Thursday, July 8, 1915

Trenches – Ploegsteert

The Battalion War Diarist wrote nothing for this day:  [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “On July 8th Lieut.-Col. F.W. Fisher, who had crossed from Canada in command of the 23rd Battalion arrived in France to act as Lieut.-Col. Burland’s Second-in-Command.  [2]

LIEUT.-COLONEL FRANK WILLIAM FISHER, V.D. - Commanding Officer of the 14th CEF (RMR)

Frank William Fisher was born July 7th, 1867 at Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, the son of John Fisher and his wife Hannah Robinson Walker. Frank emigrated to Montreal about 1886, presumably to open an office for the family business, John Fisher, Son & Co., manufacturers and importers of woolens and tailors trimmings, who had their premises on Notre Dame St, Montreal, with branch offices at Quebec City, Toronto, and Sydney, N.S. The principal office remained at Huddersfield.

About 1889 Frank Fisher joined the Victoria Rifles of Canada with which he served for 25 years. Steadily rising in rank he commanded that regiment from Sept 7, 1909 to Dec 9, 1912, when he was succeeded as C.O. by Lt.-Col. W. Watt Burland. Burland continued to command the Vics until August of 1914 when he volunteered for service overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was appointed Second-in-Command of the newly formed 14th Battalion. Meanwhile, on the outbreak of war, in August 1914 citizens of Westmount, requested Lt.-Col. Frank W. to organise a regiment for overseas or home defence.

In early September permission was requested from the Department of Milita in Ottawa to form a unit in Westmount and authority was granted to organise a militia regiment under the designation of the 58th Regiment Westmount Rifles for home service. Recruiting had been active and officers and staff appointed provisionally.

Three days after the First Contingent sailed from Gaspe, on October 3rd, 1914, Canada made an offer of a Second Contingent which was immediately accepted, with a suggestion from the Army Council that another Infantry Division would be a suitable formation. The eleven Military Districts had already been warned that more troops would be required. Lieut.-Col. F. W. Fisher, then Commanding Officer of the newly formed 58th Westmount Rifles, Canadian Militia, was authorized on 21st Oct.1914 to raise a battalion for overseas service. Allotted the number “23rd” in the sequence of overseas units, it was to be commanded by Lieut.-Col. Fisher himself.

The instructions to Col. Fisher were to recruit the H.Q. and two companies in Montreal, and two companies in Quebec City and District. For the two companies in Montreal, the Canadian Grenadier Guards supplied nine officers, and 268 other ranks. … The H.Q. and the two Montreal Companies were stationed in the Peel Street Barracks, Montreal; but the quarters being overcrowded, on December 9th, 1914, they were moved to the Emigration Buildings, Louise Basin, Quebec, where the other two companies had already been mobilized. The Canadian winter climate prevented much outdoor training, but a certain amount of work was done on the ice of the frozen St. Lawrence River, while the large C.P.R. sheds made good indoor training places.

On February 17th 1915, the Battalion entrained at Levis for Halifax, where it embarked on the S.S. Missanabie, sailing on 23rd February. Arriving at Avonmouth on 6th March, it proceeded to Shorncliffe Camp, where it was quartered in Moore Barracks. The 23rd Battalion went to England as a provisional reinforcing unit, but instructions had been given by the War Office to keep it intact, and prior to the urgent call for reinforcements by the 1st Canadian Division in April 1915, it had every chance of going to France as a Battalion. On 26th April it was called upon to supply drafts to various battalions in France, which had suffered losses in the Gas Attack at Ypres, and by 2nd May the whole Battalion, with the exception of some details and a few of the H.Q. Officers, had gone to the front. The numeral was then given to a reinforcing and depot unit, and until the end of the War the 23rd Reserve Battalion functioned as such at Shorncliffe, Shoreham and Bramshott Camps in succession. Owing to the system, or lack of system then prevailing at Shorncliffe, many of the officers and men, instead of being sent to reinforce Montreal Battalions in the field, were scattered, some going to Toronto Battalions, while men from Toronto reinforcement units were sent to Montreal battalions. The bulk of the 23rd were however, sent to the 13th (RHC) and 14th (RMR). Of the officers … Lieuts. Sumption, Dobbie and Richardson [were drafted] to the 14th R.M.R.

By July 1915 Lt.-Col. Fisher was sent to France, arriving at the 14th Battalion on the 8th of the month to act as second-in-command to Lt.-Col. Burland who had taken over command from Lt.-Col. F.S. Meighen in mid-June. By early August the 14th Bn. was in reserve positions behind Trenches 135-138, in tents and bivouacs. There, on the 7th of August the Battalion was paraded for inspection by Maj-Gen. Sir Sam Hughes and staff. The occasion was marred by a salvo of 4.1 inch shells which burst some distance away. Being unwilling to subject Gen. Hughes to avoidable risk, Lt.-Col. Fisher dismissed the men who returned to routine occupations.

On Oct 28th, 1915 Lt.-Col. Burland left the 14th Bn. to be Staff-Adjutant at the Canadian Military Training School at Shorncliffe. Lt.-Col. Fisher then assumed command of the 14th Bn. which post he held until March 18th, 1916 when he was recalled to England to assume staff duties there. “Lt.-Col. Fisher had commanded the regiment for nearly five months, a period when no battle honours were gained, but during which the Battalion accomplished work calling for courage, endurance and marked determination. No man of the 14th Battalion who went through the winter of 1915-16 on the Messines front will forget trenches 135-141, the misery of life when the Douve overflowed its banks, the cruel monotony of sodden clothes, the exhausting toil of carrying heavy material through thigh-deep mud, the tragedies when sudden shelling blasted the flooded trenches, or the Colonel who shared in all the hardships and gave his best in the interests of those under his command .” [4]

Lt. Col. Fisher was succeeded as Commanding Officer of the 14th by Major R.P. Clark, M.C. (later Brig.-Gen.) who commanded until January 15th 1917. Lt.-Col. Fisher then took command of the 23rd Reserve Battalion in England. In April 1918 he was in command of the 1st Depot Battalion 1st Quebec Regiment C.E.F.

Following the end of the Great War, the Canadian militia was reorganized in 1920, and the 14th Battalion was amalgamated with the 58th Westmount Rifles under the name Royal Montreal Regiment. The first Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the newly constituted regiment was Lieut.-Colonel Frank W. Fisher, V.D., who held the appointment from 1936 until 1952.

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 8, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
[2]  R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 64.
[3]  Ibid, pg. 160.
[4] Ibid, pg. 76.



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