During the very early days of the Regiment, the 1st Company (later No. 1 Coy) twice refused to “equalize” with other companies, on parade. Equalizing was a process whereby soldiers with a larger unit would temporarily be made to parade with another units to create companies of equal size for appearance, as well as to ease and regulate some drill movements, such as forming into line from column, etc.
First in 1857, before the amalgamation of the nine independent companies into what later became our Regiment, 1 Coy walked off a formal parade when it was ordered that they “equalize”. 1 Coy, was the largest, and most senior corps, and they felt that it was “insulting” somehow for them to equalize. 1 Company commander was formally reprimanded for this incident.
In 1865, it happened again. This time. 1 Company was subsequently actually formally disbanded for their action for 11 months. They were reinstated just in time to be activated with the rest of the Regiment to counter the Fenian Raiders of 1866, (The Fenians were Irish Americans – mostly Civil War veterans – thus, very capable experienced soldiers – who felt that they could easily take over Canada, then hold it hostage in exchange for Irish freedom.) It is not recorded in either of our official histories, just which companies, that 1 Company refused to equalize with, but it is suspected that it may have likely been 4 and 5 Companies, (the Irishmen.), as it was suspected that they were perpetually under strength due to the influence of the Fenians and other factors. The Fenians enjoyed some support amongst the Irish in Montreal.
The Regiment was activated during the Fenian Raids of 1866 and, again, 1870. Its service in 1866 was particularly handicapped in the field by a lack of effective logistical support. But all Companies performed well and earned high praise for their service. They did not actually meet the Fenians that year, whose focus then was on the Niagara Frontier.
However, the Officer Commanding the Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Devlin, an Irishman, whose brother was a known Fenian, was noted as being “tardy” in joining the Regiment on active service. The excuse of illness was accepted, and he was not disciplined in any way. But he did voluntarily relinquish command shortly thereafter, after a reasonable 4 years in the post. However, the Regimental Sergeant Major, a former British regular, whom I shall not name, but another Irishman with this time very well-known Fenian sympathies. He actually deserted his post after the Regiment was ordered to the front. He was summarily dismissed from service.
The Regiment was again activated during the subsequent Fenian Raids in 1870 and again acquitted themselves well; but just missed the action at Eccles Hill, the first Battle Honour awarded to the Victoria Rifles of Canada. No similar episodes of ill-discipline in the Regiment were ever subsequently recorded until the “Plume Plucking” incident of 1969.
Colour Sergeant John Dolbec, retired.
We welcome John Dolbec who for so many years who wrote many news articles about unknown historical facts about our Regiment’s history, Dolbec’s Corner’! John is quite active on Facebook where he shares his wisdom and knowledge of our Regiment. Look him up and become his friend.
We thank him for now contributing to a new medium.