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'These are stirring times': Newmarket men could be counted on to answer call to war

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod could continues his series on the proud history of the Queen's York Rangers

This second in a three-part series on Queen’s York Rangers looks at the various historic events tied to the unit and how the early Roger’s Rangers evolved into our modern-day militia.  

In part one, I outlined the lineage of the Queens York Rangers (QYR) and now we will focus on the various perpetuations of the unit, including the Battalion of Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada, the 1st and 3rd Regiments of York Militia (1812 to 1815), the 20th, 35th, 127th, and the 220th "Overseas" Battalion(s), CEF.

I will concentrate on the part that the unit played in the Boer War, the Northwest Expedition, and in both the First World War and Second World War.

May of 2020, I did an article on the North-West Rebellion and the part our local militia played in this conflict so I will not retell the story here.  The important aspect from the perspective of the Queen’s York Rangers is that on March 12, 1885, four companies of the Rangers, along with four of the Simcoe Foresters, were mobilized for the purpose of heading out West on active duty.

The officers commanding the companies were to assemble their companies at once at company headquarters for inspection. Surgeon Hillary from Aurora attended the headquarters of the Newmarket Company, on the 31st, for the purpose of inspecting the men belonging to the Newmarket and Sharon Companies. The following officers were called for active service: Major Wayling, who was in command of the Newmarket and Sharon units; and Capt. Smith who was in command of the Aurora and Sutton units.

The battalion would prove their mettle just getting out there. Even with the daunting distance and poor conditions, they would average a daily march of over 19 miles. 

The journey home of the regiments from the Northwest proved a series of receptions. At Port Arthur, the troops embarked for Collingwood and were thus entrained for Toronto. At Barrie, the good feeling that prevailed between the 35th and the 12th was evidenced by the presentation of a sword and belts to Lieutenant Col. Trywhltt of the 35th, on behalf of the 12th officers. 

The celebrations held in Toronto July 22 and 23 were well documented and the York-Simcoe Battalion received its official order to “dismiss” on July 24, 1885.

In 1899 Great Britain declared war on the Boers in South Africa. At once, Lt. Col. T.H. Lloyd of Newmarket, commanding the 12th Battalion, York Rangers, offered its services and every officer signified his willingness to go to the aid of Britain. The offer was acknowledged and then forwarded to England.  In return a cablegram of acceptance was received from the Imperial War Office.

When war broke out in South Africa (the Boer War), several local gentlemen joined a force of more than 1,000 Canadians who were sent overseas.  If you have read my earlier articles, you will remember that it was this force that Private Haines, whose monument, originally located at the foot of Water Street but now part of the memorial park on the south side of D’Arcy and Church streets, would join.  

During the First World War, the 20th Battalion, which was authorized Nov. 7, 1914 as the 20th Battalion, CEF.  On May 15, 1915, they were sent to Britain, disembarking in France on Sept. 15, 1915. They would fight as part of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division in France and Flanders. On Aug. 30, 1920, the battalion would be officially disbanded. 

The 35th Battalion, authorized on Nov. 7, 1914 as the 35th Battalion, CEF, left for Britain on Oct. 16, 1915.  The battalion was redesignated the 35th Reserve Battalion, CEF Feb. 9, 1915, and provided reinforcements to the Canadian Corps in the field until Jan. 4, 1917 when its personnel were absorbed into the 4th Reserve Battalion, CEF.  This battalion would be disbanded on Dec. 8, 1917. 

The 127th Battalion, authorized on Dec. 22, 1915 as the 127th "Overseas Battalion, CEF, headed to Britain on the Aug. 21, 1916. It initially reinforced the Canadian Corps in the field until Nov. 20, 1916 when it was reorganized as a railway battalion. It left the French Theatre on Jan. 13, 1917, to be redesignated as the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, CEF on Feb. 3, 1917.  Its purpose was to provide special engineering services to the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders until the end of the war.  This battalion was disbanded on Oct. 23, 1920. 

The 220th Battalion, which had been authorized on July 15, 1916 as the 220th Overseas Battalion, CEF, was sent to Britain on Jan. 26, 1917. Its personnel would be absorbed by the 3rd Reserve Battalion, CEF on 7 May 1917 to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field. The battalion was disbanded on Sept. 1, 1917. 

During the First World War, the Rangers remained in Canada as a recruiting regiment, tasked with forming and sending overseas the 20th, 127th and the 220th battalions.

During the Second World War, the regiment was called back to service on Aug. 26, 1939 and placed on active service on Sept. 1, 1939, under the designation The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (MG), CASF, for local protection duties. The regiment would not be disbanded until Dec. 31, 1940. The regiment was subsequently mobilized the 1st Battalion, The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment), CASF on March 5, 1942, serving within Canada in a home defence role as part of Military District No. 2 and was disbanded on Oct. 15, 1943. 

During the Second World War, the battalion was designated as a training unit for recruits from other regiments. In 1942, the regiment was assigned a role with Canadian Territorial Defence, while continuing their training duties.  

By the end of the war, the Queen’s York Rangers had supplied more than 124 officers and 1,891 service men to the overseas war effort. Many of you will remember the military camp in Newmarket, which provided basic training and later tank training. This was all in the purview of the QYR’s mandate as a unit.

Following the Second World War, in 1947, the regiment was given a new name and a new role. They became the 25th Armoured Regiment (Queen’s York Rangers) and were now equipped with Sherman tanks. Many of you will likely remember their presence in local parades. The unit has continued in that capacity to this day. 

There are several military units that are deserving of a closer examination, units which can trace their roots back to the Queen’s Rangers.

The 220th (12th York Rangers) Battalion was to serve as a unit in the Canadian Expeditionary Force unit during the First World War. The actual designation of this unit was the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and it was initially created by Canada for service overseas during the First World War. The force was to field several combat formations on the Western Front both in France and in Belgium, the largest of which was the Canadian Corps, consisting of four divisions.

While actually based in Toronto, the local unit would begin its recruiting efforts in late 1915, and early 1916 in York County. After its arrival in England in April 1917, the battalion was officially absorbed on May 18, 1917 into the 3rd Reserve Battalion with Lieut.-Col. B.H. Brown as the commanding officer of the 220th (12th York Rangers) Battalion.

A newspaper report entitled Active Campaign to Fill York Battalion / Energetic Measures to Secure Young Men Who Are Still Eligible appeared in the Toronto World April 5, 1916 which discussed the recruiting efforts to date:

"Practically every business and professional man in Newmarket yesterday pledged his hearty support to the work of raising recruits for the 220th York Overseas Battalion, and today an active campaign will be undertaken to raise the Newmarket end of it in record time. It had at one time been feared that difficulty would be experienced in getting the men, but the latest reports are reassuring, with Newmarket being one of the most active of the municipalities in the county in raising recruits. These figures, it is said, will be easily duplicated in every other municipality in the county. Lieut.-Col. Brown is adopting the most energetic measures to secure men, and officers have been dispatched to all centres."

The Toronto World would report again on April 14, in regard to the progress of the 220th's recruiting drive: "At the weekly meeting of the 220th York Rangers' Overseas Battalion at headquarters last night, the reports submitted from all parts of the county and especially in  Newmarket and area were very encouraging. At Aurora, nine recruits signed up and seven at Newmarket. The end of the week will see 50 men enlisted at Newmarket within the 220th York Rangers."

By April 21, according to the Toronto World, recruiting had seemed to have slowed: "At a meeting of the headquarters staff of the 220th York Rangers' Overseas Battalion held last night in St. Paul's Hall reports indicated that recruiting in the country districts is proceeding slowly. About 200 have enlisted in the 220th to date, and unseasonable weather is blamed for the poor showing. Newmarket, Runnymede and Stouffville are the best recruiting points."

A recruiting rally was held on May 30, 1916, as reported by the Toronto Star: "The 220th York Rangers held a recruiting rally in Ramsden Park last night, Capt. C. F. Mills and Lieut. Pickup delivered addresses. The former was very fair and complimented the married men on what they had done but claimed that the unmarried men spent their time in the pool rooms and evaded recruiting officers. The bugle band supplied music."

In 1920 the perpetuation of the 220th Battalion was assigned to the York Rangers. Because of amalgamations, the perpetuation is now carried on by the York Rangers' successor, the Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC). 

The Newmarket Era remarked in an editorial on April 7, 1916: “These are stirring times. Never was there such a war in the world’s history and never did any war come home to us with the same force. Over a century ago the woods along Yonge Street resounded with the tramp of armed men, but it was but a faint tramp compared with the tramp of the 127th Battalion down Yonge Street. About 50 years ago the 12th Battalion, Queen’s York Rangers, camped for two weeks on the Newmarket fairgrounds. That was the largest body of soldiers ever seen in Newmarket at the time”.

A front-page Era article states: ‘Recruiting went on apace as this was the war to end all wars. Even before the 127th Battalion had left Newmarket, recruiting had begun for a second overseas battalion, the 220th, with Lt. Col. B.H. Browne in command. Plans to have the men winter at the fairgrounds were deemed unfeasible and they spent the winter at Exhibition Park in Toronto.’ 

While I realize that many of you may have little interest in the military history of the area, I do believe that it is vital in the telling of the story of the Queen’s York Rangers that we understand the legacy that has been passed down to us by this historic unit.

We must continue to honour our brave men and women who have served us proudly since our founding.  In response to those who have told me that any mention of our military history is primarily focused on white men of British background, I urge you to have a closer look at the listing of those honoured and all those in the regimental photos to see the diversity displayed.  New Canadians have long responded to our call to arms as have our Black citizens and our Indigenous peoples. This has been true since the birth of this nation and it continues to be just as true to this day.

In part three, I will look at the QYR’s Cadet program and the musical / drill team aspect of the Queen’s York Rangers history.  I hope that you will join me again.

Sources: The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC) Online; The Queen's York Rangers: An Historic Regiment by Stewart H. Bull (1984); Remembering Their Gallantry in Former Years – A History of the Queen’s York Rangers by David Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Canadian Department of Defense - Official Lineages, Volumes, 1, 2 and 3: Armour, Artillery, Field Engineer, and Infantry Regiments; History of the York Rangers by Captain A.T. Hunter (1913)


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews. 


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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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