Always First
Okanagan Military Museum
Kelowna, British Columbia

02) Great War 1914 -1918

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02) The Great War 1914 -1918
- Declaration
- Lt. Col. Bott's offer
- Mobilization of the 2nd CMRs
- Aid to Civil power
- Onto England
- Fighting as Infantry
- Lt. Col. "Whizzbang" Johnston
- Vimy Ridge
- Battle Honours

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30th BCH on parade at start of World War I.
1914
Vernon, BC, Canada


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News that Great Britain had declared war on Germany and entered the European conflict early in August 1914 electrified the British Empire. In Canada, where much of the English speaking population had been born in Britain, the call to arms produced a flood of young men anxious "To Serve King and Country."

It is difficult today to understand their eagerness to get into the fray. We have the benefit of hindsight. The conflicts of the late 19th Century had been brief, colonial affairs and relatively bloodless. There was great pride in the British Empire and Canada's place within it. Men were eager to take part in the great adventure before it was over. Everyone, including the military authorities, were completely unprepared for the carnage that was to be unleashed in the form of death by attrition in the muddy trenches of France and Flanders.

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Mobilization Camp at Vernon.
1915
Vernon, BC, Canada


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Responding to the call the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 30th BCH, Lt. Col. J.C.L. Bott pressed officials in Ottawa for orders to send the regiment overseas immediately. The early weeks of the war, however, demonstrated clearly that Infantry in trenches, and not Cavalry, would be the main tactical weapon in the age of heavy artillery and machine guns. Bott's request was refused and the regiment did not form a part of the first Canadian Division sent overseas, although a draft of men under Lt. Bell left the unit for Valcartier, Quebec, to join as independant soldiers.

Throughout the fall of 1914 the 30th BCH remained in the Okanagan, and the men became increasingly impatient. Some indeed transferred to mobilized Infantry units in the hope of seeing action sooner. The remainder concentrated at Camp Vernon where they trained hard, but waited.

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Canadian Army Concentration Camp on Mission Hill.
1915



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On Nov. 5, 1914 Britain declared war on Turkey, arousing hopes that there might be a need for Cavalry in the Middle East. Shortly thereafter, military officials in Ottawa authorized the formation of the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, with Lt. Col. Bott as CO. It was one of four Cavalry units raised for the Second Division. The new regiment became popularily known as the 2nd CMRs and Okanagan men flocked to it.

The 2nd CMRs were an amalgamation of the volunteers from the 30th BCH and the Victoria Independant Squadron of Horse (VIS), another Militia unit formed shortly before the war on southern Vancouver Island.

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Badge of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles.
1914

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This was the bronze shoulder title worn by the 2nd CMRs.
1914



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Horse lines at the Vernon Armoury during summer camp.
1916
Vernon, BC, Canada


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The uniforms of the 30th BCH.
1916
Vernon, BC, Canada
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Squadrons of the 30th BC Horse leave Vernon.
4 December 1914
Canadian National Railways Station, Vernon, BC, Canada
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The former 30th BCH Cadet, Albert Harwood.
November, 1915
Probably Vernon, BC, Canada
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Brothers in arms in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, (2nd CMRs).
1915
Probably Vernon, BC, Canada


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2nd CMRs on a 'Princess' ferry going to Vancouver Island.
December, 1914
Probably Vancouver, BC, Canada


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Staff of the 2nd CMRs at Willows Camp, at the Victoria exhibition grounds.
1915
Victoria, BC, Canada


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The Okanagan unit contributed officers and men for Headquarters (HQ) and two full strength squadrons while the VIS contributed the third squadron for a total of 544 all ranks. The 30th BCH continued to exist as a Militia unit throughout the war. It provided reinforcement drafts for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and guarded the German, Eastern European "Illegal Aliens" and Prisoners of War (POWs) interned in a camp established in the Vernon area late in 1914.

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2nd CMRs marching in the mud at the exhibition grounds converted in Willows Camp.
December, 1914
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada


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The 2nd CMRs remained in tents in Victoria throughout the winter of 1914/15. They traded in the colourful uniforms of the 30th BCH for the khaki tunics, breeches and putties. However, they continued to be organized and to train as cavalry.

Early in May 1915 the monotony of training was broken when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British liner SS Lusitania off the Irish coast. There was great loss of civilian life, including one James Dunsmuir of the Vancouver Island mining dynasty, who had resigned his commission in the 2nd CMRs to enlist in a British regiment. The sinking infuriated the people of Victoria such that some of them vandalized premises belonging to or patronized by, those of German descent. Mounted patrols from the 2nd CMRs soon restored order and calm in the city.

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The 2nd CMRs march past during a Brigade inspection.
1 January 1915
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada
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2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles commanded by Lt. Col. Bott.
1 January 1915
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada
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Men and horses take a break during training.
1915
Probably Victoria, BC, Canada


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The men get some rest too.
1915
Near Sidney, BC, Canada


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Kit and tack is laid out in standard fashion when in the field overnight.
1915
Near Sidney, BC, Canada


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Horse and rider drills.
1915
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada


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Tpr G. Scott's horse, Hayseed, all brushed up.
1915
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada


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'Daddy' Dunbar on his fine steed.
1915
Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada


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A good rider sits up straight in the saddle.
1915
Near Mount Tolmie, Victoria, BC, Canada
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There is time to attend family gatherings for Trooper Gilling Scott and and friends.
1915
Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada


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The 2nd CMRs pack up their kit.
1915
Willows Camp, Victoria, BC, Canada
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Finally in June 1915 the regiment left Victoria by boat to catch a train to Montreal, then a ship to England. They were sent to a large camp near Shorncliffe called Ceasar's Camp, where they trained until September 1915 when they were ordered to the front in Flanders. Training in England was ambiguous as if to underline the uncertainty surrounding the role that the regiment would play. Still considered a cavalry unit horses and saddles were issued to it, although both never seemed to be available at the same time.

When the 2nd CMRs were committed to battle, it was as infantry. In December 1915 after some months on the Western Front, the regiment was formally reorganized as an infantry unit with four companies instead of three squadrons. The men marked the occassion by burying their spurs in a field near the Front.

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2nd CMR troops waiting to disembark from the coastal ferry, Princess Alice, at Vancouver.
5 June 1915
Vancouver, BC, Canada


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Last minute socializing before catching train for Montreal and Europe.
5 June 1915
Vancouver, BC, Canada


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A Canadian Pacific Railway train carries the 2nd CMRs eastwards.
June, 1915
Vancouver, BC, Canada


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Troops take a break while train is serviced.
June, 1915



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2nd CMR taking a break enroute to Montreal.
8 June 1915
Sewell, Manitoba, Canada


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One of our escorts.
June, 1915
North Atlantic
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One of the many camps that Canadian troops trained at prior to service in the front lines.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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Another view of the camp.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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Life in camp with Ceasar Hill in background.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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Horse line in the camp.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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One of the camp fatiques or chores was cleaning out the horse lines.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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A close up view of the work.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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2 Troop of 'C' Squadron, 2nd CMRs work through the never ending bayonet drill.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK


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Some of the Vancouver Island lads.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK
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A close shave.
1915
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England, UK
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Hurry up and wait. This time its the beach at Folkstone.
1915
Folkstone, England, UK


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Goofing around at the beach.
1915
Folkstone, England, UK


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Buddies before battle.
June, 1916
Ceasar's Camp, Shorncliffe, England ??
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Inside of a greeting card sent home by Pte. Gilling Scott.
December, 1916



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The regiment was engaged continuously in the major battles of the Western Front until the Armistice November 11, 1918, principally with the 8th Brigade within the 3rd Division of the Canadian Corps.

During the last two years of the war, the regiment was under the command of Lt. Col. G.C. "Whizzbang" Johnston of Vernon. A "Whizzbang" was a type of German low-trajectory shell that made a whizz in flight and a bang on impact. Its bark was worse than its bite. He received the nickname from the weapon. His edited diary entitled "The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (BC Horse) in France and Flanders" was published in 1932. It provides a graphic account of the many engagements in which the regiment took part, along with lists of casualties.

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German dead.
October, 1916
Somewhere in France
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Typical crater.
1918
Somewhere in France
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Souvenir postcard.
1917

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German trenches and dugouts captured by Canadians.
1918
Somewhere in France
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Results of an artillery barrage.
1918
Somewhere in France
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Field artillery used by the Allies.
1918
Somewhere in France
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Lt. W C Warren at a General hospital.
1916
No. 20 General Hospital, Camiers, France
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Pte. Frank Bull
1917
Somewhere in France


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Another example of postcard souvenir products for mailing home.
1917



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2nd CMRs marching somewhere in France.
1916
Somewhere in France


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Aside from his literary talents, he demonstrated ingenuity by improving the performance of the Lee-Enfield rifle as a grenade thrower. The German rifle grenade consistently out distanced the allied rifle grenades giving them an advantage in close combat. Johnston decided to shorten the barrel of the issued Lee-Enfield .303 rifle as he thought it was too long for grenade launching properly. Cutting it down to 11 inches doubled the range of the rifle grenade.

This discovery impressed Lt. General Sir Julian Byng, the Canadian Corps Commander who was busy planning the attack on Vimy Ridge, that soon every rifle grenade section had shortened their barrels.

Under Johnston's command and after two months of intense preparations, the 2nd CMRs took three lines of trenches and secured the centre of the Corp's objective in only 30 minutes on the morning of April 9, 1917. The ground taken by the regiment is just south of the location of the Vimy Memorial that stands upon the Ridge today.

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When duties allowed, soldiers from BC participated in the provincial election of 1916.
1916
Somewhere in France


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Char Renualt FT 17.
1918
Somewhere in France
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J. MacGregor at investiture
1918
Buckingham Palace, London, England, UK


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These are typical of the enemy guns.
1918
Somewhere in France
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The battle honours won by the regiment in the First World War were emblazoned on the Rgimental Colours and included: Mount Sorrel, Fler-Coucelette, Arras 1917-1918, Hill 70, Passchendeale, Scarpe 1918, Cana du Nord, Somme 1916, Ancre Heights, Vimy 1917, Ypres 1917, Amiens, Cambrai 1918, Pursuit to Mons, and France and Flanders 1915-1918. The price in blood for these honours was high.

As casualties mounted, reinforcements from other parts of Western Canada and Ontario filled the gaps left by the dead and wounded. Still, the major element in the unit was British Columbian. More than 4,500 men served in the 2nd CMRs during the Great War. Of those, 732 were killed and 2,276 were wounded. Seven became Prisoners of War. This makes a total causalty rate of 67%.

Two members won the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for Bravery in the British Empire. Major G. R. Pearkes won one while serving with the 5th CMRs in Passchendeale and Capt. J. "Jock" MacGregor won his at Nueville-Remy in 1918. In all, the men of the 2nd CMRs received 278 decorations by war's end. Following Armistice, the regiment returned to England and in March 1919 arrived in Victoria where they received a deservedly triumphant welcome home.

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Next chapter: Between the Wars 1919 to 1939
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