Part 2 – RNWMP Authorized To Form Cavalry Draft

Photograph of RNWMP Commissioner Bowen Perry (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

 

 

 

Since 1917, Commissioner Bowen Perry  had continued to promote the suggestion that the members of the Force should be permitted to form and send a cavalry regiment to the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

For many months, Commissioner Perry had “been agitating for an opportunity to show their mettle in actual warfare” and “made all sorts of proposals to the government, from the joining as mounted rifle or cavalry regiments for work in France, to the raising of squadrons of horse for work in Mesopotamia or Palestine.”[1]

Finally on April 6, 1918, the Canadian government announced their approval for the RNWMP to commence the recruiting for a Cavalry Draft to be sent to the western front. This draft would consist of Force members and individuals recruited from Western Canada.

This government announcement was reported in the Regina Leader on April 13, 1918:

Order From Ottawa Permits R.N.W.M.P. To enlist For Cavalry Service OverseasA special order has come from Ottawa to the Mounted Police authorities permitting the members of the Force to enlist in the cavalry for service overseas.  The men, it was stated, will be enrolled in the cavalry and attached for the present to the Fort Garry Horse Depot at Winnipeg.

The men are being called in from various detachments and will all be examined at the depots throughout the west, after which those it for active service as troopers will be sent to Winnipeg.

Some of the prominent citizens of Regina got in touch with the Ottawa authorities to try to effect what is believed to be the general desire of every westerner the preservation of the identity of the Fore as a unit in the fighting  lines, it was suggested that should not be enough men of the fore available to form a complete unit that men be enlisted right away in the cavalry division and attached to the force, thus enabling it to go overseas at full strength and with a special mark of distinction, in order to preserve at least some of the sentiment which has surrounded the famous body of men during the past 35 years in the northwest.

On April 13, 1918, Commissioner Bowen Perry and Assistant Commissioner James Wilson (O.64) announced their premature retirement in protest against the government decision not to form a RNWMP regiment.  Instead the government would send the cavalry draft members to backfill various Canadian cavalry regiments on the western front.

These sudden retirements were reported in Regina’s Morning Leader on April 15, 1918:

Both Commissioner Perry and Assist. Commissioner Wilson of R.N.W.M.P. Have Resigned: Commissioner Wired Resignation To Ottawa On Wednesday And Notified Staff Later – Understand action was taken because famous Riders are not being sent overseas as unit.

Over a year ago, the Force was offered as a unit by the federal government, and accepted by the British authorities.  Red tape, of the government variety, it is said was responsible for dilly-dallying and the change in the pre-arranged plans.

Tuesday last advice came from Ottawa that the men of the Force would be taken as a cavalry draft and would be attached to some cavalry depot, mostly likely the Fort Garry Horse at Winnipeg.  This advice precipitated the resignation of Commissioner Perry on Wednesday announcement of which was withheld on request, in order to get further information from Ottawa.”

Two days later on April 15, 1918, the Winnipeg Free Press published the following article:

SPLENDID RESPONSE OF POLICE TO CALL, MUCH APPRECIATEDHon. N.W. Rowell, president of the privy council, who administers the Royal North West Mounted Police, made the following statement tonight in reference to the proposal to send overseas a North West Mounted Police unit: –

‘In view of the necessity of additional cavalry reinforcements for the Canadian cavalry brigade, now operating in France, the comptroller of the North West Mounted Police was asked if the members’ of the force would care to volunteer for service in the cavalry and proceed overseas at once.  The members of the force have responded splendidly to the call, and practically the whole force of officers and men offered to enlist and serve their country at the present critical time.  This splendid response has been much appreciated.  While the government would like to send the force as a distinct unit, to be known as N.W.M.P. regiment, the overseas minister of militia has advised the government that while another distinct cavalry unit is not required, it is necessary that the existing Canadian cavalry forces should be maintained at full strength.  As a consequences the government has not so far been able to make an arrangement whereby the Mounted Police should proceed overseas for the existing cavalry units; but if the matter can be arranged the government will be glad to do so.’

A Regina dispatch contained the suggestion that Commissioner Perry, of the North West Mounted Police, had resigned because of a difference of opinion with the government as to the desirability of sending the force overseas.  Mr. Rowell made no comment as to this report.

On the same date, the Regina Leader newspaper published the following article:

Mounted Police Barracks May Go To Military Use: One of the expected results from Disbandment of Famous Force – Speculation has been rife among military men in the city during the past few days with regards to the Mounted Police being sent to Winnipeg as a draft for the Fort Garry Horse, said has given rise to rumours which, to some degree are based on reasonable foundation.

One of the most persistent of such in the disposition of the barracks of the Mounted Police force, and dame rumor says this will become the headquarters  of the military district.  Military men here know little or nothing about it and state it is but a rumor, but admit it would make a splendid headquarters for this district, where splendid barracks would be at the disposal of the men recruited, and also room might be found for more of the divisions of the military establishment may now located in quarters I the city.

Persons in the city in close touch with the government at Ottawa states on Saturday, following the public announcement of the resignation of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner, that the federal authorities would, in a very short time, announce that the Dominion headquarters of the Mounted Police would be turned over as a military barracks for the troops for District #12.”

Without much announcement, Commissioner Perry and Assistant Commissioner James Wilson both withdrew their retirement announcements.  It would appear that the government provided a commitment to push for the establishment of  a RNWMP Squadron to serve on the western front.

On May 3, 1918, Brigade General R. Gwynne (for the Adjutant General in Ottawa)  forwarded the following message to the Officer Commanding Military District #12.  In the covering letter stated – “the General Officer Commanding, Canadian, in France, has arranged to accept a complete squadron of the R.N.W.M.P as a unit in the Canadian Corps” and would later be known as “A” Squadron RNWMP.

CEF telegraph acknowledging the creation of a RNWMP squadron (Source of document - Donald Klancher).

RECRUITING FOR CAVALRY DRAFT

May 1918 - Photograph of Cavalry Draft RNWMP tents at "Depot" barracks in Regina (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

On April 16, 1918, the Commissioner’s office received a written notice from Lt. Colonel J.M. Haye (Officer Command District #12 – Saskatchewan) stating:

“A communication received from Militia Headquarters states as follows: –

The Royal North West Mounted Police are authorized to raise a cavalry draft up to about 400 hundred men with officers from the Royal North West Mounted Police.  Assist and co-operate to full extend but do not interfere in interior economy they will need special help with documents.’

The recruiting for the draft commenced on 18th April 1918. “Immediately it became known that the Force was to send a representation, presumably as a Unit, there was a great rush of recruits from all parts of the west.[2]

Recruiting notices were posted at all RNWMP offices and in many newspapers.  One such newspaper advertisement was as follows:

MOUNTED POLICE CALLED IN –  All N.C.O.s’ and men of the R.N.W.M.P., with the exception of those in the Yukon and the far north land, are being assembled to divisional headquarters here to form a draft for overseas service.  It is not yet settled to what unit the men from the famous force will be attached, but the Fort Garry Horse or the Strathcona Horse were virtually a part of the Strathcona Horse regiment at the time of the South Africa war, and that unit is favored for sentimental reasons.

While no official word has been received at the barracks, The Post learns that the draft will go overseas under the command of their own officers.

It is stated that permission will be granted to a certain number of officers to proceed overseas.  It is impossible to forecast the strength of the draft.  Those who have been granted permission have volunteered practically to a man, but a certain number are over the age limit, and others, it is stated, will fail on the medical test.

What the future holds in store for the force is still a mystery.  With N.C.O.’s and men being allowed to enlist wholesale it seems impossible that the force will continue as such.  No action is yet being taken to close the barracks here or other districts, according to a statement today.”[3]

As members volunteered, Detachments and posts were closed.  These closures were outlined in newspapers across Western Canada:

“The Red Deer contingent of the famous R.N.W.M.P. closed up their sub-district headquarters on Monday last, and the last chapter was enacted when Sergt. Hanna left for headquarters at Calgary yesterday.  It is with the greatest regret that our citizens bid them farewell, but those fit for overseas duty have joined up in the noble cause of the Allies, and a squadron of 150 men will go as a unit to be known as the R.N.W.M.P. at the front, and will be attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, as far as we know, in France.  The Mounted Police have figured prominently in the history of the west from the earliest days, and the enforcement of law and order has gained for them a world-wide reputation.  The hearts of the west, especially the old-timers, go with them in their new undertaking.”[4]

On May 13, 1918, the recruitment for the Cavalry Draft had closed. More recruits poured in well beyond the quota allocated before the recruiting could be stopped. A total of 768 applications had been received from both Force members and new recruits.  Force members deemed acceptable were 243.  The new recruits totaled 495.

DRAFT ORGANIZED

May 1918 - Photograph of the rear side of "A" Block and the Cavalry Draft RNMWP bell tents (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

The Cavalry Draft was organized on a Canadian Cavalry regiment structure consisting of Executive Officers and four cavalry squadrons.  All commissioned officers and NCOs would be made up of Force members.  Three Sergeant Majors were promoted to the Officer rank (S/M Thomas Irvine, S/M Frederick Mead & S/M Robert MacDowell).

On May 9, 1918, the Militia Headquarters in Ottawa approved the appointment of 15  officer commissions in the Canadian Expeditionary Force:

The Draft’s Executive Officers consisted of:

  • Second in Command – Captain Henry Newson; and
  • Adjutant – Lieut. Robert MacDowell

The remaining Draft members were grouped into squadrons and three officers were assigned to each squadron:

  • “A” Squadron – Lieuts: Alphonse B. Allard (in command), Howard Townsend &              Frederick Mead;
  • “B” Squadron – Lieuts: Thomas Dann (in command), Stuart Wood , & Denis          Ryan;
  • “C” Squadron – Lieuts: William Proby (in command), James Tupper & Charles    LaNauze; and
  • “D” Squadron – Lieuts: Charles King (in command), Arthur Acland & Thomas      Irvine.

May 1918 - Copy of newspaper photograph of Cavalry Draft RNWMP officers (Source of photo - Donald Klancher).

As with traditional cavalry regiment, NCOs were appointed.  Senior NCOs appointed were to specific positions:

  • Regimental Quarter Master – Arthur H.L. Mellor  (Reg. #3970)
  • “A” Squadron Sergeant Major – William A. Edgenton (Reg. #4103)
  • “B” Squadron Sergeant Major – Christopher R. Peters (Reg. #3429)
  • “C” Squadron Sergeant Major  – George F. Fletcher  (Reg. #4125)
  • “D” Squadron Sergeant Major – Frank E. Spriggs (Reg. #3546)

May 1918 - Photograph of RNWMP NCOs as Cavalry Draft RNWMP members - taken at "Depot" barracks in Regina (Source of photo - Don Klancher).

UNIFORM ISSUED

While at “Depot” barracks, members were issued the standard Canadian Expeditionary Force cavalry uniform and kit which were provided by District #12 Militia Stores in Regina.

Image of standard CEF cavalry uniform for  World War I.

In addition to the above equipment, each member was issued with the standard RNWMP cap badge, collar badges and shoulder titles.  The “Depot” Tailor Shop adjusted and altered the new uniforms for each member and RNWMP buttons were sown onto the member’s jackets.

Photograph of a Cavalry Draft RNWMP forage cap with a standard RNWMP cap badge.

ACCOMMODATION – SWEARING IN – TRAINING

Each applicant for the Cavalry Draft members were sent to the RNWMP “Depot” barracks on the west side of Regina.  From May 1st to 15th, 1918, the Draft members were housed at “Depot” barrack in white bell tents.

Between May 16 and 30, 1918, the members of the Cavalry Draft were housed in their white bell tents on the grounds of the Saskatchewan legislative grounds.  Their mounted and dismounted drill continued daily until the deployment on trains to Montreal.

May 1918 - Photograph of the Cavalry Draft RNWMP tents on the Saskatchewan legislative grounds in Regina (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

While at “Depot”, the draft members:

  • completed documentation associated with joining the Force and the  Canadian Expeditionary Force;
  • received a full medical examination;
  • fitted with the standard Canadian Expeditionary Force Cavalry uniform;
  • received an introduction to foot drill and horsemanship; and
  • introduced to military structure and fatigues.

Each new civilian recruit was issued their own unique Force regimental within the range of #6775 to #7306.

May 1918 - Photograph of Cavalry Draft RNWMP members on the "Depot" parade ground in front of "A" Block (Source of photo - Doug Madill).

One such new recruit was Constable John Glen (Reg. #7118) and he described his initial experiences in joining the Force:

The expression much used as ‘walking on air’ fitted my mood perfectly and I looked forward eagerly to the day I would don the splendid uniform. 

Then came the day that we, the recruits from Wainwright, entrained for Regina.  Here, we were sworn in as members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and assigned to Overseas Duty in a cavalry regiment, namely The Canadian Light Horse, or C.L.H. for short, but we bore the insignia of the Mounted Police on our shoulder straps when or khaki uniforms were issued, likewise the buffalo head badges and buttons.  Although it was quite cold we lived in tents without heat of any sort and wore our own civilian clothes until such time as we were measured and fitted with uniforms.”[5]

While at the “Depot” and when not doing fatigue duties in the stables or kitchen duty, John Glen stated:

I wandered through the various buildings, the past history of the Force appeared before my eyes.  Old clippings from magazines and newspapers, some so yellowed and faded that they were hard to decipher.  Many dating back to the inception of the Force.  On the woodwork, names, rank, dates of enlistment, were carved or scribbled, together with some very credible poetry.  I thought about the future.  If I were fortunate enough to survive the war and return to Canada, could I uphold the tradition of the Force?[6]

Full mounted cavalry drill was not provided because there wasn’t enough horses to undertake such training.  Draft members would receive the appropriate training when they arrived in England and prior to transferring to the western front.

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Trooper John Glen recalled his discussions with two Sergeants in the Riding School and asking about the officers in the draft.  According to John, one sergeant stated “they are all gentlemen with the exception of our riding master (Sergeant Major Tim Griffin).”  From what John learned was that “this man, hated by so many, was really a wonderful equestrian, and I admired him in spite of his miserable disposition.”[7]

 

 

Apparently, Sergeant Major Griffin had a habit of provoking recruits into a situation which resulted in an insubordinate reaction.  The riding master would then issue an ultimatum: to meet him behind the stables for a bit of boxing or be charged with insubordination.  Many recruits would foolishly select the former.

According to Troop Glen, “That fight evidently was the chief topic of conversation in the barracks for a long time.  The two men squared off and started slugging, with no quarter being asked and none given.  I never met the constable, but they said he was a big husky lad, whereas the riding master was much lighter, with not an ounce of superfluous flesh to hinder him.  He was nimble as a cat.  I know, because I saw him in a fight later on.  The constable kept boring in and consequently took a lot of punishment.  Many of his haymakers missed their mark but when he did land a good one it helped to take some of the pep out of the other.  A battle such as this couldn’t last indefinitely, so finally both men began to tire until they were just staggering around, both bleeding copiously.  The onlookers then decided that the slaughter had gone far enough and stopped the fight with the combatants slinking off to lick their wounds.”[8]

On May 15, 1918, all members of the Cavalry Draft were sworn in as members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and deemed to be on ‘leave of absence’ from the RNWMP until demobilized from the Canadian Expeditionary Force or its return to Canada.

Photograph of four Cavalry Draft RNWMP members in Regina (Source of photo - Ric Hall).

With the exception of the officers, all Cavalry Draft members were issued with a CEF service number within the range from 2,683,711 to 2,684,710. On the same day, Cavalry Draft members experienced their first Military Pay Parade which was coordinated by seconded staff from the 5th Regiment Western Cavalry to the Cavalry Draft: Captain Frederick Bagshaw (Paymaster & a barrister prior to joining the CEF); one Sergeant and a Pay Clerk.

The draft was from this date under the Rules and Regulations, Pay and Allowances of the C.E.F. of Canada… Until receiving movement orders on the 30th May, the draft was under the administration of Headquarters Military District #12, and during that time, all members were vaccinated, inoculated, dentally treated and medically boarded.  This last examination cut out a considerable number who were medically unfit.”[9]

Fifty-five Draft members failed to meet the physical requirements to serve overseas.  As such, they were transferred to the 12th Battalion Canadian Garrison Regiment on May 31, 1918.

In a letter dated June 16, 1918, Commissioner Bowen Perry outlined to the General Officer Commanding Military District #12 (Saskatchewan):

I have the honour to transmit herewith copy of R.N.W.M. Police General Order No. 12609 of 13-5-1918 transferring the Royal North West Mounted Police Cavalry Draft, consisting of 15 Officers and 768 Non-commissioned Officers and Privates to the Canadian Expeditionary Force.”

Part 3 – Departing Regina To England 



[1] Winnipeg Free Press article dated April 29, 1918 entitled “Mounted Police For Battlefront: Three Squadrons TO Be Recruited From Famous Riders Of Western Plains.”

[2] Jennings, George, “Report On R.N.W.M.P. Overseas Cavalry Draft and R.N.W.M.P. Special Squadron, France” report dated July 7, 1919 – page 1.

[3] Red Deer News – on April 24, 1918 “Mounted Police Want Men

[4] Disbury Pioneer News on April 24, 1918 – “Mounted Police Want Men” – page 8.

[5] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 11.

[6] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 15.

[7] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 13.

[8] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 14.

[9] Jennings, George, “Report On R.N.W.M.P. Overseas Cavalry Draft and R.N.W.M.P. Special Squadron, France” report dated July 7, 1919 – page 4.

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