1914-1919

1914 – War, Mobilization

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On August 4th, 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary to uphold treaties with France and Belgium, which were under German attack. The next day the regiment held a parade on Maryland Street with a total of about 250 all ranks. Recruiting began immediately and within a few weeks the ranks had swelled to over 500.

On 30 August the Regiment entrained for Valcartier, Quebec. On arrival the men were told the disappointing news that Cavalry were not needed and they would be transferred to the newly organized 6th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Men were transferred in from other Cavalry units in Valcartier, notably the 18th Mounted Rifles, 20th Border Horse, 22nd Saskatchewan Light Horse, and 32nd Manitoba Horse. Although made up of many Western Cavalry units and some Infantry units, the 6th Battalion was generally known as the “Fort Garrys” and remained under command of Lt. Col Paterson.

By 28 September, when the 6th Battalion embarked for France on the S.S. Lapland, it numbered a strength of 1,223 all ranks The cap badge chosen for the 6th Battalion was the Fort Garry gate superimposed on a bronze maple leaf with the number “6” below and the scroll that read “WESTERN CANADA”.

1914 – Overseas

The S.S. Lapland docked in Plymouth, England on 14 October 1914 after an uneventful crossing. The Lapland was a ship of the Belgian “Red Star” line. During the voyage the bandmaster found a library of music left by the ship’s former German orchestra. He picked out a stirring march titled “El Abanico” and had the band learn it. It was adopted as the Regimental March of the 6th Battalion and later of the Fort Garry Horse.

The Regiment moved from Plymouth to Salisbury Plain, the main training ground of the British Army, and moved into a tent city. On 30 October it began to rain and turned the area into a sea of mud. Soldiers trained all day in pouring rain trying to sleep at night in wet blankets. The wet and cold conditions continued till Christmas when as many men as possible were granted leave.

In January 1915 Canada’s two Permanent Force Cavalry Regiments, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) and the Royal Canadian Dragoons, having also trained as Infantry, were given back their horses and with the British 2nd King Edward’s Horse and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, formed the Canadian Cavalry Brigade for service in France. The 6th Battalion, being composed of Cavalrymen, was selected to become the Remount Depot for the Brigade. On the 22nd of January, the Fort Garry Horse was re-formed and cavalry training began immediately. The 6th Battalion was disbanded and the members were transferred to the Garrys or to the 8th and 10th Infantry Battalions.

In April 1915 the Fort Garry Horse moved to Canterbury to form the Canadian Cavalry Depot. For the next nine months they trained and furnished drafts of men to reinforce the Canadian Cavalry Brigade then fighting in a dismounted role in France. During this time the regiment adopted a new cap badge consisting of the maple leaf and gate of the 6th Battalion, with the scroll changed to read “FORT GARRY HORSE”.

1916 – With the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in France

FGH Cap Badge as worn in France 1916-1919 In December 1915 it was decided the replace the 2nd King Edward’s Horse in France with a Canadian Regiment. The Fort Garry Horse was selected to become the third Regiment in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. It had been kept up to strength in England with reinforcements provided by the 34th Fort Garry Horse, still operating as a Militia unit in Winnipeg. The 34th FGH continued to recruit and train Cavalrymen throughout the war in Winnipeg and Camp Hughes, sending them overseas as required by the regiment.

On 25 February 1916 the regiment landed in France and began to train with the Brigade. On 13/14 July “B” Squadron saw the first action for the regiment when they were tasked to lay bridges for the Infantry advance. They used special collapsible bridges that had been designed by Lt. Col H.I. Stevenson, then second in command of the Garrys.

The Squadron was then sent forward to attack High Wood in support of the Infantry. The attack was highly successful, the trenches dug by the Garrys were not recaptured for two weeks. The regiment was later employed building roads, railways and trenches. Throughout the winter of 1916-1917 they took their turn relieving Infantry in the trenches, staying two weeks in the front line alternating with one weeks “rest”, maintaining their cavalry skills and assisting in moving stores and munitions to the front.

Troop of Cavalry charging

 

1917 – Guyencourt, Saulcourt, the Trenches

On a cold and snowy day, 27 March 1917, The Garrys, with the rest of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, took part in the attack on German positions in the Guyencourt-Saulcourt area. The Germans had withdrawn to straighten out a bulge in their line and the 4th British army scrambled to regain contact. The Infantry could not keep up so the Cavalry was called in. The town of Saulcourt was captured in a three-pronged attack by the Garrys, while the Strathcona’s attacked Guyencourt. Lt. F.W. Harvey, of the Strathcona’s was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during this action.

The attack was successful, making contact with the Germans at the new Hindenburg line. The Infantry moved up to consolidate the Cavalry’s gains. It was the first major action involving the entire brigade mounted. In May the regiment returned to the front line trenches to relieve the tired Infantry. Trench Raids were conducted in the area of Somerville and Max Wood with many decorations being won by members of the regiment. Lt. Harcus Strachan, later to win the Victoria Cross, was awarded a Military Cross for his actions at Somerville Wood.

 

1917 – Cambrai

Capt. Harcus Strachan VC MCThe plan for the attack on the German Hindenburg Line relied on a massed tank and infantry breakthrough to be exploited by the Cavalry, which were to push forward and isolate the city of Cambrai. The Fort Garry Horse, as part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, 5th Cavalry Division, was given the task of leading as advance guard for the Division. “B” Squadron, commanded by Captain Campbell, was given the special mission of capturing a German Corps Headquarters in the town of Escaudoeuvres. The Remainder of the regiment was held up by a bridge which had collapsed under the weight of a tank, but “B” Squadron managed to cross on a temporary bridge constructed (with the help of the Machine Gun Squadron and German prisoners) over a damaged lock gate.

Shortly after the crossing, the CO, Lt. Col. R. W. Paterson, received orders to cancel the entire Cavalry advance but “B” Squadron was already on the way to their objective. The Squadron came under heavy machine gun fire, killing Captain Campbell. Lt. Harcus Strachan immediately took command. He led the Squadron forward and came upon a German artillery battery which was destroyed by a charge with swords drawn. The Squadron continued forward and halted to rest under cover in a sunken road, where Lt. Strachan found that only 43 men and horses were left from the start of 129 men and 140 horses. Realizing that the Squadron could not accomplish their mission, Lt. Strachan and Lt. W Cowen led the remaining men back in two groups through the German lines at night, bringing in 15 prisoners. For his gallantry and leadership, Lt. Strachan was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour.

Other Decorations awarded were the Military Cross, to Lieuts. Fleming and Cowen, and the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Sergeant J. Bernas and Trooper W. Morrall. The Military Medal went to Acting Sergeant T.P. Tebburt and Troopers J.E. van Wilderode, T. Gibbons, and W. Hall, while Corporal J. McKay and Lance Corporal F. Fitzgerald were awarded bars to Military Medals previously received. The Medical Officer, Captain E.C. Whitehouse, also received the Military Cross for conspicuous service during the day. As well as destroying the artillery battery, “B” Squadron was credited with widespread disruption behind the German lines.

B Squadron Survivors, Cambrai 1917

 

1918 – Moreuil Wood – Rifle Wood

The battles of Moreuil and Rifle Wood took place during the German offensive which began March 21, 1918. During the initial retirement of the British forces the Fort Garry Horse and the rest of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade were tasked to cover the withdrawal of the British 54th Infantry Brigade. During the action, “A” and “B” Squadron were sent up to rescue a Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse about to be surrounded by the enemy. In doing so “A” Squadron itself was surrounded but managed to hold off the enemy with rifle fire and a single machine gun until a party of French Infantry was organized to drive the enemy back.

From the 22nd to the 26th of March the Regiment was tasked to provide mounted and dismounted detachments to plug gaps and relieve the hard-pressed British Infantry. One dismounted patrol of 13 men on a reconnaissance mission became entangled with the enemy and was cut off from the rest of the Regiment for 4 days.

On March 30th, The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was ordered to attack Moreuil Wood, an important high feature overlooking Amiens and the main railway line to Paris. The attack was led by the Royal Canadian Dragoons supported by the Strathcona’s and the Garrys. The enemy was finally driven out of the woods, and despite severe losses and in the face of repeated counterattacks the wood was held by the Brigade until relieved by Infantry in the evening. Lt. Gordon Flowerdew of the Strathconas was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in this action.

On the Morning of April 1st the Brigade was ordered to carry out a dismounted attack on Rifle Wood just North-East of Moreuil. The Fort Garry Horse detachment of 176 men led the Canadian Cavalry Brigade into the heavily defended wood. Losses were again heavy but the attack was successful. 121 prisoners and 13 machine guns were captured and turned against the enemy. The successful attacks on Moreuil and Rifle woods were credited with stopping the German advance on Amiens and saving the city.

FGH troopers escorting German prisoners 1918

1918 – The Last Hundred Days

In the last great battles of the war, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, now under command of Brigadier General Paterson, came into their own, operating with tanks and protecting the right flank of the Canadian Corps. This was the first time that the CCB had fought alongside Canadian infantry.

On 8 August, advancing to Beaucort, “A” Squadron captured a complete German Brigade HQ, complete with all the staff, maps and papers.

On the 10th, the Garrys had to advance up the Roye Road toward Hill 100. The fields were blocked by trenches and wire, so three troops of “C” Squadron galloped straight up the road through clouds of dust. Machine gun and shell fire left the road strewn with the bodies of horses and men. The last rider fell 100 yards from the objective.

The regiment was not in action again until 9 October, when the advance was slowed by a strong enemy position in Gattigny Wood. Lt. Dunwoody, with 3 Troop, B Squadron, charged the machine guns on the right flank of the wood and succeeded in driving the enemy back. Meanwhile, A Squadron under Maj Middlemast, rode around the left of the wood and charged, killing a great number of enemy with the sword, and capturing 200 prisoners. Shortly after, the remainder of B Squadron rode forward and captured Maurois. The enemy fell back to Reumont, and C Squadron, under Maj Mills, swung north around the village, charged, and captured 42 prisoners and 6 machine guns. With the assistance of B Squadron, the machine gun section, and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, the town was secured.

The next objective was the town and high ground near Le Cateau. B Squadron patrols entered the outskirts of the town at night and the position was finally taken by the Royal Canadian Dragoons. The CCB was relieved in place by the 7th Cavalry Brigade. The charge at Gattigny Wood was described by the Commander of the British Cavalry Corps, as “the best cavalry action carried out by any cavalry unit on any front during the war.” For this action, Lt. Dunwoody and Maj Middlemast received the Distinguished Service Order, two other officers received the Military Cross, five Distinguished Conduct Medals and eleven Military Medals were awarded.

 

1919 – Peace and Demobilization

When the war ended on 11 November, 1918 the Garrys were required to perform a stint of garrison duty in Belgium. The spare time was spent in regimental sports, cleaning and turning in equipment. Finally, on 18 April 1919, all ranks returned to England for a well deserved leave. On 21 May, 1919 most of the Regiment boarded the R.M.S. Carmania, landing in Halifax from which they arrived in Winnipeg by train on 2 June. The remainder came home on the S.S. Northland.

At the time Winnipeg was in the throes of the great General Strike and volunteers were asked to stay on to help the Mounted Police. 38 Officers and Men armed with baseball bats took to horses again and were involved in the breakup of the riot on “Bloody Saturday” which brought an end to the strike. When the Regiment was demobilized in June 1919 the members returned to their peacetime occupations or found new ones and for a short time all thoughts of soldiering were gladly laid aside.

The Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives