Royal 22nd Régiment
The famous Royal 22nd Regiment, nick-named the "Van Doos" in English, was raised during the First World War
The Regiment has been in continuous active service since then. Winning fame for its valour from the time it first entered the line of battle, the Van Doos suffered 1,074 killed and nearly 3,000 wounded in the First World War, while earning 352 decorations, including two Victoria Crosses.
In the Second World War, the Van Doos were in battle from the landings in Sicily in 1943 through to the liberation of Holland in 1945, suffering 382 killed and over 1,000 wounded while earning another Victoria Cross at Ortona. After service in Korea and various UN missions, the Van Doos were also an active part of Canada's force in Afghanistan.
First World War
On 15 October 1914, the Canadian government authorized the formation of a French Canadian infantry battalion and on 17 October the 22nd was officially recognized as a francophone military unit. Its first Commanding Officer was an artillery man, Colonel Frederic Mondelet Gaudet, the father of the Regiment.
With superb organizational and recruiting skills, Col Gaudet's battalion reached its full strength of 1,024 officers and men by December 1914. Training commenced at Saint-Jean Quebec and by 12 March 1915, the battalion headed for Amherst before sailing overseas. Meanwhile, the regiment left their regimental symbols at Notre Dame Church in Saint-Jean.
The Royal 22nd Regiment, part of the Second Canadian Contingent, arrived in England in the spring of 1915 and was quartered at Sandling barracks. After completing training, the Regiment set foot on French soil on 15 September 1915. The Regiment went into combat three days later, on 18 September at a place called Hazebrouck.
It was now the turn of the Royal 22nd to endure the elements in the fall and winter of 1915 to 1916, surviving in the mud and the blood and bitter cold and dampness of trench life and as do all soldiers, the men of the 22nd experienced alternate periods of tension, boredom, action and sheer terror.
Soon the men of the 22nd began to prove their valour. In January 1916, Major Adolphe Roy was awarded a Mention-in-Despatches. The designer of the first Royal 22nd cap badge, Major Roy died saving the lives of several of his men in October 1915. A German grenade had fallen into his trench. It exploded and killed him as he attempted to throw the grenade out of the trench.
On the 3 January 1916, young Lieutenant Georges Vanier, with four volunteers, Sergeant Maurice Levin, L/Cpl Laureat Rancourt, Private John Watt and Corporal Pierre Edouard Leclerc carried out a night raid on a German hut that served the enemy as an observation and machine gun post. The raid was successful, the hut was destroyed and the action earned Vanier the Military Cross and the military medal for Rancourt, Watt and Leclerc.
These honours for heroism would be the first of over 400 awarded to the men of the Royal 22nd Regiment between 1916 to 1919.
On 25 January 1916, the founder, Colonel Gaudet, was re-assigned and his second-in-command, Major Thomas-Louis Tremblay became the officer commanding the Royal 22nd. At 28 years of age, Tremblay was one of the youngest battalion commanders at the front and would become one of the regiment's best loved and respected leaders.
After the battle of Courcelette, Tremblay wrote of his men, "We have witnessed many truly magnificent acts of personal bravery. The morale of the men, who are worn out, is very high, I am prouder than ever of my men, they fight like lions." On 1 October 1916, attacking against Regina Trench, the 22nd was one of the few battalions to reach its objective with some 50 of its soldiers actually entering the Trench. Overwhelmed, outnumbered and unsupported, they withdrew successfully, but the battalion lost 340 men during the attack.
During the battles of Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and Amiens, the Royal 22nd Regiment, the soon to become famous "Van Doos," had earned the respect of soldiers everywhere, Canadian soldiers in particular. In a little over three years in the trenches of the First World War, 1,147 men of the Royal 22nd Regiment would die in battle.
Second World War
In the Second World War, the Royal 22nd was in battle from the landings in Sicily in 1943 through to the liberation of Holland in 1945, suffering 382 killed and over 1,000 wounded while earning another Victoria Cross at Ortona.
Throughout the three years of fighting in Korea, the Van Doos represented one third of Canada's infantry contribution, losing 104 men killed and 185 wounded. Subsequently, the regiment shared the heavy load of peacekeeping and stability operations that Canada has undertaken, earning the Governor General's Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation for the relief of Sarajevo (Bosnia) in 1992, and serving most recently in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2011.
It also maintained one of its battalions on NATO service in Germany during the "Cold war", as well as providing a continuing parachutist unit since the Second World War, including a component of the Canadian Airborne Regiment while that formation existed.
The regiment's garrison and home station since the end of First World War is the Citadel in Quebec City, second residence of Canada's Governor General. Most of its troops are in nearby Base Valcartier (Quebec).
The Royal 22e Régiment has served as model and inspiration to the military, government and industry, embodying the finest example of a "French-speaking unit". It has also provided such great Canadians as Governor General Georges Vanier and Cardinal Maurice Roy as well as three Chiefs of Defence Staff (Allard, Dextraze and Baril).
Dissent at Home
It is ironic that much of the population of Quebec has not often approved of the fact that a remarkable fighting force such as the Royal 22nd Regiment would be part of the Canadian military, considering that Quebec and its people have been the beneficiaries of the willingness of the soldiers of the 22nd to fight for the province's values.
Controversial policies back home in Canada had made some people in Quebec unwilling to support such a regiment. This was recalled by a Second World War veteran, Captain George Bannerman, an English speaking officer, who fought with many French Canadian soldiers during the Italian campaign.
According to Captain Bannerman, a young Royal 22nd soldier saw Bannerman reading a letter from his mother and the young soldier began to weep. When Bannerman asked the young man why he was crying, the soldier replied that he had never received any mail from home because his parents were illiterate and the parish priest had refused to write for the young man's parents.
The priest disapproved of Quebecers fighting in what he considered to be an English Canadian war. Captain Bannerman later recalled his regret that he did not get the young soldier's name, so that Bannerman's mother might have written to the young man.
The soldiers of the Royal 22nd Regiment have an illustrious history of sacrifice and heroism which continued in Afghanistan, where the Regiment served to help rebuild a war torn country.
The Regiment lost twelve fine soldiers killed in Afghanistan, among them Privates Simon Longtin and Michel Levesque, Master Warrant Officer Mario Mercier, Warrant Officer Gaetan Roberge, Private Alexandre Peloquin, Master Corporal Charles-Philippe Michaud, Corporal Martin Joannette, Private Sebastien Courcy, Private Patrick Lormand, Corporal Jonathan Couturier, Corporal Steve Martin and Corporal Yannick Scherrer.
The Regiment's awards for valour include three Victoria Cross winners. Corporal Joseph Kaeble, who with courage and determination stopped a German attack at Mercatel on 8 June 1918, and subsequently died of his wounds.
On the 8–9 August, 1918, Lieutenant Jean Brillant led his men on several furious attacks under heavy German artillery fire. Wounded several times, he refused to retreat, but died of his wounds. Both Cpl Kaeble and Lt Brillant were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
The Regiment's third Victoria Cross winner was Major Paul Triquet, VC, CD. On 14 December 1943, Triquet with fewer than a dozen surviving men captured Casa Berardi, a strategic position which allowed the Canadians to advance and capture Ortona in Italy. Triquet and his small band held their position while repelling many German counter attacks.
"These Quebecois and Canadians have moved forward, working in solidarity, to defend liberty wherever it has been threatened. They have done so at the cost of their innocence, youth, health and blood. Their spirit has not only been the object of much admiration; it has shaped our country’s unrivaled reputation. They have excelled even in the face of the most daunting circumstances. The Royal 22nd Regiment owes its efficiency, its solidarity and above all, its simplicity, to the family spirit that has united, and continues to unite, its members."
Lieutenant General Charles Belzile, CMM, CD,
Colonel of The Royal 22nd Regiment.
"Georges Vanier (who would become Canada’s best loved Governor General) was there at the beginning, when the Royal 22nd Regiment was founded in 1914 and was its commanding officer in the 1920’s. He embodied all the qualities that I associate with the R 22nd R; extraordinary will and energy; dependability and aggressiveness; camaraderie, fidelity and loyalty."
Serge Bernier, Author,
The Royal 22nd Regiment, 1914–1999.
"There can be no doubt about the pride of the members of the Royal 22nd; it makes them indomitable."
English speaking member of the Regiment.