"My ambition is to take from Edmonton a regiment which will be the finest in the second Canadian contingent. My regiment will be commanded by Edmonton officers and pride in this city will be one of the predominating features in it."
-- Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Griesbach, 4 January 1915 (1)
Members of the 49th Battalion Marching through Camp, Shorncliffe, England, 1915.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, 49th Battalion Scrapbook).

Members of the 49th Battalion Marching through Camp, Shorncliffe, England, 1915.

Many of the original members of the 49th Battalion were of British origin. The parentage of the soldiers was especially important given that during the First World War, Canadian soldiers were entrusted with defending Great Britain against its enemies.

When the 49th landed at Plymouth, England, on 12 June 1915, the battalion was quite representative of the male population of military age in Edmonton and northern Alberta. (2) Three quarters of the 1,010 officers and men were British-born; most of the rest had been born in Canada, with a handful of Americans and others making up the rest. Historians have often remarked on the predominance of recent British immigrants in the early contingents of the CEF. While the 49th was clearly no exception to this generalization, the Britishness of the original unit should not be exaggerated. Although most members of the 49th were happy to stress their English, Irish, or Scottish roots, a good many of those listed as British-born could have come to Canada as children. The 57 per cent who claimed previous regular military service, not an option for the vast majority of Canadians, is perhaps a more accurate indication of the numbers of those who thought of themselves as expatriates returning to defend the "old country." One Canadian family certainly showed no reluctance to volunteer. Albert, Fred, William, and Robert, all four sons of Mrs. John Whyte, joined the 49th. (3) The original company commanders, like the rest of the officers, were composed of a fair cross-section of Edmonton's business and professional community. The commander of "A" Company, Major C.Y. Weaver, was a lawyer; Captain R.G. Hardisty, Captain H.E. Daniel, and Major J.D. Willson, commanders of "B," "C," and "D" companies respectively, had been in civilian life a businessman, an accountant, and a North-West Mounted Police officer.



49th Battalion Tent, Shorncliffe, England, June 1915.
Mary Plummer, With the First Canadian Contingent (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

49th Battalion Tent, Shorncliffe, England, June 1915.

The 49th Battalion arrived at Shorncliffe in late June 1915. After arriving the Forty-Niners soon came under canvas and began training for the front. Eventually, soldiers were moved into permanent huts.
"Grenade School," Jan. 1916.
The Forty-Niner, Number 4, Volume 1 (4 January 1916).

"Grenade School," Jan. 1916.

Bomb or grenade tossing was an essential skill that soldiers were taught during their time in England.

The 49th took up residence at a camp in Shorncliffe, England in June of 1915. The delays in getting organized and leaving Canada had been frustrating, but there were compensations. Instead of living in tents through the cold and soggy English winter on Salisbury Plain like their predecessors in the 1st Division, the Edmontonians were housed in the relative comfort of permanent huts at Shorncliffe. The Forty-Niners also took advantage of the summer weather to take part in sports: baseball and football games against teams from other Canadian battalions and cricket matches against local English teams. The bands performed at various military and civilian venues, including the nearby seaside resort of Folkestone. Training was more intensive but not much different in kind from what had taken place in Canada. Drill, route marches for conditioning, and musketry practices remained the staple activities. The Ross Rifle Mark III performed adequately in the relatively antiseptic conditions of the firing ranges (and remained the weapon of choice for snipers in the British army throughout the war). The machine gunners worked to become familiar with their heavy and temperamental Colt machine guns. Trench mortars, rifle grenades, and Lewis guns had yet to make their appearance as infantry weapons, but courses in the new art of "bomb throwing" were established. Bomb was the First World War term for a hand grenade, a weapon that long-range rifles had made obsolete in the nineteenth century but that underwent a revival because of the close quarters of trench warfare. The regiment spent some time practising digging and repairing trenches, activities they would soon come to know only too well. In the summer of 1915, however, these duties were undertaken in a light-hearted spirit. A cartoon in the first issue of the Forty-Niner shows a very tall officer ordering a very short sergeant to dig a trench shoulder deep. The sergeant asks in reply, "Yours or my shoulders, sir?" (4)

Transport Lorry and Driver, Shorncliffe, England, 1915
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, 49th Battalion Scrapbook).

Transport Lorry and Driver, Shorncliffe, England, 1915

While training in England, the 49th Battalion underwent many changes in personnel. The battalion provided many transport lorry (truck) drivers, who were in high demand.
Forty-Niners on a March, Shorncliffe, England, 1915
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, 49th Battalion Scrapbook).

Forty-Niners on a March, Shorncliffe, England, 1915

Originally to be included in Canada's 2nd Division, the 49th Battalion ultimately became part of a third Canadian division that was in the works by the middle of 1915.

The 49th had been recruited on the expectation that it would form part of the 2nd Canadian Division, but Colonel Griesbach realized as soon as his men arrived in England that more battalions were available than the new division could accommodate. He was worried enough about the possibility of having his unit broken up for reinforcements that he wrote a letter to Hughes protesting in advance. (5) Griesbach's fears were well founded as far as the 2nd Division was concerned; the 49th mounted guard while the division embarked for France in mid-September. Even as Griesbach was writing his letter, however, a third Canadian division was in the works and the 49th would be part of it. As summer drew to an end, signs were evident that the regiment would soon be leaving for France. The regimental colours were deposited in Canterbury Cathedral. Lestock the mascot found a new home in London's Regent's Park Zoo. New arms and equipment were issued, and the cooks began practising with their mobile active service kitchens. To move these and other items of equipment too heavy to carry, the regiment had its own horses, 79 in all. The care of these animals needed the services of 37 men.

DocumentDocument
"Regulations for the Trenches," The Forty-Niner, 1:4 (1916): 11-12.

Regulation of Trench Life, 1916.

Military officials set out codes of conduct and safety rules pertaining to trench life that soldiers had to follow. This soldier's version is an example of trench humour.

One of the realities of a wartime battalion was that its personnel were in a constant state of change even when it was not in line. Illness and accident (in training and elsewhere-the first editor of the Forty-Niner was put out of action by a London taxi) took their toll. Some soldiers were transferred to other units if they were not up to the physical demands of a rifle company or if they had skills that were in demand. In July and August, several dozen Forty-Niners left to take on duties elsewhere. Some took administrative jobs or served as drivers of mechanical transport (a skill more common in Canada than in England), while others left to join engineering units and the Canadian Army Medical Corps. An indication of the high quality of the original recruits can be gained from the fact that eight privates and NCOs from the 49th were given commissions in various British regiments during the summer. This was not a one-way street; in July, the 49th got three new lieutenants who had been serving as sergeants with the 19th Dragoons in France. The final indication of pending active service was the arrival of a large draft of 142 men from the 51st battalion to bring the regiment up to full strength. (6)

Major-General Sir A.C. Macdonell, n.d.
Canada in the Great World War..., vol. 5 (Toronto: United Publishers of Canada, 1918-1921). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

Major-General Sir A.C. Macdonell, n.d.

Macdonell became the commander of the 7th Brigade, which was comprised of the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, the Royal Canadian Regiment, the 42nd and 49th Battalions. He was very well-liked among the men who served under him.

On 9 October 1915, the 49th boarded a channel steamer for the short trip to France. Corporal (later Lieutenant) Inar W. Anderson and his friends in "D" Company, who had spent the summer listening to the tales of recovering wounded from the 1st Division, were very excited. Indeed, as soon as they arrived in France, they began looking for signs of lice in their clothing as evidence that they were now real soldiers. (7) Along with the 42nd from Montreal, a battalion that had trained alongside them at Shorncliffe and provided much of their sporting competition, the men of the 49th were the vanguard of the new 3rd Division. After two months getting used to the trenches, the two battalions were joined by the Royal Canadian Regiment, one of the pre-war permanent force regiments that had been doing garrison duty in Bermuda, and the PPCLI. The Patricias had been part of the British 27th Division and had lost about three quarters of their strength in the Ypres Salient in May. Offered replacement drafts mainly from McGill University, the PPCLI somewhat reluctantly agreed to transfer to the Canadian Corps. The four battalions became the 7th Brigade just before Christmas and were placed under the command of Brigadier Archibald Cameron Macdonell, a former Mounted Policeman and veteran of the South African War. A tough old soldier of many eccentricities, "Batty Mack" became almost as popular with the 49th as Colonel Griesbach.

Until the rest of the 3rd Division was in place, the 49th got its introduction to trench warfare by spending time in the line with the experienced units of the 1st Division. Before the experience of the regiment during the three years it spent under fire can be understood, the strange world of the Western Front during the First World War must be examined in some detail.

 
 

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