History - Queens Own Cameron Highlanders

As early as 1905 the local Scottish community, led by the St Andrew’s Society, began lobbying the government to raise a Highland regiment in Winnipeg. Under increasing pressure from the Scottish lobbyists the government relented and the initial steps taken to form Western Canada’s first Highland regiment. On 29 September 1909 the prospective officers met and committees dealing with finances, uniforms and the band were formed. As the government grant did not cover the entire cost of uniforms and equipment, the Scottish societies and the officers undertook to raise the money themselves managing an initial amount of $25,000.00. Almost all of the original accoutrements were manufactured in Scotland, obtained from William Anderson & Sons Ltd. On 01 February 1910 the 79th Highlanders of Canada were officially gazetted, headquartered in the former Dominion Lands Office at 202 Main Street. On 09 October 1910 the Regiment received its first stand of Colours, presented by Mrs. D.C. Cameron, wife of the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.
The availability of the number "79" was fortuitous and enabled the new Canadian regiment to adopt the regimental number of a famous regiment in Scotland, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders who had been raised in 1793 as the 79th (Cameron Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. Along with the regimental number the new Canadian regiment chose to also perpetuate the uniform of the Imperial Camerons. This association with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders became official on 31 January 1911 when His Majesty, King George V authorized the alliance of the two Highland regiments. Eight months later, on 22 June 1911 a contingent of 61 Camerons, parading with their allied regiment, participated in the coronation of King George V.


When the First World War broke out the Canadian Army did not mobilize based on its existing structure. Instead Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia created and entirely new table of organization with numbered battalions raised on geographical lines. This often meant that more than one militia regiment contributed men to a single new Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) Battalion. Under this mobilization plan militia regiments were to remain in Canada acting only as drafting units. Initially only a company of 7 officers and 250 other ranks under Captain John Geddes were accepted from the Camerons for the CEF.
They mustered at Camp Valcartier, Quebec where they formed Number 3 Company of the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion CEF. The other Companies of the 16th came from drafts from three other Militia highland regiments. The 16th Battalion was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division and left Quebec for England with the first contingent on 30 September 1914. The 79th Camerons next provided the second-in-command, Major D.S. MacKay, a company (10 officers, 250 other ranks) and a signals section for the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion CEF.
The first complete Cameron battalion, the 43rd (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) Battalion CEF, was formed on 18 December 1914. They departed Winnipeg on 29 May 1915 and embarked for England on 01 June 1915 with a complement of 39 officers and 1020 other ranks under command of the 79th Cameron’s first Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel R.M. Thompson. Almost immediately upon arriving overseas, the 43rd provided two reinforcement drafts to the 16th Battalion, which placed the 43rd in peril of being broken up entirely and used as reinforcements. The Cameron Overseas Drafting Detachment in Winnipeg quickly managed to bring the 43rd Battalion back up to strength avoiding its dissolution. Assigned to the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division, the 43rd Battalion left England and set sail for France on 21 February 1916.
The Camerons were authorized to raise two more overseas battalions in January 1916. The 179th (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) Battalion CEF was formed from the Overseas Drafting Detachment and mobilized in February 1917 under command of Lieutenant Colonel J.Y. Reid. The 174th (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) Battalion CEF mobilized during the summer of 1917 under command of Lieutenant Colonel H.F. Osler. On arrival in England, both the 174th and 179th were absorbed by reserve battalions, the men sent as reinforcement drafts for the 16th and 43rd Battalions serving with the Canadian Corps in France.
In World War I, the regiment produced one of the three Victoria Cross winners for which Valour Road in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was named: Captain Robert Shankland.

Post WWI

In 1920 a major reorganization of Canadian Militia units took place. Some units were disbanded, others were re-rolled or amalgamated and almost all numerical designations were dropped from regimental titles (the two notable exceptions being the 48th Highlanders of Canada and the Royal 22nd Regiment of Canada). Thus the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada became simply, the Cameron Highlanders of Canada. In order to perpetuate the Regiment’s accomplishments during the First World War, the Regiment was reorganized as three battalions: the 1st Battalion “43rd Battalion CEF”, 2nd (Reserve) Battalion (174th Battalion CEF) and 3rd (Reserve) Battalion (179th Battalion CEF). In reality the 1st Battalion was the only active militia unit. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were reserve units where non-active personnel could transfer for an interim period or upon retirement and remain subject to future recall.
The popularity of Highland Regiments was at an all time high in Canada after the First World War and a number of line infantry units chose to adopt Highland dress and customs. In 1920 The Ottawa Regiment (The Duke of Cornwall's Own) converted to a Highland Regiment adopting the title of The Ottawa Highlanders and the uniform of the Camerons. Steps were taken to form an alliance with the new Cameron Regiment in Ottawa and the alliance was formally granted in 1923. Subsequently in 1933 The Ottawa Highlanders changed their name to The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa.
On 24 October 1923, his Majesty King George V was “graciously pleased” to grant permission for the Regiment to be named the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada in recognition of the Regiment’s exemplary service during the First World War. With granting of the royal designation “Queen’s Own” the Regiment decided to adopt badges that more closely resembled the pattern worn by the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of the British Army. The new cap badge depicted the figure of St. Andrew holding in his arms a Cross, enclosed by a wreath of thistles and leaves and across the lower part of the wreath, scrolls inscribed: QUEEN’S OWN CAMERON HIGHLANDERS OF CANADA. New collar and sporran badges of a pattern identical to the Imperial Camerons were also chosen.
The new pattern badges were authorized by the War Office on 31 August 1925 and the cap and collar badges received by the Regiment on 24 February 1927. The new pattern badges were held in stores pending the acquisition of the new sporran badge. With the sporran badges still yet to be acquired, the collar badges were finally issued in January 1930 and the cap badges towards the end of the year.


On 01 September 1939, the Camerons were officially notified of the impending war. Within seventeen days of being ordered to mobilize, the Battalion was at full strength of 807 all ranks. This time the Camerons would not fight in their kilts as the Regiment had twenty-five years earlier. A War Department directive issued in April 1940 made battledress the standard uniform for all units and the Highland regiments reluctantly surrendered their kilts for trousers. The Regiment was increased to two battalions, the 1st Battalion being placed on active duty for overseas service as part of the Second Canadian Division and the 2nd Battalion to remain in Winnipeg to recruit and train replacements. On 16 December 1940 the 1st Battalion embarked for overseas, arriving in the UK on Christmas Eve.
On 19 August 1942, the Camerons landed in occupied Europe as part of Operation JUBILEE, the raid on the French port of Dieppe. The South Saskatchewan Regiment was to land in the first wave of the attack on Green Beach to secure the beach at Pourville, the right flank of the operation.
As the Camerons were the second wave to attack on Green Beach they came into an aroused German defense. The Camerons were riding in plywood landing craft. About one thousand yards off Green Beach, the craft formed in a single line and moved toward the beach. The sound and fury of hell began as German
shore batteries, machine guns, and mortars opened fire. Above the angry roar of battle and the growl of racing engines came a sound that riveted the attention of U.S. Ranger Sergeant Marcell G. Swank. On a small forward deck of the landing craft to Swank's right, piper Corporal Alex Graham stood courageously playing A Hundred Pipers. "He stood there," recalled Swank, "defiantly telling the world that the Camerons were coming. God what a glory." Inspired by their piper, the Camerons landed on Green Beach with courage and élan and swept forward. This is the last recorded instance of Canadian troops being piped into battle.
The Camerons hit the Green Beach an hour after the SSR, some thirty minutes late, as their commander had not believed that the SSR would be able to clear the beach and village in the allotted time. As they landed the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Gostling, was killed by a sniper and the unit was taken over by the Second-in-Command, Major A.T. “Tony” Law.
“Our first casualty was C Company’s sergeant major. He got hit right in the head and was killed instantly. It was through him that Colonel Gostling was killed. He looked over and saw that the CSM was hit but he didn’t know he was dead. He stood up and yelled, “Stretcher-bearer, stretcher-bearer!” Just then he was shot.”
Pte Herbert Webber, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
Again, the majority of the force was mistakenly landed to the West of the river and so Law decided to alter the plan. Those that had landed to the East were told to join the SSR while the majority to the West advanced up the valley with Major Law. They were harassed on their journey by fire from Quatre Vents Farm and decided to seek shelter in the woods through which they reached the high ground above Bas d'Hautot. There they saw that the enemy already held the bridge at Petite Appeville in some strength (by a heavily reinforced anti-tank company from the German 571st Regiment). Law's group could not now realistically take the bridge, nor could they bypass it for the road from Ouville was now swarming with enemy reinforcements. Meanwhile, the rest of the Camerons had joined up with the SSR but despite closing in on Quatre Vents Farm and the radar station they were halted by enemy fire.
Although the Camerons made the deepest penetration of the day, the main landing at Dieppe had been unsuccessful. By 9:30 AM a decision had to be made. The failure of the tanks to arrive had made it impossible for the Camerons to gain their objectives and suggested things were not going quite as planned on the main beaches. Faced with increasing German opposition and a complete lack of communication with higher headquarters, the Camerons began to fight their way back to Pourville, carrying their wounded. With Support Platoon leading, A Company guarding the flank and C Company forming the rearguard, the battalion made it back to Beronville Wood and re-established contact with the SSR. It was only then that they found out the landing craft would not return for re-embarkation until 11:00 AM.
Major Law and Lieutenant Colonel Merritt (Commanding Officer of the SSR) set up a combined HQ in the Grand Central Hotel and prepared their battalions to stand and fight for a full hour against a rapidly increasing enemy who had their line of withdrawal (the beach) enfiladed with fire from innumerable guns. The Camerons fought desperately to keep their foothold on the high ground to the West while the SSR grimly held on to a piece of high ground to the East. Slowly the Germans collapsed the pocket smaller and smaller, until they dominated the entire beach and the slopes East of Pourville. By this time few of the Camerons and SSR were unwounded. At 11:00 AM the landing craft began to arrive, taking grievous losses on the approach into the beach. More men were killed and wounded as they tried to board the landing craft under the enemy’s withering fire. Almost miraculously five landing craft and one tank landing craft managed to rescue men from the shallows and cleared the beach with full loads. By 11:30 AM the situation had become impossible and no further extractions were attempted.
Of 503 Camerons on the raid, 346 were casualties: 60 Killed in action; 8 died of wounds after evacuation; 167 prisoners of war (8 of whom died of wounds). Of the 268 returning to England, 103 were wounded. Twenty-five Camerons were decorated for their actions at Dieppe. The Regiment received two Distinguished Service Orders (the second highest award for bravery for officers after the Victoria Cross), two Military Crosses, three Distinguished Conduct Medals (the second highest award for bravery for non-commissioned members after the Victoria Cross), four Military Medals, thirteen Mentions in Dispatches and a Croix de Guerre with bronze palms. One of the DSO recipients was the acting Commanding Officer, Major Law. The citation for his award read:
Major Law was 2 i/c of the Regiment during the Dieppe operation, 19 Aug 42. The Commanding Officer having been killed immediately on landing, Major Law took over the unit, and despite very heavy enemy fire, reorganized it and proceeded to direct its attack. This officer successfully and efficiently fought his unit approximately two miles inland, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. On the order for withdrawal being given, Major Law fought a rearguard action to the beach, and so effectively controlled the battalion that approximately 80% of the personnel were intack (sic) at this time. The cool and steady manner in which Major Law directed the action throughout, while continually under fire, was an inspiration to the whole battalion, and to him goes the major portion of the credit for the fact that a comparatively large proportion of its personnel was successfully withdrawn at the conclusion of the operation.


Today the Camerons fulfill both military and ceremonial functions at home and abroad. As an infantry regiment, the unit’s main focus is provide trained infantry soldiers to meet the operational requirements of the Canadian Forces. Whether it is augmenting Regular Force units on overseas operations or fighting floods and forest fires at home, the Camerons provide a ready source of trained soldiers. Currently the Regiment has members deployed to the mission in Afghanistan.
Motto: Ullamh (Gaelic: Ready)

Authorized Marches:

Regimental March Past: The Piobaireachd of Donald Dhu
Regimental March: The March of the Cameron Men
A Company March: Blue Bonnets over the Border
B Company March: A Hundred Pipers
C Company March: Glendaurel Highlanders
D Company March: Bonnie Dundee
HQ & Support Company March: The Muckin’ O’ Geordie’s Brier
Administration Company March: Queen Elizabeth