The Story of our Regimental March – Ça Ira

The Story of our Regimental March – Ça Ira

Sunday, May 23, 1915

In billets, Le Hamel

The Battalion War Diarist wrote nothing for this day.


23 May 15THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: May 23, 1915 – 222nd Anniversary of the Battle of Famars

 “…the portentous events of the French Revolution brought Europe once again to arms.  The desperate rising of the French people in reply to the attempt by the European monarchs of the ancien régime ‘to smother the Revolution in blood’ and the victory of the new France in the Valmy campaign, had resulted in a militant French Republicanism.  The armies of the Revolution invaded Savoy, the Rhineland, and the Austrian Netherlands, declared the Scheldt free to all navigation, and offered assistance to all countries desirous of overthrowing their old governments.  The ambitions of Louis XIV were revived with an added revolutionary fervour.  The French attack on the Netherlands drew England into the war in 1793; the preservation of the balance of power on the Continent was our [the British] aim.  The Fourteenth Foot was the first British line regiment to arrive at the scene of war, and in April 1793 landed on the island of Voorn.

The first action fought by the Regiment in this campaign was the capture of the great fortified camp of Famars, near Valenciennes, May 22, 1793.  The entrenched camp of Famars consisted of two broad parallel plateaux divided by the little river Rhonelle.  Two passages over the river were defended by entrenchments and batteries, and all approaches to the camp except from the east were protected by redoubts.  The French forces consisted of about twenty-five thousand man, whereas the allied forces under Prince Frederick Josias of Coburg-Saalfeld numbered about eighty thousand.  The Austrian general drew up a complicated plan of battle, dividing his force into nine columns, with an elaborate ‘order of going in.’ ‘The scheme was typically Austrian: that is to say, too full of science to leave room for sense.’

But a foggy dawn favoured the British troops, and the camp was captured.  Five weeks later Valenciennes fell.  The Fourteenth Foot distinguished itself during the Famars battle in a vigorous counter-attack , by which , with the 53rd Regiment, they captured seven canon and two hundred prisoners.  The French revolutionary tune Ça Ira became the regimental quick-step as a result of this engagement.

The incident is described as follows: ‘The French attacked so fiercely that the Fourteenth wavered for a moment.  The revolutionary fever, in truth, blazed out as a new element in war, and everywhere the discipline learned under average drill-sergeants was at a loss how to meet it.  Colonel Doyle, however, was not at a loss, for, dashing to the front, he called out in a loud voice, ‘Come along, my lads; let’s break the scoundrels to their own damned tune.  Drummers, strike up Ça Ira.’  The effect was irresistible.’

At the battle of Tournay in the following year, the regiment found itself towards evening hemmed in by French troops, and the Colonel directed the band to whistle the tune till the men were familiar with it.  When night came, the Fourteenth, with colours flying and the band playing ‘the accursed tune,’ passed safely through their foes and regained their own lines.  Like the Marseillaise and the Carmagnole, the air Ça Ira had become popular with the revolutionary armies.  It was first sung by 200,000 workmen on the Champ-de-Mars in Paris in 1790 during the July 14th celebrations.  The original words were comparatively mild:-

‘Ah! ca ira!

La Liberté s’établira

Malgré les tyrans, tout réussira.’

‘All will be well!  Liberty shall be established.  Despite tyrants, success will be ours.’  But in 1793, under the Terror, the more savage and familiar version, probably the one shouted by the French at Famars, was:-

‘Ah! ca ira!

Les aristocrats a la lantern

Ah! ca ira

Les aristocrats on les pendra.

Si on n’les pend pas, on les romp’ra,

Si on n’les rompt pas on les brûlra.’

‘The aristocrats to the lamp post… We will hang them … If not hung, they will be smashed: if not smashed, they will be burnt.’

The music is a dance tune called the Carillon National, composed by Bécourt.  It was not always popular as the regimental quick-step, though it has magnificent swing and dash.  One Fourteenth man said ‘I have often seen other regiments in brigade with us thrown out of step at once on the striking up of Ça Ira.  And in 1795, when the Regimental band played the tune in marching through the streets of Dartford, the Regiment was stoned by the populace, ‘eager to express their detestation of republican doctrines.’”   [2]

23 May 15_B
The badge of The Yorkshire Regiment

We have read above how at the 1793 Battle of Famars, the 14th Regiment of Foot, The West Yorkshire Regiment earned its new Regimental March, Ça Ira while in battle against the French.  In 1880 the 14th Regiment of Foot became The Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) (14th Foot).   During World War I, it fought as The West Yorkshire Regiment, and at its peak numbered 37 battalions. Sixty-six Battle Honours were bestowed and four Victoria Crosses were awarded.  In 1958 it amalgamated with The East Yorkshire Regiment (15th Foot) to form The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire (14th/15th Foot).  On 6 June 2006 the regiment was amalgamated with The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment)(19th Foot) and The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding)(33rd/76th Foot) plus their affiliated Army Reserve (formerly Territorial Army) units to form the Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th and 33rd/76th Foot).

“When the Canadian Militia was reorganized in 1920, the combined 14th Battalion, Royal Montreal Regiment, and the [58th] Westmount Rifles were given a place in the Militia list under the title “The Royal Montreal Regiment” with headquarters at Westmount, P.Q.  Two battalions were authorized, the first an “active” unit, and the second a ‘reserve” formation, with personnel to be called up only in the event of an emergency, or national peril.  Under the Militia unit was composed as follows:

The Royal Montreal Regiment

1st  (Westmount) Battalion (14th Battalion, C.E.F.)

2nd (Reserve) Battalion (23rd Battalion, C.E.F.)   [3]

“When the Royal Montreal Regiment’s place on the Canadian Militia List had been assured, officers considered the question of affiliation with a unit of the Imperial Army. To strengthen the ties which bind Canada in loyalty to the Throne, such association seemed desirable to officers, who felt that affiliation with the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) the old 14th Foot of the British Army, would be singularly appropriate.  Informal enquiry as to whether, or not, the West Yorkshire Regiment would welcome affiliation brought a cordial affirmative from the Commanding Officer.  Accordingly, a formal request for affiliation was fyled [filed] and, with the approval of His Majesty, King George V, granted.”   [4]

Ever since then The Royal Montreal Regiment has proudly cherished its association with the West Yorkshire Regiment and its successor regiments, and it is extremely proud to use the march Ça Ira as its own regimental march in recognition of this long standing relationship.

 

[1]    War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, May 23, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089733.jpg
[2]   Capt. E.V. Tempest, D.S.O., M.C., “History of the West Yorkshire Regiment,” Bradford, Yorkshire, Henry Walker, Ltd., 1941, pp. 13-15.
[3]  R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 288.
[4]   Ibid. pg. 290.

 

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