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BDuprest

Central Ontario Regimental Depot

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BDuprest

I just started to decipher my GGrandfathers personnel file and have a few clarifications if someone can help out or can direct me to some resources. HIs attestation papers are stamped "1st Depot Battalion, 1st C.O.R., 1st Res. Bn. 1st C.O. Regt" Then, stamped over that is "1st Depot Battalion, 2nd Central Ont. Reg."

 

I understand what all the abbreviations mean, but were "depot battalions" and "Central Ontario Regiments" etc where soldiers were assigned initially once recruited? Im trying to understand his transition from emlistment to his arrival in England and what it consisted of. 

 

 

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FROGSMILE
Posted (edited)
51 minutes ago, BDuprest said:

I just started to decipher my GGrandfathers personnel file and have a few clarifications if someone can help out or can direct me to some resources. HIs attestation papers are stamped "1st Depot Battalion, 1st C.O.R., 1st Res. Bn. 1st C.O. Regt" Then, stamped over that is "1st Depot Battalion, 2nd Central Ont. Reg."

 

I understand what all the abbreviations mean, but were "depot battalions" and "Central Ontario Regiments" etc where soldiers were assigned initially once recruited? Im trying to understand his transition from emlistment to his arrival in England and what it consisted of. 

 

 


‘Depot battalions’* is a very old British and Dominion/Commonwealth term for the military establishments where a recruit underwent basic infantry training, usually at that time for around 12-weeks.  My understanding is that on completion of basic training he would then have gone back to the local militia battalion that recruited him in the first place, where he would have undergone continuation training in military routine whilst awaiting a draft to the CEF in Britain.  He would then have been ‘trooped’out (i.e. by troopship) in an organised draft under one, or more officers to Britain and a CEF training base.  Once there he would undergo a little more training before onward trooping in another draft to France and Flanders, where he would go to a CEF Base Depot.  At the base depot he would have done some final (recent developments) training and then joined a reinforcement draft to a numbered CEF infantry battalion.  Each of these numbered battalions was usually aligned with two, or three of the militia battalions back in Canada.  By the time they reached the front in F&F Canadian troops were extremely well-trained and as a result held a universally high reputation.

 

*First established by the Honourable East India Company as part of the recruiting process for its infantry battalions, and so successful a model that it was adopted by the British Army’s regular regiments during the Crimean War and subsequent Indian Mutiny.  It worked by consolidating individual battalion’s depot companies and achieving an economy of scale at locations specifically nearby Sea and inland river ports, from where troops could readily and easily be embarked.  They were in effect hubs specially oriented for training and subsequent dispatch.

Edited by FROGSMILE

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adk46canada

The training situation in the CEF was a total mess for the first half of the war, so there were three different training regimes in the CEF. It took time but the Canadian authorities tamed the chaos and developed a coherent training system.

 

The initial one, lasting to early 1917, featured volunteers training with their battalion in Canada until the unit reached sufficient strength to travel to England. Depending on the situation and time in the war, the battalion might be disbanded and the men sent to a training battalion or to the front if adequately trained. In 1916, the training period was 10 weeks. Some battalions arrived in England credited with two weeks of training despite being embodied for over a year. A few fortunate battalions might continue training and end up crossing to France. At this point there were no regimental depots for infantry battalions.

 

There was then an interim period where battalions were still sent to England but the structure of regiments and depots was fleshed out under a new administrative arrangement. By mid-1917, volunteers and later conscripts were given a minimum of training in Canada in depots sufficient to inculcate discipline for the journey to England. In England, they then joined training units affiliated with their province or area such as the Central Ontario Regiment for battalions from Toronto and area. One or more battalions at the front were part of a regiment and would receive new recruits and returned wounded from that regiment. Soldiers were managed within the context of the regiment. Every attempt was made to ensure recovered wounded returned to the their battalion. This system was designed to solve the chaos engendered by the previous battalion centered training. From 1917 the Canadians followed the standard War Office 14 week training but did do more specialist training in England before sending troops to the front.

 

Regards

Bill

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FROGSMILE
Posted (edited)

[The first] “Expeditionary Force [concentrated] at Valcartier Camp, Quebec, where they received the briefest of initial training, before embarking from Gaspe Bay on a ten-day sea voyage to England in a flotilla of thirty-two transport ships.4

 

The soldiers were transferred to a tented camp on Salisbury Plain, where they underwent four months of British warfare training prior to being sent to France. The conditions at Salisbury camp worsened dramatically as winter descended and it rained for eighty-nine out of one hundred and twenty-four days. Eventually, the tents were replaced by single-storey wooden huts each intended to house forty men. Inadequately ventilated, they quickly became breeding grounds for infections. In addition to influenza and chest problems, a fatal strain of meningitis killed twenty-eight soldiers, leaving many more seri-ously ill. Whilst the First Contingent struggled to undergo sufficient training to help them survive at the Front, Hughes had successfully raised a Second and subsequently a Third, Expeditionary Force.

 

Forty-thousand Canadian soldiers arrived in Plymouth in February 1915 and boarded trains for Shorncliffe in Kent. Their biggest fear was that the War would be all over by Christmas and before they had personally been given the chance to confront the “hated Hun”. There was no perception of the horrors that awaited them within the foul trenches of Flanders or France, nor that the conflict would exact a huge price on a whole generation of Canadian men.

 

On a whim, 23-year-old British born Private Jack O’Brien from Winnipeg, enlisted into the North Western 28th Battalion as part of the 2nd Contingent. He wrote this account of his first day at Shorncliffe: “….another thing that happened on our first day in camp—a few of us were standing looking across the Channel to France and wondering what was happening there, when boom-boom-boom we heard the guns in Belgium. We could hardly believe our ears, I don’t know about the other fellows, but it sent a queer feeling through me to know that only fifty or sixty miles away, our boys were fighting and dying. Before this, the war had seemed very unreal, but the sound of the guns made me realize that it was a grim reality and I wondered how I would face it when the time came.”5

 

Shorncliffe was chosen for the Second Expeditionary Force as it was a pur-pose-built garrison recently vacated by Kitchener’s British Army recruits. Initially, the camp was not able to accommodate all the men, so they were put into ‘tent cities’ with officers billeted in private homes across the towns of Folkestone and Hythe. Meanwhile, wooden huts with corrugated iron roofs were hurriedly constructed and these new “tin towns” were sited amongst the hills around Shorncliffe. With the memory of the epidemic of serious diseases at Salisbury still fresh in the minds of the Army Commanders, all newcomers to Shorncliffe throughout the war were kept in isolation barracks on Dibgate Plain for a period of twenty-eight days after arrival. Following basic training in Canada and the ensuing sea voyage, segregation was considered the only way to protect the other thousands of soldiers already in the camps from expo-sure to any condition or disease that may have been borne across the Atlantic.

 

According to the recollections of soldier Private Harold Innis—“One of the most desirable places in Shorncliffe camp was the quarantine. A guard with a rusty rifle paced up and down in front, at the rate of 140 paces per minute. He paid compliments to officers which was his chief duty and stopped the men from going out at the front of the quarantine. As a result, the men went out the back of the quarantine and every place was accessible to its inmates. Only four were allowed in the tent in contrast to the usual eight. There were no parades, the food was of the best and all one had to do was to enjoy oneself”.6 Once cleared from quarantine, the men were granted a short leave and an opportunity to explore the surrounding towns and villages or travel to London for a short visit.”

 

“The British [regular Army officers] considered the Canadian soldiers to be undisciplined amateurs when they landed in England. After just a few weeks cursory training at Valcartier before embarkation, the second Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived at Shorncliffe with minimal soldiering experience. However, the newcomers proudly wore their uniforms and carried a full soldiers kit, including two heavy army blankets, mess tin, a trenching shovel and a Ross rifle complete with bayonet.12 By the time they had completed their training and were ready to depart for Europe, almost all their Canadian equipment had been replaced by its superior British-made equivalent. “The tight fitting Canadian tunics with stand-up collars gave way to the looser, more comfortable and better made, British jackets.”13 Commonly considered to be made of brown paper, their Canadian-made boots disintegrated in wet conditions and were also replaced. Private Louis Keene recollects that many soldiers wore the new British tunics at night because they were warm and comfortable and offered an amusing anecdote about being issued with the new British boots: “we have been given new black boots, magnificent things huge, heavy ammunition boots and the wonderful thing is they don’t let water in. They are very big and look like punts, but its dry feet now.”14

 

Once in Shorncliffe, any man with even the most minimal militia experience, was sent to one of the many British military schools for training.15 They received instruction in using the rifle, bayonet and grenade as well as methods for trench warfare. Emerging as non-ranking leaders, they instructed new recruits under their command in the skills they had just learned a few weeks before. Allan Hager, 5th Field Artillery, wrote to his sister from Shorncliffe on 12th November 1915: “they have made a musketry instructor out of me. It is no joke to lecture them for six hours every day and then take them to the ranges and have the responsibility of them shooting at the targets and watching to see they don’t shoot themselves.”16 Soldiers fortunate enough to have enlisted into the Second Canadian division, underwent their training in the Kent countryside around the garrison. However, there was constant pressure on commanders to supply fresh troops to replace tired and depleted units on the front lines. Because of this demand, the training programmes were at best, merely adequate and progressively condensed in length as the war continued.

 

Even just a year into the war, Private Donald Fraser’s diary entry for September 17th 1915 reflected: “after four months training in Kent, England, where we had a very enjoyable time, first at Dibgate in the vicinity of Shorncliffe, then at Lydd where we had rushed shooting practice…we were considered fit and skilled in the art of warfare, ready to meet the hated Hun. When I think of it, our training was decidedly amateurish and impractical. It consisted mainly of route marches and alignment movements. Our musketry course amounted to nothing; we had only half an idea about the handling of bombs. We were perfectly ignorant regarding rifle grenades.”17

 

Special instruction was offered to every man, in machine gunnery, signaling or bombing. Private O’Brien describes his bombing course, which he admits to volunteering for simply to get out of fatigue duty: “in our six week course, we learned to handle the ‘Mills’ bomb, ‘hair-brush’ and the ‘jam tin’. There was just enough danger to make it exciting. For instance the ‘jam tin’bomb is made by the men from a real jam tin packed with explosives.”18 To hone the soldiers’ aim, the bombs were targeted at the recently dug trenches, much to the chagrin of the men who had constructed them. However, a number of the trenches dug by Canadians around Shorncliffe still survive to the present day.

 

When not engaged in specific warfare training, the army provided these thousands of young men with extensive outlets for their energies. From reveille at 5.30am, their day was structured until lights out at around 10 pm. It incorporated physical drills, parades, training and marches, punctuated with meal times. The army also needed to nurture a high level of morale in preparation for the day when the men would be called to board the ships which would take them across the Channel to the trenches. From many of the primary accounts of their experiences, most Canadians appear to have enjoyed their training period, with little thought to what lay ahead of them once they joined the front lines. When their embarkation date was close, they were confined to barracks and then marched the few miles to Folkestone Harbour, laden with full kit necessary for survival in the field. Leading down from ‘The Leas’ into the harbour, was a short road named ‘Church Slope Road.’ These few hundred metres were the last that soldiers would see of England and relative safety. ‘So close was Folkestone to the front lines, that it was the case that a soldier could eat his breakfast in Folkestone and be fighting in the trenches by lunchtime.’19”

 

NB.  Despite the above there is no doubt whatsoever that the Canadian Corps of 1918 was superbly trained and that whatever shortcomings there might have been with the training in Canada and Britain, the continuation training delivered at the Canadian Base Depot and at Corps and Army level training schools more than made up for it.

Edited by FROGSMILE

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