H.T. Cock Manuscript: Europe

Harry Tredennick Cock's manuscript titled "Short History of The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1883-1933" is a valuable document from our Archive Collection that discusses the first 50 years of The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). This story will focus on the regiment’s service in England, France, and Belgium during the First World War, and it features text, photographs, and ephemera from the manuscript. During the period covered, from August 1915 to March 1919, H.T. Cock served with The RCR as a Captain.

TYPEWRITTEN MANUSCRIPT: "SHORT HISTORY OF THE ROYAL CANADIAN REGIMENT, 1883-1933"
DATE: December 1934
DONATED BY: Unknown
OBJECT ID: RCRM2013.043.092

Halifax

At the beginning of the First World War, Canadian military authorities called upon The RCR to relieve British troops garrisoning Bermuda. Although the regiment was eager to sail to Europe for active service, it was the best prepared Canadian infantry unit to carry out the duty, as the regiment constituted a large portion of the country’s professional soldiers at the start of the war. An overseas battalion of The RCR was formed, which would end up spending 11 months faithfully protecting the islands of Bermuda and training intensively to eventually serve at the front. Finally, on August 13, 1915, The RCR battalion was relieved in Bermuda by the 38th Battalion (Ottawa), and sailed for Halifax aboard the S.S. Caledonian

For more information on The RCR in Bermuda see our previous story H.T. Cock Manuscript: Bermuda. 

The RCR landed in Halifax four days after leaving Bermuda. They would stay in Halifax for two weeks before heading across the Atlantic to serve in Europe as an overseas battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Cock provides no details of the regiment’s stop in Halifax, but images included in the manuscript show troops arriving in lightweight khaki drill uniforms complete with sun helmets that were suitable for service in the warm climate of Bermuda. They were greeted by the local community, including children who seem to have taken great interest in the troops. Upon arrival, the unit marched to North Common where they billeted for the duration of their stay. Before leaving for Europe the men were equipped with new Service Dress uniforms fit for service at the front. A group photograph of the newly kitted unit was taken at the Common. On August 25, the overseas battalion again boarded the S.S. Caledonian. After a day finalizing the re-attestation of the men, so they could legally serve abroad as part of the CEF, they set sail for England. 

England

The RCR landed in England at Plymouth and then proceeded by train to Shorncliffe on the country’s Southeastern coast where they would stay for two months. Cock states that the men were re-armed with modified versions of the infamous Ross Rifle. They sharpened their bayonets and painted their polished buttons a more inconspicuous brown colour. They were also provided instruction in new trench warfare techniques such as the use of grenades. Officers purchased “gadgets” that they hoped would serve them well in the trenches including “trench caps, waterproof boots, map cases, steel mirrors, folding periscopes, flashlights with Morse keys and special cases to screen the light from the enemy, tabloid medicine cases, first-aid boxes, folding primus stoves and what not…” The manuscript includes an image of the regiment’s Machine Gun Section, which Cock commanded, posing with four Colt Machine Guns in England. The Machine Gun Section would be among the first RCR troops to step foot in France as they were part of an advanced party of 111 regimental troops that crossed the English Channel aboard the S.S. Basil on October 31, 1915 a day before the rest of the regiment. 

France and Belgium

The remaining RCR troops left for France on November 1, 1915. Not long after, the regiment would form the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade along with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders), and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton Regiment). These units would fight side by side throughout the war. Cock explains that the first few months in France were spent assisting with constructing trenches, receiving further instruction on trench warfare, and engaging in “ordinary” trench warfare at Wulvergham, Kemmel, and Ypres. 

In the manuscript Cock proceeds to provide brief descriptions of The RCR’s involvement in significant battles such as Mount Sorrel, Flers-Courcelette, Ancre Heights, Arras, Vimy, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Scarpe, Canal Du Nord, and the pursuit to Mons. The regiment was awarded battle honours for each of these actions. He often paints a detailed picture of the battles by describing factors such as weather, battlefield conditions, and morale. For example, while describing the Battle of Flers-Courcelette he states the “whole operation was a most difficult one as the ground was churned up with shell holes and demolished trenches, without any landmarks as a guide.” He also provides interesting insights into new equipment introduced to the regiment such as gas masks and steel helmets which he explains “created confidence and saved many a broken head from overhead traverses in trenches and the roof beams of dugouts!” 

He is sure to include interesting regimental stories as well. Speaking of the Battle of Mount Sorrel, one of The RCR’s first major battles, he states: “this battle so far as the regiment is concerned, has been known as the ‘Old Soldiers’ Day.’ The successful defence against repeated attacks was due to these old soldiers with their peace time training producing prodigious rapid fire from the rifle, although they were still imperfectly armed and automatic weapons were scarce.” 

Interspersed throughout the manuscript are photographs from this period as well as cards, letters, and ephemera. You can read the author’s account of the regiment’s actions in France and Belgium below:

End of the War

In the early morning of November 11, 1918, shortly after fighting their way into the Belgian city of Mons, The RCR received a letter that an armistice would come into effect at 11:00 a.m. While the war was effectively over, the regiment would not see Canada for another four months. They would stay in Mons for one of those months, then make their way through Belgium and Northern France to the port city of Le Havre. Here they embarked across the English Channel to England. The RCR eventually arrived in Liverpool where on March 1, 1919, they boarded the Adriatic and started their journey across the Atlantic back to Canada.

Return Home

The RCR arrived in Halifax on March 9, 1919. Cock mentions that they were greeted with “an enthusiastic reception by the inhabitants.” The photographs included in the manuscript show a large crowd gathered to watch the regiment as they marched through the streets. Union Jack flags, bunting, and large arches, one reading “HALIFAX WELCOMES HER FIGHTING SONS,” adorned the parade route. The men made their way to North Common where they were accommodated in huts and in the nearby armoury, just as they had been three and half years earlier. Shortly after arriving at the Common, The RCR overseas battalion was disbanded.   

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