1871 > Great Gunners

MGen TB Strange (1831-1925)

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The second son of a Scottish officer, Thomas Bland Strange, was born in Meerut, India, on 15 September 1831, and educated at Edinburgh Academy. Unable, for financial reasons, to follow his brother to Sandhurst, young Tom attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Here talent and performance were more important than good breeding. He graduated at age 20, commissioned in the Royal Artillery and posted to Gibraltar.

He devoted a large measure of his life to his physical and intellectual development. A tall, imposing figure with a remarkable physique, a commanding voice and for much of his life, a full flowing beard. He placed great importance on the hardening and welfare of his troops.

Promoted Lieutenant in November 1853, he was posted to Jamaica, where he contracted yellow fever. Later transferred to the Bahamas, he busied himself in improving Nassau’s defences. In 1856, he received orders to fight in the Crimean War. Before he reached England, the war ended.

One year later, he went to India to assist in quelling the mutiny of the Bengal Army. He soon distinguished himself with determination and flair. His superiors mentioned in dispatches on four occasions. He remained in the Punjab where he delighted in finding novel ways to train his soldiers. He disagreed with his superior on the pay of his soldiers and found his tenure difficult. Before returning to England in 1864, while recovering from a second bout of fever, he made a six-month trek from Tibet to Kashmir, revelling in the physical hardship.

After promotion to Captain and a brief service in Ireland, he joined the Instructional Staff at Woolwich. Tasked to train the Volunteer Artillery, he ran afoul with the system when he condemned the substandard equipment. He received disciplinary action, an occurrence that likely precipitated his move to Canada in 1872.

He became Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores for Canada and commander of B Battery. His relief of the departing British troops was true to form. His direct and uncompromising manner caused little discomfort to the departing officers, gaining much-needed equipment for the garrison. The citizens of Quebec accepted him. His fluency in French and his involvement in the social and sporting activities earned respect and approval.

In his 1873 report, he recommended the establishment of three important Canadian institutions: The Royal Military College, the Dominion Artillery Association, and the Dominion Cartridge Factory. In varying forms, all three exist today. He recommended a four-battery brigade of Garrison Artillery for Canada’s west coast.

After eight years in his beloved Quebec, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange moved to Kingston, where he also became a prominent member of the community. At age 51, he retired with the Honourary rank of Major-General. At the same time, is Gunners, the first Canadian Team to compete at Shoeburyness, England, returned home with the Governor General’s Prize.

General Strange moved to Alberta, purchased a large tract of land, and established a ranch. In the spring of 1885 and the outbreak of the North-West Rebellion, General Strange organized the defence of the Alberta District. The Alberta Field Force, composed of cowboys, Mounted Police and three untested Militia battalions acquitted themselves well, particularly with the engagement at Frenchman Butte.

Back at his ranch, a horse kicked him. His recovery was never complete. To add insult to injury, the British War Office cut his pension because he had returned to service with the Canadian Militia. After a short attempt at politics, he sold the ranch and returned to England. He remained active until his death in England on 9 July 1925.

The contribution made by General Strange is epic in proportion. On his retirement, Major-General R.G.A. Luard, who commanded the Militia, noted that more than 2,700 officers and men had served with Tom Strange during the time he commanded B Battery, and referred to him as “a father to the Artillery of Canada.”

We could do no better.

MGen Sir GA French CMG (1841-1921)

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He was born in Ireland in 1841. George Arthur French served for a short period with the Royal Irish Constabulary, before entering military service. He attended both Sandhurst and the Woolwich Military Academies. He was commissioned in the Royal Artillery, in 1860.

On arrival to Canada, in 1862, he was employed as Adjutant Royal Artillery at Kinston, Ontario, a position he held for four years. His superiors described him as, “a fine officer, but on occasion his sound military knowledge and attributes were prone to clash with political and civil phases of Canadian life.” With the departure of the Royal Artillery from Canada in 1871, he became Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores (a position he shared with his counterpart in Quebec). He served as Commandant of the School of Gunnery, Kingston, and Officer Commanding “A” Battery. His administrative competence, vast experience and attention to detail were soon evident. “A” Battery achieved a remarkable proficiency within one year.

In August 1873, Colonel French accepted the offer to become the founding Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, an organization already formed at Lower Fort Garry. French had a characteristic disdain for bureaucracy and red tape. He demanded an even-handed interpretation of the law, respect for human dignity and common sense.

Driven by the reports of increasing lawlessness in the West, he began the detailed planning for the deployment of his force in Western Canada. He soon realized that a more significant force than that initially planned would be required. Due to the remoteness of the land, they would have to carry all the items necessary to be self-sustaining. With an eye for detail, he supervised the assembly and shipping of the thousands of items. Realizing the critical nature of the living element of his force, he took particular care in the selection of both horses and men, accepting only the best.

Facing the formidable task of bringing the law to the vast Canadian West would be a monumental undertaking. Word that armed outlaw camps had been established and were defended by cannon (taken by force from the United States Army) gave urgency to the task. As a precaution, Commissioner French requested two or three guns for the force. He received two 9-pounders and two mortars.

On 6 June 1874, “D,” “E” and “F” Troops left Toronto on the first leg of their epic journey. He led his column from Fargo, North Dakota to Dufferin (65 miles south of Winnipeg), joining “A,” “B” and “C” Troops. By the 19th, the force was ready to depart, much to the dismay of the locals who saw this as a golden business opportunity.

On 8 July, he led his column west from Dufferin, beginning the Force’s Great March. The men and animals suffered in the heat, wet and cold. Often deprived of food and shelter, they stoically followed Commissioner French ever westward. The trek from Fargo to Dufferin, to the Belly River, Milk River, Fort Pelly, and through Winnipeg to Dufferin was accomplished in 102 days. They covered an average of 19-1/5 miles a day. A string of North-West Mounted Police outposts crossed the Canadian West. Much to the credit of French and his constables, a friendly and trusting relationship had been established with the prairie tribes. The force had established itself as the law in the Canadian West.

The conclusion of this historic march brought to a head the strained relationship that existed between French and his political masters. He terminated his relationship by resigning from the force and returning to Imperial Service. He served in Queensland, Australia, in 1883, India, in 1895, and New South Wales, Australia, in 1899. He was promoted to Major-General in 1900 and knighted by his Sovereign in 1902. He retired that same year. Major-General French died in England, 7 July 1921.

General French is among the builders of Canada. His association with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and with The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery is a source of pride for both organizations.

Col DT Irwin CMG (1843-1928)

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Colonel De la Cherois T. Irwin was born in Ireland on 31 March 1843. He entered the Royal Militia Academy, Woolwich, in 1860. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1861. He was posted to the 10th Brigade, then under an order for duty in the West Indies.

The “Trent” affair created the potential for war with the US, and the 10th Brigade headed to Halifax. Irwin’s battery journeyed from Saint John, New Brunswick, to Montreal in sleighs, February 1862. He spent the next eight years in Montreal, Kingston and Quebec City, marrying in 1867.

During these early years, he studied hard at mastering his profession. He gained the distinction of passing the entrance exam to the British Army Staff College, standing fourth in the entire British Army. He spent two years at Sandhurst. While at the College, he accepted the appointment of Assistant Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores for the Dominion. He was posted to “A” Battery, the School of Gunnery, at Kingston and promoted Major in the Canadian Militia. When Colonel French, the senior Inspector, left in 1873 to organize the North-West Mounted Police, Major Irwin succeeded him as Commandant of the School of Gunnery and as Officer Commanding “A” Battery. In January 1876, he became Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores; an appointment shared with Lieutenant-Colonel Strange.

In 1878, Lieutenant-Colonel Irwin was called upon to erect the defensive works around Victoria and to organize a battery for defence. The arrival of a Russian Squadron, in San Francisco harbour, provided a sufficient threat to stimulate immediate action. Britain immediately released some naval guns. They constructed the sites quickly and trained the battery. With a shortage of qualified assistants, he depended on local labour. He made personal supervision of each detail necessary. Within four months, they installed one 8-inch, three 7-inch and four 64-pounders. They trained fifty men ready to operate the guns.

In 1882, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange retired, and Lieutenant-Colonel Irwin succeeded him to command all the Artillery of Canada. He retired from the Royal Artillery and joined the Canadian Militia as Headquarters Staff in Ottawa. He was now able to carry out a reform that had long been on his mind. The organization of the independent units of the Canadian Artillery became a single regiment. He served as the Regiment’s first Commanding Officer. Through his efforts, the Canadian Artillery was granted the distinction “Royal,” in 1882.

He was responsible for significant improvements, a better ration scale, the establishment of separate mess rooms, the preparation of rations by a Sergeant Cook, the expansion of the Royal Schools of Gunnery in Kingston and Quebec, the addition of a second Garrison Battery stationed at Quebec and the purchase of the Deseronto training area.

He was instrumental in organizing the Canadian Artillery Association, the forerunner of all the militia associations, initiated a system of internal inspections and reforms, increasing the efficiency significantly and esprit de corps of all Canadian Artillery units.

On 1 July 1897, he retired after twenty-five years of service, fifteen years as head of the Canadian Artillery. His career was not spectacular. His record of reliability, useful work, performed quietly and modestly, with the good of The Regiment always foremost speaks for itself.

In retirement, he continued to enjoy his lifelong activity as an artist and remained active in numerous philanthropic organizations. He introduced golf to Ottawa; it remained one of his favourite activities.

Colonel Irwin died in Washington at the age of eighty-five on 19 March 1928.

Sgt-Maj W Jordan (1852-1938)

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Born in Quebec City, November 1852, young William Jordan became attracted to the military early in his life. In 1866, at thirteen years of age, he enrolled as a boy bugler in the 8th Royal Rifles of Canada, serving in the Fenian Raids of 1870.

With the withdrawal of the British Regular Troops from Canada in 1871 and the formation of Canada’s permanent army, he transferred to the Quebec Garrison Artillery. Later that same year, he enrolled in “B” Battery at the Citadel. He set many firsts in the Canadian Army Regular. He was the first soldier to pass the medical examination for military service, the first to sound the call for a parade and the first to stand as a sentry in the new army. He also was among the first to enrol. Records show he joined “B” Battery on the 13 November 1871.

He served the guns of “B” Battery throughout his career, rising steadily through the ranks. He attained the rank of Sergeant, in 1885, while serving in the North-West Rebellion. His steadiness and leadership were mentioned in the unit account of the action at Cut Knife Creek.

A robust, energetic and physically active soldier, he excelled in sports. He was an expert swordsman, achieved distinction with a single stick (a hilted sword-length wooden stick wielded with one hand). He was a specialist at the 400-yard track event and an accomplished cricketer and footballer. He was the Quebec Provincial featherweight and lightweight boxing champion for several years.

On the occasion of the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne, the Citadel hosted an “Assault-at-Arms” tournament. He proved to be the class of the field, outscoring everyone in sword, bayonet and single stick. Even the heavily favoured members of the Royal Navy Squadron team proved no match for this talented gunner.

He served continuously until 1905 when he retired. The comments recorded in the Regimental Record of Service Book indicate that his service was considered “Exemplary.” Rare, high praise in an era noted for understatement. After two years on a pension, the quiet life lost its appeal, and he re-enrolled in the unit where his military service began, the 8th Royal Rifles of Canada. Here he served until 1914. His total service to Canada of 46 years stands as a remarkable achievement.

On 23 May 1930, at the age of 78, Sergeant-Major Jordan stood proudly beside the oldest living Commanding Officer of the RCA, Major-General R.W. Rutherford and two other former comrades, Professor H. Walters and Sergeant-Major W.R. Abbott in front of the RCHA Memorial in Kingston. There, this august group laid wreaths on the occasion of the first “reunion” and the formation of the Royal Canadian Artillery Active and Ex-Members’ Association.

Sergeant-Major Jordan died at his home in Quebec City, in 1938. His career was remarkable. His long and dedicated service to the guns has earned him a rightful place in the history of The Royal Regiment.

Master Gunner J Maher (1839-1925)

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Master Gunner James Maher, the son of a Trumpet-Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, was born in the Parish of Portobello, near Dublin, Ireland, on 13 August 1839.

Exposed to the ways of army life as a child, he enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Woolwich, 8 November 1852. His initial documentation records him as “Age – 13 years, three months; Size – 4 feet 9-1/4 inches,” with a sallow complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. His father, who had recently retired, provided him with the regulation kit, thereby saving young James at considerable personal expense.

His first few years at Woolwich were busy. He had much to learn about the gunner’s art. He saw his first foreign service in the Crimea, from September 1855 until July 1856. He returned to Leith Fort, England, where, after one year, he was promoted to Bombardier. A year later, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. By the spring of 1861, he was serving at Portsmouth in the rank of Sergeant. On New Year’s Day 1862, he departed Liverpool bound for service in North America.

During the next five years, he would serve at Saint John, Fredericton, Montreal and Kingston. Departing Montreal for Malta in 1868, he was appointed Battery Sergeant-Major. He remained on the Mediterranean island for six years.

Returning to England in 1874, he served at several locations, including Plymouth and Dover. On 7 March 1877, he assumed the appointment of Brigade Sergeant-Major. After serving 28 years with the Royal Artillery, he retired. In 1880, he returned with his family to Kingston.

He soon enrolled in A Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). When A Battery moved to Quebec City in late 1880, he replaced Master Gunner George Creegan, who elected to remain in Kingston. Master Gunner Maher was to serve with A Battery for the next 18 years, including seeing action in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Here he developed a lifelong friendship with Major General R.W. Rutherford. Mahar retired in 1898. For his service, he received the Meritorious Service Medals from both the British and Canadian Forces.

In retirement, he remained very active in Canadian Gunner affairs. He worked an additional 18 years in the offices of the Director of Artillery at Militia Headquarters, Ottawa. He retired at age 78, after more than 64 years of service to the guns. His long and distinguished service stands as a unique accomplishment.

One of Canada’s first Master Gunners, James Maher’s lifetime of good work with the guns is a superb example that would be difficult to duplicate.