The 79th Cameron Highlanders depart Winnipeg for Valcartier

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The 79th Camerons depart Winnipeg, courtesy of the The Cameron Association in Canada

This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the experiences of Private John Denholm of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) during the First World War. Articles will be published on the 100th anniversary of each event and will feature photos and ephemera from an amazing scrapbook that he compiled shortly after the war.

John Denholm and the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada arrived back in Winnipeg from summer training at Sewell Camp at the beginning of July. The militia men returned to their civilian jobs none the wiser that an unforeseen chain of events would soon lead to mobilization of their Regiment in early August.

MFP-7Aug1914Two days after the declaration of war the regiment paraded through the streets of Winnipeg and past 50,000 spectators. In the weeks that followed the 79th drilled in a variety of locations throughout the city including the stadium and convention hall. In John’s scrapbook is an annotated newspaper clipping that list the men who passed their medical exam and were now on active service. One can imagine John’s disappointment when he found his surname was spelt incorrectly!

The newspapers of the day described Winnipeg as a garrison city. Other units, including the 90th Winnipeg Rifles, 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers and the 106th Regiment Winnipeg Light Infantry drilled, trained and marched in locations throughout the provincial capital.

On August 18th Ottawa informed all units to be prepared to depart on a moments notice. Volunteers from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and Lord Strathcona’s Horse were already on their way to Valcartier, a new military camp that was rapidly taking shape on the outskirts of Quebec City.

The 79th’s turn came on August 23rd when another large crowd lined the streets of Winnipeg to see the Regiment off to war. An article in the Manitoba Free Press, entitled “Highlanders Make Brave Appearance” did a fine job of describing the march to the railway station and the emotions that were felt when relatives were prevented from accompanying their sons, husbands and brothers into the depot.

The Cameron’s arrived at Valcartier on August 26th, 100 years ago today. The Regimental History contains a wonderful description of their arrival in camp:

“…the Camerons marched in and were quartered at the northerly fringe of the camp bordering the open country and facing the Jacques Cartier (river). They were even more isolated than the 91st, for Captain Geddes, who commanded this contingent, held that on active service it was imperative that all ranks should live under active service conditions. He would partake in no hospitality of the 48th or elsewhere and, therefore, he and his officers messed out of the issued mess tins on the stretch of grass used as a football pitch, adjacent to the men’s lines, a practice not conducive to either harmony or comfort. As the two contingents lay practically side by side, and shared a parade ground, they soon drew together and entirely forgot the ill feelings which the Argylls and Camerons are supposed to cherish for each other.”

On September 2nd the 16th Battalion was formed as a unit of the 3rd Brigade in the 1st Canadian Division. It was composed of four Highland regiments: the 79th Camerons from Winnipeg, the 91st Argylls from Hamilton, the 72nd Seaforths from Vancouver and the soon to arrive 50th Gordons from Victoria.

John Denholm’s scrapbook includes two very interesting photographs of Valcartier. The first shows “Main Street” under construction in late August while the other provides an excellent view of the rifle range. The range’s 1700 targets stretched for over a mile making it the longest in the world.

 

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