The Royal Canadian Regiment and
The First World War - 1914-1919

GvR Memorial Cross

Re-Visiting the Great War Roll of Honour for The RCR

By Captain Michael M. O'Leary, The RCR

"Once a Royal Canadian, Always a Royal Canadian." This long held tenet of our Regiment has been clearly demonstrated by the honour and care shown by the Regiment when casualties of our war in Afghanistan have included not only soldiers badged into The RCR but also soldiers posted into regimental Battle Groups from other units and Branches of the CF. But this has not always been the case.

There are, in fact, 39 officers, NCOs and soldiers of the First World War who served with The RCR in the field and later died while on the strength of other units.

Within Volumes I and II of the regimental history, one finds the annexes comprising the casualty lists of each of the Regiment's periods of wartime service. At first glance they might appear to be comprehensive, but more recent research has found omissions in the lists for the First and Second World Wars and for Korea. It also becomes apparent with closer examination that the original published lists, though incomplete probably due mostly to the difficulties of compiling research in a pre-digital age, also were limited to only those Royal Canadians who died while serving with the applicable overseas unit. Oddly, this meant that the Regiment, for example, did not include Brigadier John Kelburne Lawson as one of our fallen in the 1966 volume after he died commanding Canadian troops in Hong Kong. Brigadier Lawson had begun his service with The RCR in 1923, having previously served during the Great War during which he was awarded the Military Cross while serving with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps.

This selective approach to recording our regimental casualties has resulted in losing connections to many others over the course of our history and to the families that also suffered their loss. "Once a Royal Canadian …" is often quoted to suggest that once someone has served with The RCR, they are obliged to remember that service and always be proud of it. I would suggest that obligation is a two-way street, and that one of the unwritten regimental obligations of "Once a Royal Canadian …" is also to remember that some who served in or with the Regiment went on to serve in other units and some died wearing another cap badge; though by our own dictum they remain "Royal Canadians." A signal example of this can also be found in our stories of the Second World War.

Lieutenant John Blair Hunt landed in Sicily as the Regiment's Intelligence Officer at Pachino. In late 1943 he was wounded, and on recovery was sent to the PPCLI with whom he was killed at San Leonardo on 14 Dec 1943. Regimental histories for both The RCR (Vol. 2, Stevens, 1967) and the PPCLI (Vol III, Stevens, 1957) agree in their texts that Lieut. Hunt had "been loaned by The Royal Canadian Regiment as a company commander two days before" when he was killed in action (quoted from PPCLI Vol III, p. 133). Despite this, Lieut. Hunt is officially recorded as a casualty of the PPCLI and was not recorded as a regimental casualty in our Regiment's Roll of Honour.

Although the examples above are both from the Second World War and are of officers of the Regiment, they will be known to some readers and do effectively demonstrate that the selective method of placing names on the Regiment's early Rolls of Honour was not only applied to lower ranks. It affected all equally, as it did in the case of Private Henry Krimmell who, while he would even have still been wearing the eight-pointed star, was serving with the 7th Light Trench Mortar Battery at the time of his death.

There are, in fact, 39 officers, NCOs and soldiers of the First World War who served with The RCR in the field and later died while on the strength of other units. Some of these men, like Krimmel, were RCR soldiers who had been posted to other units without a change of parent regiment. Others were initially soldiers of The RCR and later changed both units and badges. Still others spent periods with the Regiment for familiarization in the trenches or while awaiting commissioning, and still more were taken on the strength of The RCR only to be transferred again days or weeks later to another front line unit as the reinforcement system struggled to make up and balance losses.

But each of these soldiers has one common attribute. They were each on the strength of The RCR, either posted into the unit or attached, for a brief period. And each later died; a Canadian casualty of the Great War. The list that follows contains the names of these Royal Canadians, however brief their regimental service.

Permanent Force Soldiers of the Regiment

The RCR started its service in the First World War tasked as the garrison battalion in Bermuda. Upon return to Halifax and subsequent preparations for sailing to England, some soldiers of the Regiment did not continue overseas with the Regiment at that time, but continued their service with other units. Others completed the voyage to England but were transferred out of the Regiment before it entered the trenches in France.

Recruited into The RCR, but did not serve in France with the Regiment

During the First World War, The RCR continued to enlist soldiers into the Permanent Force at its Canadian Garrison. Some of these soldiers joined reinforcement drafts formed to join the overseas battalion, but not all reached The RCR in the field.

The Light Trench Mortarman

Three soldiers of the Regiment died while serving with the 7th Brigade's Light Trench Mortar Battery. Infantry soldiers serving in the T.M. Battery continued to wear their parent regiment's cap badge.

Served in France and Flanders with The RCR

Attached for Training

The following officers and soldier were attached to The RCR in the field in advance of their later commissioning (or intent to be commissioned).

A very short service group; 5 days with The RCR

On 6 Sep 1918, 111 soldiers were taken on the strength of the Regiment in France as reinforcements although the Regiment's War Diary does not indicate that they actually reached the unit in the field. Five days later, on 11 Sep 1918, 95 men were struck off strength, of these 48 went to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion and 47 went to the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Eight of these men, who for a few days served in The Royal Canadian Regiment, became casualties of the Great War. These soldiers all served with the Regiment from 6 Sep 1918 to 11 Sep 1918.

The above list, however, still fails to include those prior serving soldiers, NCOs and officers of The RCR who left the Regiment in Canada and transferred to or reenlisted in other units for their wartime service. Sadly, we may never be certain we have identified all such Royal Canadians, but this list does add a few more names to our Roll of Honour who deserve to have their service with The RCR remembered; however brief it may have been.

Pro Patria