Tantramar’s Military Heritage II

The previous Flashback published on March 16 traced the origin and early years of the New Brunswick Yeomanry Cavalry. Tradition and history would continue to intersect as the Hussar story unfolded during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, the year 1884 was destined to be of great significance for the regiment. The story begins in August 1879, when the newly appointed Governor General of Canada, Sir John Campbell, the Marquis of Lorne (1845–1914) visited the province. Such a visit, while common today, was something of a rarity in the nineteenth century.

Of more than passing interest to the public, was the Governor Generals wife, Her Royal Highness Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Nicknamed by the press, the rebel princess, she was noted for her beauty, independent spirit and genuine interest in people. For example, when a scarlet fever epidemic struck Rideau Hall, the staff refused to serve the quarantined patients. The Princess single-handedly took over the nursing duties.

In 1879 while the couple were travelling by train from Moncton to Saint John, a stop was scheduled at Sussex, where a large crowd of spectators and a guard of honour was at the ready for inspection. You guessed it, resplendent in their Hussar uniforms, the latter were members of the New Brunswick Yeomanry Cavalry. As the train approached Sussex, the Marquis and Princess Louise readied themselves to take part in the ceremonies.

What happened next is best explained by another member of the party, Lady Mary Campbell: Suddenly, with a screech-whiz, we were rattling past Sussex and saw [the soldiers] lined up quivering and wavering like colours in a many coloured top. Someone had forgotten to tell the engineer that Sussex was on the itinerary!

To the credit of the Marquis, the train was halted, and with considerable delay, forced to slowly back up to the railway station. The crowd was already beginning to disperse when a lone piper started to play The Campbells Are Coming. The honour guard got its act together, the Marquis of Lorne performed his duties and made a short speech. HRH Princess Louise charmed the crowd. They then boarded the train with a hop, skip and a jump and rushed to Saint John where they had to keep the boat waiting for half an hour.

This incident is mentioned partly for comic relief, but more important, it guaranteed that the famous or infamous stop in Sussex would not soon be forgotten. It is not known who came up with the idea of asking HRH Princess Louise to grant permission for her name to be incorporated with that of the regiment. In any event, this took place in 1884 when it was officially listed as The 8th Princess Louises New Brunswick Regiment of Cavalry. With the name change came authorization to include in the regimental badge, a garter surrounded by the coronet of Princess Louise. The numeral 8th was simply military code for the District.

Gradually training for militia units was becoming organized on a more formal basis. The backbone was the summer camp, which was always strategically scheduled to occur between planting time and the haying season; or if after the latter, before the harvest began. It was soon a rite of passage for every able bodied young male to volunteer for the militia and thus qualify for the camaraderie and experience of summer camp. As time went on, the camp was to be held most often in Sussex, which was fast becoming the heart of Hussar country.

The next highlight in the history of the regiment came during the Boer or South African War (1899–1902). By the standards of twentieth century wars, the regiments participation in this conflict was small. Because of its status as a militia unit, members of the 8th Princess Louises Cavalry were forced to volunteer for service in other Canadian regiments. An unfortunate foreunner of later wars, was the first Hussar casualty resulting from active duty. Russell Hubley, a native of Sussex, was wounded in battle and forced to return home. Shortly afterward he died and was buried with full military honours.

During the period 1900 to 1914, the drama and excitement associated with getting ready for camp was captured by one spectator in Middle Sackville. The mustering point was always Blacks Store where a veterinarian would certify the horses as being fit for service. Then saddles and uniforms were assigned. When the day of departure arrived, all would gather from Midgic, Point de Bute, Middle and Upper Sackville and all points between and proceed to the railway station in Sackville. In addition to the Hussars, the infantry units were waiting, while the Sackville Citizens Band played martial airs. Sometimes the horses would balk at getting on the train and being tied up three abreast at either end of a boxcar. Once loading was over, the riders would stay with their mounts and play cards or sleep until the train arrived at Sussex.

During World War One members of the 8th Princess Louises Cavalry were again denied the opportunity to serve together as a unit. However, hundreds of Hussars fought at Ypres, the Somme and Vimy Ridge, to mention but three major encounters. A large number joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles and many paid the supreme sacrifice.

Within the ranks of officers, Lieut.-Col. Frank Bunting Black of Middle Sackville served overseas as Brigade Major, and Brigadier, suffering wounds during the Battle of Messines in Belgium. Prior to the war, Black had been elected MLA for Westmorland and became Mayor of Sackville in 1919. On Nov. 25, 1921, he was named to the Senate and for many years before his death in 1945, was his regiments Honorary Colonel.

Blacks military service covered more than half a century and established a precedent to be followed by several other members of the family. At one stage, no less than three of the six officers of the Hussars bore the surname Black. These included his son Major (later Lieut. Col.) J. Laurie Black, a graduate of Royal Military College, who was to serve overseas in the Second World War. Two sons of Major Walter Black (Lieut. Col. Frank B. Blacks brother) Capt. Robert and Lieut. John Black were also Hussars. The latter was killed in action during the Second World War, while serving with the Canadian Grenadier Guards.

The inter-war periods from 1918 to 1939 were destined to be difficult for the 8th Princess Louises Cavalry. It was also a time of transition for the regiment. The period has been well described by regimental historian Douglas How: These years were a jungle of dark things, of a depression such that men had never known before, of the rise and spread of dictatorial rule that pointed like ugly arrows to an ever growing menace to the free world. Poverty, pacifism and public indifference all helped to turn the eyes of government away from the brute facts of international life.

Within the regiment a major turning point was reached in 1935. Belatedly armed tanks had caught up with the cavalry. Mounted soldiering, which had been the norm for more than a century came to an end. The long military ride traceable as far back as 1825 and before that to 1775 was forever over. The age of mechanization had arrived. The old regiment was disbanded to be reborn as the 5th Armoured Regiment (8th Princess Louises New Brunswick Hussars.) The next Flashback, to be published on Apr. 13 will continue the Hussar story from World War Two to the present.