REINFORCING THE 1ST CANADIAN DIVISION AND THE 23RD BATTALION
My blogs of the past several years have of course focused on the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and by extension and connection with my grandfather, soldiers whose service numbers are 61***, 62***, 63***, and 64***. This blog is on the unit, the 23rd Battalion, that harbored the men with these service numbers, arguably one of the most important battalions to proceed overseas from Canada. For the 23rd Battalion provided desperately needed reinforcements to units of the 1st Canadian Division and to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. For if it were not for these reinforcements, it is doubtful if units of the 1st Canadian Division would have the manpower to engage the enemy in the Battle of Festubert, May 1915 and the Battle of Givenchy, June 1915 nor would the PPCLI partake in the St. Eloi action March, 1915 or the Battle of Frezenberg May, 1915. (interesting to note that the PPCLI entered this battle with a strength of 635 ranks, already having received the reinforcements from the "500" draft).
|The 23rd Battalion, Quebec City prior to embarking on the train for Halifax February, 1915|
"Lieut.-Col. F.W.Fisher, Commanding Officer of the 58th Westmount Rifles, Canadian Militia, was authorized on 21st Oct.1914 to raise a battalion for overseas service. Allotted the number "23rd" in the sequence of overseas units, it was to be commanded by Lieut.-Col. Fisher himself. Simultaneously the first exclusive "French-Canadian"unit, numbered 22nd and to be raised by Lieut.-Col. F.M. Gaudet was authorized; to fill the ranks, all French-speaking men of the 23rd were ordered to be transferred to the 22nd. To make up resulting shortages the Western Districts sent 500 men: M.D.10-100 men (6 Nov.1914); M.D.11-200 men (9 Nov.1914); and M.D.13-200 men (4 Nov.1914). The instructions to Col. Fisher were to recruit the H.Q. and two companies in Montreal, and two companies in Quebec City and District. For the two companies in Montreal, the Canadian Grenadier Guards supplied nine officers, and 268 other ranks. The H.Q. and the two Montreal Companies were stationed in the Peel Street Barracks, Montreal; but the quarters being overcrowded, on December 9th, 1914, they were moved to the Emigration Buildings, Louise Basin, Quebec, where the other two companies had already been mobilized. The Canadian winter climate prevented much outdoor training, but a certain amount of work was done on the ice of the frozen St. Lawrence River, while the large C.P.R. sheds made good indoor training places. The Battalion was inspected by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught (30th Dec, 1914) and the Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes (15th Dec, 1914), who both spoke words of praise. On January 15, 1915, a draft of 3 officers and 250 other ranks were sent direct to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, training nearby (at St. Joseph de Levis east saide of the St. Lawrence River).
On February 15, 1915, move orders were received, and on the 17th, the Battalion entrained at Levis for Halifax, where it embarked on the S.S. Missanabie, sailing on 23rd February. Arriving at Avonmouth on 6th March, it proceeded to Shorncliffe Camp, where it was quartered in Moore Barracks. The 23rd Battalion went to England as a provisional reinforcing unit, but instructions had been given by the War Office to keep it intact, and prior to the urgent call for reinforcements by the 1st Canadian Division in April, 1915, it had every chance of going to France as a Battalion. On 26th April it was called upon to supply drafts to various battalions in France, which had suffered losses in the Gas Attack at Ypres, and by 2nd May the whole Battalion, with the exception of some details and a few of the H.Q. Officers, had gone to the front. The numeral was then given to a reinforcing and depot unit, and until the end of the War the 23rd Reserve Battalion functioned as such at Shorncliffe, Shoreham and Bramshott Camps in succession. Owing to the system, or lack of system, then prevailing at Shorncliffe, many of the officers and men, instead of being sent to reinforce Montreal Battalions in the field, were scattered, some going to Toronto Battalions, while men from Toronto reinforcement units were sent to Montreal battalions. The bulk of the 23rd were however sent to the 13th (RHC) and 14th (RMR). Of the officers Lienuts. Anderson and Buchanan were drafted to the 4th (Ontario) Battalion, Lieuts. Chisholm and Weston to the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion, Lieuts. Sumption, Dobbie and Richardson to the 14th R.M.R. It is a matter of regret that the 23rd did not serve in France as a unit; it would without a doubt have given an good account of itself; but drafts sent to the front proved themselves valuable and efficient reinforcements, as their record shows".
History of the Canadian Grenadier Guards,
Few military enthusiasts or historians have paid much attention to the 23rd Battalion, it nevertheless remains one of the most important battalions raised after the Canadian Corps formerly entered the war. The sacrifices and contributions made by this single battalion in reinforcing Canadian 1st Contingent, as well as that of it's sister reinforcing battalion, the 32nd Battalion, remains all out of proportion to the structure of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The 23rd Battalion, and later it’s successor, the 23rd Reserve Battalion, was instrumental is supplying quality, trained reinforcement soldiers after devastating losses in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 22-28,1915. It reinforced the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion (296 men May 3, 1915, Platoons 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 along with 4 officers), the 4th(Central Ontario) Battalion (about 250 men), the 13th (Royal Highlanders of Canada) Battalion (265 men April 28, 1915) , the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion (275 men May 6, 1915; Platoons 9, 10, 11, and 12 along with two officers), the 15th (48th Highlanders) Battalion (52 men May 14, 1915), and the PPCLI Battalion (125 men in the "500" Draft PPCLI), after their devastating losses in April, May and June, 1915. The 23rd Battalion’s commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Frank W. Fisher, was later to lead the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion in the front lines and still later commanded all reserve units in England. These men came from the same source regiments that the balance of the "500" Draft to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry came from and probably moved east to Quebec on the same trains. These reinforcements came principally from the, 29th ( Vancouver) Battalion, 28th (Saskatchewan) Battalion, 30th ( Victoria) Battalion, 31st (Alberta) Battalion and the 32nd ( Manitoba) Battalion who were all recruiting actively at the time. Each was requested to provide 200 recruits. In practice the Battalions asked for volunteers - those who wished to to get to the front quicker - there were no shortage of volunteers, many had previous service with Imperial Forces and/or service in Canadian militia units. To further confuse the issue, the 23rd Battalion was also requested to supply troops directly to the PPCLI "500" Draft. All the service numbers for these reinforcements to the P.P.C.L.I. held service numbers in the 51... range. A very large percentage of these men had short longevity and a high casualty rate. One of these men became a future Commanding Officer of the P.P.C.L.I. (Melville Ten-Broeke #51456).
|Officers of the 23rd Battalion about to depart for England Many did not come home.|
The instructions to Col. Fisher were to recruit the H.Q. (thus a number of French-speaking troops – cooks, drivers, service personnel, etc.) and two companies in Montreal, and two companies in Quebec City and District. For the two Montreal Companies, both the 1st Regiment Canadian Grenadier Guards and the 58th Westmount Rifles were large contributors. The C.G.G. supplied nine officers, and 268 other ranks. The 58th Westmount Rifles supplied besides Col. Fisher, four officers and 200 ranks. Included in this number were Captain Thom with 23 signalers, the Bugle Band, as well as a battalion Motor Cycle Corps. A small number of men enlisted from the 3rd Regiment Victoria Rifles of Canada but as this Regiment was raising the 24th Battalion at the same time, the number was very limited.
Move orders were received on February 15 and on the 17th the Battalion entrained at Levis on the Inter-Colonial Railway for Halifax. Embarking on the 19th, the 23rd Battalion departed Halifax on the almost new (Oct. 1914) "S.S. Missanabie" February 23, 1915 with a strength of 35 officers and 942 other ranks (not including the earlier PPCLI draft). A brief stop in Queenstown (Cork) from a U-boat scare and landing at Avonmouth (Bristol) March 7, 1915. They proceeded to Shorncliffe Camp, Moore Barracks, which was to be their home for a short period. Some ironies: the S.S. Missanabie was to be torpedoed and sunk September 8, 1918, 50 miles off of Queenstown with a loss of 45 lives; John Cody's Irish family (#63207) departed from Queenstown at the turn of the century for America. 26 years later his son, and my father, John Cody, Chief Petty Officer RCN, spent a horrific New Years in 1941 while in Bristol harbour (Avonmouth) aboard a merchant ship during a Nazi bombing firestorms.
|A draft to the 23rd Battalion with James Fotheringham,MM, #63350,|
top right corner. These men probably conprise the draft from Calgary.
23rd Reserve Battalion
The 23rd Battalion was told they would be a reinforcement battalion prior leaving Canada, but instructions had been given by the War Office to keep it intact, and prior to the urgent call for reinforcements in April, 1915 after the disastrous 2nd Battle of Ypres. It had every chance of going to France as an intact Battalion, much like the 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd Battalions. On April 26, 1915 however, probably because of the high percentage of previous military serving experienced ranks, the Battalion was called upon to supply drafts to various active Battalions which had suffered grievously at Ypres. By May 6, the whole Battalion, with the exception of some details and a few of the H.Q. officers, had gone to the front. On April 29, 1915 under C.R.O. 450 the 23rd Infantry Battalion was re-organized as the 23rd Reserve Battalion. The 23rd Reserve Battalion functioned as a reserve unit and depot based at Shorncliffe, Shoreham, Bramshott and Ripon Camps, in succession until war’s end. During the war, it absorbed the following Overseas Battalions:
106th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalion
117th (Eastern Township) Battalion
118th (North Waterloo) Battalion
133rd (Norfolk’s Own) Battalion
142nd (London’s Own) Battalion
199th (Duchess of Connaught’s Own Irish Rifles) Battalion
244th (Kitchener’s Own) Battalion
245th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion
For almost two years (April 29, 1915 to January 4, 1917), the 23rd Reserve Battalion would train and provide reinforcements for battalions in France. They are listed as follows:
Reinforced the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion Sept.9, 1915 to April 29, 1916
Reinforced the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion July 19, 1915 to Jan.4, 1917
Reinforced the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion Sept. 9, 1915 to July 9, 1916
Reinforced the 24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion July 19, 1915 to Aug. 31, 1915
Reinforced the 24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion July 9, 1916 to Jan.4, 1917
Reinforced the 42nd (Royal Highlanders) Battalion Sept. 15, 1915 to Aug. 29, 1916
Reinforced the 60th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion July 9, 1916 to Jan. 4, 1917
The 23rd Reserve Battalion received at least two drafts from Canada, the first draft of 5 officers and 250 other ranks was from Calgary’s 50th Battalion, their second draft, which sailed from Montreal on board the S.S. Metagama, Sept. 11, 1915. The second draft of 5 officers and 250 men were from Toronto’s 75th Battalion, which sailed from Montreal aboard the S.S. Scandinavian on Oct. 1, 1915.
Two Battalions were absorbed by the 23rd Reserve Battalion in 1916. On Nov. 12, 1916 they absorbed the 133rd (Norfolk’s Own) Battalion raised in Simcoe, Ont., which had sailed with 21 officers and 665 other ranks. Their stay which the 23rd however would be short-lived as a reserve organization in January, 1917 would see 534 other ranks transferred to the 3rd Reserve Battalion on Jan. 4, 1917. The 23rd would also absorb the 142nd (London’s Own) Battalion, raised in London, Ont., which sailed from Canada with 26 officers and 574 other ranks, arriving in Shorncliffe on Nov. 12, 1916. The personnel of the 142nd Battalion would be transferred to the 4th Reserve Battalion on Jan. 4, 1917.
The following offficers commanded the 23rd Reserve Battalion between March, 1915 and September, 1916:
Lt.-Col. Frank W. Fisher – March 8, 1915 to July 4, 1915
Lt.-Col. F.C. Bowen – July 4, 1915 to April 22, 1916
Major D.A. McKay – April 1, 1916 to July 22, 1916
Lt.-Col. C.F. Bick – July 12, 1916 to Sept. 6, 1916
With the reserve re-organization in the Fall of 1917, the 23rd Reserve Battalion would cease to exist in it’s current format. Under Canadian Routine Orders 198 and 271, the affairs of the 23rd Reserve Battalion, in it’s existing form, were wound up. Part of the mandate of the reorganization, were to ensure that serving soldiers served with battalions raised in the Military District from which they came. Therefore on Jan. 4, 1917, the 23rd Reserve Battalion’s cadre of staff and infrastructure was amalgamated with the 117th Battalion (Eastern Townships) to form a new 23rd Reserve Battalion under Lt-Col. Frank W. Fisher, who had returned from the front lines after commanding the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion, The new 23rd was again based in Shorncliffe with it’s authorization being Canadian Routine Order 271 dated March 20, 1917. The 117th Battalion had been used as a reinforcing unit unit since Aug. 25, 1916. Only part of the original 856 other ranks remained to train with the 23rd. Almost half would be serving in France before joining the 23rd, with 312 other ranks in the 5th CMR Battalion and 55 other ranks in the 87th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion.Once the 117th had been amalgamated with the 23rd, a further 124 other ranks would be drafted to the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion, 42 to the 22nd Battalion and 218 to the 24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion. On Jan. 5, 1917, the 23rd Reserve Battalion moved to Shoreham and began the job of reinforcing battalions at the front. The following battalions were reinforced by the 23rd Reserve Battalion:
Reinforced the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion Jan. 1917 to demobilization
Reinforced the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion Jan. 4, 1917 to demobilization
Reinforced the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion Jan. 4, 1917 to demobilization
Reinforced the 24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion Jan. 4, 1917 to demobilzation
Reinforced the 60th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion Jan. 4, 1917 to April 30, 1917
Reinforced the 87th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion May, 11, 1917 to demobilization (this Battalion also received 55 other ranks direct from the 117th Battalion)
A draft of Military Service Act, 1917 concripts from the Quebec Regiment, 1st Depot Battalion, Montreal sailed on the S.S. Scandinavian March 25, 1918 arriving in England April 3, 1918. The total size of this draft at present is unknown probably about 500 soldiers. What is known is that 140 of this draft were channelled throught the 23rd Reserve Battalion into the 14th (Royal Montreal) Battalion. Of this draft of 140 soldiers, according to Michel Gravel, 100 were casualties with 22 deaths – all within the last 100 days of the war! The 23rd Reserve Battalion absorbed the 244th (Kitchener’s Own) Battalion which sailed with 27 officers and 604 other ranks, two weeks after their arrival at Shoreham on April 21, 1917. On May 14,1917 the 23rd absorbed the 245th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion from Montreal, which had sailed with 16 officers and 274 other ranks. On May 11, 1917, the 199th (Duchess of Connaught’s Own Irish Canadian Rangers) Battalion, which had been designated for the 15th Brigade, 5th Canadian Infantry Division and the 22nd Canadian Reserve Battalion (which was having difficulty attracting French speaking recruits) were absorbed and the 23rd was re-designated the 23rd Reserve Battalion (199th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Irish Canadian Rangers) under Canadian Routine Orders 1378.
|CSM Frank Nagle, #63672, 3rd Battalion|
Killed In Action June 13, 1916
The 23rd Reserve Battalion continued to use the 61… to 64… bank of service numbers they had originally been assigned in Canada, to use with all new recruits they secured in England. We think that recruiting of English men, while in training in England occurred either because some of these men worked at occupations required by the Battalion i.e. shoemaker, tailor, baker, or soldiers were recruited who expressed a strong interest to emigrate to Canada after the war and/or had family already living in Canada.
The 23rd Reserve Battalion would move twice more, to Bramshott on October 11, 1917 and to Ripon on Feb. 2, 1919 before returning to Canada on July 4, 1919. The 23rd Reserve Battalion was disbanded by General Order 149 dated Sept. 15, 1920.
The 23rd Battalion was perpetuated by the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, and then The Royal Montreal Regiment (M.G.) and is currently perpetuated by The Royal Montreal Regiment.
Officer in Command
Lieut.-Col. Frank W. Fisher, R.O. 58th. Westmount Regt.
Lieut.-Col. F.C. Bowen, 53rd Regt; Major S.H. Hill, 8th Royal Rifles O.& I.C.C.
Lieut. A.T. Powell, R.O.
Hon. Lieut. C. J. Charlton
PaymasterLieut. E.J. Griffith, 1st C.G.G.
D.A. Mackay, R.O.
C.E. Shirley, 6th Hussars ; C.T.W. Etches, 64th Regt.
G.G. Mitchell 1st C.G.G. ; J.H. Richardson 1st C.G.G.; H.A. Chisholm, MC, 1st C.G.G.; J.R. Anderson 1st C.G.G.; E.deL. Buchanan 1st C.G.G.; G.L. Dobbin 58th Westmount Regt.; M.N. Burk 58th Westmount Regt.; N.A. Edwards 58th Westmount Regt.; L.A. Johnston 58th Westmount Regt.; H. Lyle 103rd Regt.; R.S. Smith, R.O; E.J. Griffith, 1st C.G.G.; J.H. Richardson, 1st C.G.G.; W.W. Weston, 1st C.G.G.
OFFICERS SERVING IN THE 23rd RESERVE BATTALION - April/May
|Lieut. Whitford Wells Weston, 3rd Battalion|
Killed In Action June 13, 1916
Baldwin, C.Y. Lt. Enl. Edmonton
Beardmore, L Lt
Chisholm, H.A. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Chitty, R.M.W. Lt
Clarke, C.L. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Davidson, J.A. Lt Transferred from 35th Bn
Dion, S.A. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Dobbin, G.L. Lt Transferred to 14th Bn
Dymond, J.M. Lt
Edwards, N.A. Lt Transferred to PPCLI KIA May 8, 1915 David Bluestein/medals
Evans, D.J. Lt
Evans, T.A. Lt
Evans, J.H.R. Capt
Godwin, R. Lt Transferred to 14th Bn
Holt, A.P. Capt
Johnston, L.A. Lt Transferred to 14th Bn
Kelly, N.P. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Lemesaurier, G.S. Lt
MacKenzie, G.L. Lt Transferred from 35th Bn
MacKenzie, T.R. Capt
Major, A.F. Lt
McCombe, G Capt
Mason, D.M.C. Capt Transferred to 3rd Bn ?
Pilcher, J.W. Capt
Powell, Allan T. Capt 23rd Bn Adjutant
Price, C.B. Lt
Ranger, E. Maj
Reid, G.E. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Richardson, J.H. Capt Transferred to 14th Bn
Robertson, I. G. Lt Transferred to 14th Bn
Shirley, C.E. Capt Transferred to 3rd Bn
Smith, H.H. Capt
Smith, R.S. Capt Transferred to 14th Bn
Sumption, J.F. Capt Transferred to 14th Bn
Weston, W.W. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn KIA
Weston, W.W. Lt Transferred to 3rd Bn KIA
Whitehead, E.A. Lt
Woodside, H.J. Maj
This blog is sort of a compilation from a number of different sources. Therefore parts may be somewhat repetitive and not flowing in an ideal literary manner. I apologize for that. However hopefully the intent (to illustrate early reinforcement sources for the 1st Canadian Division) achieved success.