Peterborough during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Peterborough, Ontario during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

When the 93rd went to war: Panoramic photograph offers a look at Confederation Square

Peterborough Examiner, 9 June 2014. By Elwood Jones

When the 93rd went to war: Panoramic photograph offers a look at Confederation Square

There is great interest in the Great War, later known as World War I. The war began 100 years ago, in August 1914. Almost immediately the decisions in Europe were felt in Canada. The local militia unit signed up in great numbers and were headed to England by October. F. H. Dobbin, Peterborough's outstanding historian was writing the history of the 57th (Battalion and Regiment) and effectively stopped with July 1914.

 As he commented, "The coming on of the war, the rush of the first enlistments almost depleted the ranks owing to the number from the several companies that hurried to answer to the Call to Arms.
93rd Canadian Infantry Battalion
Cap Badge.
"Men were not found wanting. In the ranks were many of British Reservists who had associated themselves with the Regiment in the months and years past. These were ever a very source of aid in discipline and in education. Without exception, the Reservists responded to the call to rally to the defence of the Mother Country and hastened to own allegiance. "Several preferred to go forward with those enlisting from the 57th Regiment and their names are so inscribed on the Roll. Dobbin's roll listed 125 members of the 57th Regiment and 71 in the Artillery unit, for a total of 196.

There are two fascinating memoirs that relate to local men who enlisted very early. Gordon Hill Grahame, whose book Short Days Ago (Toronto, Macmillan, 1972) was canoeing to New York City with two friends from Lakefield College School when they learned that war had been declared. Grahame immediately wired Colonel Sam Hughes asking permission to enlist in the Canadian Army. Hughes told him to report for service in Port Hope and then get quickly to Camp Valcartier, near Québec City. Grahame ran into others struck with this inexplicable enthusiasm. People were unaware of the horrors of that war. On September 22, his battalion, the 2nd Battalion, was loaded on a transport, the S. S. Cassandra, which Grahame noted was moored next to the ruins of the Norwegian ship Storstad that had rammed the Empress of Ireland, causing about 1,000 deaths. (Ed: 1914 sinking, Largest Civilian Naval Disaster in Canadian Waters)

By October 3, the flotilla passed Gaspé. In a matter of six weeks all these volunteers were embarked for Europe. The other memoir, written by Thomas A. Morrow, was also written some forty or fifty years later, but is rich in detail. Both hard and digital copies of this memoir are in the Trent Valley Archives. He must have kept a diary. He noted that many of his schoolmasters had enlisted shortly after the declaration of war and he admired them as they marched along George Street to their training grounds. By Christmas the younger group, as he called them, were getting more excited and in January 1915 he was enlisting. He knew that he would have trouble meeting the size requirements, but a former teacher had taught him exercises to expand his lung capacity, and that proved enough for him to pass the medical.
At the time he had been working at Kent's drug store, at George and Hunter, and Kent said he was too small for the army. He enlisted and became part of the 39th Battalion, which included companies from Peterborough, Lindsay, Port Hope and Belleville and the four counties. By the end of March they were in Belleville where a former canning factory served as the barracks.
93rd Canadian Infantry Battalion "Peterborough",  A Company.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

Recently a panoramic photograph of the 93rd Battalion in May 1916, just before it headed to Europe, was donated to the Trent Valley Archives. This is a spectacular photograph, and copies of it are found in regional armouries, legions and museums. The photo stretched from Murray Street Baptist Church to the houses on the north side of McDonnel Street, and included the Armoury and the collegiate as well as buildings behind. The entire battalion was in the photograph, including four companies, the 93rd Battalion Band, and ancillary units such as the Signalers and the Machine Gun Section. In the background there was a Model T car, and there were horses in the unit.
The war had not ended as quickly as people had hoped in the summer of 1914, and the loss of life by Canadian soldiers was staggering. Reinforcements were needed, and recruitment drives were necessary. As part of processing this photograph for the archives we decided to do some research especially in the files of the Peterborough Examiner.

The taking of the photograph, on May 19, 1916, was of wide local interest. The goal was to have a complete photographic record of the battalion at this moment. Roy Studio had charge of the photo session but a 42-centimetre camera was brought to Peterborough by the Toronto Panoramic. This was the largest group photographed in Peterborough and the picture was perhaps the biggest taken in Peterborough. The Battalion was formed in a large semi-circle and the camera moved in the arc. Everyone had to remain still during the entire process. And there were no drills during the morning session. Roy Studio was selling copies of the photos within days.
93rd Canadian Infantry Battalion "Peterborough", B Coy
Credit: Library and Archives Canada
The 93rd grew out of events in the summer of 1915 when a big recruitment effort was made locally. In late August the government announced there would be a local training depot for 500 men and Peterborough would have an infantry headquarters. By early September the new regimental band, drawing members from the 57th band and from the Salvation Army. What became the 93rd was forming. Initially it was seen as part of the 80th Battalion based in Belleville, but hopes for a local battalion remained high. A Battalion with four companies: two local, and one from Cobourg and one from Lindsay was authorized. By October, it was announced that the new battalion would be the 93rd and those who had enlisted earlier, mainly for the 80th, were to form the nucleus of the new Battalion. By November it was decided that the new battalion would be confined to recruits from Peterborough County.

By Christmas 1915 the Battalion strength had reached 500. Men were recruited in Lakefield, Norwood, Apsley and Havelock as well as the city, and over the winter were allowed to train in those centres; this boosted recruitment. As well, the Examiner noted that about 350 men were recruited for other units, such as Mounted Rifles and Artillery.

According to the Examiner, between August 1914 and May 1916, 2,300 Peterborough men had joined the military. This was a ratio of one in nine of the local area compared to a national average of one in 25. Interestingly there were 35 pairs of brothers in the 93rd, and 15 instances of a father and a son joining.

Asa Huycke, whose Peterborough Music Company was located on George Street near Hunter, composed a "Marche Militaire" dedicated to the 93rd Battalion Band on the eve of the band going to Europe. On May 19, "Creatore's Famous Band" played Huycke's march at the Grand Opera House in Peterborough. There is a great reference to Giuseppe Creatore in the musical, "Music Man" in the tune, "76 Trombones."
The departure of the 93rd was delayed because of conditions at the Barriefield camp. Mayor J.J. Duffus presided over a farewell ceremony at Central Park (now Confederation Square since 1927) on May 29. A regimental fund that had been gathered by local citizens was given to the 93rd. 

The following day, thousands lined the streets as the regiment marched to the Grand Trunk railway station. This was reported as the largest crowd that had ever gathered at the station. Several speakers complimented the units for "splendid behavior and efficiency" in developing a great fighting unit in a matter of months. The band of the 57th Regiment led the way with O Canada.The Examiner commented, "Special Train No. 1 was in waiting, and in a few minutes, without any confusion or trouble, the members of the band and of A and B companies were entrained." The crowd lined the road from Charlotte to King, oblivious to the mud which was "ankle deep." There were many tears as the train left at 9:30 a.m.

Written by:
Elwood H. Jones, archivist of the Trent Valley Archives.

Great Article. 

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