Of special note, in October 2011, the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Foundation launched the new Regimental history Capital Soldiers: The History of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa by Dr. Kenneth Reynolds. Read the overview and then visit the Kit Shop to purchase your copy of this excellent work.
See also the official Directorate of History and Heritage entry Volume 3, Part 2: Infantry Regiments: THE CAMERON HIGHLANDERS OF OTTAWA.
In addition to the new Regimental history, the following topics have their own pages:
A brief history
- The Carleton Blazers: 1866 to 1875
- The Early Regiment: 1881 to 1899
- The South African War: 1899 to 1902
- The Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles: 1899 to 1914
- The Interwar Period: 1919 to 1939
- The Second World War: 1939 to 1945
- The Postwar Regiment: 1945 to Present
The Carleton Blazers: 1866 to 1875
As a regiment, The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own) traces its history back to the formation of the 43rd Battalion of Infantry in October 1866. This battalion, known locally as the Carleton Blazers, initially had its headquarters in Bell ‘s Corners in Carleton County and incorporated infantry companies located south and west of the City of Ottawa in Bell’s Corners, Goulburn, Huntley, Metcalfe, North Gower, Richmond and, later, others in Manotick and Vernon.
The very first time the 43rd gathered together as a battalion was on July 1, 1867, during the celebrations surrounding the founding of the dominion of Canada. Officers and men from all seven companies (325 personnel in total) travelled to Ottawa for the ceremonies on Parliament Hill. Volunteer militia units and cadet corps were assembled on the hill, performed a feu de joie, marched past the Governor General, and gave three cheers for the new nation.
Three years later, in May 1870, the battalion’s first active service resulted from fears of a Fenian invasion out of the United States. The perceived threat of these Irish-Americans against Canadian territory led to the mobilization of numerous militia units at locations in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. By May 29 the 43rd Battalion’s headquarters and all nine infantry companies (approximately 400 officers and men) had been transported to Prescott, Ontario, across the river from Ogdensburg, New York. While in garrison the battalion provided sentries, carried out patrols, and stood guard duty at the local drill shed, the artillery stables, the local bank, the town’s wharf, at Fort Wellington, and at Windmill Point. The entire battalion returned to Ottawa on June 4 after the threat had passed without incident.
Unfortunately, the Carleton Blazers were unable to keep up their strength and, on December 3, 1875, the 43rd Battalion was disbanded. This was not an uncommon occurrence, as perhaps as many as two dozen other volunteer militia battalions – most of them based in rural areas – were disbanded between the 1860s and 1890s, victims of the difficulty in maintaining unit cohesion while spread out geographically in rural communities.
The Early Regiment: 1881 to 1899
The regiment was reformed in Ottawa in August 1881 as the 43rd “Ottawa and Carleton” Battalion of Rifles. Far pre-dating the idea of the “National Capital Region”, the 43rd Battalion initially included rifle companies in both Ontario (Ottawa, Fitzroy, and Vernon) and Quebec (Aylwin, Eardley, and Wakefield).
One of those companies, the 1st Ottawa Rifle Company, had already existed for a quarter of a century. It was formed on April 3, 1856, as The 1st Volunteer Militia Rifle Company of Ottawa. It had also seen service in Prescott alongside the Carleton Blazers during the 1870 Fenian raid alert. Given its date of formation, the 1st Ottawa Rifle Company – now “A” Company of the Camerons – is oldest sub-unit of the current regiment, predating the regiment’s formation by twenty-five years.
Only the 43rd’s battalion headquarters and No. 1 Company were actually located in Ottawa in 1881, both of these sub-units being housed in the Cartier Square Drill Hall on the edge of downtown Ottawa. Constructed in 1879 as the municipal armoury, the Cartier Square Drill Hall already housed the Governor General’s Foot Guards. The drill hall was built on the former “Militia Drill Ground”, later known as Cartier Square (the area now bounded by the Rideau Canal, Laurier Avenue, Elgin Street, and Lisgar Street).
Soon after the battalion’s rebirth its routine was interrupted by the tragic events of the North-West (or Riel) Rebellion of 1885. Federal authorities responded to the crisis by sending soldiers and police to the west in an attempt to stop the rebellion and restore federal control.
Although the entire 43rd Battalion volunteered for service, it was decided that the Ottawa militia would mobilize a composite company of sharpshooters. When formed, this company included forty-seven members of the Foot Guards and six other militiamen from Ottawa, including two members of the 43rd, namely Staff-Sergeant Samuel Maynard Rogers and Private William Osgoode. After making the difficult journey to the “North West Territories” in early May 1885, the Sharpshooters were sent to Battleford (now part of Saskatchewan) as part of the military garrison there. On May 1 part of the garrison, including some of the Ottawa sharpshooters, marched out of the camp and headed for Cut Knife Hill forty kilometres to the west in search of aboriginal forces. The Battle of Cut Knife Hill was fought the next day, and among the eight militia fatalities was Private William Osgoode from the 43rd Battalion. The rest of the tour of duty for the sharpshooters was relatively quiet and the Ottawa men returned home in late July.
Other members of the regiment who saw active service during the 1885 rebellion included Captain Joshua Wright (with the Alberta Field Force), 2nd Lieutenant Braddish Billings (with No. 6 Battery of the Montreal Brigade of Garrison Artillery), and Captain T.D.B. Evans (with the “Midland” Battalion). Several other officers and men who served during the rebellion later joined the 43rd Battalion.
By the 1890s the battalion had contracted to the point that by 1894 the headquarters and four rifle companies were all located in Ottawa. The battalion had been transformed from a “rural” to a “city” battalion. In the 1890s much of the battalion’s attention was given to training, “aid to the civil power” operations, and marksmanship. The latter originally took place at the Rideau Rifle Range before being replaced by the Rockcliffe Rifle Range (it was, in turn, replaced by the facilities in Connaught in the 1920s). Marksmanship was extremely important for the 43rd and individual and team trophies at rifle competitions at home and abroad were a common accomplishment for the battalion during these years. The members of the 43rd also made several visits to the United States during this period, visiting various cities and military units. For example, in 1898 the 43rd visited Burlington, Vermont, during its Independence Day ceremonies. In response, members of the Vermont National Guard visited Ottawa that November, presenting the battalion with a silk American flag mounted on a silver-headed staff. The flag was also embroidered with the words “43rd Battalion Ottawa & Carleton Rifles” running along one of the red stripes.
The South African War: 1899 to 1902
When the war between the British Empire and the Boers broke out in South Africa in 1899 the entire 43rd Battalion reportedly “volunteered as a body for service” in the fighting. However, no existing volunteer militia units were destined to go overseas. Instead, a provisional infantry unit was recruited from across Canada, eventually being named the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. “D” Company of this battalion was formed in Ottawa and Kingston, the largest single group of its 120 officers (including the officer commanding, Major Samuel Maynard Rogers), non-commissioned officers, and men being recruited from the ranks of the 43rd Battalion. By late October 1899 the Royal Canadians had deployed as a whole to Quebec City, from where they sailed to Cape Town, arriving in late November. The battalion eventually formed part of the British 19th Brigade and fought in several battles, including the two-part Battle of Paardeberg (February 18 and 27, 1900). The 43rd’s representatives in the Royal Canadians suffered three fatalities and a handful of wounded during that battle. In addition, during the Paardeberg fighting Private Richard Rowland Thompson carried out feats of bravery that ultimately resulted in his receiving one of the coveted scarves crocheted by Queen Victoria herself for the bravest private soldiers of the empire.
Although most of the 43rd Battalion’s contribution to the war in South Africa was with the Royal Canadians, they were certainly not the only contribution the battalion made to the war effort. Additional Canadian military contingents included enlistments from the 43rd in the ranks of the 1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles, “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, Strathcona’s Horse, the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th Regiments, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and the South African Constabulary. In total, nearly eighty members of the 43rd Battalion served in the war, suffering five killed and four wounded.
The Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles: 1899 to 1914
During the South African War the 43rd Battalion underwent significant structural and name changes. In May 1900 the unit’s title was changed to the 43rd Regiment “Ottawa and Carleton Rifles” to reflect its impending structural increase from a battalion to a regiment of eight rifle companies totalling more than 350 officers and men. One year later, during the visit to Canada of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 1901, the 43rd Regiment made such an impression on the Duke that he agreed to become the regiment’s first honorary colonel (he continued to hold this appointment after being crowned King George V) and to allow it to use his name in the regimental title. As a result, in March 1902 the regiment was renamed the 43rd Regiment, Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles.
Regimental activities during this era remained similar to those of the pre-1899 years and included training, marksmanship, ceremonial activities, sports, and visits to other military units. The regiment also began its association with the organization that would become the Royal Canadian Army Cadets by their affiliation in 1903 with the cadet company of the Ottawa Collegiate Institute (now Lisgar Collegiate Institute). Several cadet corps would be attached to the regiment throughout the next century, until the unfortunate demise of the latest corps (No. 2360 The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Cadet Corps) in 2003.
The First World War: 1914 to 1919
During the First World War the 43rd Regiment did not see overseas service itself, but was used as a means to recruit and train soldiers for overseas service with the new, numbered infantry battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in particular the 2nd, 38th, and 207th Battalions. Following the war the history and honours of the 38th and 207th Battalions would be perpetuated by the regiment, keeping their heritage alive to the present day.
Organized in November 1914, the 38th Battalion was immediately placed on active service and ordered to recruit to full strength and begin training. Popularly known throughout the war as the 38th “Ottawa” Battalion or the “Royal Ottawas”, the 38th drew its strength from several eastern Ontario regiments and “off the street” from civilian recruits. Recruitment and training progressed in Ottawa and Barriefield (near Kingston) until August 1915 when the 38th left Canada under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron MacPherson Edwards. The battalion sailed, not for Europe, but for Bermuda in the mid-Atlantic where it was being sent to carry out garrison duty. This task lasted until May 1916 when the 38th sailed for England and joined the ranks of the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division. In August 1916 the 38th deployed to France with the brigade, serving there until the end of the war.
As part of the 4th Canadian Division, the 38th Battalion fought in numerous battles and was eventually awarded the following battle honours: “Somme, 1916”, “Ancre Heights”, “Ancre, 1916”, “Arras, 1917, ’18”, “Vimy, 1917”, “Ypres, 1917”, “Passchendaele”, “Amiens”, “Scarpe, 1918”, “Drocourt-Quéant”, “Hindenburg Line”, “Canal du Nord”, “Valenciennes”, “Sambre”, and “France and Flanders, 1916-18”.
In terms of individual honours and awards, the members of the 38th Battalion were awarded an astounding 299 decorations for bravery during the war. This list included two Victoria Crosses, nine Distinguished Service Orders, thirty-five Military Crosses, two Distinguished Flying Crosses (won by members seconded to the Royal Flying Corps), twenty-seven Distinguished Conduct Medals, 166 Military Medals, eight Meritorious Service Medals, thirty-eight Mentioned-in-Despatches, one Croix de Guerre avec Palme (French), one Croix de Chevalier Legion d’Honneur (French), one Medaille d’Honneur avec Glaives en Vermeil (French), two Medailles d’Honneur avec Glaives en Argent (French), four Croix de Guerre (Belgian), and three Crosses of St. George (4th Class) (Russian).
Major Thain Wendell MacDowell was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 when he captured seventy-seven Germans in a dugout during the attack. Private Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney was awarded his Victoria Cross posthumously for his efforts on September 1 and 2, 1918, during the Battle of Drocourt-Quéant where he provided support fire, ammunition, and encouragement in several locations during the battle.
The remaining members of the 38th Battalion finally arrived home in June 1919 and the unit was demobilized in Ottawa. Nearly 4,000 officers, non-commissioned officers, and men passed through its ranks between its arrival in France in August 1916 and the armistice in November 1918. The battalion suffered more than 2,700 casualties (almost 800 killed in action, died of wounds, or died of disease, and nearly 2,000 wounded) during the fighting.
The 207th Battalion had a more modest war, but fulfilled its duties of recruiting, training, and providing reinforcements with absolute dedication. Popularly known as the “207th (Ottawa-Carleton) Overseas Battalion”, the battalion was formed in February 1916 and immediately began recruiting and training. It also paid some attention to sports (in particular, rugby and baseball), an activity that gave the battalion another nickname, “MacLean’s Athletes”, after Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Wesley MacLean, its commanding officer. In January 1917 the battalion left Ottawa, first for further training in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and, in June, for England. Upon arrival in England nearly all of the 207th’s strength of nearly 700 officers and men were transferred to a reserve battalion awaiting transfer to fighting battalions in France and Flanders, including the 2nd, 21st and 38th Battalions and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Its ranks depleted, the 207th Battalion was disbanded in April 1918.
The Interwar Period: 1919 to 1939
During the interwar years the 43rd Regiment was reorganized and renamed on several occasions. In March 1920 it was converted from regular infantry to a highland regiment and renamed The Ottawa Regiment (The Duke of Cornwall’s Own). The regiment was also provided with two battalions, the 1st Battalion (38th Battalion, CEF) and the 2nd Battalion (207th Battalion, CEF) (the 2nd Battalion existed only on paper), as a means of retaining the history and honours of the wartime Canadian Expeditionary Force battalions. Two years later, in 1922, the regiment was renamed The Ottawa Highlanders, a title it would keep for the next eleven years. Then, in 1933, it was renamed The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa with “(M.G.)” (for machine gun) being added to the regimental title in 1936.
Throughout the interwar era the regiment worked hard to survive the difficult existence of a militia unit during years of reduced government funding and the economic restrictions brought on the by the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s. Nonetheless, the regiment prospered during these years, maintaining its ability to recruit and train young men for military service. Basic training, rifle practice, and ceremonial and social duties continued to be the most prominent activities carried out by the officers and men. In addition, in June 1923 an alliance with The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in Scotland was officially announced, a link which exists to this day with The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons). Other interwar highlights included the regiment’s receipt of King’s and Regimental Colours on Parliament Hill in October 1936, its support of the royal visit of King George VI (the regimental colonel-in-chief) and Queen Elizabeth in May 1939, and its participation in the royal couple’s unveiling of the National War Memorial. In late 1936 the regiment was amalgamated with “B” Company, 4th Machine Gun Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Battalion, a type of structural “marriage” which made The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.) an “infantry (machine gun) unit” equipped, at least in theory, with Vickers medium machine guns. “B” Company had been formed in Ottawa in June 1919 and had trained as a machine gun unit since that time.
The Second World War: 1939 to 1945
When the Second World War in Europe erupted in September 1939 the regiment was immediately ordered to mobilize for war. Recruiting, and the expansion of the regiment to wartime strength, began immediately and the Canadian Active Service Force portion of the regiment was quickly up to strength and training diligently. After several months of training in Ottawa and Borden, Ontario, the nearly 800 officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the 1st Battalion, The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.), left Canada for Iceland in July 1940. There, the 1st Battalion served as part of the Canadian “Z” Force, on garrison duty in case of a German invasion of the strategically located northern Atlantic island. In April 1941 this tasking came to an end, and the 1st Battalion travelled to Great Britain to join the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in preparation for an eventual landing on the European continent. The 1st Battalion spent the next three years in England and Scotland, training and undergoing several reorganizations, from machine gun battalion, to beach maintenance unit, to divisional support battalion, and back to machine gun battalion, as higher authorities figured out how best to utilize the regiment’s particular skills and training. By the spring of 1944 the 1st Battalion was organized around three Vickers medium machine gun companies and a single 4.2″ mortar company.
On June 6, 1944, the 1st Battalion landed on the beaches of Normandy as part of the Canadian D-Day assault force, the only Ottawa unit to do so. The Camerons operated as a divisional resource and spent much of the next year spread out at company and platoon level providing machine gun and mortar support for the nine infantry battalions of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. As a result, the 1st Battalion fought in most of the II Canadian Corps’ battles in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany until the ceasefire in May 1945. Following the war the regiment received numerous battle honours for the 1st Battalion’s efforts: “Normandy Landing”, “Caen”, “Carpiquet”, “The Orne”, “Bourguébus Ridge”, “Faubourg de Vaucelles”, “Falaise”, “Quesnay Wood”, “The Laison”, “Boulogne, 1944”, “The Scheldt”, “Breskens Pocket”, “The Rhineland”, “Waal Flats”, “The Hochwald”, “The Rhine”, “Zutphen”, “Deventer”, “Leer”, and “North-West Europe, 1944-1945”.
In total, the 1st Battalion suffered more than 160 men killed either with the battalion or with later units they had transferred to. Ninety-nine of these Camerons died on the field of battle, either killed in action or died from their wounds. A total of fifty-six military honours and decorations were awarded to individual Camerons during the war, including eight Orders of the British Empire (three OBEs and five MBEs), seven Military Crosses, eleven Military Medals, one British Empire Medal, fourteen Mentioned-in-Despatches, one American Distinguished Service Cross, three French Croix de Guerre, one Belgian Chevalier of the Order of Leopold, two Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Dutch Bronze Lions, and five Dutch Bronze Crosses. After several months awaiting repatriation, the 1st Battalion arrived home to Ottawa in December 1945 and the unit was demobilized.
While the 1st Battalion of the regiment trained and fought overseas, the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion operated in Ottawa throughout the war, recruiting and training young men for active service. Between 1940 and 1945 the battalion enlisted more than 1,800 soldiers, more than half of these eventually being transferred to the Canadian Active Service Force overseas with various front-line battalions.
The regiment also produced another battalion, although it never served in Canada. The 3rd Battalion was created in June 1945 as part of the Canadian Army Occupation Force. The 3rd Battalion’s role was to serve with the Allied occupation forces in Germany at the end of the war, assisting with the demobilization of German military personnel, guarding internment camps, and generally helping keep the peace in its part of conquered Germany. It was disbanded in England in May 1946.
The Postwar Regiment: 1945 to Present
As in the years after the First World War, the immediate post Second World War era involved a major adjustment for militia units with the reintroduction of reduced peacetime strengths and financial support. After the war, with the 1st and 3rd Battalions disbanded, the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion resumed its duties as The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa. The Camerons were now an infantry unit and no longer a machine gun unit. The regiment returned to the routine of training soldiers, providing support to the civil authorities, and participating in social and ceremonial duties. Briefly, from 1954 to 1958, the regiment returned to its former machine gun role, again drawing Vickers medium machine guns for training.
In 1958 a major change in the training syllabus was introduced when Civil Defence and National Survival training was introduced and the militia’s role came to focus on post-nuclear assistance and cleanup, and not on combat roles. This training continued until 1964, when more traditional infantry training was fully reintroduced. One highlight of this period was the regiment’s winning of the Kitching Trophy in 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1969 for “initiative and leadership” as demonstrated through a patrol competition. In July 1967 the regiment received its current set of Queen’s and Regimental Colours from Queen Elizabeth II in a spectacular massed ceremony held on Parliament Hill.
The introduction of Unification and the creation of the Canadian Forces in February 1968 led to the restructuring of the regiment’s “A” Company as a Mobile Command (Reserve) Company, in direct support of the regular force’s Mobile Command. This marked a resurgence in ties between the regiment and the regular force in terms of training and, eventually, operations. Despite the economic and wider social difficulties of the 1970s and 1980s, the regiment continued its recruitment, training, and various other duties. In 1975 -76 the first two of its members deployed to Egypt with UNEFME attached to 73 Signal Bn. On two occasions in recent decades the training schedule had to be reorganized due to a change in the location of the regiment. In 1980-81 and in 1993-96 Cartier Square Drill Hall underwent major repairs and the Camerons were forced to parade in Beaver Barracks during the first period and buildings at Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe during the second period.
This did nothing to dampen the pace of instruction and training for the regiment. In fact, in August 1985 the regiment’s role was increased as three of its members set to go on peacekeeping tours with the regular force departed for Cyprus. This sign of an increased operational tempo with the regular force as “augmentees” has resulted in more than forty members of the regiment serving on peacekeeping missions since that time in Cyprus, Croatia, Israel, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and the Congo. In addition to the normal training exercises at the Connaught Ranges or CFB Petawawa, the regiment has also participated in several field training exercises outside of Canada since the 1990s, in particular in New York, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Belgium. This active pace was rewarded by significant regimental accomplishments during various military competitions. In 1988 and 1989 the regiment won the Sir Casimir Gzowski trophy as the best militia infantry unit in Canada. Equal prowess was shown, particularly in the early to mid-1990s, in shooting competitions, including Master Corporal Steve Baker’s winning of the Reserve Force 1995 Queen’s Medal for Champion Shot as the best militia marksman in the country.
Recent years have seen these accomplishments continue at home and abroad. In January 1998 a severe ice storm hit eastern Canada, in response to which the regiment mobilized a company and support personnel totalling 124 officers and non-commissioned members. The company carried out various types of support duties in the eastern Ontario communities of Vankleek Hill, Alexandria, and Maxville. Overseas, in addition to continued peacekeeping tours, many members of the regiment have served or are serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
In August 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II graciously approved, with the concurrence of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, the secondary title “Duke of Edinburgh’s Own” for The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa.The secondary title “Duke of Edinburgh’s Own” was granted in recognition of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa’s distinguished operational record and their close 46-year relationship with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh.