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50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders
From the Brazier
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6 June 1964

The Brazier

 

How the Fiftieth Gordon Highlanders Began

 

            When war broke out in 1914, contingents from the following four regiments made up the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) CEF –The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) from Hamilton, Ont., formed in 1903 The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, Winnipeg, 1910; The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Vancouver, 1911; The 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada), Victoria, 1914.

            The three senior regiments are still serving today under their original names. The Camerons and the Seaforths both sent their own battalions the 43rd and 72nd respectively, later in the war. It fell to the junior formation in Victoria to have the honour of perpetuating the now famous 16th Canadian Scottish. This meant disbandment and change of name and tartan.

            When the 88th Regiment (Victoria Fusiliers) was formed in 1912, it was felt by a large number of people in Victoria who were of Scottish origin or descent that this was mainly for the English section in the community, and that they too, should be represented.

            The upshot was a series of meetings, the first of which, according to press reports, was called by a Captain Chambers to discuss the formation of a Highland Regiment in Victoria.

            In July 1913, Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia, was in Victoria accompanied by General Sir Ian Hamilton (and old Gordon Highlander, veteran of Khartoum, Majuba Hill and Ladysmith, and future Commander in Chief of the ill-fated Gallipoli expedition) who was touring the Empire in his professional capacity.

            In August came the sanction of the Minister of Militia and on 4th Sept an official announcement from Ottawa authorized the new Highland regiment. On the same day the first fifteen or twenty men were sworn in, although the regiment was not yet actually in being, and was still temporarily administered by a civilian committee.

            On 25 October it was announced that Lieut.-Col Arthur Currie, of the 5th Regiment CGA would be appointed to command. To this he had consented after some misgivings on his part, but he allowed his doubts to be overcome by the earnest pleadings of the proponents of the new regiment. His command of the 5th Regiment was about to expire.

            On the next day Major Lorne Ross was appointed Second-in-Command, and Major Garnett Hughes (only son of the Minister) as junior major. The Caledonia society offered their full support.

            During early November, Peter J. Riddell was appointed Quartermaster and Dr David Donald became medical officer. Capt R. P. Clark of the 5th Regiment was transferred to the 50th to be adjutant as from 1st January 1914.

            On the 21st Mr W. H. Coy became Honorary Lieut.-Colonel. He promptly gave $35,000 to the Regiment, with which full uniform and equipment was purchased, much of which is still in use today as Guards of Honour.

            The Daily Colonist, Victoria, reported that, on 2 December, a Caledonia Club dinner was held at the Empress Hotel on St Andrew’s night, at which Hon. Lieut.-Colonel Coy and Lieut.-Colonel Currie responded to the toast to the Gordon Highlanders. On Christmas day, 1913, the same paper mentions a turkey-shoot held by the 50th Gordons.

            On 19 December Lieut.-Col. Currie, who had been on leave from the 5th Regiment since November, completed his term of command of that unit. On 14 January 1914, he formally took over his new Regiment, and the active militia life and training of the Gordons commenced in earnest.

            Short indeed was the time vouchsafed to Victoria to admire their resplendent uniforms --- tall white plumed feather-bonnets, scarlet or white shell doublets, gold lace and snowy pipe-clayed equipment – eight months later they were mobilized for war!

            In 1914, just as their successors the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish, together with the 2nd Battalion, were to do again in 1939, they filled a large number of guard duties in remote districts; these in addition to sending their original contingent to Valcartier which subsequently became No. 1 Company of the 16th Canadian Scottish CEF.

            Their Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Col. Currie, was immediately appointed to command brigade, eventually rising to lead the Canadian Corps to victory in the field and to attain the highest rank this Dominion has to offer.

            Attempts were made by the Regiment to raise an overseas battalion of its own, but without success. There were fated to remain throughout the war as a mobilized militia unit, still filling guard duties and sending drafts to newly-raised battalions such as the 30th, 48th, and 67yh (Western Scots). When, eventually, a depot for B C was formed at the Willows Camp in 1917, the Gordons still maintained their organization, their drafts into the overseas formation retaining their kilts.

            Besides the considerable regimental property they left and unquenchable spirit to their successors; they may be envied that they survived the Great War without being “pooled” or otherwise losing their identity—as they certainly would have in 1939-45.

 (Scanned by Jack Bates and transcribed by John Sargeant 24 August 2009)