Celebrating 100 Years Of Service And Sacrifice
There is a quiet, dignified chapel in the Citadelle, the great walled fort that dominates the skyline of Quebec City. The chapel is a sacred place for the Royal 22nd Regiment, which makes its headquarters in the fort and marks its 100th anniversary this year.
Buried inside the chapel is Major-General Georges Vanier, the valiant French-Canadian soldier who lost a leg during the First World War and went on to command the Royal 22nd Regt. and become Canada’s second Canadian-born governor general. At his side is his wife, Pauline, whose own good works distinguished her career. Meanwhile, the regiment’s retired colours hang high on the walls and interred within those walls is soil from the graves of the regiment’s two recipients of the Victoria Cross in the First World War and the ashes of Paul Triquet who earned the VC in Italy during the Second World War.
In the centre of the chapel is a Book of Remembrance listing those members of the regiment who made the ultimate sacrifice. But that book is unfinished. The calligraphy still needs to be done, adding those who died in Afghanistan.
The sacred book is a reminder that as the Royal 22nd Regt. celebrates its centennial, the regiment is still a fighting unit, one that continues to serve and sacrifice.
The unit’s storied history is brilliantly brought to life in the regimental museum, a new space replacing the regiment’s original museum which started in 1950. The new museum opened in May with more artifacts and using contemporary technology to be interactive with visitors.
The Citadelle is the working headquarters for the 2nd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regt. and the spiritual home of the whole regiment. Today it has five battalions; three regular force and two reserve battalions. The First, a mechanized infantry, and the Third, a light infantry battalion with a company of paratroopers, are stationed at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, 30 kilometres north of Quebec City while the reserve battalions are in Laval and Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., respectively.
History is also part of a daily ceremony from June 24 to Labour Day each summer with the Changing of the Guard. Dressed in scarlet with huge bearskin caps, the unit that has been on guard for the past 24 hours is relieved by a fresh unit in a ceremony complete with the pageantry of precision marches, the regimental band and an appearance by Baptiste X, a Tibetan goat descended from the original given to the unit by its colonel-in-chief, Queen Elizabeth.
“Protocol is a big part of everything at the Citadelle,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Laforest, the commanding officer of the base for 2012-14. The Citadelle is an official residence for the Governor General. It is also residence for Laforest and his family, “There are times when I felt like an old 18th-century British officer sitting in that old house, with the fireplace blazing, sipping on my scotch.”
Laforest explains the role he has had as CO. “I have really had three hats while I was here. First I have command of the Citadelle and all the protocol that goes with that. I am responsible for the battalion, ensuring that it is combat-ready and thirdly, I am president of the museum which is just being completed.”
The museum takes a careful chronological approach to the unit’s history beginning with war being declared in August 1914. Even though mobilization plans had been drafted prior to the outbreak of war by the permanent force officers taking advantage of the militia system in Canada, Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes distrusted the regimental system and favoured new numbered units.
French-speaking volunteers were scattered among the units and the orders were all given in English.
Strong political pressure was put on Prime Minister Robert Borden from French-speaking Canadians in Quebec to form a French-speaking battalion. Like the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which is also celebrating its centennial in 2014, it took private money—a $50,000 donation from Dr. Arthur Mignault who made his fortune in pharmaceuticals—to convince the government to raise a French-speaking unit with Roman Catholic chaplains.
As one of the guides showing tourists about the Citadelle put it, “It was bad enough getting killed because you can’t understand the orders but you sure didn’t want to die and have the last rites read by a Protestant minister.”
The new unit, which became active on Oct. 14, 1914, was the 22nd (French Canadian) Bn. with Frederic-Mondelet Gaudet, a native of Trois-Rivières and a graduate of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., as the commanding officer. Training began in Montreal and St-Jean but when the temptations of the big city caused desertion and morale problems, the unit transferred to Amherst, N.S., before sailing to England in May 1915 aboard the Saxonia.
The ranks were filled with young, tough French Canadians. Many had served in the French-speaking militia units such as the Voltigeurs de Québec and the Maisonneuve and Châteauguay regiments. To that were added Acadians from the Maritimes and francophones from Northern Ontario and Manitoba.
When they joined the rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, their English-speaking comrades had trouble pronouncing the number vingt-deux, it came out as Van Doo and the French Canadians embraced it as a nickname.
The war was a year old when the Van Doos entered the war in Flanders in September 1915 but it did not take long before their fighting spirit was evident. Throughout the war, the Van Doos fought in most major battles.
They first gained distinction in September 1916 when they took part in the offensive at Flers-Courcelette. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas-Louis Tremblay told them, “This is our first big attack. It must be a success for the honour of all French Canadians which we represent in France.” The attack was successful. The Van Doos repelled 14 German counterattacks without giving up any ground. In four days of fighting, 88 men were killed, including six officers. Another 119 were wounded.
Eventually the battle honours would add up, Flers-Courcelette, Vimy, the Somme, Mount Sorrel, Arras, Ypres, Passchendaele, Amiens and Cambrai.
On the night of June 8-9, 1918, Corporal Joseph Kaeble found himself in charge of a Lewis gun at Neuville-Vitasse, France. Following an intense bombardment, some 50 enemy soldiers moved on his position. By that time all of his section except one had become casualties, Kaeble jumped over the parapet, holding the Lewis gun at his hip and kept firing, even though he was wounded by shells and bombs. He stopped the enemy before falling backwards into the trench, mortally wounded. Kaeble received the VC posthumously.
Lieutenant Jean Brillant would die with equal valour two months later during the Battle of Amiens. During two days of vicious fighting, Brillant led a company on an advance of 12 miles. Twice he rushed machine-gun nests receiving wounds himself and killing enemy soldiers. Finally, while held up by a field gun, he organized and led a rushing party towards the gun. He got roughly 600 yards when he was seriously wounded for the third time, collapsing from exhaustion and blood loss. He, too, was awarded the VC posthumously.
The regiment lost 1,147 men during or just after the First World War. In addition, 2,893 men were wounded. The regiment would adopt the motto “Je Me Souviens” which means “I Remember” (The Fallen Ones).
The unit was disbanded following the war, but a strong lobby convinced the government to form a permanent French-speaking regiment. On April 1, 1920, it was reformed as the 22nd Regiment and became headquartered in the Citadelle. The title Royal was added to the regiment’s name in 1921 by King George V.
With the Second World War the Van Doos were again called into action. In 1940 they were given the honour of guarding Buckingham Palace at the request of George VI. In 1943 the Van Doos landed in Sicily and then moved through mainland Italy where it continued to earn battle honours.
The awarding of the VC was much more rare in the Second World War, but the Van Doos received the first of three awarded for the Italian Campaign. It was for action on Dec. 14, 1943, when Captain Paul Triquet was assigned to lead his company across a gully in a vineyard to secure Casa Berardi, a large family home. The company was soon pinned down and all the company’s officers and half of its men were killed or wounded. According to his citation, Triquet encouraged the men, calling into his wireless set, “There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks. There is only one safe place—that is on the objective.”
The men followed him to the objective, securing it and repulsing counterattacks.
The Van Doos spent the last part of the war in the Netherlands and northern Germany.
Five years later the regiment was back in action in the Korean War. A second battalion was formed in August 1950 at Valcartier and then trained for six months at Fort Lewis in Washington State. The 2nd Bn. was relieved by the 1st Bn. and it was relieved by the 3rd. Peace talks began in July 1951, but fierce fighting continued. In November 1951 the Van Doos repelled savage attacks on its positions on Hill 355.
During the war, 110 officers, non-commissioned officers and men were killed and nearly 470 were wounded. The simple battle honour, Korea, was given to the regiment. It was added to the 18 earned in the First World War and the 25 earned in the second.
Since then the Van Doos have served on peacekeeping operations around the world, including several stints in Cyprus where two members were killed during the Turkish invasion in the 1970s. Because they were French speaking, the Van Doos were the natural choice to go to Haiti on several occasions, especially in 2010 following the devastating earthquake.
The museum also shows the Van Doos in the spotlight again in 1990 during the Oka crisis when local Mohawks on a reserve near Montreal erected blockades to protest the expansion of a golf course and residential development. Native protesters also blocked the Mercier Bridge which tied up traffic for Montreal commuters and put pressure on the Quebec government to resolve the situation.
Events escalated when a member of the Sûreté du Québec was shot and killed and the Quebec government asked the military to intervene. Approximately 800 members of the Royal 22nd Regt. took over from the police and assumed positions only metres from the barricades. A lasting image from that time shows a baby-faced Private Patrick Cloutier of the Van Doos standing with his nose only inches away from a native protester wearing a bandana over his face.
The barricade on the Mercier Bridge was soon lifted and within days the remaining protesters broke their weapons and surrendered to the army.
During that same decade, the regiment was on active duty in Bosnia. Warrant Officer Ken Jalbert was there. “I was a driver for an armoured personnel carrier. It was kind of scary being out there in no man’s land. I was only 19 at the time,” said Jalbert.
Quebec’s discomfort with armed conflict abroad raised its head again in 2007 when it was announced that the Van Doos would be rotating to Afghanistan. The Van Doos had served in Kabul before but Kandahar was a very different place. The government tried to raise awareness of the military in the province by inviting Canadian Armed Forces members to a Montreal Alouettes football game and organizing a march through Quebec City. Both events brought out crowds that cheered them on and protesters who were against sending the men to the conflict.
When a number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel were invited to the National Assembly they were greeted by a standing ovation. However, a few members of the Parti Québécois refused to stand.
Just weeks after the arrival in Afghanistan, Private Simon Longtin was killed by a roadside bomb while travelling with a Canadian convoy in Kandahar. Shortly after, another was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device that killed another Canadian soldier and their Afghan translator and injured a Radio Canada cameraman. Nearly 20 more members of the Van Doos would be killed before the regiment was rotated out of Afghanistan in 2012.
The names of these fallen will be added to the Book of Remembrance in the chapel at the Citadelle—another sombre, but powerful reminder of the regiment’s 100 years of service and sacrifice.