168th Canadian Infantry Battalion

On August 5, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and called upon all of her Dominions to follow suit. Later that day the Governor General of Canada declared war as a formality and the country began to mobilize.  On the evening of August 6th, the Minister of Militia Sam Hughes sent a telegram to the various Militia commanding officers across Canada announcing the formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to be mobilized at Camp Valcartier.   By the middle of August the troops had begun to arrive. By the end of August, over 30,000 volunteers from all parts of the Dominion were in camp. Each militia unit had been assigned a definite quota; but, in nearly every case, the local contingents arrived far over strength.  There were men from all over lining up to “do their bit”.  In Oxford County we had a small supply of trained men in our Militia unit the 22nd Oxford Rifles.  Many of these men went straight to Valcartier to sign up.  On the 3rd of October, 1914 these men, who now comprised the 1st Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force set sail for England.  There were various Drafts of men trained and sent from the Woodstock Armouries.  There was also the 71st Battalion raised in 1915 under Col. D. M. Sutherland.  Although its headquarters was in Woodstock, it took men in from as far away as Galt and Stratford.  As these Battalions were raised each battalion was numbered, the first formed being 1st Battalion Canadian Infantry. By the end of the war, more than 250 battalions had been formed. Although most battalions made it as far as England, many were broken up to fill the gaps left by casualties in other Battalions.  Only a few Battalions survived to serve in France and Flanders.Raised under authority of General Order 151 of 22 December 1915.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Woodstock Museum

168th Battalion C.E.F. "Oxford's Own"

Lieutenant Colonel (Lieut.-Col.)W. T. McMullen, the commanding officer of the 22nd Oxford Rifles had been petitioning for an all Oxford Battalion to be raised.  He felt that there were more than enough men in the County to furnish a Battalion.  The decision was made on December 21, 1915 to allow Lieut.-Col. W. T. McMullen the honour of raising an all Oxford County Battalion.  The battalion was officially designated the 168th, however it quickly became known as “Oxford’s Own”.  The official announcement appeared in the Sentinel Review “Col. McMullen to Raise Oxford Corps” on December 23 which was the start of what turned out to be a tremendously successful recruiting campaign.  In an open letter printed in the newspaper Lieut.-Col. McMullen addressed all of the Cities, Towns, Villages, and Municipalities of Oxford County to assist by forming “Recruiting Leagues”.  The goal of 1200 men aged 18-45 was set forward, Lieut.-Col. McMullen listed the various areas and their expected contribution based on their population.  Recruiting offices were open almost immediately in Woodstock, Ingersoll, Tillsonburg, Embro, and Bright.  As officers became available more offices were opened throughout the county.  The original recruiting headquarters was located in the old Express newspaper building at 522 Dundas St. in Woodstock until mid 1916 when it moved to the Armouries.  On the first day of recruiting in Woodstock there were 50 men who had either enlisted or signed an intention of enlistment.  The intention of enlistment was so they could get things arranged with their employers before reporting for permanent duty.

Woodstock, 250, Ingersoll, 145, Tillsonburg, 90, Norwich, 30, Tavistock, 30, Embro, 15, Blandford, 40, Blenheim, 100, Dereham, 100, E. Nissouri, 65, N. Norwich, 60, S. Norwich, 60, N. Oxford, 40, E. Oxford, 60, W. Oxford, 45, E. Zorra, 90, W. Zorra, 65. 

The Battalion was made up of A, B, C, and D Companies.  These Companies did very basic drill exercises in their home areas.  In June of 1916 the 168th was almost at full strength and was sent to London Ontario to Camp Francis for more training.  By the middle of July, the Battalion was sent to Camp Borden to complete more advanced training like “sham battles” and other tactical exercises before being shipped overseas.  Even while the Battalion was in training at Camp Borden recruiting continued and as soon as men signed up they were sent up to Camp Borden to join their unit. In early September there were rumblings that the Battalion was to get its “marching orders” by the end of October.  In mid September Lieut.-Col. McMullen was making preparations with City Council to arrange winter quarters for the 168th at the Canterbury rink should they be needed.  By the end of September an announcement was made that 14 battalions from Camp Borden were to prepare for their deployment overseas.   Three Battalions from our area were chosen for their preparedness, they were the 142nd London, 110th Perth and the 168th Oxford.   Although saddened by the news that they would not be wintering in Woodstock, many of the men expressed excitement to get into action as soon as possible. 

According to the shipping lists, over 700 men from the 168th Battalion embarked from Halifax October 30, 1916 on the S.S. Lampland.  The numbers who shipped off had been trimmed down from more than 900 men by illness or injuries and transfers to other units.  Some men had been discharged as medically unfit for service.  The Battalion reached Liverpool, England on November 11, 1916 and immediately proceeded to the training facilities at West Sandling Camp.  Unfortunately for the 168th, the loss of men at the front was so great that their Battalion was not able to remain as a whole.  As a result in early January 1917, the Battalion was split up.  The majority of men went into one of two other Battalions the 4th Reserve Battalion, or the 6th Reserve Battalion.  Although the unit ceased to exist as a whole the men of the 168th went on to fight in many of the major battles of the Great War.  Vimy, Passchendaele, Hill 70 and Arras are a few of the battles that many members of the original Battalion fought in.  After the war was over and the men had returned home, the 168th Battalion lived on in perpetuity to the 2nd Reserve Battalion The Oxford Rifles.  In 1929, in the published General Order 110, the 168th was officially granted the Battle Honour of “The Great War 1916-17”.

168th Battalion CEF Battalion Colours

Regimental or Battalion Colours are the visible symbol of a Battalion.  They are the flags that are paraded in front of the Battalion.  Traditionally they were the rallying point for the men on the battlefield and many a heroic deed has been performed to keep them safe from enemy hands.   Battalion Colours are comprised of two flags the senior or the “Kings(or Queens) Colour” and the junior, the “Battalion Colour”.  Together they are referred to as a stand of colours.

In April of 1916 E. Holden Managing Director and Charles E. Donmoyer   Accountant of “The Boehmer Orr Textile Co. Ltd.” wrote a letter to Lieut.-Col. McMullen stating that they would like to be given the honour of providing the 168th “Oxford’s Own” with their colours.  Lieut.-Col. McMullen replied, gratefully accepting the gift.  The Battalion Colours are of blue silk with a large maple leaf in the centre containing the Battalion Crest.  The large scroll below contains the words “UBI DUCIT HONOR SEQUIMUR” which is the Battalion motto meaning “Where Honour Leads We Follow”.   The King’s Colours are the Union Jack, at the centre of which is the Battalion’s Crest.  Once the colours had arrived in Woodstock, Lieut.-Col. McMullen announced that the Battalion would march back to Woodstock from the London Camp for a large presentation ceremony which was to take place at the Fair Grounds.   Billed as “168th Flag Day” this event, held on July 1st or Dominion Day, was said to be a fine showing of County support.   The headline “Presentation of Colours Witnessed by Thousands” in the Monday July 3rd edition of the Sentinel Review speaks volumes to the support and admiration the County had for its “boys”.  Men and Women came from all over the County and it was estimated that well over 12,000 people were in attendance.  Admission to the grounds was 25c. “Flag Day” buttons were sold throughout the county for 25c.  The wearing of the button allowed admission at no extra charge.  Reserved seats in the grandstand were available for 50c.    The Colours were on display in the front window of The John White Co. on Dundas St. for the days leading up to the ceremony.  Early on the day of the ceremony the colors were taken to the fairground under the armed escort of Sgt.-Major Wright, of B Company, and Sgt. Jennings of C Company.  The presentation started with Majors Gibbson and Sheddon uncovering the colours.  Major Gibbson then unfurled the King’s Colour and handed it to Mrs. Holden (wife of donor) who in turn handed it to Lady Hughes (Sir Sam Hughes’ wife).  Lady Hughes presented the Kings Colours to Lieut. Ball who was kneeling.  Major Sheddon then unfurled the Battalion Colours and followed the same procedure with Lieut. Lick receiving it.  The Colours were then proudly paraded at the head of the Battalion in full formation for all to see.  Although the Battalion had their own Colours when it shipped Overseas it was felt that they should be left in the care of the local militia (22nd Oxford Rifles) at the Armouries.   When the surviving members of the Battalion returned from the war, the Colours were once again on Parade.  The Colours were, at various times, on display in the front of the Armouries, and for a brief time in the County Court House.  They were stolen once and then “miraculously” returned.  This resulted in the Colours being put behind glass in the front lobby of the Armouries.  In the 1970’s when it was time to close down the Armouries for good, a special colour party was formed for the last parading of the 168th Colours.  The “Laying up of the Colours Ceremony” took place Sunday March 8th 1970.  The Colours were marched from the Armouries up Dundas Street to their new home at Old St. Paul’s Church under the escort of 3 R.C.R.  Many people came out for this occasion Members of Parliament, Mayors from all over the County, and even Veterans of the 168th.  The Colours still hang in Old St. Paul’s Church to this day, safely away from the damaging effects of the sun.

168th Battalion And the Community

From the outset of the formation of this Battalion, communities from all over Oxford County were overwhelmingly supportive.  The home cities and towns for A, B, C and D companies became very involved in the welfare of “their boys”.  The various Recruiting Committees held rallies throughout the County. Dances, dinners and parades were a very common way to promote enlistment.  There were many grand speeches give by Officers of the Battalion as well as by men who had returned from the front or had served in other Imperial conflicts.  An example of this would be the rally held in Lakeside on March 8, 1916.  It was held in the newly built Methodist Church and the Pastor served as the Chairman. Speeches were given by Lieut.-Col. McMullen, Lieut. Peirce, and Corp. Granger who had served in India and the Sudan.  Aside from the recruiting, the Battalion also had to bear the cost of outfitting the entire Battalion with uniforms, tents and various other items and equipment.  Many communities were very generous in providing grants for the battalions regimental and recruitment fund.  Thanks to these various grants the Battalion was even able to outfit three bands; a Brass Band, a Bugle Band, and a Pipe Band who had been recently outfitted with new kilts in the Clan McLeod Tartan in honour of Chaplain Capt. Rev. Ronald McLeod.  These bands played all over the County at various rallies, parades and fairs.  All who heard them commented on how good they were, many of these men were former members of the Oxford Rifles Band.  The Battalion also provided entertainment to the community in the form of sporting events.  There were regular foot races between the men of the 71st and the 168th Battalion held in Victoria Park until the 71st shipped out overseas.  Victoria Park also hosted the 168th inter-company soccer matches.  These well-contested games between A,B, C, and D Company were closely followed by the locals.  Many businesses from the County wanted to show their support as well, not only were the Battalion Colors donated by a local business, but at the very same ceremony, Bain Wagon donated a new General Service Wagon to the 168th to use as they saw fit.  In the early fall of 1916 the Government allowed men to take leave to help with the harvest, many men from the 168th came back to Oxford County to help their communities one last time before shipping overseas.  The announcement that the Battalion would be shipping out soon set off another very different show of support.  Banquets were held for the men on their last leave and they were presented with gifts such as gold coins and watches.  For the men who were fortunate enough to have returned home after the war they were again honoured with dinners and some were given gifts on behalf of their home town.  In the case of Woodstock all the men from the City who served in any unit were given small silver trophies with their names and ranks engraved on them.  Trophies were also given to the next of kin for men who didn’t make it home.

Facts about the Battalion 

Recruiting Area County of Oxford, Ontario with Mobilization Headquarters in Woodstock, Ontario.
Service:  Canada– 21 December 1915 to 1 November 1916
Sailed for England 1 November 1916 arriving 11 November 1916.
England11 November 1916 to 4 January 1917
Officer Commanding:
Lieutenant-Colonel W.K. McMullen – 30 October 196 to 4 January 1917
Battalion was absorbed by the 4th and 6th Reserve Battalions 4 January 1917.
Allocated Service Numbers 675001 to 687000
Located in Military District Number 1
Hat Badges produced by Caron Brothers, Ellis Brothers and G.F. Hemsley
Strength of Battalion - 26 officers and 688 other ranks
Perpetuated by The Royal Canadian Regiment
BattleHonours Awarded: Somme 1916, Arras 1917, ’18, Hill 70, Ypres 1917, Amiens, Hindenburg Line, Pursuit to Mons.
Affiliated with the 71st Canadian Infantry Battalion
Disbanded 1920
The Battalion had a Pipe Band with seven drummers and nine pipers.

Uniform details for Pipe Band : Tunic – Khaki cutaway; Kilt – Hunting Stewart tartan; Headdress – Blue Glengarry; Pipe Ribbons and bag covers – as for kilt; Drummers wore the regular infantry dress.

 

 
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