"It is perhaps singularly fitting that we should have a coyote as a mascot. ...Perhaps it may be that after the march of German 'Kultur' has spent itself it will be found that this regiment has been diligent in its business and will be found sticking around western Canada again like our friend the coyote." -- Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Griesbach, 1915 (1)
Colonel Griesbach could not have known when he wrote the note thanking the donor of the coyote pup Lestock as the mascot of the 49th Battalion in 1915 how accurately he was predicting the future of the regiment. The coyote may have no aristocratic pretensions like some of the larger emblematic animals, but it is tough, smart, and the ultimate survivor. As we have seen, the regiment made it through the political indifference of the 1920s and the financial devastation of the 1930s to serve with distinction in the great world crisis of 1939-1945. Its survival skills would be even more severely tested in the late twentieth century. Given the outstanding record of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment with the Canadian 1st Division in Italy and Holland, the future of the unit might reasonably have been considered secure in 1945, but the long peace brought new and unexpected challenges.
The wartime experience of the regiment at home certainly reinforced the feelings of permanence. In contrast to the experience of the First World War, when the 49th was officially cut adrift from Edmonton as soon as it left for England and retained its ties with the community only through the personal exertions of its officers and men, the regiment kept its roots firmly anchored in the city and surrounding area between 1939 and 1945. When the German invasions of Norway and France stunned the world in the spring of 1940 and made it clear that this would be a desperate struggle for survival, a Second Battalion was authorized. It came into existence 25 June, 1940 with Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Hale as commander. Colonel Hale had enlisted in the PPCLI and later transferred to the 49th. He was promoted from the ranks and won the Military Cross during his service in the First World War. The Second Battalion provided an opportunity to serve for two groups in the community whose talents and experience might otherwise have been wasted: those who because of age or infirmity were unable to meet the severe requirements of a combat infantry unit in the field and those whose key positions in the economy and government kept them home. The latter included Captain Ernest Manning, Alberta's Minister of Trade and Industry (and from 1943 Premier), and Major Ronald Martland, a prominent lawyer and later a very distinguished Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Had the war taken the dire course that seemed possible, even probable, in 1940, the Second Battalion would have taken its place defending the homeland, the role for which it trained until 1945. Reflecting this eventuality, in the spring of 1941 the unit was designated the Second Battalion, The Edmonton Regiment (Reserve), Canadian Army. (2) The Second Battalion underwent standard infantry training with exercises focussed on the defence of the city. Mountain training and the formation of a ski platoon were added to this regimen. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December of 1941, the battalion was put on alert for immediate active duty. Fortunately, the Japanese invasion of North America came no nearer than the Aleutian Islands. As a result, the likelihood of full-time employment began to recede.
The longer-term contribution of the Second Battalion was to provide a steady supply of trained replacements for the service battalion overseas. Even though the service battalion did not begin to suffer combat losses until 1943, illness, injury, and transfers meant that the Second Battalion sent off more than a hundred replacements in the first year of its existence. (3) Colonel Hale recognized the importance of the training and replacement role in 1942 by organizing the battalion so that recruits began their training in one company and passed through successively higher levels until they reached the Battle Platoon, which made them ready for immediate incorporation into the service battalion. (4) The Second Battalion also continued the tradition of close ties with smaller northern Alberta communities by maintaining a company in Fort Saskatchewan and platoons in Grande Prairie, Lamont, Ross Creek, and Stony Plain. In May of 1942, the 19th Alberta Dragoons were disbanded and, appropriately considering the early connection between that unit and the 49th Battalion, one company of the Dragoons became a detached company of the Second Battalion. (5)
By these means-in spite of normal attrition, a steady flow of replacements to the service battalion, and the increasing competition for manpower with the other armed services,-the Second Battalion was able to keep its strength at about 500 men on average for most of the war. Numbers fell off quite seriously in early 1943 when it seemed that the Canadian Army had no immediate prospects of getting into the fighting. (6) Once the service battalion landed in Sicily and began fighting its way through Italy, numbers rebounded and remained satisfactory until the spring of 1945. By then, it was apparent that the war in Europe was rapidly drawing to an end. In June of 1945, Colonel Hale, having been appointed Area Commandant of the Reserve Army some months earlier, turned over command of the Second Battalion to Lieutenant-Colonel G.D.K. Kinnaird.
There was, briefly, a Third Battalion, intended for service with the Canadian Army Pacific Force. Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Stone returned to Canada after the German surrender in May, 1945 to command the new unit. It was assembling at Camp Shilo in Manitoba and starting to train with its new American weapons in August of 1945 when the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the Pacific War to an abrupt end.
Sadly, General Griesbach did not live to see the victory he had predicted. In 1941, he had put on the uniform once again to serve his country in his third war, this time as Inspector-General (Army) Western Canada. In March of 1944, illness forced him to retire, and, less than a year later, on 21 January 1945, he died suddenly of a heart attack. (7) He was only 67 when he died, but he had achieved enough for at least three ordinary lifetimes in that span. His military accomplishments made him one of Canada's most distinguished soldiers of the first half of the twentieth century, but he was also a successful lawyer, alderman and mayor of Edmonton, Member of Parliament, and Senator. One of the most unfortunate results of his early death was that he did not have time to finish his memoirs. A year after his death, the Ryerson Press published the part he had completed, which covered his career to 1914, under the title, I Remember. Had he been spared long enough to write about his experiences in the First World War, he would certainly be a more widely, and deservedly, celebrated figure than he is today.
The Second Battalion carried on after the service battalion disbanded in October of 1945. The future of Canada's armed forces in 1945 was, if anything, even less clear than it had been in 1919. The only certainty was that the same man, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, was in charge and his attitudes to the military had changed not at all. "What we needed now," he informed the cabinet, "was to get back to the old Liberal principles of economy, reduction of taxation, anti-militarism, etc." (8) This meant slashing the massive wartime establishment as quickly as possible, but it also meant firmly rejecting what King considered to be the grandiose post-war plans of the General Staff. Cutting the defence budget from its 1945 level of $2.9 billion to $388 million in 1946 and $196 million in 1947 absorbed most of the energies of the Department of National Defence for two years. (9) Only then did something resembling a policy for the Army Reserve begin to emerge.
- 1. Stevens, A City Goes to War, 19.
- 2. The Forty-Niner, July, 1941, 25.
- 3. The Forty-Niner, January, 1941, 31.
- 4. Stevens, A City Goes to War, 361.
- 5. The Forty-Niner, July, 1942, 5.
- 6. The Forty-Niner, January, 1943, 34, reported that both the Second Battalion and the Edmonton Fusiliers were short of recruits. Numbers at the Sarcee summer camp, 1943, were down to 300 from 500 the previous year. The Forty-Niner, July, 1943, 10.
- 7. Edmonton Journal, 22 January, 1945.
- 8. James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada, Vol. III, Peacemaking and Deterrence (University of Toronto Press, 1972), 92.
- 9. F.H. Leacy, ed., Historical Statistics of Canada, Second Edition (Statistics Canada, 1983) Table H-19.