The Rifle Company is one of the strongest links which binds the College of to-day with the Upper Canada which our predecessors knew. Without it the college would be incomplete; and it would not hold nearly so high a position in the public eye as it does to-day. By training boys in military discipline, loyalty to king and country, and by improving their general physique and moral nature, the Rifle Company has been a valuable asset to Canada; one may even say to the Empire. One of the greatest advertisements which the College has to-day is its Rifle Company. Many parents have, no doubt, sent their boys to Upper Canada, chiefly because they wished to pee them members of “that smart Upper Canada corps” which they saw on Church parade, or at inspection. Unless he has been a member of the Rifle Company, a boy cannot obtain the “school spirit” to its fullest degree. Practically all the most prominent oldboys have, at one time or another, been members of the Company. It gives a boy a fine opportunity to develop his initiative and self-confidence.
The history of the Rifle Company is one of which we should be justly proud. It, or rather the drill class out of which the Rifle Company was evolved, was begun about 1861. There were no uniforms, but members were supplied with rifles, bayonets, and waist-belts. Major Goodwin was the man who, as it were, put the Company on its feet. By the end of 1864 the College had a fairly efficient cadet corps. In 1865 a group of irate Irishmen, called the Fenian Brotherhood, were causing a great deal of uneasiness in Canada. Large numbers of volunteers were enrolled. The College Company was transformed into a company of the “Queen’s Own.” “Theboys appeared at every parade and march-out, drilling as faithfully as others, but without any pay.” In May, 1865, the government asked for volunteers. The Fenians had crossed the Niagara River, from the United States, and were in possession of Fort Erie. The College Company was called out, along with the “Queen’s Own,” but much to the disappointment of the boys, they were ordered to remain in garrison, and furnish the necessary guards for the armouries and military stores. There was great excitement in town. After the departure of the volunteers, the College Company was the only party of troops in the city, and for two days furnished the guard. Soon after, however, the volunteers from the country arrived. When the boat arrived with the dead and wounded, the College Company acted as escort, accompanying the five hearses through the crowded streets. At the funeral the College Corps was guard of honour, and took part in all the military funerals of that sad period. Some time after there was another general alarm, at which the College Company reassembled. As the Company marched through the densely crowded streets, someone called out, “It’s the College boys; let’s give them three cheers!” This they did right heartily, because the Company was the first to answer the summons. On the return of the victorious “Queen’s Own” the College Company accompanied it in its march through the streets.
Soon after the Fenian raid a military camp was formed at Thorold, and the College Company united with the University Company to form one corps. The battalion was sent to Port Dalhousie and marched through St. Catharines to where other companies were stationed. The boys had to sleep on the rough, hard ground, but they again distinguished themselves by bearing all their discomforts cheerfully. On the march home, several heavy storms were encountered, which made marching terribly bad. But none bore the hardship more light-heartedly than the College Company. During the following ten years the Company gradually grew in numbers. Membership was optional. The year 1896 was an active year for the Rifle Company. Many marches were made into the “country” surrounding the College. These not only gave the boys some fun and a good outing, but a confidence and sense of unity which would otherwise be hard to acquire. Besides these outings, the Company joined in several parades with the Queen’s Own, and the Royal Grenadiers.
During 1897 and the early part of 1898 the Company was very inactive. In the Autumn of 1898, however, the Company was re-organized, and one of the masters—Mr. E. R. Peacock was chosen as commander. The name, which Mr. Peacock has since made for himself in the Motherland, is well known. The corps, at this time, numbered about forty. There were frequent drills at the armouries, where the Company carried on a great deal of target practise. In 1899, the need of maintaining a Rifle Company was again made evident by the Boer War. The College sent over a large number of representatives — a striking proof of the valuable work she is continually doing for the country ,and of the loyal spirit fostered in the boys at the College. Both the commander and the second in command of the first Canadian contingent were old-boys, — a fact which should make us even more proud of our Rifle Company. During 1901 the Company suffered a terrible mishap. One section left the grounds and vanished “among the innumerable gullies which surround the College.” A second section went to the rescue, “and was totally annihilated, when crossing an open space, by the first party,” who were concealed in the woods. (Sound realistic?) At the 1902 inspection the Company turned out thirty-nine strong. The drill and marching was excellent; the chief weakness being in the giving of commands. The drill season of 1903 was not very successful, the real lack being an “esprit de corps”. Hardly any boy in the Company took any interest, or showed any real spirit at all. The effect which this attitude had on the Company is astounding. In the previous year the Company had had the reputation of being one of the smartest cadet corps in the country, but at the inspection of 1903 they were told that out of twenty-five companies, they were among the worst. The inspecting officer said that the Company was the “worst disciplined and noisiest cadet corps” he had inspected. This should serve as a lesson to any boy who yet thinks the Rifle Company is “rather a bore.” Remember, grumbling always makes matters worse, not better. Therefore, let all drills be attended cheerfully, for we have the name and traditions of a great school to live up to.
There were only forty-one at the 1904 inspection, but the Company made a fine showing, and was highly congratulated. By 1906 the Company numbered sixty-eight strong, and had added a new feature to its ranks— a fine drum corps. At the annual church parade the boys were complimented on their fine showing by Sir Henry Pellatt. Much more interest was being taken in the Company— due mainly to the fine leadership of Sergeant-Major Utton. In the Church Parade of 1907 the College Company made a splendid showing. In the march past the saluting base it was said that the U.C.C. Company was the best of all. At inspection Colonel Denison praised the corps on the great improvement which they had made over the preceding year. He made special mention of the neatness of the uniforms and steadiness in the ranks, and said that altogether it was one of the finest companies he had ever inspect’ed. 1908 was a very successful year for the Rifle Company. The old rifles were exchanged for new ones. At the annual Church Parade the College company was the strongest on parade, having a roll of eighty-one. In a military tournament at the armouries the college squad took fifth place, and received great applause. Much credit is due to Serg.-Major Utton who, since taking charge, transformed the Company from “a slack, indifferent, and unwilling gang of talkative loafers” into a smart, efficient and keen Company. This same year, a new uniform was adopted. The green trimmings being banned for plain khaki, and the forage cap being replaced by the Australian type of army hat with a blue and white band around. The coat collar was turned down, like an officer’s, with collar and tie showing. The following year the plain military collar, as is now worn, was adopted. A Ross rifle was presented yearly by the Alexandra Chapter of the Daughters of the Empire to the best shot in the Company. Targets were put up in the field behind the hospital and much more interest was taken in rifle-shooting.
In 1910 the Lieutenant – Governor presented a prize of books for annual competition in rifle shooting. In 1913, owing to the enthusiasm of Sergeant Carpenter and the energy of the officers, the College entered teams in most of the competitions at the great cadet tournament at the armouries. The tug-of-war team reached the finals, and the military drill squad was highly praised. At the annual inspection the Company did very well, and successfully carried out its first attack. The sad days of 1914 are well known to all of us. The large number of old boys who volunteered for active service was a tribute to the efficiency and influence of the Rifle Company in past years, and it should be a point of honour with us to maintain the high standard and excellent traditions that have been handed down to us. An Old Boy in writing home, regarding the list of Old Boys at the front, says: “It rivals the lists published by the Public Schools here, and is rivalled itself by none in Canada”. An interesting incident is told of two Old Boys who had both been in the Rifle Company together whilst at College. Both were in the same contingent, but one was a private, the other an officer. One day the private approached his officer friend with: “Heaven’s sake, Harry, give me a sandwich!” (and Harry gave him two—much to the surprise of the authorities). During the war the Rifle Company was without an instructor, so that the whole training of the Company rested with the boys themselves. The Company was divided into two sections, one for those who knew their drill, the other for those who did not. Joining the Company was still optional, but many boys now joined who had hitherto held aloof. The height limit was done away with. The Government called in the rifles, but an Old Boy, impressed with the Company’s showing on a church parade, presented the Company with fifteen new rifles. A bugle corps was started, and in 1919 a signalling corps was formed.
1920 was one of the most successful years in the Company’s history, most of which was due to Serg.-Major Carpenter and Captain Braithwaite. The Company was inspected by General Sir Charles Townshend, who said: “The drill I have seen here today would do credit to a Guards’ parade ground in London.” The 1923 Rifle Company was, as most of us know, a great success. The N.C.O. class made a particularly fine showing, especially at the Governor- General’s inspection. For the first time in its history the Rifle Company took part in the Annual Garrison Parade, and made a very fine showing. This year the Rifle Company attained the highest point of perfection which it has yet reached. The marching, drilling, and attack were all well carried out. The N.C.O. class displayed a great deal of “snap” and precision. The smartness and efficiency of the N.C.O.’s means very much towards having a smart Company for they and the officers set the example for the rest of the corps. Colonel MacCrimmon remarked that the success of the Company was largely due to its excellent instructor. Great credit is due to the S. M. for the hard work, the patience, and the interest which he has spent on the Rifle Company. It is mainly due to him that the Company holds the premier place in the province to-day. Perfect as the Company may seem, it can yet be improved upon. To an experienced soldier the uniform looks incomplete without a belt. If each member of the Company could be supplied with a belt, the general appearance of the corps would be much improved. Let us hope that some generous Old Boy may be so impressed, as of yore, as to look up a military supply store.
The College Rifle Company, however, is not, by any means, the only very efficient cadet corps in the province. Ridley’s corps is very smart, and deserves much credit, for the boys, not having an instructor, have drilled themselves. The efficiency of the cadet corps of Trinity College School is seen in the fact that, in a recent military competition, it successfully defeated the Royal Military College. This says a great deal for T.C.S. A fine object for our own Rifle Company to look forward to, would be a competition staged with Trinity. The successful corps could then rightfully claim to be the smartest cadet corps in Canada. At next year’s inspection it would be well to have someone to advise the “movie man” what pictures to take; for in the recent pictures taken there were none which included the whole company, and none which included the band. Let us all hope and try to keep the Company not only up to its present high mark, but to improve upon it next year. The Company of the past has made an honourable name for itself, and a high standard which we are all, by duty, bound to live up to. Remember, it was an Old Boy who led the Canadians to the Nile in the attempt to rescue Gordon. An Old Boy who led the charge at Batoche. An Old Boy who led the first contingent to the Boer war, and an Old Boy who holds the record for the largest number of German submarines sunk in the Great War. Surely this is a record which should assure the success of the Rifle Company for all time. W. H. B.
The above extracted from: Upper Canada, College Times, summer, 1924, by Walter Bilbrough.