Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery
Artillery has been present in Canada from the days of the first western colonists. In Wellington County, the 11th Field Artillery Regiment evolved out of the traditional county militia structure. In 1857, all military units in Wellington County were put on a voluntary basis and re-organized as the 1st Wellington Battalion, an infantry organization.
In 1866 the Fenian Brotherhood - a group of expatriate Irishmen in the United States – declared their intent to attack Canada to avenge the English occupation of Ireland. In Wellington County, a militia artillery unit was formed to meet the threat, the first of many units which has given Guelph a reputation as a “Gunner’s Town”.
On July 20, 1866, the Guelph Garrison Battery was organized as No. 1 Company of the 30th Wellington Battalion of Rifles. Five years later, the battery became an independent unit and was renamed the Wellington Field Battery of Artillery. On March 22, 1878, authority was granted to enrol a second section made up of students from the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph, known as the Ontario Field Battery.
The two batteries were combined on March 24th, 1880, to create the 1st Provisional Brigade of Field Artillery. The Wellington unit became No. 1 Field Battery and the O.A.C. unit became No. 2 Field Battery. This heralded the formation of Canada's oldest continuous artillery regiment. In 1887, the batteries were renumbered No. 11 and No. 16.
When the regiment was created in 1880, Major A.H. MacDonald, later Mayor of Guelph, was commanding officer. Capt. W. Nicholl commanded the Wellington Battery and Capt. David McCrae, father of John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, commanded the Ontario Battery.
None of the Wellington units was mobilized on the outbreak of the Boer War. Instead, a separate military unit – “D” Battery - was formed. Lt. John McCrae commanded a section of the battery, Wellington County's contribution to the force that left for South Africa on January 4th, 1900. The battery fought in 32 actions including the rearguard action at Leliefontein, where three Victoria Crosses were won in “D” Battery.
In 1911, Canada re-organized its militia in response to overseas tensions, seeking to create more cavalry and artillery units. Guelph had the only artillery-equipped militia regiment at that time although they were only antiquated five-inch howitzers. The brigade was renamed the 1st (Howitzer) Brigade, Canadian Artillery in 1913. When war broke out in 1914, new mobilization plans were devised and names were changed again.
Five batteries were raised in Guelph during WW I. The entire 16th mobilized under Major W. Simpson with its militia personnel intact. It proceeded to England in May 1915, where it formed part of the 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery.
Strangely, new formations were created while many existing units such as the 11th Battery of Guelph sat idle or were disbanded. The new 29th Battery was mobilized in Guelph 1915, with virtually all of its trained members from the 11th. That same year the 43rd mobilized under the command of Major David McCrae. On Feb. 26th, 1916, both batteries went overseas to form the 11th (Howitzer) Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery.
The 55th and 56th Batteries were recruited in Guelph in 1916. Later the 63rd and 64th Batteries were created. The gas attack at Ypres, the battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Amiens Arras and Cambrai and Mons mark the road trodden by these gunners, but in no battle did they stand more gloriously than at Vimy Ridge. The brigade fought at all the major battles during the static trench warfare of France.
After the war, the Guelph units were re-designated the 11th Brigade. The 19th Battery absorbed the 11th, and the 16th, 43rd and 63rd Batteries formed the balance of the brigade. The 43rd and 63rd eventually became paper organizations with declining enrolment. In 1925, the brigade was renamed the 11th Field Brigade, Canadian Artillery.
In 1925, Lieutenant-Colonel George Drew took command of the regiment. He had enlisted in 1910 and fought overseas. He rose to be mayor of Guelph, premier of Ontario, federal leader of the opposition for the Conservatives, and Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
In a piece of fine irony, the Wellington Rifles – from which sprung the first artillery unit in Guelph - were themselves converted to artillery in 1936, a year before their centennial anniversary, to augment the 63rd Battery, leaving artillery as the only military presence in the county.
During the Second World War, the 29th Battery mobilized first. It went overseas in 1939 as part of the 3rd Field Brigade, which became the 11th Brigade, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). In 1942, the 11th Brigade was renamed the 11th Field Regiment RCA. They fought in Sicily and Italy, moving to Europe after D-Day.
The 16th and 43rd Batteries mobilized in 1940 to form the 12th Field Regiment RCA. As part of the 3rd Canadian Division, they took part in the D-Day landings and fought through northern Europe in all major Canadian engagements.
The 63rd Battery mobilized in 1942 as an anti-aircraft battery with the 19th Field Regiment RCA. In 1946, the 11th Field Regiment RCA continued with 29, 16, and 43 Batteries, with the 16th stationed in Fergus until 1965. In 1960 the Regiment was officially designated as the 11th Field Artillery Regiment.
The regiment celebrated its Centennial in 1966, receiving the Freedom of the City. The Fenian Brotherhood of Buffalo, New York, attended to apologize for the Fenian Raids of 1866.
Constant peacetime downsizing resulted in the 1970 absorption of the 8th Field of Hamilton into the 11th Field. Today the 11th Field, Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery consists of 29 and 16 Batteries in Guelph, and 11 Battery keeps an artillery presence in Hamilton.
Since the early 1970's as part of Hamilton Militia District and later 31 Canadian Brigade Group headquartered in London, the Regiment continues itís tradition of faithful service to Canada. Since 1989 women have proudly served as gunners and the Regiment's Bdr Cara Camplejohn became the first woman to earn her cap badge alongside her male counterparts in August of that year.
A number of Regimental personnel served as part of Canada's last full contingent to the UN forces in Cyprus in 1993. Others have served in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, including two Junior NCO's with the guns of F Battery, Second Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in 2001. Regimental personnel have also served in NATO and UN mission to the Golan Heights, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Bosnia. Maintaining a long affiliation with Second Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, members of the Regiment continue to volunteer and augment batteries deploying to Afghanistan in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.
Domestically, members of the Regiment deployed to flood ravaged Manitoba in 1997. Half of the Regiment's effective strength of dedicated part-time soldiers deployed to ice stricken Eastern Ontario during the 1998 Ice Storm and personal deployed to 8 Wing Trenton to support the Kosovo Refugee Crisis in 1999. The Regiment has also had the opportunity to co-operate with local and provincial police in the search for missing persons and continues to deploy persons on Northern sovereignty operations.
The Regiment remains socially active in Hamilton and Guelph. Some activities include hosting charity events such as the United Way Campaign Kick-off BBQ for Guelph and Wellington County and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Run for the Cure in 2004 and 2005. In Hamilton, the Regiment continues to sponsor the Bell Walk for Kids Help Phone.
Quo fas et gloria ducunt.
(Everywhere. Whither right and glory lead).