“They Never Failed Me” – The RMR Returned Home 100 Years Ago Today

The story of the 14th Battalion’s Final Voyage Home, article written by Captain (ret’d) Hamilton Slessor

Westmount, Quebec – 20 April 2019: At the end of February 1919 while still at Huy in Belgium, the strength of the 14th Battalion stood at 975 all ranks.[1] Gradually, even before the Regiment itself reached the shores of England, small drafts of men had already been returned there.  On March 14th, with 30 officers and 653 men remaining, the Regiment finally sailed from Le Havre and docked at Weymouth. 

Many days were spent at Bramshott Camp in the preparation of documents, or in medical and dental examinations required in anticipation of demobilization, pay parades, bath parades and the issue of clean clothing.  There was just sufficient training to keep the men fit.  Periods of leave were granted to both officers and men.  There were also investiture ceremonies for the presentation of honours and awards won by members of the Regiment.  

Finally after some delays in arrangements for ships to transport the 14th Battalion back to Canada preparations were finalized.  The 14th, along with the 5th, 7th, 10th and 13th Battalions  boarded the S.S. Carmania of the Cunard Line at Liverpool at about 10:30 am on April 10th.   At the dock to bid the troops farewell were Major-General Sir A.C. Macdonnell, to whose famous “Red Patch” Division all the battalions belonged, and Brig.-General G.S. Tuxford, who for three years had commanded the 3rd Brigade.  Both officers, realizing that neither the Division nor the Brigade would ever assemble again, bade the battalions goodbye with deep emotion.  

S.S. Carmania,  Cunard Line

The ship’s manifest and the 14th Bn. Dispersal Roll show there were 31 officers and 625 O.R.s of the 14th on board.

Taken as a whole the voyage was without incident.  Sports occupied most of the time, and reading matter was distributed by the Y.M.C.A.   A “Final Order” by the G.O.C. the 1st Division was distributed to the men, most of whom saved the pamphlet as a souvenir of stirring days. Throughout the voyage officers, non-commissioned officers, and clerks of the Battalion worked to complete documents so that no tiresome delays in barracks in Montreal need ensue.  Each man’s account was audited and closed by calculation of the exact sum that would be due him on arrival, and medical inspections were carried out when necessary.  When Canada was sighted the 14th Battalion stood ready for immediate demobilization.

The Gazette, Montreal, April 21, 1919

[2]At 7 o’clock on the evening of Good Friday, April 18th, 1919, the Carmania docked at Halifax.  There was some delay – about an hour and a half – as the longshoremen refused to work over the supper hour and at the same time demanded double pay for working on the holiday.  The 13th Battalion disembarked first, the 14th followed and entrained without further delay.    April 19th was spent en route and the morning of Easter Sunday, April 20th, was devoted to preparation for the march through the streets of Montreal.   Throughout this train trip the food and service on the Canadian National Railway system was acknowledged to be entirely satisfactory.

Montrealers awaiting the arrival of these trains would have been aware that the journey from Halifax to Montreal was not without possible hazzards.  Just 15 weeks earlier, on December 31st, a similar troop carrying train was involved in a very serious crash at Glendyne, Quebec just after crossing the border from New Brunswick.  Regrettably three soldiers were killed in that accident, and fifty-four were injured, including two soldiers of the 14th Bn. who had preceeded the battalion homeward.  428 other soldiers on that train escaped without injury. [3]

On Sunday April 20th, at 1:45 p.m. the factory whistles on the Angus Shops of the Canadian Pacific Railway warned Montreal that the three trains carrying the 13th and 14th Battalions were approaching Place Viger Station.  Soon all three trains drew alongside the platforms and Montreal’s original battalions had reached home.  At the station the units were welcomed by a gathering of soldiers and civilians, including Major-General E.W. Wilson, G.O.C. of the Montreal District, Brig.-Gen. W.O.H. Dodds, D.S.O.., ex-commander of the 5th Canadian Divisional Artillery, Brig.-Gen. J.B. White and Brig.-Gen. C.W. Smart.  To the delight of veterans of the 14th, two ex-Commanding Officers of the unit, Lieut.-Cols. F.W. Fisher and Gault McCombe, D.S.O. were also present.

The Gazette, Montreal, April 21, 1919 [4]

After greetings and ceremonial in the station, the two overseas battalions formed up with escorts and bands from the 1st Regiment, Canadian Grenadier Guards, the 3rd Regiment, Victoria Rifles of Canada, the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada, and the 65th Regiment, Carabiniers de Mont-Royal, for a march to the Peel Street Barracks, a distance of just over 1.6 miles (2.57km). 

Leaving Place Viger Station, the units proceeded along Craig Street to the Champ de Mars, where Major-General Wilson took the salute, thence by way of St. James Street, Beaver Hall Hill, and St Catherine Street to their destination, the Peel Street Barracks.  Marching with steel helmets, with bayonets fixed and colours flying, the 14th Battalion at all points received an ovation, diminished no less in volume by the fact that to the 13th Battalion, marching ahead, the citizens had paid enthusiastic tribute.  Both battalions shared in the demonstration in honour of the deeds wrought on the fields of France.

14th Battalion R.M.R. entering Phillips Square, Montreal, April 20, 1919 [5]
The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, April 21, 1919 [6]

Each battalion came home with an “original” in command but not one of the original officers returned with the Fourteenth. [7]  At the head of the 14th Battalion marched Lieut-Col. Dick Worrall, D.S.O., M.C., and at the rear was Major C.B. Price, D.D.O., D.C.M., Second-in-Command.  These officers, when the Battalion left for Valcartier in 1914, had marched in the ranks, the former in the detachment recruited by the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the later in the section raised by the Victoria Rifles of Canada.  Both men had risen step by step through efficiency   to the position they now held.  At the time of arrival in Montreal, No. 1 Coy was under command of Major J.E. McKenna, M.C., No. 2 was commanded by Capt. G.V. Whitehead, No. 3 by Major H.G. Brewer, M.C., and No. 4 by Capt. A.H. Murphy.  These officers had gained distinction in France and one, Major Brewer, had been promoted from the ranks of the original Battalion.

An indication of the high regard held by officers of the Battalion for their men is illustrated by this anecdote reported in the local press at the time.   “One former officer, Lieut.-Col. Edouard Leprohon, who took the 18th platoon to France, is now returning with the Battalion, though he has been separated from it for the past year and a half, being engaged on transport duty.  Notwithstanding his present rank, Col. Leprohon is proud enough of his old platoon to take charge of it in its final stage.”  [8]

The 14th Battalion C.E.F., The Royal Montreal Regiment marching past Phillips Square, Montreal April 20, 1919 [9]

At Peel Street, after passing under a huge banner marking “The End of the Trail”, the 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, entered the old High School Barracks to render a salute to the Regimental Colours.  The 14th Battalion, Royal Montreal Regiment, completed this ceremony outside the barrack doors.  The band played “O Canada”, the Colour Party advanced and amid silence the Battalion saluted the colours presented on the soil of Germany.   Following this ceremony the men entered the barracks where in a soldierly speech impressive to a degree by reason of its deep feeling, Lieut.-Col. Worrall bade his command farewell.  Then, at his “Dismiss!” the overseas unit broke ranks, never as such to reassemble.

Peel Street Barracks, Montreal (formerly Montreal High School)  [10]

All that remained was for the men to turn in their kit and equipment including rifles etc. and draw their final pay before finally dispersing to join family or friends, and seek out a new life as a civilian once again.

So ended the career of the 14th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Over 6,200 men passed through the ranks; 1,192 of these laid down their lives in action, or as a result of illness contracted on service; and 3,277 were wounded.   When informed that a history of the Regiment was to be compiled, Major-General Sir A.C. Macdonnell, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., G.O.C. the 1st Canadian Division, paid a tribute than which the Battalion could ask no higher.  “During the years of my command”’ he wrote, “they never failed me”.  [11]

  • [1] The Royal Montreal Regiment, War Diaries, February 28, 1919.
  • [2] The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, April 21, 1919, pg. 2, col. 1.
  • [3] Toronto Star, January 2, 1919, pg. 1.
  • [4] The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, April 21, 1919, pg. 3.
  • [5] The Royal Montreal Regiment, Regimental Museum and Archives.
  • [6] The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, April 21, 1919, pg. 1.
  • [7] Ibid
  • [8] The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, April 21, 1919, pg. 2, col. 1.
  • [9] The Royal Montreal Regiment, Regimental Museum and Archives.
  • [10] The McCord Museum, Montreal, William Notman  Photographic Collection, View 2545-1
  • [11] R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pp. 281-285.

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