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City of Edmonton Archives , Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection

Special Order Of The Day, 6 Feb. 1919

After the war, Brigadier-General W.A. Griesbach remained a great defender of the 49th Battalion, the regiment he had helped to create. In fact, he insisted that the federal government keep intact all of the units that comprised the Canadian Corps (as of February 1919). The danger was that the government would disband units during the financially austere peacetime.

The exception, as usual, was General Griesbach, who never ceased thinking about the future of Canadian defence policy and his former regiment's place in it. In January of 1919, while the 49th was still in Belgium, he wrote to the Minister of Militia and Defence to ask that the regiment be included in the inevitable post-war reorganization of the Canadian militia. (5) Lieutenant-Colonel C.Y. Weaver, second in command of the 49th when the fighting ended, had no difficulty in persuading the Mayor and city council to second the request in September. In one sense, they need not have worried. The most experienced soldier in the country, the ancient General Sir William Otter, whose militia experience went back to the Fenian raids of the 1860s, presided over the reorganization committee. Otter had no illusions that the magnificent wartime organization of the CEF could be preserved. Politics and parsimony would rule again as they had in the decades before 1914. In practice, this meant that the all the wartime units would continue to exist on paper-a gesture that was necessary to satisfy the largest possible constituency of former soldiers. The budget cutters, however, would demand that no money be provided for even the barest essentials of uniforms, equipment, and training. In the reorganized Non-permanent Active Militia that was rolled out on 15 March 1920, the Edmonton Regiment was to have a 1st Battalion, perpetuating the 49th; a 2nd Battalion, perpetuating the 9th; and three reserve battalions, representing the 51st, 63rd, and 65th battalions respectively.

W.L.M. King during an Election Campaign, Cobourg, ON, 1926.
NAC (PA-138867, photo by Skitch Studio).

W.L.M. King during an Election Campaign, Cobourg, ON, 1926.

Owing to his aversion to things military, Prime Minister King had very little interest in funding the country's military. As a result, military spending in the first half of the 1920s dropped precipitously.

Through the early 1920s, war weariness and a generally healthy economy would mean that little enthusiasm existed for part-time soldiering. By the mid-1920s, fewer than 100 officers and men were on the books, and weekly drill only brought out a few dozen. From 1921 to 1930, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King led the country. King was not a pacifist, although he certainly felt more at home with those truly pacifist MPs like J.S. Woodsworth and Agnes Macphail than he did with many members of his own party. He neither understood nor wished to understand military matters-even to show an interest could be a political liability in King's Quebec power base. His government aggressively cut spending on the militia to the point that, by 1925, Canada was spending $2 million a year less than it had before the war began in 1914. (6) Annual training in the militia camps was cut back to officers and NCOs. The PPCLI, now the permanent force (Permanent Active Militia) unit responsible for infantry instruction in Western Canada, allotted one under-strength company to do the job for all of Alberta and British Columbia. (7) King even suggested saving money by turning over all armouries and drill halls to municipalities for use as community halls. Only the two bands of the 1st Battalion, The Edmonton Regiment, and financial contributions for equipment by an Edmonton businessman, James Ramsey, kept the unit going.

W.L.M. King during an Election Campaign, Cobourg, ON, 1926.
The Forty-Niner, Vol. 1, Number 14, January 1932.

The Forty-Niner, Vol. 1, Number 14, January 1932.

Church parades celebrating the heritage of The Edmonton Regiment started in July of 1926. The parades signified an upswing in recognition for the battalion during a time in which Canadians at large were trying to forget the war and the government was under funding the military.

In the last half of the 1920s, some faint signs of improvement appeared. The 49th Battalion Association had never been in danger of disappearing; its annual dinners in January-which marked the birthday of the regiment-brought out sizable groups of veterans through the early 1920s. Even so, the association could hardly be described as thriving in those years, and it did not really become active until 1926. This was the year that annual church parades began to be held in July. These events were held in conjunction with the Edmonton Exhibition, a period when many former Forty-Niners throughout northern and central Alberta would be in the city. Calgary had possessed a branch of the association since the early 1920s, and, in 1926, other branches began to be established in towns throughout the region. The 10th anniversary of the end of the fighting was approaching, and the horrors of the trenches were receding a little. Practical considerations were also at play. The minutes of the 1929 meeting note that many former members of the 49th were having difficulty finding evidence of their service for pension claims and that the association was active on their behalf.(8)

Forty-Niner Cover, 1940.
Forty-Niner, Vol. 1, Number 31, July 1940.

Forty-Niner Cover, 1940.

The resumption of the publication of The Forty-Niner in 1929 was another sign that there was renewed interest in The Edmonton Regiment and its considerable past.

The best indication of the reviving enthusiasm for the association was the decision to resume publication of The Forty-Niner in 1929. The magazine brought together the scattered former members of the battalion as nothing else could have. It both reported the activities of the living, eventually formalized into a regular section entitled "Where Is My Wandering Boy?" and published obituaries. It also gave the more literary-minded an opportunity to record their war experiences and reminiscences in forms ranging from brief anecdotes to lengthy diaries published serially. Among the latter accounts was the remarkable diary of Private F.R. Hasse. Published between 1936 and 1944, the diary was one of the most vivid accounts of life in and out of the trenches to come out of the First World War. The Forty-Niner also provided the essential link between the wartime battalion and its successor by reporting on the latter's activities in every issue. Those ties were strengthened as well by the 1927 designation by the Department of National Defence of the battle honours for the 49th (Mount Sorrel and Somme, 1916; Flers-Courcelette, Vimy, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, and Scarpe, 1918; Hindenburg Line, 1918), and the transfer in 1929 of the 49th colours to the 1st Battalion, the Edmonton Regiment.

James L. Ralston, 1936.
NAC (C-13257).

James L. Ralston, 1936.

Canada's military profited from the appointment of Ralston to the position of Minister of Defence in 1926. Ralston increased military spending by a considerable amount and showed competent leadership in the portfolio for several years afterwards.

The appointment of J.L. Ralston as Minister of Defence in 1926 brought vigorous and competent leadership to the portfolio for the first time since the end of the war. Spending on defence increased from $12,500,000 to $21,000,000 over the next three years. The militia was near the bottom of the military priority list but saw a limited restoration of training. The annual summer camps at Sarcee for Alberta militia units resumed for all ranks in 1929. The 1st Battalion mustered only 146 men, not even company strength, at the camp but even so they had among the strongest turnouts in the country. (9)

The onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s, which hit Western Canada particularly hard, brought further changes to the regiment.

 

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