Valentine Hitchcock Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Note: Valentine’s service file contains no specific details on his early days with the 67th Battalion and so in Part 3 I’ve focused on the story of the battalion’s formative days in Victoria, BC.
The 67th Battalion (Western Scots) were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne Ross, formerly of the 50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders. The Gordons were one of four Highland regiments that made up the famed 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish). Ross, then a Major, was seriously wounded during the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and was on leave in Canada when he was offered a promotion and the job of raising a new battalion. He accepted and by early August Ross had selected his officers. On August 15th, when the battalion was officially authorized, “the call went out for lumberjacks, mining men, surveyors’ crews, ranchers, construction gangs, and men of fine physical stature…“. The response was swift and by early October the battalion was over strength at 1063 men and officers.
The Western Scots took up residence at Willows Camp and immediately began drilling in preparation for the visit of H.R.H The Duke of Connaught. On Friday September 17th over 1350 officers and men, along with nearly 700 cadets and Boy Scouts, were reviewed by the Governor-General. Assembled under sunny skies were the 5th Canadian Royal Garrison Artillery, the Independent Squadron of B.C. Horse, the 50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders, the 88th Regiment Victoria Fusiliers, the No. 1 Army Service Corps and nearly 700 members of the 67th Overseas Battalion Western Scots. According to The Daily Colonist the new recruits made a fine impression:
“Unquestionably, the 67th Battalion, which was next in line, furnished the surprise of the occasion. A few weeks ago there was no such establishment. It has been mobilized within that period, and has had little over one week of actual hard drill. Yet it would have been hard for one without long military experience to have found any fault with the corps as it marched by in column of company and gave the salute.”
With the royal spectacle over the Western Scots began an arduous training regime to prepare them for the trenches of France and Belgium. Lt-Col. Ross stressed practical skills such as trench making, engineering, bombing and physical fitness. During a lecture on tactics he commented:
“If you are an officer commanding, see that your men are in good shape physically. A man who is a good football half-back is worth ten scrawny clerks who know book drill like clockwork”.
The Western Scots were no strangers to long route marches. 260 men from No. 3 Company spent three days on the Saanich Peninsula in late December. The Victoria & Sidney Railway transported the men from Victoria to Saanichton where they marched the final six miles in driving rain and wind to Sidney. The poor weather continued the following day and hampered their trench making and bomb throwing excerises but didn’t prevent the men from being taken out on a “sharp walk”. The company left Sidney before daybreak on the third morning and marched the 20 miles back to Willows Camp carrying packs weighing between 40 and 80 lbs.
Training continued throughout the unusually cold and snowy winter of 1915/16. Victoria received nearly 80 inches of snow, almost half of which fell in the first day and a half of February. Transportation in the city ground to a halt and at Willows Camp the mess hall roof, used by both the 67th and 88th Battalions, collapsed under the weight of snow. Residents began running low on food and fuel to heat their homes and so on Feb. 4th nearly 600 soldiers from the 67th, 88th and 103rd Battalions as well as troops from the 11th Canadian Mounted Rifles assisted the city in clearing its streets. 125 men from the 67th were detailed to work east along Oak Bay Ave from the Oak Bay Junction while another party dug their way out from the Camp towards Richmond Road. The soldiers efforts paid off and by the following day street car service resumed in parts of the city.
By the end of February the battalion had been training at Willows Camp for nearly six months and were anxiously awaiting their orders to head overseas. The Western Scot Farewell Edition was published on February 23rd and Major Harbottle provided this advice on their departure:
“One word more to all ranks. The day the Western Scots march from camp to embark for the East, let each man be prepared to conduct himself in the most exemplary manner. The last impression of the Battalion on the day of departure will be a lasting one, and we must show our Victoria friends that we are capable of conducting ourselves in a soldiery manner, even under the trying circumstance of bidding farewell to those we are leaving behind.”
One month later the Battalion was still at Willows Camp but this time the headline in the latest edition of The Western Scot confirmed that their orders had finally been received “To All Our Friends Good – Bye and Good Luck!” (note: read seven complete issues of The Western Scot on A City Goes to War).
On Friday March 24th, 1916 the 67th Battalion Western Scots were given an enthusiastic send off by the people of Victoria as they boarded the Princess steamers, the first leg of their long journey to the Western Front. Awaiting the troops in Halifax was the RMS Olympic, the largest British-built liner in the world and older sister to the ill-fated Titantic. It had just arrived from Liverpool to ferry its first contingent of Canadian soldiers across the Atlantic. The Olympic was capable of accommodating nearly 6000 troops and the logistics involved in coaling and watering such a large vessel were considerable. According to David R Gray’s “Carrying Canadian Troops: The Story of RMS Olympic as a First World War Troopship” the task took 6 days, twice as long as estimated and as a result it’s maiden voyage was delayed. The 67th Battalion, along with troops from the 59th, 61st, 71st and other battalions, arrived in Liverpool on April 11th.
In Part 4: the 67th in France & Flanders, Vimy Ridge and the breaking up of the Battalion.
Categories: Soldier-related Posts, Valentine Hitchcock
Thank you very much. My grandfather, Albert Edwin Smith was a volunteer in the 67th Canadian (Pioneer) Battalion. I’ve been researching his life and you have added some interesting information I did not have until now.
You’re welcome. I’m glad to hear you found some interesting information to add to your grandfather’s story! Thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback.