The Regiment

By Farley Mowat
Introduction by Lee Windsor

The Regiment
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The story of an astonishing band of Canadian soldiers and their part in the Allied victory in Italy.

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (the Hasty Ps) was Canada’s most decorated regiment in the Second World War, winning thirty-one battle honours. Famed for their role ... Read more


Overview

The story of an astonishing band of Canadian soldiers and their part in the Allied victory in Italy.

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (the Hasty Ps) was Canada’s most decorated regiment in the Second World War, winning thirty-one battle honours. Famed for their role in the Allied invasion of Sicily and the conquest of Italy, for six years the members of the regiment suffered brutal conditions, fighting bravely in the face of fierce opposition from the enemy, and ultimately triumphing.

In The Regiment (originally published in 1955), Farley Mowat, famed Canadian fiction writer and regiment member, tells the story of the Hasty Ps, from their recruitment in September 1939 until the end of the war. Mowat was a second lieutenant and platoon leader with the regiment, and writes movingly of the great suffering his fellow soldiers endured, their bravery in battle, and the lasting friendships he forged as a member of the group.

Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat (1921–2014), a famed Canadian writer, was the author of forty-five books, including fiction, history, and environmental works. Several of his books, including Never Cry Wolf, were made into films. Mowat was a winner of the Governor General’s Award for Literature, and also a recipient of the Order of Canada and an inductee of the Canadian Walk of Fame.

Lee Windsor

Lee Windsor is Deputy Director of The Brigadier Milton Gregg VC Centre for the Study of War and Society and holds the Fredrik S. Eaton Chair in Canadian Army Studies at the University of New Brunswick.

First chapter

The day was hot with the glare of sun on water and heavywith the stench of a million silvered fish, dull-eyed, decayingon the sandy beach. Replete beyond repletion, gulls squattedfatly amongst the schools of dying shad and gazed with bloatedincuriosity towards the rolling dunes inland. Sounds came tothem, unruly sounds, the faint refrain of singing men.
One gull, less bloated than his fellows, lifted idle wings androse above the dunes to hang suspended on the air. Below him in the shimmering heat two platoons of soldiersmarched in fours along an old cart track, their puttees flappingat their ankles, their forage caps sliding wetly over sweatingbrows. Slung at their shoulders, Lee-Enfield rifles winkedsharply as the sun struck metal that had long since been polishedfrom metallic blue to gleaming silver. The platoons marched onand the sound of their voices faded and the beach grew quietand nothing remained upon its yellow face except the gulls andthe decaying shad.
The year was 1933; the place, a sandy strip of wastelandon the southwestern shores of Prince Edward County in theProvince of Ontario. The Outlet, it was called, and here inthe sweltering days of July the Hastings and Prince EdwardRegiment was holding summer camp. One hundred and thirteenprivate soldiers, N. C.O. s, and officers were there — theywere the Regiment. Two weeks earlier they had taken off theircivilian clothes, put on motley remnants of uniforms from thewar of 1914 and, aboard a collection of hired trucks, they hadgone off to play at war.
That, at least, was what the country of Canada at largethought at the time. And the civilians spoke of the soldiergames in scornful tones as if to imply that the whole matter ofthe Militia was a disgrace to a God-fearing and hard-workingdemocracy. The people in the little towns of the two countiessaid it — some of them, but they were only echoing thewords of the politicians at Ottawa who had long since takentheir stubborn stand. They knew there would be no more wars. There would be no further need for soldiers; no further needto perpetuate the mechanism for a nation’s self-defence. It wasthe time when Canada stood slack-bellied and would not lookacross an ocean at the apocalyptic birth.
The mechanism rusted. The army dwindled away until itbecame hardly more than a pile of dusty papers — dusty names. In the whole of a country that bordered on three oceans, therewere three infantry battalions under arms. For a nation five thousandmiles across, there were a few dozen antiquated aircraft thatthe few serving pilots hardly dared to taxi on the ground. And forthose three oceans, there was a pitiful handful of little ships — anavy that the Swiss could very nearly have outmatched.
This was the sum total of the visible arsenal of defence. Yetthere was one hidden weapon; one ignored by most of thosewho calculated military strength, ignored by the very governmentitself — and yet a weapon infinitely more powerful, andmore ready than any in the official armoury.
It was called the Militia.
Now there are not many men who love war. Few welcome itunless they have their early youth to shield them from a knowledgeof its nature. Peace is the good thing; and yet it is a bittertruth that peace does not live long in our times. During thedecades after the Armistice of 1918 there were a few men inCanada who recognized this truth. Hating war with a depth ofunderstanding born of a bloody experience, these men alonewere not deluded into the soft complacency that filled the countryin the years between. Knowing war for what it was, thesemen — the few — foresaw the day when they, and their sons andgrandsons too perhaps, must needs go out again to battle that theunborn generations might survive.
These were the men of the Militia; to which the “playtimesoldiers” of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment belonged. The twin counties of Hastings and of Prince Edward lie onthe south central boundaries of Ontario. Prince Edward has acoastline along the wide waters of Lake Ontario itself, whileHastings stands at Prince Edward’s back, stretching northwardinto a world of rock and stunted trees. The counties are newenough, for they were first settled in the last years of the 18thcentury. English and Scots regiments, that had fought in the warwith the Thirteen Colonies, gave freely of their men and officersto the new lands of Upper Canada and it was from these expatriatesthat the early settlers in the two counties were drawn.
Those were unsettled times, as threatening as the times weknow, and the soldier-settlers, reinforced by families of UnitedEmpire Loyalists (voluntary exiles from the rebellious southerncolonies), were quick to see the need for strength. Thus it wasthat in 1800 Col. Archibald Macdonnel organized one of the earliestnative units to be formed in the new country; and he calledit the First Regiment of Prince Edward Militia. To the north,Col. John Ferguson was not far behind, and in 1804 he fatheredthe First Regiment of Hastings Militia.
These two units were an army of the people, and were thereforetrue militia. Their organization was quite independent of theuncertain government of Upper Canada. Their outward shapeand nature was what could be made by the banding together ofmen who had a clear eye for the future, and who trusted in noprotectors save themselves. In those two early units there was nothirsting for military glory and the armoured way of life — noyearning for distant fields of battle where medals and promotionscould be won. The two regiments existed for one purpose, andone only — to defend themselves and what was theirs.
During the Mackenzie Rebellion, and the Riel Rebellionin the West, both regiments again contributed detachments ofvolunteers, but again there was little action, and even less glory— except in long retrospect.
That there were no great battles upon which regimentalspirit and tradition could nurture themselves, mattered less thannothing to the militia men. Their spirit was a prosaic one, devoidof the need of trumpet blasts and martial splendour. Yet it was themanifestation of a strength incalculable.

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