4th Canadian Mounted Rifles - War Diaries - 1914-1915

The following presents an overview of the 4th CMR's history, with details principally being taken from the regimental War Diaries and then cross-referenced with S. G. Bennett's extensive 4th CMR Regimental History (1926).

The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles became a unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on November 5th, 1914. Under the command of Lt-Col. Vaux Chadwick, former Commanding Officer of the 9th Mississauga Horse, its personnel, established by 28 officers and 577 non-commissioned officers and men, were collectively drawn from the Governor General's Body Guard (GGBG), the 2nd Dragoons, the 9th Mississauga Horse and the 25th Brant Dragoons.

In 1936 the GGBG and 9th Mississauga Horse combined to become The Governor General's Horse Guards, which perpetuates the 4th CMR today as part of the 32nd Canadian Brigade Group.

4th CMR in training, most probably at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, Toronto, in early 1915.

Image credit: Trafalgar Township Historical Society.

November 1914

First known as the Ontario Mounted Rifles, then subsequently named 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, the Regiment was brigaded with the 5th and 6th CMRs in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Brigade, and on November 16th, 1914, was billeted at the Canadian National Exhibition Centre in Toronto. In addition to starting out with around 200 horses, bought by the City of Toronto and Lt-Col. H. C. Cox - Hon. Col. of the Mississauga Horse, a further 500 horses were received, but as bridles and saddles were lacking, for the first three months these items had to be borrowed from the Mississauga Horse. Early training was therefore conducted bare back. A hard winter was endured with the help of additional winter clothing being bought and donated by the good people of Toronto.

Spring 1915

The Governor-General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, inspected the unit and commented in glowing terms on the splendour of its appearance. This visit was rumoured to be a precursor to deployment to Egypt. This hope was not fulfilled and the Regiment's hopes for action further shattered when they were called upon to hand over their horses as chargers for the Officers of the 2nd Canadian Division then heading overseas.

May 1915

The Regiment reservedly accepted an invitation to volunteer for service overseas as a dismounted unit, and soon after were moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake for continued training.

June 1915

The Regiment was moved to Valcartier, joining with the 5th and 6th CMRs, under Col. C. A. Smart, to form the 2nd Canadian Mounted Brigade. Lt-Col. Vaux Chadwick was transferred to HQ as Brigade Major of the 7th Overseas Infantry Brigade, putting Lt.-Col. Sandford F. Smith in Command, and Lt.-Col. H. D. Lockhart Gordon as Second-in-Command. Training continued in earnest.

18th July 1915

The Regiment boarded the S.S. Hesperian at Quebec, which carried the 4th and 5th CMR, and Brigade HQ Staff, to England.

Note: S.S. Hesperian was later torpedoed by U-20 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Walter Schweiger, on September 6th, 1915, to the loss of 32 lives. The ship sank 2 days later. [Walter Schweiger is more widely known as the commander responsible for sinking the Lusitania earlier in May.]

29th July 1915

The Regiment arrived and disembarked at Plymouth on the 29th and entrained for Shorncliffe, Kent, arriving there later in the day to march into tent billets at Dibgate Hill, Kent. Training commenced quickly thereafter, with manoeuvres on the Downs and musketry practice at Hythe over the following two months.

27th August 1915

All lights were now to be screened in the Camp after dark, "owing to sundry Zeppelin raids."

23rd September 1915

The Regiment received Webb equipment, ammunition and identity discs.

3rd - 14th October 1915

The Battalion moved from Dibgate Camp to Caesar's Camp South, near Folkestone on the 3rd. [The site, otherwise known as Castle Hill, on Crete Road West, in Folkestone, today overlooks the busy Eurotunnel (Channel Tunnel) rail terminus, which connects Folkestone, England with Calais, France, by a 31 mile (50km) undersea rail tunnel]. Continuous musketry practice ensued, along with kit inspections and heavy marching order routines. The regiment distinguishes itself in equine skills "in the customary dashing style" at the Gymkhana held on Sir John Moore Plain (Folkestone) on the 9th, excelling in Roman Riding, the half mile flat, team jumping and high jumping. On the 14th it was noted that a Zeppelin air raid (on Otterpool - 15miles / 24km to the west) on the previous night killed 14 people and wounded 13 [a dozen or so Canadian 2nd Division soldiers were indeed killed by bombs dropped from Zeppelin L14 on the 13th]. As a result of this and five other Zeppelins bombing London, all lights were to be out by 7pm on account of the air raids.

15th - 24th October 1915

The 15th saw the Regiment's spurs handed in. It is then noted that L/Cpl Henry Hodge, Chaplain, led Divine Service on the 17th. The following days, up to the 22nd, were occupied by squadron parades and inspections, culminating in a large scale inspection by Generals Steele and McDougal on the afternoon of the 20th. Deemed a great success, Gen. Steele spoke highly of the Brigade and wished them every luck and God speed. An air raid was reported near the camp on the 22nd. Battalion Transport moved off on the 23rd, entraining at Shorncliffe and arriving in the port of Southampton in the early afternoon, to travel on into France via La Havre. The remainder of the Battalion took Divine Service on the morning of the 24th and then entrained for Folkestone in the afternoon. They arrived at the Harbour at 6.30pm, sailed and arrived in Boulogne at 8pm, from where they marched to an encampment at St. Martin's Camp on the hills overlooking the town.

25th - 31st October 1915

Taking a rest day on the 25th, the Battalion entrained at Boulogne at 7.15am on the 26th and moved 100km east to Bailleul, where they detrained at 8pm and marched to billets between the town and Meteren; they are now within ear-shot of the guns on the front 10km away around Ypres for the first time. It is noted, perhaps with some early unease, that they are now in "easy reach of aerial reconnaissance". Settling into billet life as Duty Regiment, they undergo repeated inspections and on the 30th undertake a route march in heavy order. On the 31st a first hint of capers to be had amongst the men, when the concierge reports a loss amongst his domestic fowl. Inspired investigative work by Capt. Symons and Sgt.Major Tucker finds feathers close at hand and at midnight Ptes. Arno, Williamson and Parsons, and Cpl. Kerr "present a sorry quartet of injured dignity. Further probe reveals Farrier Sgt.Maj. Whitewood to be the culprit. Costs twenty francs and a hearty meal".

1st - 21st November 1915

After tactical schemes on the 1st, the Battalion moved east of Bailleul, into Aldershot Camp, near Neuve-Eglise [Nieuwkerke], Belgium, and were attached to the 1st Brigade Infantry for final lessons in trench warfare. Alternate Companies went into the trenches, south of Messines, near St. Yves, for tours of 48 hours at a time, starting on the 3rd. Two men [likely to have been Cpl. W. Crocker and Pte. E. Clark]are slightly wounded during a heavy artillery bombardment on the 4th. A further casualty [Pte. Frederick Rapley] was incurred (in "A" Company) on the 7th and 2 more (in "C" Company) on the 9th. The Battalion leaves the front line area and returns to the former billets between Meteren and Bailleul on the 10th. Parades and bomb throwing practice occupy the next few days, with Divine Service again being officiated by L/Cpl. Henry Hodge, on the 13th. Baths are taken in the Asylum, in Bailleul on the 15th. There are further parades, soccer matches and leave passes to Bailleul until the 21st.

22nd - 30th November 1915

The Battalion moves back towards the front line area on the 22nd, occupying billets at English Farm, and then moving on to the trenches, near Hill 63, Ploegsteert, on the 23rd, relieving the 8th Battalion in the process. The Regiment now takes charge of its first defensive responsibility for part of the British Line in trenches 128 and 129. It is at 4:45pm on the 25th, that the Battalion's first loss in action occurs, with the death of 19 year old Toronto man, 109209, Pte. John Balmer, of the Machine Gun Section [Pte. Balmer now lies at rest in Berks Cemetery Extension, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium]. The Battalion undertakes Pte. Balmer's burial ceremony on the 26th. The 6th CMR relieves the Battalion on the 27th, who move out to billets behind Hill 63, Grand Munque Farm and areas nearby without casualty or confusion. Companies supply fatigue parties for the next few days.

1st - 5th December 1915

On the 1st, during a heavy enemy bombardment, a shell burst over "A" Company billets at Hill 63, killing two men: Pte. William Fulford and L/Cpl. Henry Hodge (acting Chaplain). 4 others were wounded. Following the relief of the 5th CMR at Hill 63 on the same day, Pte. Ray Craig is killed by a bomb in a listening post in a forward sap off Trench 131. On the night of 4th/5th, Lt. Rutter, two officers and ten men of "C" Company volunteered for a raiding party on an enemy barrier on the Wulverghem-Messines road. Planning to get prisoners for identification purposes, the raid was scattered by enemy fire drawn by allied screening fire. Captain Donald MacKay and L/Cpl. Bert Tracey were killed [these five further losses in this period also now lie at rest in Berks Cemetery Extension], whilst 4 men are wounded. The Battalion is then relieved on the 5th and returns to Bulford Camp,

6th - 31st December 1915

Furnishing working parties of up to 100 men, from the 6th, the Battalion finally retires from the forward area, returning to billets near Meteren on the 9th. Parades and tactical light schemes are undertaken whilst away from the forward area, and visits and practice runs to Kemmel, which the Battalion is to hold in case of attack, are made during deteriorating winter weather, to the end of the month. Christmas Day was passed with Christmas dinner, home comforts and sports in the afternoon, including a soccer game against the 5th CMR [there is no mention of the score in either the 4th or 5th CMR War Diaries]. On New Year's Eve, instruction is received from General Alderson of the formation of the Third Canadian Division, to be commanded by Major-Gen. Mercer. The then six CMR regiments were to be converted into four battalions of infantry (having maintained a cavalry establishment up to that point), making the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Battalions into the 8th Brigade under Brig.-Gen. V. A. S. Williams. The 7th Brigade is made of up of the P.P.C.L.I, the R.C.R., the 42nd and 49th Battalions. The 9th Brigade is made up by the 43rd, 52nd, 58th and 60th Battalions. Command of the 4th CMR is put under the hand of Lt.Col. Sandford Fleming Smith, who subsequently (in February) would move on to be replaced by Major J. F. H. Ussher, who would become Lt.Col a few weeks after.