Arthur Mignault, Battle of Courcelette, le Royal 22e Régiment, resistance, the Battle of the Somme, the Van Doos
I have tried to leave behind me the casualties of the Battle of the Somme, which is difficult: more than 1,000,000 casualties! Lest we forget.
However, while writing the Weeping Angel of Amiens, I discovered the above painting featuring a delightful mise en abyme. The glass ball creates a mirror effect, which is an example of the illusionism of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, the 17th century. Moreover, the violin depicted by Pieter Claesz, was placed between a clock, a substitute for an hourglass, and a skull. The painting is a vanitas as is the painting of our chubby Weeping Angel of Amiens.
At the foot of this post, I have inserted a video featuring the works of Heda Willem Claesz. He and Pieter were not relatives, but Pieter very much admired Willem Claesz and both painted vanitas, a subject matter of still lifes.
The “Van Doos,” or Royal 22nd Regiment
Writing the Weeping Angel of Amiens, I discovered when and how the Royal 22nd Regiment, or le Royal 22e Régiment, a French-Canadian regiment called the “Van Doos” by Anglophones and aficionados. No, it is not a Dutch name. It’s “vingt-deux” (22).
Members of the regiment called themselves “Canadiens,” as in the Montreal hockey team. The Canadiens hockey team was named after the singing and very strong “voyageurs” who faced death every day, but sang in unison as they paddled their way to beaver felts and accompanied explorers all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Their success is due to a dare-devil mentality, their ability to work as a team, their basic joie de vivre and their close relationship with Amerindians. Amerindians were the voyageurs‘ guides and voyageurs spoke Amerindian languages. Well, the “Van Doos” also sang in the middle of the Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916 – 18th November 1916) and called themselves Canadiens.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The “Van Doos”
Traditionally, French-Canadians have refused to go to war. They opposed conscription during both World War I (see War Museum) and World War II (see War Museum) and oppose, but not altogether, Canada’s military engagement in the struggle against Isis, not Islam. However, despite their wish not to join the military, they have on occasion volunteered to do so.
Such is the case with the future Royal 22nd Regiment, which was formed in 1914. In fact, before the “Van Doos” regiment was created, 1,000 French-Canadian soldiers had been recruited and scattered here and there in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), in not too honourable a fashion.
“This was not an oversight. Ontario (Hughes’s political base) was in the process of forbidding teaching in French, or of French, in the school system (Regulation 17), causing outrage in French Canada and a lack of support for the war of the ‘King and country’ that was perceived as seeking to destroy the Francophone community in Canada.” (See Royal 22nd Regiment, Wikipedia.)
Matters changed when Arthur Mignault, a medical doctor and a wealthy French-Canadian pharmaceutical entrepreneur, offered to form a French-Canadian regiment which he would fund.
“In 1914, Mignault communicated with Prime Minister Robert Borden to propose the establishment of a solely French Canadian battalion within the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). According to Mignault, this would allow Canadians of French extraction to circumvent the language barrier of the English-speaking battalions.” (See Arthur Mignault, Wikipedia.)
Dr Mignault’s offer was a godsend, so the creation of the unit was authorized on 14 October 1914 and members of the battalion trained at Valcartier. In September 1915, the division went overseas not as the Royal 22nd Regiment, but as the 22nd Canadian Division.
“The 22nd went to France as part of the 5th Canadian Brigade and the 2nd Canadian Division in September 1915, and fought with distinction in every major Canadian engagement until the end of the war.” (See Royal 22nd Regiment, Wikipedia.)
Many French-Canadians scattered in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) joined the “Van Doos” after the Battle of Courcelette (15 September 1916 – 22 September 1916).
The Battle of Courcelette
“The Canadian soldiers managed to capture Courcelette. The success earned the Quebec 22nd Regiment a reputation as a stellar fighting force and several officers and soldiers were decorated for their courage. But it was at a bloody cost.” (The Bloodiest Battle, [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada])
On 15 September 1916, two Canadian regiments, the 25th Battalion, the Nova Scotia Rifles, and the 22nd Battalion, the future Royal 22nd Regiment, were ordered to capture Courcelette, “a village in the Somme Valley occupied by Germans.” The objective of the Anglo-French forces was not achieved. In other words, no “hole was cut in the German line” that would allow moving men and equipment. (See Courcelette, Wikipedia.) However “[d]espite thousands of casualties, it was a victory, one of the few for Allied forces on the Somme.” (See Battle of Courcelette, Canadian War Museum.)
The testimonials tell a horror story:
“We were walking on dead soldiers… I saw poor fellows trying to bandage their wounds… bombs, heavy shells were falling all over them. Poor Angéline, it is the worst sight that a man ever wants to see… All my friends have been either killed or wounded….
My dear wife, it is worse than hell here. For miles around, corpses completely cover up the ground. But your Frank didn’t get so much as a scratch. I went to battle as if I had to cut wood with my bayonet. When one of my friends was killed at my side, I saw red: some Germans raised their arms in surrender, but it was too late for them. I will remember that all my life.” (See The Bloodiest Battle, Frank Maheux, lumberjack, to his wife.)
It was a “nearly suicidal” attack. “We know very well… that we are heading to the slaughterhouse[,]” wrote Lieutenant-Colonel Louis-Thomas Tremblay in his diary. (See The Bloodiest Battle.)
On 20 May 1919, all battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) were disbanded, including the 22nd Battalion. However, following World War I, Canada reorganized its military forces. As you know, many Québécois are separatists, but they will have their place in Ottawa, especially in the Canadian Military Forces.
There was public pressure and the Legislative Assembly of Quebec as well as the City Council of Quebec City “demanded that a permanent French-language unit be created in the peace-time Regular Force, and accordingly a new regiment was created, made up of veterans of the 22nd Battalion, on 1 April 1920.” In June 1921 King George V approved “the renaming of [the 22nd Battalion] as The Royal 22nd Regiment.” In 1928, the Regiment was given its French name: le Royal 22e Régiment. (See Royal 22nd Regiment, Wikipedia.)
The Royal 22nd Regiment remains to this day. It served in World War II, and a large number of French-Canadians soldiers have died in Europe. Their participation in both wars is understandable. During WW I and WW II, many were fighting for France. On D-Day, French-Canadian soldiers could communicate easily with the citizens of Normandy. Naziism was an evil. Moreover, survival means doing one’s best. It is “résistance.”
“We know very well,” [Louis-Thomas Tremblay] wrote in his diary, “that we are heading to the slaughterhouse. The task seems nearly impossible, considering how ill prepared we are, and how little we know the layout of the front. Even so, morale is wonderfully high and we are determined to show that we Canadians are not quitters.”
(Lieutenant-Colonel Louis-Thomas Tremblay, The Bloodiest Battle)
- The Weeping Angel of Amiens (11 December 2014)
- The Arnolfini Portrait: mise en abyme (3 December 2014)
Sources and Resources
- The Bloodiest Battle (CBC [EN])
- The Great War (CBC [EN])
- The Battle of the Somme (CBC [EN])
- The Canadian War Museum (EN)
 See Sir Sam Hughes (Canadian War Museum)
 See Sir Robert Borden (Canadian War Museum)
 Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “La Patrie littéraire: errance et résistance,” Francophonies d’Amérique (Nº 13, 2002, pp. 47-65). http://www.erudit.org/revue/fa/2002/v/n13/1005247ar.html?vue=resume
Antoine Forqueray – La Buisson – Heda Willem Claesz
© Micheline Walker
Very interesting post
Great post … I much enjoyed to learn these facts regarding the First World War, Canadian Military Forces and the Battle of Courcelette,
Thanks for that as they were unknown to me until I pop into your blog, dear Micheline. Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana 😀
I did not know much about the “Van Doos,” except for the mispronounced name. The regiment remains Canada’s élite regiment. They so remind me of the “voyageurs” who faced death everyday, but survived such events as going down the Fraser River (British Columbia) in their canoes.
The Van Doos were volunteers and therefore an exception to the rule. French-Canadians opposed conscription in both World Wars.:)
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