Nine years before the 1923 creation of the RCNVR, the Canadian government of Robert Borden embarked on the creation of a naval reserve. Authorized on May 14, 1914, the RNCVR[i] was to consist of 1,200 men who agreed to serve in wartime with the RN or the RCN. It was organized in three divisions; Atlantic, Lake or Central and Pacific. The cap tallies bore the initials RNCVR, a crown or crown & anchor and the name of the division. Rank stripes of officers as well as the stripes on sailors’ collars were wavy. The government, however, did little to organize the RNCVR and once the war broke out, did nothing on the grounds that any trained men who could be used as instructors would be urgently needed elsewhere. Local initiative led to the creation of a half company in Victoria and a full company in Vancouver.
In 1916, the Canadian government offered to recruit sailors for the RN and the Overseas Division (OSD) of the RNCVR was organized. The initial offer was for RN rates of pay of 40 cents a day. As the Canadian Expeditionary Force was then paying $1.10 a day, there were few recruits. The government compromised by paying the sailors the $1.10 but sending the difference between the two rates of pay to next of kin in Canada.[ii] Recruiting was done on a provincial basis with centres in each provincial capital (except BC where Vancouver was chosen). The RNCVR eventually recruited up to 8,000 officers and men who served with the RN overseas and manned 136 small patrol vessels on both coasts of Canada.
RNCVR Recruiting Poster[iii]
Hamilton’s recruiting committee for the RNCVR, as documented in a photo montage titled Hamilton Naval Recruiting Committee of the Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve and First Recruits from Hamilton 1916 on display on STAR’s quarterdeck[iv], consisted of:
- George J. Guy, Chairman. He was a city Alderman, Chairman of the Hamilton Branch of the Navy League of Canada, the 1st Chairman of the Hamilton Harbour Commission in 1912 and the Vice President and General Manager of Gillies-Guy Ltd., a city coal company.
- John H. Collinson, Vice Chairman. He was a Vice President of the Hamilton Branch Navy League and the first Headmaster in 1901 of Highfield, 362 Bay Street South, a prep school for boys planning to go to the Royal Military College of Canada. Highfield was the predecessor of Hillfield Strathallan College.
- L. Smith. He was elected Chairman of the Stores (Miscellaneous) Section of Rotary International at the 1919 Convention in Kansas City and possibly owned a department store in Hamilton.
- Gadsby. He lived at 314 Carrick Avenue in Hamilton and was a member of Hamilton Scientific Association.
- F. Washington, KC. A prominent Hamilton lawyer.
- G. Pratt
- E. Waterman, Secretary
The montage shows twenty-two recruits along with two Petty Officers. None are identified. The fact that the recruits are all shown wearing naval uniforms implies that there must have been some kind of local facility to issue the uniforms and instruct the recruits how to wear them.
We know of only two Hamiltonians who served in the RNCVR:
Wireless Telegraphy Operator Ernest Clement, VR-0058, RNCVR, son of Thomas H. and Margaret A Clement of 84 Burton Street, Hamilton. Aged 19, he was washed overboard in a storm and lost on 12 December 1916, along with five others, while the former yacht HMCS GRILSE was en-route down the east coast of Nova Scotia. The ship itself was initially believed lost.
Signaller Herbert Bottrill[v], VR/6457, RNCVR, HMCS NIOBE (14 Jan 1899 to 6 January 1920), who died after the war of nephritis at Brant Hospital and was buried in the Hamilton Cemetery, section S116. He was the son of Arthur & Maria Bottrill of 180 Cumberland Avenue, Hamilton. The family attended the Church of the Ascension in Hamilton and, even though Herbert did not die till 1920, his name is inscribed on their war memorial.
[i] William Johnston et al, The Seabound Coast: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1867-1939 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010), 226
[ii] Ibid., 376
[iv] HMCS STAR Historical Collection, 650 Catharine Street North, Hamilton, ON L8L 4V7