Stories From Our Past: Regina During the First World War

09/03/14


Categories: Stories From Our Past

Stories From Our Past: Regina During the First World War

On the night of August 4th, 1914, crowds were gathered around the offices of The Regina Leader eagerly waiting for news regarding the declaration of war in Europe. When news of the war was officially announced, those assembled punctuated the announcement with heartfelt choruses of "God Save the King" and "Rule Britannia". Impromptu speeches were made,and men rushed to volunteer to risk their lives for "King and Country". By the next day, a recruiting center was installed at Alexandra school (then located on Hamilton Street beside the Leader Building), with staff hoping to take advantage of the patriotic fervor by signing up volunteers for battle.

A number of volunteers signed on to fight in the 95th Regiment. The 95th dated back to 1907, and at the start of WWI, Lt. Col. J.F.L. Embury (a Regina lawyer) was authorized to recruit an overseas battalion. This group of men, comprising some of the fittest Saskatchewan had to offer, was thereafter known as the 28th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Forces. On September 25, 1915, after virtually no field training, the 28th went in to the trenches for the first time. These brave soldiers stood up to the hell of trench warfare admirably, becoming the first unit to enter German territory, and eventually occupying the most forward position of any Canadian Battalion overseas.

In addition to the 28th, the 5th Battalion was formed to act as the senior Saskatchewan unit. This group, known as the "Fighting Fifth" or "Red Saskatchewans" (for the color on their shoulder patches), was formed from a former Calvary unit, and had a reputation for dashing style and bravery. One of the most famous members of the battalion was arguably "Old Bill", a goat that the men brought overseas with them from Broadview, Saskatchewan to serve as their mascot. "Old Bill" served in the trenches alongside his companions, and was wounded in Ypres before being promoted to sergeant and retiring back to Broadview after the war.

In total, approximately 600 Regina men were killed and 2,000 wounded during the conflict. As the war was coming to an end in October 1918, the influenza epidemic hit Regina. Homes of the infected were placed under strict quarantine, and many church services, public meetings, and group activities were banned for fear of spreading the disease. By the time the height of the epidemic was over, three hundred and thirty residents of the city had been killed. The serious nature of the influenza epidemic prompted the authorities to forbid any indoor armistice celebrations, so local citizens expressed their joy in a more spontaneous fashion, rushing into the streets and parading through Wascana Park. The war was finally over, and the men were coming home.

As Regina's veteran soldiers returned home, various organizations championed the idea of building a War Memorial Museum; however the idea was abandoned due to cost. Regina's noble veterans were eventually commemorated in 1929, when the cenotaph was officially unveiled in Victoria Park. A year the Albert Memorial Bridge was built in order to further honor the sacrifices of some of Regina's best and brightest youth. The photo above is of the Officers of the "Fighting Fifth" along with their mascot "Old Bill", taken in May, 1917.

Sources Cited:
Drake, Earl. Regina the Queen City. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1955.
PHR 971.24 D

Pitsula, James M. For All We Have and Are: Regina and the Experience of the War. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2008.
PHR 940.3712445 PITSU

Bagshaw, Capt. F.B. and R.M. Eassie Another Garland from the Front. London: George Pullman and Sons, 1917.
PHR 940.40971 ANOTH


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