafter Turnbull papers), newspaper clipping, paper and date unknown, article on departure overseas of the 19th Battalion. These numbers are hard to verify, given the difficulty of establishing with certainty every man’s place of residence at the time of enlisting. Upon attesting in 1914 and 1915, each man was requested to state his place of birth and the identity and address of his next of kin, but these would not have corresponded necessarily with his place of residence at that time. Some attestation forms, which appear to have come into use later in the war, did request information on each man’s current address. For sample specimens of both types of attestation forms, see the listing for Private Albert Gladstone Ghent, Regimental Number 55080, in the on-line database, “Soldiers of the First World War,” Library and Archives Canada, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=419027
3 19th Battalion, Nominal Roll.
4 Major J.A. Cooper, History of Operations of 4^th^Canadian Infantry Brigade, 1915-1919 (London: Charles and Son, n.d.), 13.
5 Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919: The Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962), p. 154; LAC, RG 9, III-C-3, Vol. 4116, Folder 4, File 7, “Typical Trench Raids Carried Out by Canadian Corps July 1st to August 20th 1916;” LAC, RG 9, III-D-1, Vol. 4692, Folder 51, File 15, “Report on Raiding Operation Carried Out by the 19th Canadian Battalion, 29th July, 1916,” by Major F. Logie Armstrong for GOC, 4th Infantry Brigade, 30 July 1916; LAC, RG 9, III-D-1, Vol. 4692, Folder 51, File 15, “Report on Raid by 19th Battalion, 29th July 1916,” by Lieutenant-Colonel W.R. Turnbull, 30 July 1916. Neither Turnbull’s nor Armstrong’s reports provide a precise number of casualties. Turnbull refers to “some casualties – mostly slight…” Canadian Corps headquarters’ summary of operations for the period 28 July to 3 August 1916 states that two officers and three other ranks were wounded in the raid, while a 1919 article in the Hamilton Spectator claimed that a total of eight casualties were sustained by the raiding party. LAC, RG 9, III-D-3, Vol. 4813, War Diary, Canadian Corps Headquarters, August 1916, Appendix III/2, “Canadian Corps, Summary of Operations, July 28th to August 3rd 1916;” “19th Battalion Put On Famous Daylight Raid,” Hamilton Spectator, 23 May 1919. An unsigned and undated report on the raid, possibly drafted by Lieutenant-Colonel Turnbull, also states that the raiders suffered eight casualties. Turnbull Papers, large volume, “Report of Raiding Operations carried out by the 19th Canadian Battalion, July 29th 1916.”
6 LAC, RG 41, B-III-1, Records of the CBC, Flanders Fields, Vol. 10, 19th Battalion, Transcript of interview with E. Youngman, Tape 3, p. 2.
7 War Diary, 19th Battalion, 16-19 September, 3 October 1916; LAC, RG 150, Vols. 491-494, “Casualties By Days – France and Belgium,” 19th Battalion.
8 War Diary, 19th Battalion, 9 April 1917; ibid., April 1917, Appendix 2, Field message from Major H.D. Fearman to all units, 8 April 1917.
9 Ibid., 9 April, 1917; Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, p. 254; LAC, RG 9, III-D-3, Vol. 4881, War Diary, 4th Infantry Brigade, April 1917, Diary text, 9 April 1917; LAC, RG 9, III-D-3, Vol. 4889, War Diary, 6th Infantry Brigade, April 1917, Appendix 10a, “6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, Narrative of Offensive Operations on 9th and 10th April 1917;” David Campbell, “A ‘Most Spectacular Battle’: 2nd Canadian Division and the Battle of Vimy Ridge,” in Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment, edited by Geoff Hayes, Andrew Iarocci, Mike Bechthold (Waterloo, Ontario: Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, 2007), pp. 171-191.
10 “Fish tail” was the Canadian nickname for a type of German mortar projectile. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, pp. 256-257; War Diary, 19th Battalion, 9 April 1917; War Diary, 4th Infantry Brigade, 9 April 1917. From 9-14 April, the Canadian Corps would advance 4,500 yards, capture more than 4,000 prisoners, and seize 54 guns, 104 trench mortars, and 124 machine guns. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, p. 265.
11 War Diary, 19th Battalion, 14 April 1917; ibid., April 1917, Appendix 5, Field message, 13 April 1917.
12 War Diary, 19th Battalion, May 1917, Appendix 2, Report by Major H.D. Fearman, “19th Canadian Battalion, On the Left of Fresnoy, May 8th, 9th, & 10th, 1917.”
13 LAC, RG 150, Vol. 496, “Casualties By Days – France and Belgium,” 19th Battalion, May 1917.
14 For a comprehensive examination of executions in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, see A.B. Godefroy, For Freedom and Honour? The Story of the 25 Canadian Volunteers Executed in the First World War (Nepean: CEF Books, 1998); Teresa Iacobelli, Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014).
15 War Diary, 19th Battalion, 8 August 1918.
16 This calculation is based on an estimation of the strength of D Company, which is not provided in the 19th Battalion war diary text on 8 August. Along the battalion front, C Company struck out on the right, with four officers and 138 other ranks under the command of Lieutenant A.P. Fletcher. A Company held the centre, with its four officers and 129 other ranks led by Lieutenant W.S. Herbert. Finally, four officers and 124 other ranks of B Company, commanded by Captain G.H. Applegath, took up the advance along the left. Behind them, waiting in reserve, was D Company under Lieutenant T.A. Allan. Based on the strengths given for the other three companies, we may estimate that D Company advanced with four officers and around 130 other ranks. War Diary, 19th Battalion, 8 August 1918.
17 War Diary, 19th Battalion, 26-28 August 1918; ibid., August 1918, Appendix 6, “Operations by the 19th Canadian Battalion, August 25th – 29th, 1918.”
18 Lieutenant-General Sir A.W. Currie, “Interim Report on the Operations of the Canadian Corps during the Year 1918,” in Report of the Ministry, Overseas Military Forces of Canada, 1918 (London: Minister, Overseas Military Forces of Canada, n.d.), p. 144.
19 During its tour at Arras, the 19th Battalion lost five officers killed, seven wounded, and one gassed. Among the other ranks, there were 25 killed, 180 wounded, 26 gassed, 40 missing, and one wounded and missing. War Diary, 19th Battalion, August 1918, Appendix 6, “Operations by the 19th Canadian Battalion, August 25th – 29th, 1918.” For the month as a whole, nine officers were killed, 18 wounded, and one gassed. As for the other ranks the breakdown was as follows: 56 killed; 29 died of wounds; 346 wounded; 31 gassed; 24 missing. War Diary, 19th Battalion, August 1918, Diary text, casualty statistics.
20 War Diary, 19th Battalion, October 1918, Appendix 1, “Report on Recent Operations, Oct 7th to Oct 13th;” ibid., field message from A and B Companies, timed 19:45, 10 October 1918; War Diary, 4th Infantry Brigade, October 1918, Appendix 8, “Report on Operations, Cambrai – Iwuy;” War Diary, 19th Battalion, October 1918, Appendix 1, field message from A and B Companies, timed 19:45, 10 October 1918; Michael R. McNorgan, “‘My God, look at them houses moving!’ Combined Arms Action at Iwuy, 10-11 October 1918,” in Donald E. Graves, ed., More Fighting For Canada: Five Battles, 1760-1944 (Toronto: Robin Brass, 2004), pp. 214-215.
21 War Diary, 19th Battalion, October 1918, Appendix 1, “Report on Recent Operations, Oct 7th to Oct 13th;” McNorgan, “Combined Arms Action at Iwuy,” p. 232; Bruce Cane, It Made You Think of Home, The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, Canadian Expeditionary Force: 1916-1919 (Toronto: Dundurn, 2004), p. 265; LAC, Manuscript Group 30, E 6, Sir Henry Burstall Papers, Vol. 3, File 21, Major-General H.E. Burstall, “2nd Canadian Division, Narrative of Operations from March 13th to Nov. 11th, 1918,” p. 54 (hereafter, Burstall, “2nd Division Narrative”).
22 War Diary, 19th Battalion, October 1918, Appendix 1, “Report on Recent Operations, Oct 7th to Oct 13th;” RG 150, Vol. 502, “Casualties By Days – France and Belgium,” 19th Battalion, October 1918.
23 Numbers derived from Part II Orders located in, LAC, RG 150, Vol. 71, File titled “19th Canadian Battalion (Part 4). The three officers killed in action on 10 November were Captain M.C. Roberts, Lieutenant C.E.G. Robertson, and Lieutenant W.C. McFaul. In addition, Lieutenant W.W. Copeland was wounded in action on the same date, but died of his injuries on 23 December. The other ranks killed in action on 10 November were: 3231310 Private J.C. Buttimer; 3107824 Private W. Chowns; 507414 Private P.J. Cronin; 2537338 Private W. Curry; 124752 Private W. Hales; 3032285 Private H. Howard; 3032328 Private C. Jennings; 3132565 Private G. Shewfelt; 124732 Corporal J.A. Simon. Two more other ranks, 3032675 Private J.S. Malzard and 799377 Sergeant A. Craig, died of wounds received in action on 10 November. See also the daily casualty statistics in LAC, RG 150, Vol. 503, “Casualties By Days – France and Belgium,” 19th Battalion, November 1918.
24 See Desmond Morton, “‘Kicking and Complaining’: Demobilization Riots in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1918-19,” Canadian Historical Review LXI:3 (1980): 334-360.
25 Members of Hamilton’s 91st Regiment were especially proud of the fact that formal command of the 19th Battalion had remained with one of their own for virtually the entirety of the unit’s existence. The only exception to this was a period in August and September 1916 when Major G.F. Morrison of Toronto assumed temporary command of the battalion while Lt-Col Turnbull recovered from his wound. “Lights of Home for Heroes of 19th Battalion,” Hamilton Spectator, Monday, 26 May 1919.
26 According to the Department of Militia and Defence, the 19th Battalion was “officially disbanded, vide General Order No. 149 of the 15th September, 1920.” LAC, RG 24, C-1, Vol. 1518, File HQ 683-35-5, memo from Department of Militia and Defence, 14 October 1920.
27 Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada trace their origins to Hamilton’s 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders), the Militia unit that contributed numerous recruits to the 19th Battalion, as well as much of its cadre of senior officers. The Argylls also perpetuate the 173rd Battalion and the 3rd Canadian Machine Gun Battalion, both of the CEF. Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence, Kardex 145.2A3 (D1), “The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), R.C.I.C. Organization, Perpetuations and Battle Honours.”
28 The figure of 4,731 other ranks was cited in the following sources: LAC, RG 24, C-6-e, Vol. 1821, File GAQ 5-16, “Comparative Statement Showing the Number of Other Ranks Passed Through the Fighting Battalions of the Canadian Corps,” dated April 1924; LAC, RG 24, C-6-d, Vol. 1884, File 58, “Notes on Units, Arms and Services of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Which Served in France and Flanders” (Compiled by W. Davidson, Historical Section, Ottawa). The figures of 118 officers and 5,004 other ranks were derived from Canadian War Museum Archive, 19740071-020 58C 2 3.16, 19th Canadian Infantry Battalion Association, “First World War, 1914-1919: Composition of 19th Battalion, C.E.F., Original and Reinforcements,” compiled by H. “Barney” Clendining, “with the help of the Historical Section of Army Headquarters, Ottawa, and the D.V.A. Toronto.” Clendining lists numbers of original and reinforcement personnel and the different units that contributed them. He claims a total figure of 5,143 all ranks for the 19th Battalion. However, when the numbers in his list are added up, the total actually works out to be 5,122 all ranks. Without knowing the exact methodology through which the figures in the preceding sources were derived, it is difficult to determine which is the most accurate.
29 These numbers include prisoners of war, self-inflicted wounds, and injuries and accidental wounds. LAC, RG 150, Vol. 504, “Casualties, France and Belgium – Recapitulation,” 19th Battalion. The souvenir programme for the 19th Battalion Association’s Golden Jubilee dinner claims that 785 officers and men of the 19th Battalion were killed in action or died of wounds.
30 ASH, RG 4, Series 3, World War 1, Ted Lang Donation, “A Brief History of the 19th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-18,” by R.H. (Harry) Neil, Q.C., Hon. President.