Rear–Admiral Walter Hose 1875–1965

by Stephen Rybak 2012

Walter Hose

Admiral Walter Hose RCN

The Naval Reserve and the Canadian Navy, itself, owe their existence to the efforts of one man – Rear Admiral Walter Hose. The sea was Hose’s life. He was born at sea in 1875; he spent 44 years in the service of Queen and King; Hose twice rescued the Royal Canadian Navy from extinction; and when he died in 1965, Hose was laid to rest by naval men. It somehow seemed fitting that his six pallbearers were all Reserve Petty Officers from HMCS Hunter – one of the Naval Reserve units Hose created in 1923.

Hose’s connection with the Naval Reserve preceded the establishment of even a Canadian Navy. In 1902, Lieutenant Hose, RN, was assigned the task of setting up and training a Royal Naval Reserve in the Crown Colony of Newfoundland. Under his influence the "Quidi Vidi Lancers" grew into one of the strongest Royal Navy Reserve components.

In 1911, Hose was loaned to the fledgling Royal Canadian Navy as the Captain of HMCS Rainbow. The following year Hose resigned from the Royal Navy and joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a Commander, retaining command of Rainbow. Stationed in Esquimalt, Hose was to play a very instrumental role in the creation of a volunteer reserve for service in the Great War.

With his past experience, Hose was quick to realize the value of a naval reserve. Accordingly, in 1912, he suggested to the Director of the Naval Service, Rear Admiral Kingsmill, that for the RCN to survive, Canada must have a citizen navy – a volunteer naval reserve with units across the country. The reply I got from him (Kingsmill) was ‘My dear Hose, you don’t understand – it can’t be done.’ "

But it could be done! In 1913 a group of enthusiastic businessmen and yachtsmen from Victoria approached Hose, then the Senior Naval Officer in Esquimalt. He allowed the "Company of Naval Volunteers" to use the facilities of the Naval base and instructors from the ships under his command. As the Director Naval Service would not sanction his action and instructed Hose to withdraw his help, Hose adopted Nelson’s "good old blind eye technique". When war was declared in 1914, the unofficial naval volunteers became the core of an 8,000–man Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve which saw active duty in European, African and Canadian waters. The practicality of a naval reserve was firmly established.

With peace in 1918, the very existence of the Canadian Navy was threatened. Even the wartime Union Government Cabinet expressed an opinion "to wipe out the existing naval organization, which is merely ridding the country of a lot of junk, anyway". Cooler heads prevailed and the Navy was maintained, even though the RNCVR was demobilized. With a change in government in 1921, a new Cabinet minister vowed to the out–going Minister of National Defence, ":Now we’ll sink your Navy".

The threat was not an idle one. Canada had a small, but respectable naval force of a cruiser, two destroyers, two submarines and auxiliary craft. But in late 1922, $1,000,000 was arbitrarily chopped from the 1923 Naval budget of $2,500,000. Hose, now the Director Naval Service, was left with the decision of how to use the drastically reduced budget, which made it impossible to operate the Royal Canadian Navy efficiently.

Hose was forced to lay–up the modern cruiser Aurora, sell the two submarines, close the Naval College in Halifax, cut back shore installations and slash the size of the Royal Canadian Navy to 366 Officers and Men in four minesweepers and two destroyers. But Hose brought into being a Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, 1,000 strong, and a 500-man strong Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. The Director of the Canadian Naval Service staked the future of the Navy on Reservists, who would help educate the public and create a sea-consciousness among Canadians. It was a major undertaking, for even the Minister of National Defence, Ned MacDonald, felt that "the truth, the Navy is a damned nuisance to the Cabinet".

As Hose suggested to Kingsmill in 1912, the salvation of a Canadian Navy would be a volunteer reserve force.

"To do this the navy must be brought into the country, and the only way to do it, that I could see, was to raise a naval volunteer reserve with units in populous cities throughout the Dominion ... "It was the RCNVR that carried Canada’s White Ensign ‘a mari usque ad mari’. The influence of the naval divisions and their active work form the rootlets through the land which draw the life–blood of popular interest and support, for lack of which the RCN of the first quarter century was unable to function effectively or constantly." "

Indeed, the RCN itself realized where its salvation lay: "The RCN was given to understand that, at that time. its main role was to foster, encourage and train the RCNVR ... As it was, their faith and loyalty resulted in the success of the policy."

J.A.E. Woodhouse, the Naval Secretary wrote in 1927:

"The RCNVR has fulfilled all the hopes that were placed in it. The Company commanding Officers and other Officers are very keen ... . The men are keen and many of them have re–enrolled. Most Companies have a waiting list of 40 to 50 men ... ." "During the three years which have passed, the Companies have established high reputations in the various cities by their work and manner in which they do it and have acquired a definite place in the reserve defence organization of Canada."

The Navy’s and Hose’s difficulties did not end in 1923. Ten years later, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Government had to cut $14,000,000 from its operating costs and had assigned a cut of $2,000,000 to the budget of the RCN. Cabinet Ministers made it understood that the Navy would soon be brought to its knees and paid off. A cut of that size would have left the RCN with only $400,000 for the year – and that much had already been spent. Hose was able to convince the Cabinet that the Navy could withstand a cut of $200,000 – Hose saved the Navy again.

At the same time the Chief of the General Staff announced his intention to act as an Inspector General of the Navy. Hose fought this Army proposal tooth and nail, winning his last fight. This time he had help with a new sympathetic Minister of National Defence, Col J.L. Ralston. Hose likened the development of the RCN to the transformation of an ugly duckling to a "splendid swan". "Under Ralston," he wrote, "the swan’s feathers began to appear".

Hose regarded the formation of the Naval Reserve in 1923 as one of his greatest accomplishments. For him, the Naval Reserves and the RCN were one and the same: "one outstanding feature in the development of our Navy is the vital interdependence of the RCN and its Reserve, not only in war but in peace". For many, Hose’s foresight was borne out in the contribution the Reserves made during World War II as 83,000 of the 95,000–strong Canadian Navy were Reservists.

Hose retired in 1934 after a 22–year career in the RCN. But he never ended his association with the Navy and saw the RCN celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 1960. In his last years, Admiral Hose was a frequent visitor to HMCS Hunter, the Naval Reserve Division in Windsor. Walter Hose died eight years before the Naval Reserve would celebrate its half century of service. The circle was closed on June 25, 1965 when six Reserve Petty Officers laid the father of the Canadian Navy to rest.

Memorial to Admiral Hose

Memorial to Admiral Hose in St. Paul's Church, Esquimalt BC

The chronology of the formation of the Canadian naval reserve divisions is outlined through the link here.

Author’s Note: I am indebted to the staff at the Directorate of History for their assistance in my research for the 50th anniversary of the Naval Reserve in 1972–73. Contributions from the 16 "Stone Frigates" in existence at the time helped illuminate the efforts to take the idea of a navy to the people of Canada and nurture it far from coastal waters. That historical material, which included the above, formed the basis of Commander Fraser McKee’s 1973 "Volunteers For Sea Service, A brief history of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve". A more complete organizational history of the Naval Reserve is to be found in the recently published "Citizen Sailors, Chronicles of Canada’s Naval Reserve, 1910-2010".

Editor’s Note: In 2012 we received information from SLT The Reverend Canon Wm. C. Thomas RCNR (Ret’d) who is President of the UNTD Association of Canada. He states "After his retirement to Windsor Ontario, Rear-Admiral Hose commissioned a Sea Cadet Corps named after him in 1955 at the Riverside High School. I had the honour to be a charter member, and its first Chief Petty Officer. He was present at my commissioning in the Corp as a Midshipman, and attended all of our Annual Inspections and Trafalgar Balls ( and danced with nearly every girl present!) until the corps was decommissioned – along with other school corps in the late 1960’s.

To quote from this article please cite:

Ryback, Stephen (2011) Rear Admiral Walter Hose 1875 to 1965. 2011.

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