The 72nd Battalion
In May 1915, the 72nd Regiment Seaforth Highlanders of Canada offered a battalion for overseas service to Ottawa. At the time, the defence establishment in Ottawa was doubtful a full battalion could be raised in British Columbia: the 1911 census had the province’s population at 392,480 (with more than a quarter living in Vancouver), representing just more than 5% of Canada’s population. After much convincing, on July 10th, 1915 the 72nd Overseas Battalion, C.E.F. was authorized, with Lieutenant-Colonel J.A. Clark to assume command.
The battalion went to Hastings Park, living and training on the 60 acres of the Vancouver Exhibition Association. By the end of September 1915, the 72nd Battalion was up to full strength, and would undergo intensive training through a very severe winter. The Seaforths were trained in field entrenchments and bombing, tactical exercises at the company and battalion level, as well as advance, flanking and rear-guard actions. Under Lieut.-Col. Clark’s guidance, the officers incorporated the latest developments in tactics from the Western Front into the battalion’s training plan, while also placing a great emphasis on the fundamentals of marksmanship. Musketry training was conducted at Minoru Park Ranges in Richmond, with each company spending a week at a time there.
On April 16th, 1916 the 72nd Battalion left Vancouver, and a crowd of thousands came to see them off. Arriving in Halifax, the Seaforths departed for England on the H.M.T.S. Empress of Britain on April 23rd, landing in Liverpool on May 4th, 1916.
Training in England at the Bramshott Camp, the Seaforths were inspected by Field Marshal Viscount French on May 24th, who complimented Lieut.-Col. Clark on the battalion, saying “A magnificent lot of men…What strikes one about this battalion is that they look like soldiers.” The sentiment would be repeated later by British Minister of Munitions (and later Prime Minister) David Lloyd George, who remarked the Vancouver Highlanders were “the finest body of men he had ever seen.”
The 72nd Overseas Battalion C.E.F. Seaforth Highlanders of Canada landed in France on August 13th, 1916. Their training complete, the Seaforths marched to the trenches of the Western Front.