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The History of the 24th Regiment of Canadian Militia

A synopsis of a paper by
(Retired List, Canadian Militia)

THE first matter I desire to put on record is that of some extracts from a single page of a diary kept by my great-grandfather, William McCrae, who located and settled about four miles down the Thames River on the Raleigh side, about the year 1797, and whose brother, Thomas McCrae, was an M.P.P. for the Western District, 1801 to 1805. The extracts are as follows:

Thursday, April 8th, 1813.
Colonel Jacobs brought Colonel Baby’s orders for drafting two-thirds of the Militia to march to Sandwich by the 12th inst., and to form an expedition to go to the foot of the rapids on the Maumee River.

Friday, April 9th.
*Tommy went up the river last evening with Colonel Baby’s orders to Captains Dolsen and Shaw to muster the Militia, and for Sergeant Arnold to muster and draft my Company of Howard and Harwich militia.

Saturday, April 10th.
*Billy, Sergeants Arnold and Shapely with 22 men arrived here on their way to Sandwich, two of them got sick here, viz: John Cull and Randy McDonald.

(* Sons of William McCrae)

Sunday, April 11th.
Captains Shaw and Dolsen started this morning in two boats with companies for Sandwich. Tommy started this morning on horseback, he belongs to I. Dolsen’s Rifle Company, and Billy to bring back the horses.

The foregoing items are intermingled with remarks concerning the weather, the condition of the river, apparently at high flood at the time, and domestic topics. I regret to say that this one leaf is all that can be found of this diary, and we can now feel its loss as it would undoubtedly have contained most interesting passages relating to General Procter and the Chief Tecumseh passing through this district in the following autumn, also to Harrison’s army both in going and retiring.

After this, peace and quietness settled over the country, until the troublous times of the Rebellion of 1837-38, when the loyal men of Kent were once more called to duty.

On account of a gathering of self-styled "Patriots" at Detroit, threatening to make an invasion of our borders, a Company of Militia Volunteers was raised in Kent under the command of Captain Bell, one of the Lieutenants being the late Thomas McCrae, afterwards Police Magistrate of Chatham for a number of years.

During their service at the front a detachment of them crossed on the ice and dispersed a body of rebels who were occupying Fighting Island, in the Detroit river, and captured a small field gun, which they brought with them to Chatham and named ‘the Rebel Pup.’ This small cannon is now on Waterworks Park.

The Company was honored on their return by ladies of the neighborhood presenting them with a flag made by their own hands, and bearing the words ‘Kent Volunteers.’

The next movement of any military importance was in 1857 or 1858, at the time of the Mutiny in India, when the late Walter McCrae, afterwards Judge of the District of Algoma, raised a company of Riflemen in this town and was given the command of it as Captain, the late James G. Sheriff being one of the Lieutenants. This Company was only in existence for a short period, or during the war in India. and was then disbanded.

Our quiet was not again disturbed until 1861, when the Mason and Slidell affair so nearly caused a declaration of war between Great Britain and the United States, and all through the Canadas the Sedentary Militia was mustered, and a company of volunteers called for from each township. It was at this time that your humble servant first became a Canadian Volunteer, the men of the Township of Raleigh under the command of Colonel Toll, of the Lake Shore, mustering at the township Hall on the Middle Road, Raleigh Township, near Buxton, the requisite number of Volunteers being secured without trouble.

This difficulty having been settled between the two Nations, peace again hovered over the country, but a martial spirit had been aroused, an infection probably from the Civil War then going on in the United States, and organizations were formed in the different Cities and Towns throughout the country for the purpose of gaining a knowledge of military drill. Such was the case in Chatham, a number of the citizens meeting once each week for drill, under the instruction at first of Mr. Thomas McCrae, and afterwards of Mr. David Smith, an ex-member of the London Horse Guards, who after a time was the first Lt.— Colonel of the 24th Battalion of Infantry, Kent.

In the latter part of the year, 1862, it being considered probable that our frontier might be troubled by incursions of parties of disbanded soldiers and other vagrants from the States at the close of the Civil War, the Canadian Government authorized the formation of Volunteer Companies in Canada and a number of Sergeant Instructors from the Regular Army were sent out to take charge of the instruction in drill of the Companies so raised.

And so, under these conditions, at a meeting held in the old Royal Exchange Hotel, (the site of the present Victoria Block, corner of King and Fifth Streets), Chat-ham, about the middle of December, the No. 1 Company of Infantry, Chatham, came into being, and was accepted and formally gazetted by a Militia Order dated the 26th December, 1862, with a strength of non-commissioned officers and men, and three commissioned officers, viz

Captain—David Smith
Lieutenant—A. B. Baxter
Ensign—Simeon M. Smith

This was followed on the 16th January, 1863, by the formation of No. 2 Company of similar strength, the officers being:

Captain—Thomas Glendinning
Lieutenant—James G. Sheriff
Ensign—Joseph Tilt

One of the Drill Instructors mentioned was at once despatched to Chatham in the person of Sergeant R. C. Brown, who took up quarters in the old Barracks, situated in the central part of what is now Tecumsch Park, and there we were diligently instructed in the complications of Company drill, from the position of a soldier, on through the troubles of the goose step to the formation of a Company line or column.

In the latter part of the year 1864, the prospect of raids having become more threatening, the Government decided to call out and station a number of the Volunteer companies at different points along the frontier as a measure of protection, and during the winter of 1864-65 some four or five companies from Quebec and Montreal were stationed at Windsor and Sandwich, while here in Chatham, as supports we had a company of infantry from St. Catharines and one of Rifles from Dunnville.

These were withdrawn in the spring and their places taken by others, and in the shuffle our time came, Captain Smith receiving orders to increase the strength of No. 1 Company to 65 rank and file, and entrain for Sherbrooke, Lower Canada, which he proceeded to do at once, and we left Chatham on the afternoon of the 28th of April, 1865, and arrived at Sherbrooke on the evening of the 30th. On our return from Frontier service about the 10th of July the ladies of Chatham presented No. 1 Company with a silk flag, which accompanied the company on all its services at Camp for years and was used to indicate the quarters of the commanding officer.

The Chatham Volunteers were then allowed to take up their ordinary vocations again, but only for a short time, for, before long, rumors arose of a threatened invasion from the United States of large bodies of the Fenian Societies, who had been openly drilling in the Cities of the States with that avowed object, and who had as officers, men who had seen service in the American war.

So once more the war alarm came to Chatham and both Nos. 1 and 2 Companies were on the 8th of March, 1866, sent to the front at Windsor, where with some four or five other Companies. from different parts of Canada, we watched the frontier opposite Detroit, expecting the enemy to attempt to cross at almost any time.

We were held at Windsor until almost the middle of May, when the route for home was received.

We had hardly settled down when on the 2nd of June, 1866, we were again called to arms, the reason being that a body of Fenians had at last crossed the Canadian frontier, the point chosen being on the Niagara River, opposite Buffalo. On their attempting to march inland they were met by Regular and Militia troops who soon put them to the right about, and they fled to their homes, excepting those that had been captured and held as prisoners. During the two weeks that we were on service at this time we were stationed here in Chatham.

These constant raid scares determined the government to arrange the Militia on a better footing, and then commenced the work of organizing the Volunteer Companies into Battalions, and the genesis of the 24th Regiment, or as it was then called, Battalion. By a General Militia Order of the 14th September, 1866, the 24th Battalion of Infantry, Kent, came into existence, composed of eight companies.

From this time onward until its disbandment in 1892, the 24th had no very remarkable occurrences; its history may almost be said to have been already made. The usual annual drills in camp were carried out at different places, such as Thorold, Sarnia, London, Windsor and sometimes at Headquarters in Chatham. In 1891 on the return of the Battalion from Camp at St. Thomas, the ladies of Chatham provided a set of silk Colours for the Battalion.

In 1886, Major M. Martin was promoted to Lieut.-Colonel, and assumed the command and retained it until its last days in 1892, when, owing to the impossibility of keeping the Battalion recruited to even a small proportion of the requisite strength, the Battalion was disbanded. We were then without any Military organization in either county or city until in the year 1900 the question of raising a new Regiment became a live topic, and Major J. B. Rankin was freely spoken of as the most likely person to undertake the project. I am happy to state that the energetic efforts of Major Rankin were most successful, and the new 24th Kent Regiment was duly accepted by the Militia Department and gazetted under a general order of the 1st January, 1901, under J. B. Rankin as Lieutenant— Colonel.

During the years 1906-7, the old frame Drill Shed was dismantled and the present commodious brick Armouries erected in its place, containing such necessary apartments as were necessary for the establishment.

Note :—Major Weir’s valuable paper was included in the papers of the Kent Historical Society published in 1915, and would include only the story of the Regiment up to the beginning of the World War. The part played by the 24th Kent Regiment in that momentous struggle will be for some historian to give us in a later volume of papers of the Kent Historical Society.

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