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54bnThe 54th Kootenay Battalion, C.E.F., was authorized by the Militia Department at Ottawa on the 1st of May, 1915. Up to this time there had been no battalion recruited in the interior of British Columbia for overseas work, and as many men had already gone from the interior and there were many more likely to go, it was felt that here should be an overseas battalion to represent them. This was the origin of the “Cinquante-Quatre.”

To those readers who have not the benefit of knowing the interior of British Columbia it may be said without any prevarication that it is the most magnificent country in the world. The original home of the Battalion – Nelson – is set in the midst of the grandest scenery – mountains (Rockies, Selkirks and Cascades), lakes (Kootenay and Arrow), forests and beautiful farming lands, all being visible or within easy distance.

The main industries of this part being lumbering, mining, prospecting and farming, it stands to reason that the men of the Battalion were remarkable for their physique and personal vigor.

Command of the Battalion was given to Lieut.-Col. Mahlon Davis, a civil engineer by profession, and one of the few surviving members of the first graduating class of the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario. He made his headquarters at Nelson and very soon gathered around him some notable men as his officers, namely: Lieut.-Col. (then Major) A. G. H. Kemball, C.B., as Second in Command; Major C. H. Pollen, Major Gilbert Anderson, Lieut.-Col. (then Captain) R. D. Davies, Captains W. Neilson and W. Garland Foster, and Lieuts. F. D. Smith, D A. McQuarrie, F. M. Raphael, Ridgway Wilson, and others. The Kootenay was divided up into districts, the principal towns of each district being Revelstoke, Kamloops, Cranbrook, Trail and Fernie.

The following picture is courtesy of Greg Scott of Nelson BC.

NDN June 17 1915

A full quota of men was easily recruited and on the 15th of June 1915, the Battalion assembled in camp at Vernon, B.C., for the first time. A brigade was formed here consisting of the 47th Battalion, the 54th Battalion, the 11th C.M.R., and, later, the Bond Battalion, all under Col. Duff Stuart.

Future writer Hubert Evans, reporting for the Nelson News, June 25, 1915, Page 8, relates their initial experiences in Vernon.

Written in 1927,”The New Front Line” by Hubert Evans, is the story of a young man returning from WWI and adjusting to civilian life. It is the Evans of the missing Nelson Daily News personnel who served in the Great War. It is also the Evans of “The Hubert Evans Award for Non-Fiction” B.C. Book prize won by Nelson’s Rita Moir in 1999 and the only one of the NDN boys to rate an entry (with picture) in the B.C. Encyclopedia. His biography by Alan Twigg, contains several of Evans’ war reminisces.

Although Evans only spent about 2 months in Nelson before enlisting, he subsequently had a number of letters  published in the News about the 54th’s camp life in Vernon.

He was born May 9, 1892, in VanKleek Hill, Ontario. Before completing high school he dropped out to begin a career as a Newspaper reporter, which brought him to B.C. in March of 1915 to work as “Wire Editor” of the Nelson Daily News.

Joining the 54th Kootenay Battalion in June of 1915, he transferred to the Signal Corps in 1916, was wounded in Ypres and attained the rank of Lieutenant by wars end. After returning to B.C., he worked as a fisheries officer and by the mid 1920’s he was writing full-time. His career spanned 60 years, during which time he produced a steady stream of books, stories, plays, poems and articles, most for juvenile readers, from his home at Roberts Creek. In 1984 he received an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University. Evans died June 17 1986 aged 92 at Sechelt B.C.

191515_vernon1The camp was situated on the Mission Hill, about one mile outside of Vernon. This hill, when one was wet either outside or inside – as the good people of Vernon took care was nearly always the case as regards their visitors from the camp – was about as bad to negotiate as the Pozieres or Passchendaele road before a show.

Training was vigorously carried on and very soon the 54th began to acquire a name as a thoroughly good, sound battalion.

The first inspection of the brigade was made by General Lessard in July, 1915 – and the less said about that the better. Shortly after this Col. Davis was asked to raise a pioneer battalion in the east and Col. Kemball (right) was given command of the 54th, with Major Davies as Second in Command.

At this time the principal officers were:

191512_kem1Lieut.-Col. A. G. H. Kemball, C.B. Commanding Officer

Captain G. Anderson, O.C. “A” Company

Major R. D. Davies, Second in Command

Major C. H. Pollen, O.C. “B” Company

Captain W. Neilson, Adjutant

Captain F. T. Lucas, O.C. “C” Company

Lieutenant G. A. Ridgway Wilson, Signalling officer

Major Turner Lee, O.C. “D” Company

Captain W. G. Foster, Quartermaster

Captain J. H. White, Chaplain

Captain J. H. Hamilton, M.O.

“Koots” Mascot Being a little black bear cub now awaiting the return of the Battalion at Nelson, B.C.

Captain R. H Green, Paymaster

Endeavors had been made in forming the Battalion to have each company represent a certain district, i.e.:

“A” Company Nelson

“B” Company Fernie

“C” Company Vernon, Rossland and Grand Forks

“D” Company Revelstoke, Kamloops and Arrow Lakes

These names stuck to the companies during all the period of active warfare and were used as the code name of the company in signal and other messages.

The daily round was varied by inspections, including one by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, and by the sending away of several drafts to England. Sports and bathing were freely indulged in.

After many rumors, word was definitely received that the Battalion was to leave for England on the 15th of November.

 This was very welcome news for all concerned, as the weather was beginning to get very cold and the men were very hard put to it to keep warm in their tents, many of them constructing a little stove which somewhat resembled the trench fires of later days.

The five-day journey to Halifax was not marked by any unusual happening, except an early morning chicken lunch by certain members of the Battalion. Every day we were given a march; At Ottawa the Battalion was to have been inspected by the Governor-General, but owing to the wet weather this was cancelled.

Halifax was reached at about 6 a.m. on the 21st of November, 1915. As the boat was not in we were compelled to wait about during the day, stretching our legs in a route march through the city, and finally embarking on the “Saxonia” in the evening, having as companions on board the 68th Battalion and an artillery draft.

Eight days later Plymouth was reached and disembarkation took place on the morning of the 3Oth of November. We at once entrained and arrived at Liphook station at midnight, where a good sample of wet English weather greeted us. On arrival at Bramshott Camp, which was then only in the course of construction, the 34th Battalion very kindly ministered to our comfort and helped all to shake down in their new surroundings.

1915 Photo Gallery – Enjoy!


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The recruit activity was reflected with this shot of them at the Nelson Legion

There is a letter from Hubert Evans and a news clip in the Gallery above

Here they are as thumbnail popup pics

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