196th (Western Universities) Battalion

196th (Western Universities) Battalion at mess, Camp Hughes, 1916.
University of Saskatchewan Archives A-1127

The 196th (Western Universities) Battalion was formed during World War I, primarily from students who were enrolled in the universities of western Canada. The idea for the unit began in February 1916, when students from the universities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, wanting to maintain their university identity, lobbied the Minister of Militia and convinced him to authorize the formation of a western university battalion. Each university was to raise a company of about 250 men. Thirty-three-year-old Captain Reginald Bateman, the University of Saskatchewan’s first Professor of English, who was serving in France with the 28th (Northwest) Battalion, CEF, was brought back to Canada to command the Saskatchewan Company. The men received their preliminary training at the then-new university residence, Qu’Appelle Hall, and the company joined the other university companies at Camp Hughes in Manitoba, where the battalion was being formed. The Western Universities Battalion expected to serve in France as a formed unit; however, when the battalion was sent to England it was broken up and dispersed as reinforcements to other units. Many of the Saskatchewan Company were sent to the 46th Battalion in France, including Bateman, who was killed there on September 3, 1918.

Recruitment of university students in Saskatchewan had begun almost immediately upon war being declared in 1914. Among the first to answer the call to arms were students who were preparing themselves for the Church of England ministry at the University of Saskatchewan’s Emmanuel College. The next appeal for enlistment made to university faculty and students came in September 1914 from the 28th Battalion, then recruiting in Regina. A number of professors, including Professors Bateman and Brehaut, and a group of their students, left their classrooms to join the battalion on November 1, 1914. The next call to University of Saskatchewan students to enlist came from McGill University in Montreal, where platoons of university students were being organized as part of the 58th Battalion, CEF. The University of Saskatchewan’s contribution was to be two platoons, each consisting of a non-commissioned officer and sixteen other ranks. These university platoons were later to become reinforcements for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, then serving overseas in France as a unit of the British army. Ross MacPherson, the editor of the University newspaper, The Sheaf, who had previously protested when professors left their classrooms to go to war, was one of those who enlisted. He subsequently received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), and was killed in action.

The final group of University of Saskatchewan students to be enlisted was the “Duval draft” of March 1917. Edward Duval, superintendent of the Civilian Personnel Regionalization’s Saskatoon division, recruited about fifty men, including twelve undergraduates, to train in the Qu’Appelle Hall offices formally used by the Western Universities Battalion. They were sent to France in mid-summer 1917 to serve as reinforcements. When the Borden government instituted conscription in May 17, 1917, forty-six University of Saskatchewan students were accepted into the air force and several others were enrolled into the University of Saskatchewan company of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps. Of the 330 University of Saskatchewan students who served overseas during World War I, seventeen were awarded the Military Cross, thirteen the Military Medal, three the Distinguished Service Order, and one the Croix de Guerre. The names of Professor Bateman and the sixty-six students who gave their lives are inscribed on the tablets of the memorial gates at the entrance to the university.

Daria Coneghan