VICTORIA'S WAR MEMORIAL on the lawn fronting Parliament Buildings was unveiled by Lieutenant-Governor Walter C. Nichol in 1925, funds for the Memorial having been raised by public subscription. At the time the Memorial paid tribute to those who lost their lives in World War I, but, like the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall, it now also acknowledges our debt to those who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II.
The inauguration of the Remembrance Day services at the Memorial was due to C. A. Gill of the Royal Canadian Legion who worked many years to get the participation of the Services in the annual tribute. The colorful standards of the Legionaries, the uniforms of those in the Armed Services, the cadets' bands, singing of traditional hymns, two minutes silence, sounding of the "Last Post" and "Reveille," followed by the laying of wreaths, make Remembrance Day at the Memorial Victoria's most poignant and impressive ceremony. The sculpture itself is the work of two brothers, Sidney and Vernon Marech of Farnborough, Kent.
How many Victorians lost their lives in the two world wars will probably never be known. Many born in Victoria did not enlist in their native town, but reported to the recruiting depot nearest to where they happened to be when war broke out. Many who enlisted in Victoria and did their training at the Central School, Willows and Gordon Head camps were from other towns and provinces. There is no record of their names and origin except in regimental registers which are dispersed in various cities of Canada. A further complication is caused by the military system whereby men were transferred from one unit to another as exigencies demanded and evidence of original unit identity is very hard to trace.
What is known is that about 8,000 men enlisted in Victoria in World War I and in World War II. The Canadian Scottish with headquarters in Victoria, lost 402 killed in battles which included the Normandy landing, Caen, Falaise, Calais, the Scheidt and Northwest Europe. Then, of course, there were the many scores of men from Victoria who served in the Air Force (some in the R.A.F.), the Imperial forces, in the Royal Canadian and Royal Navies and in the merchant service. In both world wars Victoria was a very patriotic town, but like Britain, which is not a military-minded country, it tended to neglect the armed forces in peace time. Through the peaceful decades which preceded World War I, the spirit of service was kept alive by men like James Douglas, Colonels J. H. Turner, Charles Houghton, E. G. Prior, R. Wolfenden and others who encouraged and sometimes themselves organized militia units.
But in spite of their efforts the neglect was sometimes appalling. For instance at one time the coastal guns defending Victoria were found stuffed with sticks and stones and everything moveable around the batteries had been stolen. Macaulay, the tall, lean sheep farmer after whom Macaulay's Point is named, drowned in a powder barge which was so badly maintained that it sank at night in Esquimalt Harbour. Secure in the protection of the Royal Navy, most citizens were not greatly interested in military life, but Victoria nevertheless was seldom without some troops. First here were the Royal Engineers who arrived in 1858. Some of them were housed in three wooden huts built by James Douglas at the head of Skinner's Cove. The huts have since been destroyed.
The scarlet-coated Royal Marines arrived the next year, most of them being sent to San Juan occupied at that time by Hudson's Bay Company men and American settlers. That was the year of the "PLO' War" when Lyman Cutler, an American settler, shot a Hudson's Bay Company pig and British and Americans faced each other belligerently. Eventually San Juan was ceded to America, the Marines leaving it in 1871. In 1860 the Victoria Rifle Volunteers, a local militia unit was formed. J. H. Turner, who later became premier of the province, is credited with its organization. About the same time an unofficial military unit came into being, the "African Rifles." Among the 300 negroes who came here with the gold rush were some who resented not being allowed to join and wear the gorgeous uniforms of the mostly American-manned fire brigades.
They salved their racial pride by forming a militia unit with even more resplendent attire including plumed shakos as headgear until Douglas told them they were not wanted. By 1861 the Birdcages had been erected and the Victoria Rifles became the Vancouver Island Volunteer Rifles, drilling in a wooden shed in James Bay. In course of time this shed was replaced by a drill hall which is now used to house the Motor Vehicle Branch of the Provincial Government. In 1864 the V.I. Volunteer Rifles again changed their name, this time to the Victoria Volunteer Rifles. The next step was the organization in 1878 of the Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery under the command of Captain C. J. Dupont, whose home was in Stadacona Park, a large part of which he owned. But the whole set-up was somewhat confused. So many changes of name and switchings of loyalties occurred among the volunteer units that it was decided to stabilize the situation. Artillery and Rifles amalgamated in 1883 to form what has now become the Fifth B.C. Field Battery Canadian Garrison Artillery, with headquarters at Bay Street Armouries. The Battery is one of Canada's few militia units with a continuous history. Twenty-six men of the Battery went to the Boer War, some losing their lives at Paardeburg Drift.
A plaque to those killed is at the entrance to the Bay Street Armouries. Their records show that 777 men went overseas in World War I, 55 were killed, 148 wounded and 56 awards were won. But in World War I infantrymen were in greater demand than gunners and the casualties of the Fifth Battery were incurred mainly in line regiments for which they volunteered. Chief of these were the 50th Gordon Highlanders and 88th Victoria Fusiliers, both of which were very active in Victoria prior to the out- 83 break of World War I. The 50th Gordon Highlanders and the 88th Victoria Fusiliers were in the 1st Canadian Division assembled at Valcartier. They furnished reinforcements for such well-known battalions as the 30th, 48th, 60th and 88th, many men of the 30th reinforcing again the 7th Btn., C.E.F. The 16th Btn. C.E.F., was made up of Gordon Highlanders in Victoria and the Seaforths from Vancouver.
Victoria men also fought in the 4 7th and 67th Battalions. Plaques to the 50th Gordons, the 88th Fusiliers and the 2nd Canadian Pioneers (previously 48th Btn.) have a deserved place of honour in the Parliament Buildings. The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles was recruited chiefly in the Okanagan, and one who joined them as a trooper was a young Englishman, George Pearkes, later to earn a V.C. and many other decorations and to become, with ex-servicemen at least, the most popular lieutenant-governor the province has ever had. Following Confederation it seemed wrong to many people that Victoria should depend for her defense entirely on the Royal Navy, British troops and local patriots in the militia. Moves were made in Ottawa and in 1887 Victoria got the first regular unit of an all Canadian force when 100 officers and men of "C" Battery arrived from Quebec City and Kingston, Ontario, and were housed in the old Fair Building on Beacon Hill. It was bad accommodation and combined with other disadvantages led to many desertions.
Among the disadvantages was the fact that the men of "C" Battery were outclassed socially both by the Royal Navy and by the dockyard employees. Victorians were enthusiastic dancers and the dockyard employees staged dances in far more appealing surroundings than those of "C" Battery in the old Fair Building. Towards the end of the nineteenth century both the Canadian and British governments began to show greater interest in Pacific coastal defences. The outcome was that in 1897 the British government was paid to build the Esquimalt fortifications plus $147,500 per annum for Royal Marine Artillery and Royal Engineer detachments. ******
As a consequence 78 officers and men arrived in Victoria, dismantled the old earthworks at Finlayson and Macaulay Points and Brothers Island built at the time of the Russian war scare in 1878, and installed the then ultramodern six-inch disappearing guns at Fort Rodd Hill and Macaulay Point, and 1 2-pound quick-firing guns at Duntze Head, Belmont and Black Rock. The Fort Rodd Hill installations (Fort Rodd is named after Lieutenant John Rodd of H.M.S. survey vessel Fisgard) are well worth a visit, as also the nearby Fisgard lighthouse, built with bricks brought round the Horn.
In World War II Victoria was ringed with modem batteries from Ogden Point to Mary Hill, but with the advent of more sophisticated methods of defence all were declared obsolete in 1956. The guns were never in action against an enemy as Victoria fortunately was spared the bombardments, bombings and rockets which made life hazardous in many belligerent countries. But the loss of many of its finest citizens overseas brought grief to numerous households. The declaration of war on Germany in August 1914 transformed Victoria overnight. Hundreds rushed to the colours. The militia were called up. By the fall of 1914, the city was almost without able-bodied male civilians. Nearly all the physically fit were in uniform. The knickerbockered remittance men and ramrod-back ex-Imperial Army officers who had succeeded the ranchers and bearded Naval officers of the 1890's disappeared from the Union and Pacific clubs.
Victoria's young men, like those of all belligerent countries, were eager to get into the war "before it was all over." Most people thought that it would last six months at the outside. Women were equally enthusiastic. Nurses volunteered for overseas duty. Women applied to follow their husbands to England. Miss Kathleen Dunsmuir ran a soup kitchen at Boulogne. Concerts and theatre performances were staged exclusively to enable the purchase of comforts for the troops. The English, French and Belgian national anthems featured at many charity concerts. The departure in August 1914 of the city's first detachments for overseas service gave rise to scenes of unprecedented fervour. Nearly 100 officers and men of the 5th regiment headed by captains P. T. Stern, R. P. Clark, lieutenants K. H. Bomill, W. B. Shaw and Captain the Rev. Wm. Barton, together with detachments of the 85 break of World War I. The 50th Gordon Highlanders and the 88th Victoria Fusiliers were in the 1st Canadian Division assembled at Valcartier.
They furnished reinforcements for such well-known battalions as the 30th, 48th, 60th and 88th, many men of the 30th reinforcing again the 7th Btn., C.E.F. The 16th Btn. C.E.F., was made up of Gordon Highlanders in Victoria and the Seaforths from Vancouver. Victoria men also fought in the 47th and 67th Battalions. Plaques to the 50th Gordons, the 88th Fusiliers and the 2nd Canadian Pioneers ( previously 48th Btn.) have a deserved place of honour in the Parliament Buildings. The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles was recruited chiefly in the Okanagan, and one who joined them as a trooper was a young Englishman, George Pearkes, later to earn a V.C. and many other decorations and to become, with ex-servicemen at least, the most popular lieutenant-governor the province has ever had. Following Confederation it seemed wrong to many people that Victoria should depend for her defence entirely on the Royal Navy, British troops and local patriots in the militia.
Immediately on the outbreak of war every officer of the Fusiliers volunteered unconditionally for overseas service. A first contingent of 250 went to the front with captains Cooper and Harvey. Two young lieutenants, Ford-Young and Hay, resigned their commissions rather than be left behind. The many unemployed and panhandlers disappeared from Douglas, Government and Johnson Streets. The drill hall on Menzies Street (the Bay Street Armouries were only begun in 1913), the Willows Fair Grounds, Work Point Barracks (built in 1890) and the Central School resounded to the shouts of drill sergeants, military music and the tramp of heavy boots. Then the first letters began to arrive from the front. The unexpected nature of the warfare they revealed was as appalling to civilians at home as to the soldiers themselves. Describing his first Christmas in Flanders an officer wrote: "It is pretty beastly in the firing line, very wet and in places over one's knees in mud where some of the trenches have been flooded and it is quite hopeless to try to keep warm.
"We take a waterproof sheet and blanket each to the trenches and there are dugouts where we try to sleep. But the cold is damnable. We have lost so many pairs of shoes in the mud that we are being fitted out with boots and puttees." The enemy's use of poison gas shocked everybody. A soldier wrote to the Colonist: "The gas the enemy uses is terrible. One's eyes are simply running with water and one can hardly breathe. It hangs around for hours, choking and blinding the men." The loss of life was frightening both to the men and civilians: a soldier in the famous Seventh Battalion wrote home: "We had our whack. For ten minutes we slaughtered Germans line after line until we had lost two-thirds of our men and they got round our right flank. We had no artillery support while they were pounding hell out of us all the time and many men were laid low by poison gas. Our regiment fought splendidly and I am proud of them but am sorry to say there are very few left. It is awful to think that so many of my comrades are dead." Other men described the devastating effect of the big German guns, the terrible sufferings of wounded French women and children and the efforts they made to succour them, but there was never a note of despondency in published letters: "Nobody was the least bit frightened at the coming attack," wrote one man. "In fact we rather enjoyed it at first. But people kept getting killed in so many ways it became a nightmare.
A man falls beside you and you just heave him out of the way like a sack of flour." Another wrote: "It's wonderful how soon you get accustomed to things. The German attack was beaten off and here we are in our billets with gramophone blaring away while the Germans are blowing up houses only 200 yards away." Ypres, the Somme, Amiens, Arras, Vimy Ridge, Paschendaele ... there was hardly a major battle in which Victorians did not fight. Many wounded were brought here to convalesce, notably at the Esquimalt Hospital and Stadacona Park, and many liked Victoria so much they made it their future home. The wounded were invited into private homes, and given privileged seats at theatres and concerts: even cricket matches were staged between local ladies and convalescing soldiers. Mrs. R. H. Pooley and a number of her friends played an eleven from the Esquimalt Hospital. The soldiers won although some of them had to bat with one hand and bowl left-handed! The Victoria Patriotic Fund staged performances in the Royal and other theatres throughout the war for the benefit of the troops. But as names and photographs of those "Who Died for Empire" continued to appear with painful frequency under banner headlines in the local papers war weariness set in. There was hardly a family 87 including the most prominent which was not bereaved.
The 10th Battalion which included many Victorians had 180 men left, the 16th Battalion 300 out of 600 men. Losses were felt the more keenly in Victoria because it was a small intimate city with many families inter-married and where everyone knew everyone. It is noteworthy that the Victoria area furnished an outstanding military figure. Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Currie, a former Sidney school teacher and realtor reached the apex of his career when he was appointed commander of the Canadian Corps in succession to Sir Julian Byng. Currie enlisted in Victoria's 5th Regiment as far back as in 1894, reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, retired as commanding officer in 1913 and in 1914 assumed command of the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders).
His appreciation of the role of artillery in saving the lives of infantrymen was of immense benefit to Field Marshal Haig and, it is said, saved Haig's reputation. This was the major factor in his promotion to commander of the Canadian Corps although some people allege, wrongly that his friendship with Sir Richard McBride, former British Columbia premier who had become Agent-General in London, played a role. The appointment was not popular with some Victorians because as a civilian Currie ran a real estate firm which like others in that business was prominent in the pre-914 land speculation boom and many of his clients lost their life savings.
But he was as much a victim of the mass hysteria as other people. The First World War was followed by influenza just as devastating in Victoria as in the rest of the world. World War II was a very different affair and Canada's soldiers had more national identity than in World War I. In 1914-18 Canada's fighting men were largely British-born or of British descent, whereas their sons of World War II were mostly Dominionborn and bred. World War II was hailed with no martial music, no patriotic songs and concerts, no enthusiasm. Everybody anticipated a repetition of the slaughter which marked World War I. There was great fear of submarines and for this reason troops left Victoria behind a curtain of secrecy. Between the two wars military units had been reorganized. The 88 88th Regiment Victoria Fusiliers and 50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders ceased to exist, and in 1921 the Canadian Scottish Regiment was created inheriting the traditions and honors of the 16th Battalion to which the 50th Gordons contributed so heavily in World War I.
Those interested in the fine record of this regiment should read Ready for the Fray by Professor R. H. Roy of the University of Victoria. The Canadian Scottish are proud of the fact that they are the only regiment to have been given freedom of the City of Victoria, but still prouder of the Oak Leaf awarded to the 16th Battalion for the attack on Kitchener's Wood in April 1915. As was the case in World War I, local women in the years 1939- 45 did their best to supply comforts to the troops. One of the more notable efforts was by the Women's Auxiliary to the Canadian Scottish who purchased a lot on Despard.
A venue from the city for a nominal payment and built a five-room bungalow with largely donated labour and materials. They raffled the bungalow and made a profit of nearly $5,000. The astonishing thing (some said it could only happen in Victoria) was that the raffle was won by an American, who later came and lived in the house for a few years. During both world wars the Victoria home front had its anxious moments. There were some in retrospect amusing episodes. For example, in 1914 Victoria was apprehensive of the German battle squadron under Graf Von Spee which was operating around the tip of the South American continent, 8,000 miles away.
It may be noted that the British Admiralty did not consider it even a remote possibility that the German squadron would head north, and the eventual interception and destruction of the German warships by Sir Frederick Sturdee's battle squadron off the Falkland Islands in December 1914 amply justified their strategic appraisal. But Premier McBride hastily purchased in Seattle for the sum of $1,150,000 two submarines to defend Vancouver and Victoria. They had no torpedoes, were without trained crews and were paid for cloak-and-dagger fashion with a cheque handed over by the chief janitor of the Parliament Buildings and a civil servant.
On their way to Esquimalt the submarines narrowly escaped being sunk by the gunners of Black Rock Battery. Being manned by dockyard crews ignorant of submarines, they did not know how to submerge and the only recognition signal they could give was feeble waving with a handkerchief, according to W. Berkeley Monteith, a member of No. 29 gun crew at Black Rock which sighted them. Again in 1914 when the German cruiser Leipzig was reported off the Mexican coast the only Victoria-based and completely obsolete warship Rainbow was dispatched to escort back to Esquimalt the Shearwater which was off San Francisco and carried no wireless. Floating wreckage was reported the next day and Victorians assumed with logical pessimism that it was the Rainbow.
Fortunately for the Canadian crew the Rainbow never contacted the Leipzig. As regards World War II, a Victoria Times reporter reminisced in 1958: "The scorching breath of war swished the face of B.C. several times during the last I oo years. People lived like moles after Pearl Harbour and the invasion of the Aleutians. There were air raid shelters, gas masks, emergency food supplies. There was a total black out. Slits took the place of headlights. Sirens were installed, air raid wardens were on duty. Ships to Vancouver ran without lights after a U.S. freighter was torpedoed 30 miles away." When a Japanese submarine dropped a shell or two on Estevan lighthouse on the other side of Vancouver Island many residents contemplated evacuation. A curfew was declared, troops were confined to barracks and preparations made for a full scale enemy invasion.
Even the presence of the troop transport Queen Elizabeth in Esquimalt for a few days gave many the jitters because they thought it might lead to a Japanese bombing attack. Victorians thought the dry-dock would be a prime target for Japanese bombers, but the Japanese apparently did not share this view. The thousands of tons of cement embodied in a dry-dock make it a most unrewarding target for bombers. Nor were Victoria's anxieties shared by Ottawa. It considered that any risk from the Japanese was more than counterbalanced by the United States' entry into the war as an Ally. It held to its 1914 view that the Atlantic was the main theatre for Canadian naval operations and never returned any of the four destroyers stationed on this coast which were ordered to Halifax in 1939. And although the Royal Navy last maintained a station here in 1905, the year in which Canada took over responsibility for her own defense, visits by British warships were frequent. H.M.S. Kent and at least two other Royal Navy cruisers were here on August 4, 19 14, the day war was declared.
They were part of the squadron badly mauled later by the German battle-squadron comprising the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig in the Battle of Coronel off the South American coast. This battle was followed by the Falkland Islands engagement when all the German ships were sunk by H.M. battle-cruisers Invincible, Inflexible and Indefatigable. H.M.S. Kent returned to Victoria in 1915 after the battle and officers and men were given a tremendous welcome in Victoria. The Pacific Club went so far as to put on a special banquet and entertainment for the officers. On the home front, the most enduring effect of the wars was the emancipation of women. As in other belligerent countries women donned overalls, put their hair beneath caps and worked alongside men in factories and shipyards.
The shipbuilding facilities of Victoria were a great asset to the Allied cause and the influx of workers quickened the pace of life. Yarrows shipyards alone for the two peak years of World War II had 2,500 on its payroll including 480 women, and built five corvettes, two 10,000-ton cargo ships, 17 frigates and five LST's (landing ship tanks). The great Esquimalt shipyard, successor to the B.C. Marine Railway Company and bought in 1914 by Alfred Yarrow,* also overhauled the machinery of the Queen Elizabeth and of many other ships. V.M.D. launched 20 10,000-ton "Victory" ships and two 8,000-ton steel ships. The wartime housing built for the shipyard workers has now largely disappeared. * Yarrows has been operated by the Wallace family as an affiliate of Vancouver's Burrard Drydock Co., since 1946.
The Burrard Drydock Company was successor to Wallace Shipyards, Vancouver, founded by former Brbcham (Devon) shipbuilder Alfred Wallace. Of his two sons, Clarence, who was lieutenant-governor 1950-55, served as private in the 5th Battalion in World War I, while his brother Hubert is vice-president and managing director of Yarrows. John Wallace, son of Hubert, is general manager. 91 What will disappear only with death is the spirit of comradeship which unites ex-servicemen in every country ... a comradeship born of hardships and dangers unselfishly shared. The very lively branches of the Canadian Legion, Army, Navy and Air Force Vets, the Air Force Association and the mess of the Canadian Scottish testify to the enduring nature of this comradeship. The Air Force Association, incidentally, includes many former members of the R.A.F. training squadron stationed at Patricia Bay airport in World War II. They fell in love with Victoria and decided to make their homes here.
It has become the custom in recent years to question the wisdom of the sacrifices made during the two World Wars and to criticize the generals in command, but men act and react according to the circumstances of their times. Serving men did their duty as they saw it. Those ex-servicemen who gather round the War Memorial on Remembrance Day are conscious of the fact that the Allied victories, for which so many of their comrades gave their lives, spared Canada the crushing burden of reparations and catastrophic inflation after World War I. It is thanks to these men that following Hitler's defeat we have a lieutenant-governor instead of a Nazi Gauleiter in Government House. The majestic Parliament Buildings, symbolizing as they do the democratic system of government for which the Armed Services fought are a truly fitting background for the War Memorial. They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn: At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.