Born in Montréal on April 23, 1888, Georges Vanier would feel the influence of his bilingual parents throughout his life. After graduating from high school, he attended Loyola College and then the Université Laval where he received a law degree in 1911. He started practicing law thereafter, although priesthood was also on his mind. It was the outbreak of the First World War however, that eventually grabbed his attention and he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was a strong recruiter and played an important role in the creation of the French-Canadian 22nd Battalion. It was also during the war that he was injured and had to have his right leg amputated.
Canada’s entry into the war on August 4, 1914, was shortly followed by the first efforts to mobilize volunteers. Then Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, set up a direct recruitment program for volunteers who would be sent to large training camps—the first being Valcartier, located northwest of Québec City. Volunteers would then be deployed to new numbered units, without their traditions or geographic origins being taken into account. The first Canadian contingent sent to Great Britain in October 1914 was made up of more than 30,000 men, including 1,200 French Canadians.
As early as September 1914, the Francophone elite expressed a desire to create a battalion composed entirely of French Canadians. With Dr. Arthur Mignault providing $50,000 for the cause, the Canadian government authorized the formation of such a battalion on October 15, 1914. It was to be under the command of Colonel Frédéric Mondelet Gaudet, an officer in the Permanent Militia who had graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada.
The 22nd Battalion—36 officers and 1,097 troops—left Halifax for England on May 20, 1915, on the RMS Saxonia, a passenger ship launched in 1899. On September 15, 1915, after training for a few months in England, they were sent to France to take part in several battles during 38 months of intense fighting. They received honours for 18 feats of arms, the most famous being the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916. The battalion was disbanded on September 15, 1920, at the end of the First World War.
Canada’s defence system needed reorganization when the war ended and it was then that the only Francophone military unit in Canada was revived. The famous 22nd Battalion, now the 22e Régiment, was housed at the Citadelle in Québec City. On June 1, 1921, the regiment received the title of Royal, awarded by the reigning British monarch to deserving military units. Over the years, different traditions took hold, such as the regiment’s colours, its mascot goat—Batisse, and its music. Note that the Royal 22e Régiment was extremely active in the Second World War as part of Operation Husky in Sicily, the Italian Campaign, and the liberation of the Netherlands.
Searching Library and Archives Canada for materials on the 22nd Battalion and the Royal 22e Régiment
Library and Archives Canada has many records on the 22nd Battalion (French-Canadian). Consult pages 115 to 121 of the Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force for a list of First World War records about the 22nd Battalion (French-Canadian). The war diaries of the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion are also available online.
To find material pertaining to the Royal 22e Régiment, carry out an advanced Archives Search by entering RG24 in the first search box and 22e Régiment in the second search box. View the Flickr album on the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion.
For more information, visit the Royal 22e Régiment website (available in French only).