Canadian Naval Recruiting 1914-1918

The following is taken from The Naval Service of Canada, volume 1, by Gilbert Tucker (King's Printer, Ottawa, 1951), pp. 218-221.

Long-term policy for making war soon began to occupy the centre of the stage, and early in October [1914] the Admiralty was confidentially asked, through the High Commissioner in London, for advice concerning the naval side of the policy:

Probability elections makes it desirable to ascertain Admiralty view as to cooperation Canada in naval defence during war. Please obtain following information: First. What course would Admiralty advise if we decided offer naval aid. Second. In case we make official inquiry is Admiralty prepared to give advice?

The reply was as follows:

Secret regarding cooperation advocated naval defence during war Admiralty inform me don't think anything effectual can now be done as ships take too long to build and advise Canadian assistance be concentrated on army would probably give that advice if official inquiry made.

This was convincing advice, and in developing its war policy the government did not try, except in one limited respect [ie the development of the East Coast patrols], to expand the sea power of the Dominion. Accordingly, only a very small part of the country's resources was used for that purpose...

In spite of Canada's concentration on the army, the Naval Service enrolled during the war over nine thousand officers and ratings. When hostilities began the only naval reserve force in the country was the volunteer unit at Victoria. Its members took an important part in manning H.M.C.S. Rainbow, the submarines CC1 and CC 2 and their parent ship the Shearwater, and other vessels at Esquimalt. They also supplied some men to H.M.S. Newcastle after the arrival of that cruiser in the waters of British Columbia. Towards establishing the reserve on a country-wide basis, however, only the preliminary steps had been taken by August 1914. Early in the war 9 officers and 120 men of the R. N. C. V. R. offerec to go to Britain in order to join the Royal Naval Brigade which had been formed there. The brigade, however, had been raised for service ashore: applicants for entry were therefore advised to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

No serous attempt was mde during the first year and a half of the war to enlist any considerable number of men for naval purposes. In February 1916, however, the Minister of the Naval Service asked the Admiralty if they would care to have recruits obtained in Canada for service in the Royal Navy. It was pointed out that the Royal Navy would have to train any such recruits, as the Canadian Service had no instructors to spare for that purpose. The Admiralty welcomed the proposal and suggested that the men should be enlisted at the rates of pay prevailing in the Royal Navy. Capt. the Hon. Rupert Guinness was sent to Canada with a small party to recruit for the Yacht Patrol Services. But the rate of pay that was offered - about a third of that which could be obtained by enlisting in the Expeditionary Force - was too low to attract recruits.

The Dominion Government threfore offered to enrol volunteers in the reserve so as to bring their pay up to the Canadian rate, and to place them at the Admiralty's disposal. This offer the Admiralty accepted. The Canadian Government authorized the enrolment of five thousand men; the Naval Service created an Overseas Division of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, for service with the Royal Navy; and a recruiting organization was set up. The Dominion was divided into nine recruiting districts with head offices in each of the provincial capitals, except in British Columbia where the office was in Vancouver. Influential committees were formed to forward the recruiting campaign, and Capt. Guinness and his staff addressed eighty-three meetings throughout the country. By these means about seventeen hundred men were enrolled for service with the Royal Navy; and the number would probably have been larger had not the east coast patrols, later in the war, become the primary naval need as far as manning was concerned. The divisional organization, however, continued to be used for obtaining naval recruits generally until the end of the war, when the district offices were closed. In all about eight thousand officers and ratings were enrolled in the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, including the Overseas Division, during the period of the war, at the close of which the reservists were demobilized and the organization was allowed to lapse.

In recruiting as in almost all the other forms of naval activity, the main emphasis was upon supplementing as far as possible the undertakings of the Admiralty, rather than upon developing a large and distinctly Canadian effort. Enrolment by the Naval Service during the war was for the duration only. In July 1915 a system of pensions was provided to cover disabilities incurred on active service by officers and men of the R.C.N. and R.N.C.V.R., and to meet the needs of widows and other dependents of casualties.

The following figures are round numbers only, and even in that form most of them are offered diffidently. At the end of July 1914 the total strength of the R.C.N. did not exceed 350 officers and ratings; while the R.N.C.V.R. which had been established by Order in Council earlier in the year, comprised about 250 officers and ratings, all of them in the company at Victoria. The total enrolment of officers and ratings during the war may be listed as follows:

The deaths from all causes amounted to more than 150. A large but unknown number of Canadians also enlisted and served in the Royal Navy.

Last Updated: 28 February, 2000.

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