1902 > Great Gunners

LGen Sir HE Burstall KCB, KCMG (1870-1945)

Photo of LGen Sir HE Burstall KCB, KCMG

Born in Quebec, he graduated from Bishop’s College School, Lennoxville. He was commissioned a Provisional Lieutenant, 29 October 1889, at the Royal Military College of Canada.

In March 1898, he served with the Yukon Field Force, arriving in Wrangell, 6 May 1898. The arduous 400-mile trip to Fort Selkirk was completed by 11 September, followed by the short trip to Dawson City.

He served with the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment in South Africa, seeing action in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, in 1900. He was seconded to the South African Constabulary until May 1902. He was twice Mentioned-in-Dispatches and appointed Brevet Major.




MGen CW Drury CB (1856-1913)

Photo of MGen CW Drury CB

Often referred to as the “Father of Modern Artillery in Canada,” Charles William Drury, maintained the interests of Canadian Gunners foremost throughout his life. He commissioned in January 1874, at eighteen years of age, in the New Brunswick Garrison Artillery Brigade in Saint John. His aptitude for the technical field artillery work and his ability to put this knowledge to work effectively was recognized immediately.

As a Captain, he served during the North-West Rebellion in 1885, commanding the field division of “A” Battery Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). His tireless efforts to introduce indirect fire techniques despite the inherent unsuitability of his equipment was a clear indication of his progressive thinking. For his splendid work and constant vigilance during this campaign, he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches.

As a junior officer, he fully appreciated the difficulties of winter mobility experienced by the field artillery. His innovative and practical design for field gun and ammunition sleighs allowed identical “Into Action” drills, in both winter and summer.

At the time of the Permanent Artillery re-organization in 1893, then a lieutenant-Colonel, he was appointed to command “A” Battery, Royal Canadian Field Artillery at Kingston, while simultaneously appointed Commandant of the Kingston-based Royal School of Artillery. In 1893, he attended the opening of the Imperial Institute in London. While in England, he studied the new system of fire discipline used by the British Army. Upon his return, he taught the new system to his instructional staff, preparing for the winter’s courses and the annual training in the summer of 1894. This particular summer training activity incorporated his realistic, moving and automatically appearing targets; a system later adopted and used by cavalry and infantry.

During the South African War, he was dispatched on special duty with the 1st Canadian Contingent and appointed to command the Canadian Field Brigade of Artillery. As the nature of the war dictated the dispersal of artillery formations, he was appointed to command various mixed arm organizations. For his services in this theatre, he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches and appointed a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Throughout this campaign, the experiences of this practical and technically proficient gunner fostered many innovations. He recognized the need to increase the lethality of artillery ammunition and the requirement to develop smokeless propellants as an aid to concealment. He advocated the deployment of artillery, behind cover or on reverse slopes, where the gunners could work unobserved and unimpeded by enemy actions. He believed that indirect fire should become the artillery’s standard method of deployment. On his return to Canada, the adoption of these improvements remained his constant goal.

In April 1905, he commanded the Military District Number 6 at Halifax. The withdrawal of the British troops from Halifax was a politically sensitive matter, and his steady hand was at the helm.

The Canadian Forces promoted him to Major-General in June 1912. He died, less than a year later, at age fifty-seven.




MGen Sir EWB Morrison KCMG, CB, DSO (1867-1925)

Photo of MGen Sir EWB Morrison KCMG, CB, DSO

Major-General “Dinky” Morrison was a leader in both civilian and military life. For the greater portion of his life, he served both worlds as “Citizen-Soldier.”

He was born in London, Ontario, 6 July 1867. He was a journalist by profession. For sixteen years he was the Editor-in-Chief of the “Ottawa Citizen.” He devoted a large measure of his energies to the advancement of the Militia Force. His military career began with his appointment as a Second Lieutenant with Hamilton’s 4th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. He distinguished himself early in his career attaining extraordinarily high marks during artillery training.

As a subaltern with “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) in the South African War, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous courage and leadership, saving the guns at Leliefontein, 7 November 1900. Upon his repatriation to Canada, he returned to his civilian career and to his service with the Militia Force. He was appointed Brevet Captain, serving in various capacities for the next decade.

When the Canadian Contingent was raised for service in the First World War, as Director of Artillery, he convinced the Minister of National Defence that the Divisional Artillery should be composed of existing units. This action kept officers, non-commissioned officers and men together. This regard for homogeneity greatly enhanced the efficiency of the artillery in the Canadian Contingent.

He declined the appointment of Divisional Artillery Commander, as he felt that Lieutenant-Colonel H.E. Burstall was better suited for the appointment with his training and experience. He accepted the command of the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Later, in September 1915, he was promoted to Brigadier-General and assumed the appointment of Brigadier-General Royal Artillery, 1st Canadian Divisional Artillery. On 2 October, he assumed the same appointment with the newly arrived 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery. A year later, in December 1916, he became the General Officer Commanding the Royal Artillery, the Canadian Corps. He was promoted Major-General in July 1918 and knighted the following year.

Major-General Morrison was first, last and always a Gunner. As a young man, he was an earnest student of artillery, training and tactics. His abilities as a leader and as a gunner were evidenced by the sustained efficiency and excellent shooting of all units under his command. His work with the Artillery of the Canadian Corps, in the great series of battles from Vimy Ridge until the Armistice, confirmed his stature as a remarkable artillery commander.

In the reorganized post-war Permanent Active Militia, he held successive appointments as Deputy Inspector General of Artillery, Master General of Ordnance and Adjutant General. He retired in 1924, as a result of ill-health. He died at age 58, the following year.

Major-General Morrison was the epitome of a Citizen-Soldier. His concern for his country and belief that service to one’s Sovereign was the duty of every citizen, provided a bench mark for future Canadians.




MGen Sir SB Steele KCMG, CB, MVO (1849 – 1919)

Photo of MGen Sir SB Steele KCMG, CB, MVO

In 1849, Samuel Benfield Steele was born in Purbrook, Ontario, the son of a retired Royal Navy Captain. Following family, military tradition, he enlisted in the Simcoe Militia during the Fenian Raids of 1866. He qualified for an Ensign’s commission. He preferred to serve in the ranks to gain experience. As a private, he accompanied Wolseley on his expedition to the Red River.

Upon his return to Ontario, still interested in the military, he was one of the first to enlist in the first Canadian regular army unit, A Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery. An active and robust soldier, young Sam Steele was quick to master a measure of the gunner’s art and was soon promoted to sergeant.

In August 1873, plans were being laid for the creation of the North-West Mounted Police. Steele received a discharge from the Artillery and joined the NWMP. He joined with Lieutenant-Colonel French who was the first commissioner of the NWMP. Steele was the third man to enlist. He took part in the great western march of the North-West Mounted Police in 1874, travelling over 1,255 miles on horseback.

In April 1885, Superintendent Steele’s duties involved policing the area through which the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, enforcing prohibition, and generally keeping order. When the North-West Rebellion broke out, he organized a mounted force called “Steele’s Scouts.” He commanded the cavalry that went in pursuit of Big Bear.

In 1887, he went to the Kootenays where American miners clashed with the natives. Here he established Fort Steele, now a historic park. During the Klondike Gold Rush, Steele went north to police the mountain passes connecting the Alaskan seacoast and the Canadian goldfields. His exploits in the Klondike are legendary. Many authors have written stirring accounts of “Smooth Bore Steele,” a nickname referring to his gunner origin.

War broke out in South Africa in 1899. Steele resigned from the North-West Mounted Police to become the founding commander of Lord Strathcona’s Horse in 1899. After the war, he remained in South Africa to command the Transvaal Section of the South African Mounted Constabulary.

He returned to Canada in 1906 and joined the Permanent Force, commanding, in turn, the Calgary and Winnipeg Military Districts and rising to the rank of Major-General. In 1914, he became Inspector General for Western Canada, responsible for the training of western troops for the Second Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He commanded the 2nd Canadian Division and accompanied it to England, although he did not go to the front. He remained as commander of the Shorncliffe Area and after the hostilities ceased, retired from the army in 1918.

Retirement did not sit well with Sam Steele. Nearing seventy years of age, he died on 30 January 1919, in London, England, given a hero’s funeral. With his death, the Canadian West would never again be the same and other figures would pale by comparison. His life and times loom large in Canadian history.

His early days with the Canadian Artillery contributed to what he was and what he became. Through men like him, The Royal Regiment played a significant role in the opening of the Canadian West. He was one of a kind.




MGen JF Wilson (1852-1911)

Photo of MGen JF Wilson

In 1852, Major-General James “Cupid” Wilson was born in Kingston, Ontario. After a short service as an Ensign with the 47th Battalion of Volunteer Infantry, he joined the Kingston Field Battery in 1871. He was one of the original officers of A Battery of the Permanent Force.

In 1884, Major Wilson volunteered for service in Egypt and joined the 1st Brigade, Royal Artillery for duty in Sudan. His service as a combatant earned him the distinction of being on the first of the Canadian Permanent Force to see overseas service. He acquitted himself receiving the Khedive’s Star.

In 1885, he left Sudan for service with A Battery in the North-West Rebellion. He received the unenviable task of garrisoning at Fort Otter near Batoche, during the winter of 1885 before the battery’s return to Kingston.

In July 1892, he led a strong detachment of gunners to Ile-aux-Coudres, in St Lawrence, where he captured Captain Bouchard, the “Smuggler King,” along with a plentiful cache of contraband liquor.

With the reorganization of the Regiment in 1893, the dismounted portions of A and B Batteries and the whole of C Battery became Number 1 and Number 2 Companies, Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery at Quebec. Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson commanded Number 1 Company.

By July 1897, he commanded the Royal School of Artillery in Quebec and held the appointment of Inspector of Artillery for Military Districts 5 to 9 inclusive and District 12. On 25 February 1898, the military promoted him to Lieutenant-Colonel. In December 1903, he assumed the appointment of Inspector of Garrison Artillery.

On 1 May 1903, Brevet Colonel Wilson became the first Canadian-born Colonel Commandant of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. One year later, he became Honourary Aide-de-Camp to the Governor-General, Lord Earl Grey.

On the opening of Camp Petawawa in 1907, Colonel Wilson became the first Camp Commandant. His quarters, a modest house on a small hill, still bears the name “Cupid’s Nest.”

On 15 November 1907, Colonel Wilson achieved another first. He became the first Canadian-born Major-General of the Permanent Force. This well-deserved promotion and recognition were not without its irony. The promotion message read, “Colonel J. F. Wilson, ADC, Colonel Commandant, RCA, having been found medically unfit for service is placed on the retired list and granted the honourary rank of Major-General on retirement,” ending a 41-year career of service. A career that included a significant number of firsts and a long, distinguished service to The Guns.