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Van Doos: A battalion is born

During the First World War, Canada decided to create a military unit that would represent its French-speaking population. As soldiers and peacekeepers, the Royal 22nd Regiment – the famed "Van Doos" – have been among Canada's vanguard in both World Wars, and in hotspots that include Korea, Cyprus, Congo, Bosnia and East Timor. The distinct language and culture of the regiment have afforded unique opportunities, and posed frequent challenges.

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When the First World War erupts in 1914, Canada has little military power to lend to the conflict. There are just 3,000 regular soldiers, plus a poorly regarded militia of local volunteers. When the Canadian Expeditionary Force raises thousands of new recruits and sends them to England for training, there are few French-Canadians among them. To the embarrassment of some of Quebec's petite-bourgeoisie, most francophones believe the war in Europe is not their fight.

Frustrated that French Canada is not represented in the first contingent, 50 influential francophones lobby for the creation of a distinct French-Canadian battalion. On Oct. 20, 1914, the raising of the 22nd (French-Canadian) Battalion is authorized. Known among anglophones as the "Van Doos" after their French battalion number (vingt-deuxième) they would be the first and only Canadian military unit formed on the basis of language and culture. This CBC Television clip tells how the battalion was created.
• Among those responsible for lobbying for the creation of a French-Canadian battalion were former prime minister and then leader of the Opposition Wilfred Laurier, and a young militiaman named Georges P. Vanier. Vanier would later become the commanding officer of the Royal 22nd Regiment, and Canada's first French-Canadian governor general.

• The 22nd Battalion sailed for England on May 20, 1915, to begin training. They landed at Boulogne, France, on Sept. 15, 1915. Their first major engagement was one year later at Courcelette, a subsidiary of the Somme Offensive. The 22nd Battalion had 207 casualties, but reached its objective. The 22nd, 25th and 26th Battalions killed 1,200 Germans and took 750 prisoners at Courcelette.

• In 1917, the Royal 22nd fought at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Lens and Passchendaele. The original Vimy Ridge cross was given to the Royal 22nd Regiment in 1923 and now stands beside the chapel at La Citadelle in Quebec City, their regimental headquarters.

• A battalion is the basic tactical infantry unit. In the First World War battalions consisted of about 1,000 men (today they are smaller, about 375-600 soldiers.) A regiment usually consists of three battalions.

• After the First World War the Royal 22nd Battalion returned to Canada and was disbanded. On April 1, 1920, it was reorganized as the 22nd Regiment in the Permanent Active Militia. The following year it was redesignated the Royal 22nd Regiment, and in 1928 it was renamed Royal 22e Régiment.

• The official abbreviation of the Royal 22nd Regiment is R 22e R.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 8, 1989
Guests: Jean-Victor Allard, Jean-Pierre Gagnon
Narrator: Jon Granik
Duration: 2:52
Photo: Archival newspaper headlines and still photographs courtesy of: National Archives, National Library of Canada, Citadel Museum of R22eR, Royal 22nd Regimental Museum, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last updated: August 29, 2014

Page consulted on November 10, 2014

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