Unit 1: Life in Canada, Preparing for War

Image module

At the outbreak of war in 1914, no one expected this conflict to take on such incredible proportions. In the years preceding the Great War, the mightiest countries of Europe forged strong alliances with one another in order to maintain the balance of power on the continent. Because of those alliances, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, many countries were bound by treaty to join the conflict. Russia’s alliance to the Serbian power forced the country to side against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had strong ties and they also sided together. Like a domino effect, almost all European countries were pulled into the conflict.

Of course, many European countries were major colonial powers at the time. Their involvement in the conflict also meant that their colonies were automatically at war as well. For this reason, the Great War brought people from all continents together to fight mainly in Europe, but also in Africa and the Middle-East. Not only was the Great War a global conflict on a geographical level, its scale and duration soon led it to become a global conflict within all spheres of society. The entire world economy shifted to accommodate the war effort. Everyone was somewhat involved in the conflict, from children targeted by propaganda and being told to convince their fathers to join the army, to women entering the workforce in great numbers, to minority groups enlisting with the hopes of gaining a better treatment after the war.

Image module

A Numbers Game?

During the 19th century leading up to the First World War, European countries spent considerable resources maintaining an army even in times of peace. Each country had to make sure they would be ready as quickly as possible in case they were attacked. However, the extent to which they prepared for an eventual conflict varied widely.

For example, in absolute numbers of manpower, the Russian Empire had the largest army in 1914. Yet, when we compare the number of soldiers to the total Russian population, we realize that only 0.4% of the population was actually trained to participate in the war. In reality, the Russian Empire had the smallest per capita enlistment rate of all the countries listed above. In contrast, France had the largest at 11%.

Image module

Would you Fight for a Dollar?

In August 1914, the daily pay rate for a private was $1.00 a day! Although, a dollar in 1914 could get you further than a loonie will today, according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator, $1.00 would equal nearly $22 in 2017. So… would you fight for $22 a day…?

As a Private, the lowest rank within the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), you could hope to be promoted as a corporal and get a raise of ten cents. (equivalent to $2.00 today), but you would be taking on a lot more responsibility. The highest ranking senior officer (below General ranks), a Colonel, would earn $6.00 (equivalent to $130 today) as their daily pay rate.

In comparison, the average daily rate for a Nursing Sister attached to the CEF was double that of a Private, earning $2.00 a day (equivalent to $43.00 today)

Image module

The Royal Montreal Regiment at the very beginning

Men answered the Call to Arms to go overseas and fight an enemy they thought was dangerous and needed to be stopped. The Royal Montreal Regiment was quickly formed in early August 1914 to coordinate the city of Montreal’s war effort. At the time, what was called The ‘’1st Regiment, Royal Montreal Regiment’’and it was raised from the combination of three existing prominent militia regiments in Montreal: The 1st Regiment, Canadian Grenadier Guards (372 men and 12 officers); The 3rd Regiment, Victoria Rifles of Canada (355 men and 12 officers), and the 65th Regiment, Carabiniers Mont-Royal (276 men and 8 officers). Shortly after, the Minister of Militia created the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to regroup all of the 424,000 Canadians that when to France and Belgium between 1914 and 1918. Within this military organization, The Royal Montreal Regiment was known as to the 14th Battalion (RMR) CEF


What is an Honorary ?

Honorary ranks in the Canadian Forces have been modeled on British traditions. Militia Honoraries' principal responsibilities are to act as an advisor on all matters pertaining to regimental traditions, to provide advice on regimental charities and associations, to help maintaining a close liaison with allied regiments, to encourage the Regiment’s Cadet Corps, to attend formal parades or social functions in which the unit is involved and occasionally to attend unit training including field training exercises.
Image module

RMR's First Honorary

In November 1914, while the 14th Battalion was training on Salisbury Plain, England, it was announced that George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen, had accepted to be the Regiment’s Honorary Colonel. Sir George Stephen was well-known in Montreal as a financial genius and a philanthropist. He held the title of Honorary Colonel during the entire period that the Battalion was fighting overseas.

Lieut.-Colonel Frank W. Fisher

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.
Image module

A “Balanced Approach”

Prior to the mid 1970s, honorary rank in the Reserves was confined to former officers, generally officers of the Regiment. Since then honorary status may also be conferred on distinguished Canadian citizens and the RMR has led the way in maintaining a “balanced approach” to their honorary appointments: one member from a purely civilian background, and the other from a Regimental background.