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Friday, 15 June 2012

The 193rd Battalion and Nova Scotia Highland Brigade

During the first two years of the war, no direct effort was made to recruit Guysborough County men in their home communities.  Those interested in enlisting traveled to nearby communities - Antigonish, New Glasgow, Truro, Sydney or Halifax - to do so.  Guysborough natives outside Nova Scotia joined local units recruited in the provinces where they were living.  Others working in the United States returned to the nearest province - particularly New Brunswick - to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Early in 1916, as the war entered its third year and demand for manpower at the front increased, the Canadian government was forced to reconsider its recruiting strategies.  At the same time, it revisited a Nova Scotian politician's earlier offer to raise an infantry unit in his constituency.  These two separate initiatives soon came together in a plan to form the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

The 193rd Battalion was originally conceived by John Stanfield, Member of Parliament for Colchester from 1901 to 1917.  In England at war's outbreak, Stanfield quickly returned to Canada and offered his services to the Department of Militia and Defence.   More than a year passed before the government responded, authorizing the recruitment of the 193rd Overseas Battalion - to be known as the "Cumberland Highlanders" - on January 27, 1916.  Stanfield was awarded the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and appointed its commander.  Battalion headquarters were established in Truro and recruitment efforts began within ten days of its formation. 

Source: M. S. Hunt, "Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War"
Within one month of its creation, the 193rd became part of a larger recruitment plan.  Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. Borden, commander of the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), proposed the creation of a "Nova Scotia Highland Brigade".  In January 1916, the federal government approved the plan and appointed Borden as Brigade Commander.  On February 13, Lt.-Col. Stanfield was informed that the 193rd Battalion would become one of the Highland Brigade's four units.

The province of Nova Scotia was divided into three sections for the purposes of recruitment.  The 185th Battalion would be raised from Cape Breton communities and adopted the name "Cape Breton Highlanders" .  The 219th Battalion focused its recruitment efforts on central and southwestern counties - Halifax, Lunenburg, Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis and Kings.  The 193rd Battalion would be recruited from the six northeastern counties - Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough.  The 85th Battalion - already in existence at the time of the Brigade's creation - formed the Highland Brigade's fourth unit and continued its recruitment efforts across the entire province. 

The 193rd was assigned regimental numbers 901001 to 904000.  Within one month of its formation, recruitment exceeded the quantity required for full strength (approximately 1000 men).  Enlistments initially trained in detachments in their home counties while the recruitment campaign continued.  On May 23, 1916, the 193rd joined the three other battalions of the Highland Brigade at Aldershot for a summer of intense military preparation.  By this date, the 193rd Battalion consisted of 1459 men, approximately 300 over fighting strength.

Members of the 193rd Battalion training at Guysborough.  (Photo courtesy of Winn (Manson) Campbell, Kingston, NS.)
During the summer of 1916, over 7000 men encamped at Aldershot for training in trench warfare, bayonet fighting, bomb throwing, route marching and night operations.  The Governor General, HRH the Duke of Connaught, his daughter Princess Patricia, Minister of Militia Sir Sam Hughes and Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden were among the dignitaries who reviewed the Brigade at various times during training.  On September 9, Lt.-Col. Borden traveled to France to observe conditions on the front lines,  and Lt.-Col. Stanfield assumed Commander in his absence.

HRH Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, reviews the Highland Brigade at Camp Aldershot.  (Source: Hunt, "Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War".)
On September 23, Lady Borden, wife of the Canadian Prime Minister, presented regimental colors to each Brigade battalion.  The 193rd selected royal blue as its color, displayed as a cap feather.  Its badge consisted of a maple leaf overlaid by a Scotch thistle wreath, with the battalion number in the center and the words "Nova Scotia Highlanders Overseas" arranged around its edge.  The Highland Brigade officially adopted the Gaelic phrase "Siol Na Fear Ferail" - "the breed of manly men" - as its motto. 

Three weeks later, the Brigade relocated to Halifax in preparation for departure to England.  On October 13, the 193rd Battalion - 33 officers and 1024 "other ranks" - boarded the SS Olympic for its trans-Atlantic voyage.  After three days at sea, the vessel was met by escort torpedo boats that accompanied it for the remainder of the voyage.  The Olympic reached Liverpool Harbor on October 18.  Its passengers disembarked the following day and traveled by train to Witley Camp, Surrey Hills, England. 

193rd Battalion cap badge.
The newly-arrived Highland Brigade was slated to become part of the new 5th Canadian Division, to be deployed at the front in 1917.   In early December, Lt.-Col. Borden returned from France and resumed command of the Brigade.  He had served in the trenches with the Royal Canadian Regiment and suffered a thigh wound in combat.  Unfortunately, Lt.-Col. Stanfield was forced to return to Canada at this time, due to ill health.  Meanwhile, the Brigade's four units continued training in preparation for the much anticipated assignment on the front lines.

Disappointingly, the call to duty at the front did not come.  By late 1916, increasing demand for reinforcements to existing units resulted in a change of plans.  Military commanders decided to use the bulk of Highland Brigade personnel to reinforce existing units rather than maintain it as a separate fighting force.  The notable exception was the 85th Battalion, which proceeded to France in the spring of 1917.  Two battalions - the 193rd and 219th - would be dismantled, their personnel reassigned to existing units.  The 185th Battalion initially retained a place in the 5th Canadian Division, but was eventually dispersed without seeing combat at the front.

In December 1916 and January 1917, personnel from the 193rd and 219th Battalions were re-assigned to several units.  15 officers and 300 "other ranks" were transferred to the 185th, while 4 groups of 100 men were transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment, 25th, 58th and 85th Battalions respectively.  Of the 100 soldiers transferred to the 85th, 46 had originally enlisted with the 193rd.  34 of these men were wounded or killed during their service at the front in the last two years of the war.

Crest of the Nova Scotia Highlanders, a Reserve Infantry Battalion that perpetuates the 193rd and four other CEF Battalions
The remaining members of the Highland Brigade proceeded to the 17th Reserve Battalion at Bramshott, England. Created on August 6, 1914 from a base of 600 Nova Scotia militia unit recruits, the 17th Infantry Battalion had been officially reclassified as a reserve battalion on April 29, 1915.  By late 1916, its numbers were badly depleted.  The 17th therefore absorbed the remnants of the 193rd and 219th Battalions, and provided reinforcements for the 25th, 85th and Royal Canadian Regiment for the duration of the war.  It also supplied reinforcements for the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) until the unit was dispersed amongst regiments of the 15th Brigade, 5th Canadian Division in February 1918.

It was a disappointing end to the story of the 193rd Battalion and the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.  On a positive note, the 85th went on to distinguish itself in combat at Arras, Vimy, Ypres, Passchendaele and Amiens before war's end.  While the other three units were dissolved without combat experience, many of their members recorded distinguished service with other regiments at the front, fitting testimony to their military skill and the professional training they received from the officers of the193rd and the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.


"17th Reserve Battalion".  The Matrix Project, Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group.  Available online.

"193rd Battalion".  The Matrix Project, Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group.  Available online.

Hayes, Lt. Col. Joseph.  The Eighty-Fifth In France and Flanders.  Halifax: Royal Print & Litho Ltd., 1920.

Hunt, M. S.. Nova Scotia's Part In the Great War.  Archive CD Books Canada Inc., Manotick, Ont, 2007.

Kelley, QMS Edgar E..  "193rd Blue Feather Battalion".  Available online.

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