Introduction to the Nominal List of Members of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve

by John M. MacFarlane 2012

RNCVR Pacific

RNCVRs of the Pacific Division Lower left – Percy Tribe. Upper right – Alan B. Ford

There is no publicly available nominal list of the personnel who served in the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR). This is a ’work in progress‘ that is continuously being updated. It currently contains more than 7,300 names and it is hoped that eventually it will be more or less complete.

    Canadians desiring to join a naval reserve organization before 1910 were forced to join an arm of the Royal Navy. Canada had no naval force of its own. There had been attempts, pre–1900, to organize a naval company in Vancouver but these efforts were unsuccessful.

    In May 1910 the Naval Service Act was passed by Parliament and established the Royal Canadian Navy under the Minister of Marine and Fisheries. The Act made provision for a volunteer naval reserve, but this was not implemented at the time. It was anticipated that the reserve would, in time of emergency, be put at the disposal of the Royal Navy.

    Walter Hose was approached as the Commanding Officer of the base at Esquimalt for assistance in creating the volunteer naval company. Hose had formed the Quidi Vidi Lancers in Newfoundland in 1902 and had transferred to the RCN in 1912. In July 1913 a Volunteer Naval Company was organized in Victoria, and later a Vancouver Volunteer Naval Company was formed called simply the ‘Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers’ comprising 250 officers and men. The sponsors of this initiative were: Dr. J. Harper, Russel Ponder, G.H.S. Edwardes, Lt. Aemilius Jarvis RNR and Petty Officer Stanley Geary RNR (Retired).

    On August 18, 1913 the Pioneer Company of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers turned out to honour the arrival of HMS New Zealand. The first actual drill was held in the Armament Building in the Dockyard on August 14th, 1913 all those attending in civilian clothes. Soon the strength of the group increased to 140 with a weekly training program consisting of seamanship, gunnery, boat pulling and sailing, signalling, rifle drill and parade drill. The officers and crew of HMS Algerine provided support and encouragement. On June 10th they were inspected by Admiral Kingsmill. They were sworn in as members of the First Company of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers on July 9th and provided uniform kit.

    The Komagata Maru incident and the outbreak of the First World War caused public concern that the Pacific coast was not properly prepared with a dedicated naval force. The Premier of British Columbia, the Governor General and the Minister of the Naval Service expressed support for the concept to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. In spite of opposition by the French-Canadian caucus Borden authorized the creation of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve on the 14th of May 1914 under the provisions of the Naval Service Act. The opposition argued that that the creation of the reserve would have the unintended consequence of recruiting for the Royal Navy at Canada’s expense.

    The RNCVR’s initial authorized strength was 1,200 men, who enrolled as volunteers, agreeing to serve in wartime, either with the Royal Canadian Navy or the Royal Navy. Seafaring men were recruited along with others deemed ‘suitable’ for terms of three years, renewable until the candidate turned 45 years of age.

    Companies were to be established first in the large cities and then later in smaller centres to be the focal points for training of the recruits. The training syllabus included seamanship, parade drill, torpedo and marine electrical work, marine engineering and stoke hold work, naval signaling, wireless telegraphy and first aid. Those members who were already employed as seamen or fishermen in civilian life were to receive their training aboard ship.

    It was anticipated that there would be 21 days of training per year paid at the same rates as those paid to the Royal Canadian Navy. In order to compete with the Militia recruiters the pay had to be high enough to be attractive. Little or no actual recruiting took place and the initiative to establish active RNCVR Companies was left to individuals who would take on the task themselves.

    It was intended that the Royal Navy was to provide instructor officers to oversee the training program. The Royal Navy, in fact, discouraged recruiting because it was feared that the demand on experienced staff would be too great in wartime. The RCN was equally ill prepared to provide instructors. The Admiralty specifically advised the Prime Minister not to increase naval strength and to recruit for the Army instead.

    On Sunday August 2nd, 1914 all the RNCVRs were called out to duty under command of Lieutenant H.B. Pilcher and Gunner Tom Cox RN. On August 8th, Number Three Company RNCVR arrived from Vancouver under Lieutenant Kenneth Harper and was assigned to the Esquimalt cricket ground.

    As initially created, the RNCVR consisted of three geographic commands, or subdivisions:

    • Atlantic (from the Atlantic coast to a line just west of Quebec City)
    • Lake (from the line just west of Quebec City to west of Brandon, Manitoba)
    • Pacific (from west of Brandon to the Pacific coast)

    During the First World War, an Overseas Division was created to recruit Canadians for service with the Royal Navy. Some 8,000 officers and men joined the RNCVR for service at home or overseas. The RNCVR members saw service in Canadian Shore establishments, ships in home waters, the Pacific, the North Sea, the Channel Patrol, the West African Patrol, and the Gibraltar Patrol:

    • Atlantic Subdivision 4,300
    • Pacific Subdivision 2,000
    • Overseas Subdivision 1,700
    • Total 8,000

    Members of the RNCVR who were draughted into the Overseas Division were trained at Portsmouth. They were subjected to a three month syllabus including gunnery drill (mainly parade square work) and elemental seamanship (knots and rope work).

    The RNCVR quickly rose to prominence during the First World War, but, along with the Royal Canadian Navy, was neglected after the War drew to a close. Reservists were demobilized, and in June 1920 the whole remaining organization was demobilized. The organization of the RNCVR was allowed to lapse, later being replaced by the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in 1923.

    For a more complete account of the origins and history of the RNCVR please see the excellent article by Stephen Rybak The Royal Naval Canadian Naval Reserve 1914-1919.

    To quote from this article please cite:

    MacFarlane, John M. (2012) Introduction to the Nominal List of Members of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve. 2012.