Guardians of the West – The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada

February 19, 2015 by Legion Magazine

Guardians of the West – The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada

By Cliff Bowering

November, 1951

When it came time to decide which Canadian Army Reserve Force units were to be represented in the European-bound 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group, history and tradition, among other things demanded that the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada be among the leaders.

As the pages of time testify, such a selection was no idle choice. And so there came into being “E” Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada – tagged for service with the 1st Rifle Battalion in the 27th Brigade.

Men and officers who serve with this company are faced with a monumental but at the same time enviable task- keeping pace with and perpetuating a rich and glorious background of Canadian military history and achievement second to none in the annals of the nation’s progress.

Since its inception, the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada has been a unit of distinction and valour. True to the regimental motto – “In Peace Prepared “ – its men have stepped forward in time of emergency to play their parts with history-making courage and devotion.

The oldest foot regiment in the country, the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada was the offspring of the amalgamation of several units in the Toronto-Barrie-Whitby area in April, 1860.

It was first known as the Voluntary Militia Rifles, but two years after formation became the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto. In 1863, it gained its present title, the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. As such, the unit opened the blank pages of its destined history and began to write.

In 1864, men of the unit engaged the Fenian raiders on the Niagara frontier. Two companies wrote this first chapter as they carried out the arduous task of maintaining constant vigilance until the time for attack against the raiders was ripe.

During the first Riel uprising in the Red River area in 1870 detachments of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada were sent to the aid of General Wolsely. With the resumption of hostilities by Riel in 1885, the Queen’s Own Rifles once again took to the field of combat to add new laurels to its infant history.

Perhaps the most distinguished battle in which troops from the unit participated in this second Riel uprising was at Cutknife Hill where they soundly defeated Riel’s ally, the chief of the Cree tribe. Records show that the Queen’s Own Rifles, while suffering some casualties, inflicted terrible casualties on the attacking hordes.

Later, after the decisive battle at Batoche, the unit returned to its Toronto base amid tumultuous scenes of welcome and rejoicing.

Again in the South African War, troops of the Queen’s Own Rifles came to the forefront of valour. The pattern which has since become associated with this proud unit was taking shape – gallantry, tenacity and inspiring devotion to cause and duty.

Members of the unit served in all Canadian contingents sent to combat the Boers, notably with the Royal Canadian Regiment under command of Lt.-Col. (later General Sir William) W.D. Otter, former commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Rifles.

On the unfamiliar veldts of South Africa, these gallant Canadians fought the Boers to a standstill.

 

FIRST WORLD WAR

In August, 1914, the “oldest regiment in Canada” (as it is widely known), was among the first to be called out for Active Service. Thirty-six officers and 1,020 other ranks proceeded to Valcartier, where 37 years later men of the same unit were to help form the 27th Brigade. These men made up the largest part of the 3rd Battalion, C.E.F.

During this first great conflict, 210 officers and 7,352 other ranks served with the many battalions of the Queen’s Own Rifles and with the 198th Canadian Buffs. The unit is still allied with The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) of the British Army.

The words courage and gallantry are not used in association with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada with any sense of mere word-play – during the First World War four Victoria Crosses were won by members of the unit (Lieut. Edmund de Wind, Major Thain Wendell MacDowell, Lieut. Wallace Lloyd Algie and Capt. Charles Smith Rutherford). Besides these four Victoria Crosses, men from the Queen’s Own Rifles received 358 other decorations, including 24 foreign awards.

Through that conflict flash proudly some of the great names of Canadian military history – Ypres, Festubert, Somme, Arras, Vimy, Passchendaele, Amiens and countless others. The list is impressive, to wit the battle honours won by the Queen’s Own in the First World War.In the period between the wars, the motto “In Peace Prepared” was always to the fore for men of the Queen’s Own Rifles. And when the Second World War broke out, they were not caught napping.

 

SECOND WORLD WAR

Along with other Canadian units, it fought the “war of boredom” in the United Kingdom but at the same time ground through an exacting, rigorous training program. Eventually it became an efficient, highly-trained battalion of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.

On June 6, 1944 – D-Day – the Queen’s Own Rifles took over as assault battalion on the right flank of the 8th Brigade’s beach-head role. They landed between Courseulles and St. Aubin-sur-Mer in which sector was included Bernier-sur-Mer. The fight for Normandy was on and the Queen’s Own joined in the battle with the same courage, tenacity and vigour their forefathers had displayed in the battles of yesteryear.

 

EPIC DEEDS

Veterans of the unit will long remember the battles at Carpiquet, in the Caen area and in the vicinity of Falaise. Nor will the date June 17, 1944, be soon forgotten. It was on that black date that six members of the Queen’s Own Rifles, captured in the fighting near the village of Mouen, were murdered in cold blood by their SS captors.

Across France and into Belgium, Holland and Germany the Canadian troops fought with relentless fury, with the Queen’s Own Rifles seldom in the background. The Scheldt Estuary, Nijmegen Salient, Hochwald Forest, the Rhine – all are names that stir up memories of savage battles, unbelievable hardships and privation, death and destruction on all sides.

Nor will veterans of the Queen’s Own Rifles soon forget the epic deeds of Sgt. Aubrey Cosens whose magnificent courage and ability during the fight for the village of Mosshof in Holland earned for him a posthumous Victoria Cross. Singlehanded he killed 20 Germans and captured 20 more before being felled by a sniper’s bullet.

Such is the calibre of men who have passed through the ranks of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and through such deeds have the soldiers of this nation become world-respected and revered.

 

MONUMENTAL TASK

Indeed, men of this newest company of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada are faced with a monumental task. But the pages of history will doubtless record that they have met the challenge of tradition and honour whether as ambassadors of Canada in the towns and cities of Europe, or on the field of combat in defence of the principles for which their forefathers fought and died in the hallowed past.

 

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