Wednesday, March 9, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Elgin County's Own: The 91st Battalion

The 91st Battalion colours

      It's come to my attention recently that there's a 100th anniversary coming up for Elgin County's own 91st Battalion, so I decided to make a post in honor of this amazing group of local heroes! Information is courtesy of a lovely project by James L. McCallum, which you can read in full here: and photos are thanks to Elgin County Archives.
An assembly of the battalion, including their goat mascot, outside the barracks opposite the Wilson St. Armory, St. Thomas

     Elgin County's overseas battalion was formed on 25 October 1915, a year after Great Britain declared war on Germany. 940 men were trained for service under the command of Lt.-Col. Green, and it received its colours on 24 May 1916 after a parade through St. Thomas which ended at Pinafore Park.
Marching west on Talbot Street, St. Thomas

     A month later on 25 June 1916, the battalion was dispatched overseas after a march down Talbot Street that was witnessed by a crowd of 20,000 people. They traveled by train to Halifax, where on 28 June they set sail on the ship Olympic, arriving in Liverpool, England on 5 July.
Departing for deployment at the Michigan Central Railway Station, St. Thomas
     After ten days at Otterpool Camp, the battalion was transferred to the 3rd Canadian Training Brigade and split up in order to provide reinforcement to other units that had been depleted of manpower. Meanwhile, recruiting still continued in Elgin County, and over 2,400 men from the area volunteered their service during the course of the Great War.

Some interesting tidbits:

Recruitment Article from the Aylmer Express, 10 September 1914:
Will be Tomorrow Night at 7:30 p.m.
Names are Coming in Fast.  Get Your Name in Before Tomorrow Night

Have you joined the 30th Battery?  This is the question for every able bodied man in East Elgin. This is our own militia unit and is being raised by the people of this county for the defense of our own borders. No man who values his home or his loved ones, who believes in his country or honors his King will refuse to join.  The task before our own people here in Canada and possibly in Elgin may be very serious before this war is over.  If our shores were invaded by a hostile army every man would be a soldier if he could; but he would be no use without training.  This is the point.  The time to get the training is now. The 30th Battery Canadian Field Artillery requires at once one hundred men. The battery roll is at Mr. Wm. Warnock’s office in Aylmer. The young men of East Elgin should enlist. They should do it at once.
The first recruit drill will be held at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 11. The men will form up on Talbot St. in front of the new post office. The elements of infantry drill will be taught. Every man should be on hand for the first drill.  Lt.-Col. Walter James Brown will be in charge.
So far as Canadians and Britishers are concerned military service is no longer optional.  It is a duty that no true man will shirk.  Only those who have the necessary physical qualifications will be asked to go on duty; but the obligation of working and fighting for our country is on the shoulders of every man.  No one is exempt.  Every man in Canada between 18 and 60 may be called if required.  It would be an outrage if Canadians were forced to use the ballot to fill the ranks of the militia.  Let us have volunteers.  This is your opportunity. The Canadian Militia is a home defense force, organized, trained and maintained for the defense of our own homes and loved one. Every man should be a citizen soldier.  Will you?
Presentation of the 91st Battalion colours at Canterbury Cathedral, England, 1916

Excerpt from a diary entry by Pte. John William Cracknell (from the Kingsmill area) describing the voyage of the 91st Battalion:
     We have been on the boat now about two days.  After arriving in Halifax on June 28, about midnight, we stayed on the train until morning, then we boarded about noon and started to look over the ship.  This is the sister ship to the Titanic.  Is sure some size.  It’s main measurements are 822 feet long, 72 feet wide, height 104 feet from boat deck to keel. The boat deck is the one that the lifeboats are on.  There is another deck above this with a bridge.  No doubt you will be able to form some idea of the size of it from these measurements.  There are four smoke stacks on it and everyone of them is as big as an ordinary silo.  It is about 60 feet from the boat deck to the water level and about forty feet of this canoe is below the water.  By the time we get off this boat we will not have seen one quarter of it.  There are about 7,000 men on the boat, including the crew.  I might say here that I would like to have seen her as a passenger ship. Since being turned into a troopship she has been almost completely remodelled, all the costly fittings have been torn down and all staterooms but a few to accommodate the officers.  The ship is armed, carrying a rapid-firing gun fore and aft, besides a machine gun on the corners of the boat deck.  We had our first meal of hardtack when we came on the boat.  No wonder the government wants every man to have good teeth, until you get used to these biscuits, it is like eating bricks, besides there is scarcely any taste to them...

The Battalion marching along Main Street, Rodney, 18 February 1916
     The 100th Anniversary celebration event will take place from 24-26 June in St. Thomas. Anyone with relatives who served with the 91st Battalion is urged to contact to be a part of the commemoration!

Thanks for reading, 
     Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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