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Review

Swift and Strong: The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own). A Pictorial History

By Ron Leblanc, Keith Maxwell, Dwayne Snow, Kelly Deschênes

November 4, 2013

Review By James Wood

Having dedicated Swift and Strong “To all Dukes, past, present and future,” the authors of this outstanding volume have successfully commemorated the life and times of the British Columbia Regiment (BCR), Duke of Connaught’s Own, a Vancouver-based armoured reconnaissance regiment of the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve. This pictorial history features a truly impressive array of visual images and first-hand accounts to tell the story of Vancouver’s oldest militia regiment. Maps and primary documents provide a backdrop for the battles, campaigns, and exercises that have characterized the BCR’s existence – events that span from formation of the regiment in 1894 to its active participation in the Boer War, two World Wars, UN peacekeeping efforts, and the war in Afghanistan.

As a regimental history, Swift and Strong is a welcome successor to Douglas E. Harker’sThe Dukes (1974), the unit’s first regimental history. Harker’s earlier work was a concise operational history that also detailed the BCR’s many transitions and reorganizations over the years. From its founding as an independent company of BC’s Brigade of Garrison Artillery, in 1899 the regiment was converted to a rifle regiment, then an overseas battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, followed by conversion to an armoured role during the Second World War and continuing to this day. The serving and retired members of the regiment who produced Swift and Strong, however, have gone well beyond Harker’s earlier work, both in chronological terms by continuing the regiment’s history to the present day, but also in the highly visual style of the present volume and in its more personalized focus on the memoirs, journals, biographies, and letters of the Dukes in peacetime and at war. Swift and Strong tells the regiment’s history in its own words, the emphasis being on first-hand accounts and high-quality photographic images. The result will appeal to those with an interest in military history, Vancouver’s cultural heritage, and/or the social significance of the militia in a Canadian city.  Above all, this book will have its greatest significance to families of serving or former members of the British Columbia Regiment.

This book’s vast range of photographic material details not only war history of the BCR but its role in the Vancouver community. In these photos, the regiment’s history is set against the backdrop of city landmarks, such as the old Imperial Opera House, or defining moments in Vancouver’s history like the send-offs given to its soldiers in 1899, 1914, and 1939. On page 156, one sees the famous “Wait for me, Daddy” photograph of a young boy reaching for his father’s hand as the regiment marched off to war in 1939, this being one of the iconic images of Canada’s Second World War. Cap badges, medals, and decorations are effectively displayed, along with a wealth of information on both the recipients and the actions for which these decorations were awarded. A special section is reverently devoted to the five Dukes who have been recipients of the Victoria Cross.

In many respects, Swift and Strong parallels the redirection of regimental histories in recent years from a narrow focus on operations overseas to a consideration of the social and cultural aspects of the military service in Canada. For example, while the British Columbia Regiment was once known for being “more English than the English,” both in terms of its ethnic composition and traditions, today the regiment is proud of having ten times the number of visible minorities in its ranks as the Canadian Forces average (p.270). Rifleman Sam Perry’s 1904 victory in the prestigious Bisley marksmanship championship is set against another recent win by the BCR’s Corporal Ryan Steacy in 2010. Cross-border training exercises between the BCR and units of the US National Guard in Washington State continue today, much as they did when the first of these visits took place in the 1890s. Traditions such as the St. Julien Dinner continue on an annual basis, with the regiment commemorating the tragic losses it suffered during the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915. Meanwhile, new traditions continue to be formed, with chapter 10 of this book devoted to the experiences of Dukes who have served in Afghanistan.

Swift and Strong imparts a sense of this being a regiment that is not only aware, but also justifiably proud of its history. For example, in 2006 a team of Dukes climbed Mount Hart-McHarg and Mount Worthington, two Rocky Mountain peaks named for commanding officers of the regiment who were killed overseas. At the summits they built stone cairns in their honour, this being just one example of the unit’s spirit. Swift and Strong is another one. This is a beautifully presented and detailed history of the Dukes, and a highly personalized portrait of Vancouver’s citizen soldiers, past and present.

Swift and Strong: The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own). A Pictorial History
by Ron Leblanc, Keith Maxwell, Dwayne Snow, Kelly Deschênes
Vancouver, BC: The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Museum Society, 2011. 353 pp., illus.