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Remembered Today:

Saint Patrick


jhill

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We are approaching the feast day of St. Patrick, surely the best known of all the English saints :-) . The Irish, of course, have managed splendidly to internationalize themselves, and a typical example of this is the 218th Battalion of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, the Edmonton Irish Guards. This unit, intended to draw on the Irish population of Edmonton and area, began recruiting on February 22, 1916, and effectively went out of existence when all its personnel were posted to the 8th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, on March 21, 1917.

These are some statistics derived from the various National Archives on-line data bases: The Battalion never quite recruited to full strength. The highest regimental number in the files, 279930, indicates at least 930 numbers were issued. Of these, some 897 have names attached to them, and about 762 have their Attestation papers on line. Those whose place of birth can be deciphered are thus:

Ireland 46

Other UK 191

Canada 192

Other Empire 5

United States 92

Russia 193

Other 42

For convenience, “Russia†includes other east European places such as Poland, Galicia, and Roumania. The existence of so many “foreign†Irishmen in the 218th brought forth some derogatory remarks. The fact is, by 1916, and with at least 4 other battalions competing for the same men, ethnic prejudice was an expensive luxury. The designation “Russian†must be taken with a grain of salt. Most of the names are Ukrainian or Polish. Many of the home towns are clearly in places like Galicia. Many or most of these men were enemy aliens. The recruiters obviously connived at the “Russian†fiction.

In terms of those giving their religion we have the following:

Protestant 404

Roman or Greek Catholic 202

Russian or Greek Orthodox 21

Russian 112

Jewish 9

Categorizing these is not straightforward since so many men could not just check off one of the boxes. Among the “protestant†I have placed a Unitarian, a Spiritualist, and a Dunkard. Among Roman Catholics I have placed Polish Catholics and Belgian Catholics (yes, we even have Belgian Irishmen here!). The “Russian†religion on these forms seems to be a creation of the recruiting office. From their birthplaces and other bits of information, I suggest that many if not most were eastern rite Catholics, the rest “Orthodoxâ€.

Incidentally, of the Irish-born, I count 26 Protestants and 20 Catholics. Canadian Irishmen in those days were more often Orange than Green. Although the numbers do not make it obvious, there was a bit of an Orange versus Green controversy concerning the establishment of this unit. The first commander, Lt. Col. J. W. McKinery (sometimes spelled McKinnery), was at the same time commander of the 66th Battalion, which had started recruiting 7 or 8 months previously. There had been public criticism of Col. McKinery's recruitment and appointments policies. The Irish-born McKinery was a prewar militia officer and prominent Orangeman. The recruiting data for the 66th show an almost complete lack of Catholics enlisted among the first 600 recruits. Thereafter, perhaps responding to criticism, Catholics appear in numbers roughly proportional to those in the general population. Of the 25 or 30 officer appointments in the 66th I have found thus far, all save one were Protestants. For the 218th an exceptional measure was instituted whereby a civilian committee was formed to advise Col. McKinery on appointments. By the time McKinery left with the 66th for England, this particular controversy had dissolved for the 218th, who were soon under their ultimate commander, Lt. Col. J. K. (Peace River Jim) Cornwall.

After disappearing as a unit in March, 1917, most of the Edmonton Irish Guardsmen continued on as members of the 8th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, still commanded by Col. Cornwall. They built and maintained light rail lines, often under fire, in the Ypres salient. This was not as dangerous as serving in the infantry, yet at least 32 of the original 218th men were killed during the war.

Don't drink any green beer (it's awful stuff!).

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Lovely post - As one who has had family in Edmonton and everywhere bloomin' else in canada ... can I ask if you know anything about a Quebec Regt labelled by the Canadian press at the time as the 'Orange and Greens' i.e. straight down the middle mix, officers and all, Jesuits and Presbyterians, headbangers and holy-rollers? They were associated with Duke of Connaught. I read about them one day in old papers but I can;t find 'em again.

BTW I'll be listening to Killaloe, Aileen Alanna, South Down Militia, Green Glens of Antrim etc in the a.m. Off to Depot Royal Irish for St. Patrick's Day. Yaa boo to all the rest who are working .. tee heee

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can I ask if you know anything about a Quebec Regt labelled by the Canadian press at the time as the 'Orange and Greens' i.e. straight down the middle mix, officers and all, Jesuits and Presbyterians, headbangers and holy-rollers? They were associated with Duke of Connaught. I read about them one day in old papers but I can;t find 'em again.

I think you must be thinking of the 199th Battalion, Irish Canadian Rangers (Duchess of Connaught's Own). I may have the titles slightly off. I seem to remember them being mentioned on a few threads in the past. They were an expression of a pre war Montreal militia unit, if my memory is correct. Other than the fact that one of my great uncles (of whom I know very little) was apparently a member of the 199th, the only factoid I have is that they were apparently criticised in the press for being insulting to French Canadians during a recruiting rally in the summer of 1917.

Perhaps we will learn more bye-the-bye.

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Des, go here for the thread. I put some nice recruiting posters into it. As James says, the unit was likely the 199th Canadian (Overseas) Infantry Battalion (The Duchess of Connaught's Own Irish-Canadian Rangers).

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James, re: your Irish Russians. From my research I think it is clear that they were of Ukrainian extraction, so-called Ruthenians from Galicia and Bukovina. Greek Catholics would be Ukrainian heritage; Greek Orthodox would be Russian heritage. This area of Europe had many Jewish people in the mix as well.

Most of the Ukrainians who wound up in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were from the Austro-Hungarian empire and thus enemy aliens. Several thousands were interned. All had to register. No wonder the recruiters told them to become Russians.

I believe that Russians who wound up in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes (and the very few in BC, besides the Dukhubors) would be real Russian or Russian Ukrainians. I know my grandfather from Podolia, Russia was only 80 miles from the Austrian border. A little west and he would have been an alien! Many of his troopmates in the 41st were from the same region.

I know you already know most of this, James, just repeating it for anybody else who is interested. :)

Peter in Vancouver

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Shiver down the spine - I have so many whatever you want to call them - irish/ulster canadians coming up in home town papers it is UNREAL.

I assume all the ex-pats were doing the same thing. You have made my night. Have some stuff at home ...

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Peter,

Thanks. Much of what I know I have learned since I started researching these fellows (and I have much more to learn!). Many of these fellows have home towns with names like Podolsk, Podolski, or Polodsk, presumably depending on the humour of the clerk trying to fill in the forms on the basis of what the recruit had said. Perhaps you have relations here! From the maps I have seen this probably refers to a strip along the Rumanian border which for all I know could have included bits on either side of the border. Besides Galicia and Bukowina, a favourite birthplace was Kiev. This was in Russian territoy, of course, so long as the town is concerned, but my as yet incomplete education says that many Ukrainians thought of the "Grande Kievate" in a national homeland sort of way which could include the Emperor's territory as well as the Czar's. (I appologize if my ignorance is upsetting anyone!).

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Hmmm, very interesting. Podolsk, Podolski, Podolskaia, and Podosky are familiar to me; Polodsk not. I think all these refer to the gubernia or "province" of Tsarist Russian Podolia. A large fortress city called Kamenetz Podolsk was the centre of Podolia; perhaps your "Irish" Russians had heard of it and said they were from there so as to become Russian and not Austrian. After all, it was only 80 to 120 miles east from where they likely originated.

At first glance, a lot of my men's attestations are from Podolsk, yet upon closer examination, their selo or "village" is something else.

I think it might be the same as a man from Cornwall differentiating between Penzance or Truro or St. Ives. "I'm from Cornwall, actually St. Ives."

(My apologies to those Pals from Cornwall :) )

James, have you any sense of how many NCOs and officers spoke Russian in the 218th? I know in the 41st only one lieutenant and one sergeant major spoke Russian. I know it made recruiting and completing the nominal rolls very troublesome.

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James, have you any sense of how many NCOs and officers spoke Russian in the 218th? I know in the 41st only one lieutenant and one sergeant major spoke Russian. I know it made recruiting and completing the nominal rolls very troublesome.

I don't know the linguistic abilities of any individuals, but I have read that the 218th at one time maintained 12 interpreters. Changing subjects slightly, although there was effort made to have a balance of Protestants and Catholics as officers, I am not aware of any "Russian" being commissioned in this unit. (Of course the enemy alien issue would have complicated things anyway!). Some "Russians", in this as in other units were promoted to be N.C.O.'s but I do not as yet have any numbers.

On a completely different note, I hope I am not to indelicate to point out an irony regarding the internment of aliens. The same issues of the local newspaper announcing recruiting news of the the 218th Battalion also announced a call for men to serve as guards at the new internment camp in Jasper Park!

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The same issues of the local newspaper announcing recruiting news of the the 218th Battalion also announced a call for men to serve as guards at the new internment camp in Jasper Park!

Mordac may correct me, but I think most of the "enemy aliens" had been interned by 1916, when 218th was recruiting. Still, it must have been an interesting time for a Ruthenian: stay in Edmonton with the potential of being interned if somebody didn't like you, or enlist as a Russian into the CEF and get shot at by Germans.

By all accounts, the internment camps were not nice places to live and work. Although they certainly weren't WWII concentration camps, people did suffer and die.

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Mordac may correct me, but I think most of the "enemy aliens" had been interned by 1916, when 218th was recruiting.

Most of the camps had been built and the "enemy aliens" interned by mid 1915. You might be surprised at the number of camps there were in Canada and their location:

Montreal, Québec - opened August, 1914 - closed November, 1918

Kingston, Ontario - opened August, 1914 - closed November, 1917

Winnipeg, Manitoba - opened September, 1914 - closed July, 1916

Halifax, Nova Scotia - opened September, 1914 - closed October 1918

Vernon, B.C. - opened September, 1914 - closed February, 1920

Nanaimo, B.C. - opened September, 1914 - closed September, 1915

Brandon. Manitoba - opened September, 1914 - closed July, 1916

Lethbridge, Alberta - opened September, 1914 - closed November, 1916

Petawawa, Ontario - opened December, 1914 - closed May, 1916

Toronto, Ontario - opened December, 1914 - closed October, 1916

Kapuskasing, Ontario - opened December, 1914 - closed February, 1920

Niagara Falls, Ontario - opened December, 1914 - closed August, 1918

Beauport, Québec - opened December, 1914 - closed June, 1916

Spirit Lake, Québec - opened January, 1915 - closed January, 1917

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario - opened January, 1915 - closed January, 1918

Amherst, Nova Scotia - opened April, 1915 - closed September, 1919

Valcartier, Québec - opened April, 1915 - closed October, 1915

Monashee-Mara Lake, B.C. - opened June, 1915 - closed July, 1917

Fernie-Morrissey, B.C. - opened June, 1915 - closed October, 1918

Banff-Castle Mountain & Cave & Basin, Alberta - opened July, 1915 - closed July, 1917

Edgewood, B.C. - opened August, 1915 - closed September, 1916

Revelstoke-Field-Otter, B.C. - opened September, 1915 - closed October, 1916

Jasper, Alberta - opened February, 1916 - closed August, 1916

Munson-Eaton, Alberta - opened October, 1918 - closed March, 1919

Between 1914 and 1920, 8,579 "enemy aliens" were incarcerated under the 'War Measures Act' of October 28, 1914. Of this number 3,138 were classed as "prisoners of war." Of the remaining 5,441 most were of Ukrainian origin. Over 80,000 others (the majority Ukrainians) were also categorized as "enemy aliens" and had to report regularly to registrars or the RNWMP.

In 1920 a government report stated the cost to run the concentration camps from 1914 to 1920 was $4,445,092.35.

Garth

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