The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada
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The Regiment

The Great War, 1914-1918


The Camerons spent part of June 1914 maneuvering over the sand hills of Sewell Camp. It had been a very hot summer and when they returned to Winnipeg in July they were ready for a break. The break was short lived. On 28 June the Heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated. The ensuing chain of events: a complex series of ultimatums, mobilizations and declarations of war; soon drew England and then Canada into world war.

The Commanding Officer of the 79th Cameron Highlanders placed his regiment at the disposal of the Department of Militia and Defense. However, as militia regiments were now to remain in Canada acting as drafting units, only a company of 7 officers and 250 other ranks were initially accepted. They mustered at Camp Valcartier, Quebec where, along with the 50th Gordons, 72nd Seaforth, and 91st Canadian Highlanders, they formed one of the new overseas units- the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) CEF. The battalion left Quebec for England with the first contingent on 30 September. Their new home, Salisbury Plain, would soon suffer its worst winter in years.

The 79th Camerons next recruiting task was to supply a company (10 officers, 250 other ranks) for the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion. The Camerons also provided the second-in-command and signal section. The 27th served in France and Belgium with the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. It received no further Cameron reinforcement drafts so that due to casualties inflicted during the course of the war the Cameron Company eventually lost its identity.

The Great WarThe first complete Cameron battalion was formed on 18 December 1914. The 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlander of Canada) CEF spent the winter of 1914-1915 training in Winnipeg. They left Winnipeg on 29 May to the cheers of thousands. At Montreal they embarked for England on 1 June 1915 with a complement of 39 officers and 1020 other ranks. The 43rd provided two reinforcement drafts for the 16th Battalion, after which the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada Overseas Drafting Detachment in Winnipeg brought up the 43rd to strength. Eventually the 43rd were given a place in the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. They proceeded to France on 21 February 1916.

In January 1916 two more Cameron overseas battalions were authorized. The 179th Battalion was formed from the Overseas Drafting Detachment and mobilized in February. They spent the summer of 1916 in training at Camp Hughes. The 174th Battalion mobilized trained at Camp Hughes during the summer of 1917. Both units were absorbed by reserve battalions, which provided reinforcements for the units serving in France.


The first Camerons in action were serving with the 16th Battalion at the second Battle of Ypres. On 22 April 1915 the Germans used poison gas, and broke the allied line on an 8000 yard front. The left flank of the Canadian Division was exposed. The 10th and 16th Battalions attacked Kitchener's Wood on the night of 22-23 April..

."all we could see to the front was a dark spot, and the spit, spit of fire from rifles to our front and left. We went flat down. Then up. Then down again, but the only distinct impression is of a bare flat piece of ground, the German flares going up and the ceaseless angry zip zip of the bullets and machine gun fire. Then came the cries of those who were hit...and still we went on."

Over the next several days, the Canadian Division and British reinforcements closed the gap and held the enemy to a small territorial gain. The 16th were next in action at Festubert, 17-21 May 1915, in operations to divert the Germans while the French unsuccessfully attacked Vimy Ridge. This was followed by the action at Givenchy in June 1915. Further operations in the Ypres Salient included the 27th Battalion’s participation in the Battle of St. Eloi 2-7 April 1916. At the Battle of Mount Sorrel, 2-13 June 1916 the Germans attempted to dislodge the allies from positions north of the Ypres-Menin Road. This was the first battle of the 43rd Battalion. On 4 June they cleared Maple Copse, occupied Border Lane Trench and repulsed a counterattack.


The Great WarThe Somme was chosen as the area for the main allied thrust of 1916. The 43rd Battalion joined the Battle of the Somme near Courcellette, clearing high ground overlooking Ancre River. On 20 September "D" Company captured a portion of Zollern Trench and on 26 September elements of the 16th Battalion joined the battle at Thiepeal Ridge. On 8 October the 43rd Battalion were back in action at Ancre Heights where they assaulted Regina Trench. The Cameron objective was on a reverse slope. The artillery failed to cut the thick barbed wire obstacles, which protected it. Alert enemy defenders met the unsuccessful assault: heavy casualties resulted. Only 6 officers and 67 other ranks were present at roll call the following morning. The Commanding Officer, Lieut. Col. R.M. Thompson was among the dead. The Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November. The result: 125 square miles captured at a cost of 1,265,000 casualties--both Allied and German.


The Allied offensive of 1917 on the Western Front targeted the Aisne River sector and was supported by British diversionary attacks in the area of Arras. The Canadian core objective was Vimy Ridge. The 16th Battalion participated in the successful main assault, which began on 9 April. The 43rd Battalion had been relieved on the 8th following trench raiding operations. On the morning of 12-13 April they took up positions on Vimy Ridge, pushed out patrols, then advanced to the Arras-Lens Road. On 28 June the 43rd Battalion was again in action, attacking the positions facing Avion.


The Great WarFollowing the largely unsuccessful attacks in the Aisne and Arras sectors, the British launched a major offensive into Flanders. Their intent was to smash through the German front and drive for the Belgium coast. The 43rd Battalion entered the waterlogged wasteland of Passchendele on the morning of 21 October 1917. The first phase of the Passchendele operation included the capture of Bellevue Spur. Lt. Robert Shankland's conduct during this action earned him the Empire highest award for valour-- the Victoria Cross. The Battalion was relieved on the night of 27-28 October having taken Bellevue Spur with 349 casualties.

From March through July 1918 the German army pressed its last major offensive of the war. Though successful in its limited territorial gains, it failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough.


The Great WarWith the failure of the German offensive and the steady build up of American troops on the Western Front, the Allies regained the initiative. A series of successive blows at various points along the German front was planned. The Amiens offensive began on 8 August. The 43rd Battalion occupied a position of honour, on the right of the British line and penetrated two miles into enemy territory. The next blow fell to the north, in the Arras sector, directed at Cambrai, through the strong defenses of the Drocourt-Quent Line and the major obstacle of the Canal Du Nord. The 43rd entered the second battle of Arras at the Scarpe on 27 August. The following day they participated in the 3rd Division attack on the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line, capturing the village of Remy. On the 29th the Camerons were relieved, having sustained heavy losses. Back in action on 28 September, "D" Company captured Fontaine Notre Dame with most of its garrison, and the high ground overlooking Cantaing, south of the Bapume-Cambrai Road. "A", "B" and "C" Companies advanced to within 400 yards of the Marcoing Line, the final defenses protecting Cambrai. At 0500 hours on 1 October the Battalion swept forward from its assembly area capturing the village of Tilloy and the high ground overlooking Cambrai from the north.

The Great WarThe Canadian Corps captured Cambrai on 9 October and Valenciennes on 1 November following which the enemy was pursued to Mons. The morning of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918 found the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) on the western outskirts of Mons. At 1450 hours the Battalion marched proudly through her streets to pass in review before their Corps Commander, and the cheering citizens of Mons. Following brief stops in Belgium and England, the Camerons finally returned to Winnipeg on 24 March 1919. Following a parade held in their honour, they marched to Minto Armoury where each man received his discharge. The 43rd Battalion now ceased to exist, but the 79th Regiment remained to carry on the tradition of the Cameron Highlanders...

The Inter-war Years 1919-1938
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