Wednesday, 16 February 2011

1st Canadian Division arrives in France - On this day in Scottish military history - 1915

Today marks the day in 1915 when the 1st Canadian Division arrived in France. These were not the first Canadian troops on the Western Front – Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had been part of the British 80th Brigade since October 1914, but this was the first time a complete division of Canadian troops had been in France. They would receive their baptism of fire at the Battle of Gravenstafel in April when they successfully pushed back the German attack.

Why is this relevant to a blog on Scottish military history? Well, it’s important not to underestimate the influence that Scotland has had on Canada and its people. Due to the number of emigrants from these shores, and due to the passing of time, there are a vast number of Canadians who share Scottish ancestry, and this can be seen in their military.

During the First World War, a large number of battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had names that echoed their Scottish ancestry – the 13th battalion was the “Royal Highlanders of Canada”, the 15th was the “48th Highlanders of Canada” and the 16th was the “Canadian Scottish”. Later battalions had names such as the Cameron Highlanders of Canada, the Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

These and many other Canadian battalions served with distinction in the First World War, and the list of Battle Honours is an impressive one. It is something to be proud of that the Canadian battalions were often considered the “shock troops”, the best the Allies had, and were always relied upon to carry out any task given to them.

In an echo of their Scottish heritage, it is worth noting that another division held in high regard as the best there was…was the 51st Highland Division.

Of course, not all men serving in these Canadian/Scottish battalions were from Scotland or had Scots ancestors, but the influence cannot be ignored. It is also worth noting that many Canadian battalions without this Scottish heritage would also have had Scots serving within them.

You can see for yourself the influence Scotland had on the Canadian forces in two ways. You can see it in the number of Canadian soldiers commemorated on memorials throughout Scotland, as well as the large number listed in the Scottish National War Memorial.

You can also view the database listing the soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Canadian Archives website – pick a Scots surname at random and look at the number of search results and then view some of the Attestation papers. You'll find a Scottish place of birth in many of them. The Scots blood runs deep in Canada, and in our time of need in two World Wars, they came when we called. For that we should be eternally grateful.

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