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February 1916 - Battalion strength: 200

In February 1916 recruiting Recruiting staff of the 143rd at the Victoria recruiting officebegan in Victoria for the 143rd, and by the end of the month strength was at approximately 200.  The goal was to recruit 1,000 men as quickly as possible.  The recruiting office in Vancouver had already signed up 50 and they arrived in Victoria on February 15th.  Fifteen also came from Kamloops where they had been attested by the 102nd Battalion, Rocky Mountain Rangers.  The Victoria Daily Colonist glowed with praise for the new recruits:

"Up to the present the type of volunteers is excellent.  All are splendid specimens of manhood, in spite of the fact that in stature they measure only 5 feet 4 inches and under.  Moreover, they are enthusiastically behind their battalion, being bent on making it one of the finest in point of efficiency which had been raised and trained in the Dominion.  Equipment is coming through to them as quickly as possible, although some difficulty is said to have developed with the ordinance department in obtaining khaki suits and boots small enough for the stocky little fellows who, hitherto, have been barred from doing their bit on the Empire's behalf."3b

Lt. Colonel Powley, who was the Officer Commanding (OC) the battalion, announced that he would make a tour of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan with the idea of publicizing their recruiting effort for shorter men, who would otherwise not be able to serve.  Recruiting Centers would be set up in Vancouver, New Westminster, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert. In Victoria several businesses donated office space and furniture to set up a recruiting center in the Arcade block at the corner of View and Broad St.  Recruiting Office of the 143rd in Victoria at the corner of View and Broad St

Temporary quarters for the new recruits were set up in the Prince Rupert Hotel, Bastion Square, in Victoria, which would house up to 400 recruits.  The Battalion remained at the hotel from Feb 14th to March 31st, 1916.  As a result of the gift from the city of $9,000 for lumber and permission to use Beacon Hill Park as a camp, construction of the barracks in Beacon Hill Park began in January.

Right at the start there seemed to be significant enthusiasm in Victoria for the recruiting efforts of the Bantams.  February 2nd saw a performance at the Pantages Theatre (now the McPherson Playhouse Theatre) of "The Song of the Battling Bantams", apparently written by a member of the 143rd as a marching song.  It was to be performed by Will J. Ward and his Five Piano Girls.3c  It is also possible that the enthusiasm displayed by both newspapers and entertainment venues was in fact carefully orchestrated recruiting methods used by the Battalion. "The Bantam regiments in the Old Country have become the pets of the whole expeditionary force; when marching through London there is no doubt at all as to the enthusiasm with which the crowd turns out to greet them --men, women and children all seem to wish to show that the old indifference to the fighting power of the little man has gone like many other old and unfounded prejudices have gone, with the advent of the new ideas for which the present struggle is responsible." 3e

March 1916 - Battalion strength: 400

Construction of the barracks in Beacon Hill Park was underway, and with the completion of one building, 30 men moved into the barracks at the beginning of the month. 3d Private Harold Harker made his way from New York so that he could join the Bantams.  And apparently Private Norman McDonell tramped from Kamloops to Vancouver so that he could join the 143rd.

Several letters were received by the Local Council of Women, complaining about the health conditions in the military camps in the Victoria area.  One letter maintained that the number of deaths in military circles recently was altogether too large for the number of men in training.  The hospitals where the more severe cases were looked after were well equipped, and there could be no complaints on that score.  The fault lay with the military camps themselves and it was necessary that the sanitation and health of the training quarters should be thoroughly investigated, in order that the present death rate might be effectually decreased.  It was stated that men of the 103rd Battalion would soon be lodged in tents, and owing to the Government's inability to provide lumber wherewith to erect floors, the men would necessarily have to sleep with the bare earth for their ground.  These conditions which were bound to lead to serious consequences and create an outbreak of colds, influenza and more dangerous diseases.  If soldiers had the money, I assume they could buy their own boots.It was also represented that the Bantams' new quarters at Beacon Hill were constructed on marshy ground and that the men had to sleep in the building before any fires had been burnt.  The lumber with which the quarters were erected was still wet, and an epidemic of illness was the only thing to be expected in such circumstances.3f  Whether these conditions contributed to the death of L/Cpl. James V Johnson in May will never be known.  In late March, Lt.-Col. Powley and his wife returned from a recruiting trip to Alberta and throughout BC.  He travelled to Prince Rupert and came back to Victoria by boat.  Normally battalions were not permitted to recruit outside their Military Districts (No.11 - BC-Yukon) but because of the special qualifications required to join the 143rd, Lt.-Col Powley was allowed to recruit into Alberta, and later on, into Saskatchewan. 3g

At the end of March, the balance of the Battalion, at strength of 400,  moved from the Prince Rupert Hotel to the partially completed barracks at Beacon Hill Park.  More barracks were to be built to house the expected 600 more recruits.

April 1916

By April 2, there were 400 soldiers housed in a military camp in Beacon Hill Park and the number was expected to double.  Some soldiers had been staying at the Prince Rupert Hotel, but were moved to the Park as buildings were completed. 4b

The Colonist reported: “The barracks being constructed in as picturesque a location as it is possible to find, under the spreading oaks at the entrance to Beacon Hill Park [present entrance from Quadra St], are being converted into most comfortable quarters.”4b

Over a hundred of the 143rd Battalion “paraded from the barracks at Beacon Hill to attend a gala performance in their honour at the Pantages Theatre...cheered by citizens” as they passed through the streets.3ap

On April 6, the Colonist reported that Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Bruce Powley expected a complete battalion to be in the barracks in a few weeks. The newspaper described the progress of construction:

"The new quarters at Beacon Hill...are now half completed. Sleeping accommodation has been provided for two companies, the sergeants’ mess is finished, the officers’ and quartermaster’s stores room is erected, and there have been built besides the guard room and frames for marquees, the latter for use at the unit’s hospital."3aq

Questions soon arose concerning rights of the public to use the park road taken over by the 143rd Battalion. Sentries posted at the road leading into Beacon Hill Park from Heywood Avenue warned pedestrians off the paved road. The Times asked Col. Powley if he considered it a military road and gave the commanding officer’s response: “Col. Powley said the road is considered a military road for use of transport wagons but is not really closed to the public if they insist on using it.” Powley asked the public to cooperate, however, and use the other road as “it will aid in the military work being undertaken at Beacon Hill.” (Times, May 3, 1916, p. 11)4b

In a letter to the Times, A. T. Frampton described difficulties the military camp caused for people walking in the Park: 4b

"May I ask...why the military authorities in charge of the Bantams in Beacon Hill Park have so arranged their camp as to cause a great deal of unnecessary inconvenience to pedestrians daily crossing the park? I refer to the stopping of the footpaths and short cuts entirely, and the pervading of others by tents and sentries, thus effectively preventing ladies from using them, as...it can hardly be expected that ladies should run the gauntlet of a running fire of comments or of passing through a line of officers’ tents when the occupants are performing their ablutions in the open. Then, again, it is not in the best taste that the guard room should have been placed exactly opposite the houses on Heywood Avenue." (Times, May 10, 1916, p. 10)

[In 1917] Council discussed how to dismantle the large number of buildings and structures “occupied by the 143rd Battalion, C.E.F. and built by the City Council for that purpose.” Buildings in the Park were: guard houses, auxiliary structures, company buildings, mess house, sleeping quarters, “the great mess-house in three tiers,” outbuildings, platforms and barracks. One suggestion was to use “some of the larger buildings...for convalescent quarters for ...soldiers” by moving them to Royal Jubilee Hospital grounds. Another idea was to sell smaller buildings to farmers “for stable and barn accommodation.” There was estimated to be “about 400,000 feet of lumber” in the various structures. The City was “interested in having the ground cleared up in time to seed it down for the coming season.” (Times, February 22, 1917, p. 13)4c

In March, an auction was held at the Park to sell the buildings “specially erected for the B.C. Bantams at a time when the accommodation at the Willows camp was taxed to the utmost.” The Times noted the buildings “are contrary to the conditions of the Trust,” so it was “suitable to sell them.” 4c

When bids received by Council for lumber were unsatisfactory, Council decided "to auction the buildings as they stood, purchasers to be responsible for the structures from the date of the auction. Forty days are to be allowed for the removal of the buildings, but it is doubtful even with that stipulation that the site will be ready for seeding this spring."4c

“The small buildings, guard houses and auxiliary structures” were sold first, but “bidding showed very little spirit.” There was more interest in “the company buildings, mess-houses, sleeping quarters, etc.” However, “The great mess house, in three tiers to meet the sloping character of the ground, only realized $56...The auctioneer then moved to the various outbuildings, platforms, etc., the lumber of which was sold for small sums..” (Times, March 19, 1917, p. 16)4c

On May 22, City Council issued an ultimatum concerning the last military building still standing in the Park. The man who purchased it had not removed it according to the agreed deadline. He was given one week to remove the barracks or the City would confiscate the man’s deposit and resell the building. “All the other buildings were removed... before the stipulated date...The Parks Committee is anxious to get the grounds cleaned up for Spring.” (Colonist, May 22, 1917, p. 6)4c

In April, the Daily Colonist reported that Lieut. J. T. Hewitt, "well known in newspaper circles in the province, formerly having been attached to the staff of The Vancouver Province is among those mentioned in recent district orders.  He is provisionally appointed to the "B. C. Bantams" and now is engaged in the prosecution of a vigorous recruiting campaign in the Terminal City."3h

It was also reported at the beginning of April that 11 distinct overseas units were recruiting in Victoria:3i

88th Battalion, CEF, Victoria Fusiliers
102nd Battalion, CEF, "Warden's Warriors"
103rd Battalion, CEF, "Vancouver Island Timber Wolves"
11th Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF, recently converted from cavalry to infantry
143rd Battalion, CEF, "British Columbia Bantams"
211th Battalion, CEF, "American Legion"
62nd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 15th Brigade
196th Battalion, CEF, Western Universities Unit
No 1 Section, Field Ambulance Depot, Work Point
Foresters Battalion, Work Point
Re-enforcement draft for 1st Canadian Pioneer Corps

An order issued by the Military District authorized any man presently enlisted in a regular battalion of a height of 5'4" or shorter, to transfer to the 143rd Battalion. 3j

In April, Lieut. J. A. Greenhill and a recruiting sergeant left for Prince Rupert, Anyox, Prince George, McBride and other northern points along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to organize recruiting centres and enlist men. Another recruiting officer will shortly be dispatched throughout the southern part of the province on a similar mission.3k 

May 1916

As part of the on-going recruiting efforts, the 143rd, during it's year long recruiting drive used various entertainment venues to draw attention to the battalion and its recruiting efforts.  "One of the musical events of the season which bids fair to attract a large share of public attention is "The Bantam Revue" which is to be held at the Royal Victoria on the evenings of May 22nd and 23rd, Monday and Tuesday next.  The performance, which is being given under the auspices of the 143rd Battalion, CEF, the British Columbia Bantams, is in aid of the band of that overseas force, the latest to be organized in Victoria.  The Bantams band, which is under the leadership of Bandmaster Allen will vie with any military band in the city shortly...The Bantam Revue is a vaudeville entertainment organized by the band by permission of Lieut.-Col. A Bruce Powley, Officer Commanding. . ."3p

June 1916

The Battalion was given permission to recruit a company (250) of men in Alberta.  Four officers left to set up recruiting offices.  Lieuts. Colgate and Campbell go to Edmonton; Lieut. Johns to Lloydminster, and Lieut. Greenhill to Calgary.3s

The recruiting detachment on the mainland left Vancouver yesterday morning on a route march to New Westminster, where they will make a short visit and will then proceed up the Fraser River Valley on a recruiting march, halting at various places.  The band of the Bantams and the squad accompanying it have endeared themselves to the people of Vancouver during their stay there.  They attracted a great amount of attention and were kindly treated throughout.3t

July 1916

In July, the Battalion started to recruit men over 5' 4".  Until then they had restricted themselves to men under 5' 4", since they only had permission to hire the "little men".5a

August 1916

"It is announced in district orders issued yesterday that the various battalions, which are now recruiting, are to be filled up according to their seniority.  The first in point of seniority on Vancouver Island, and the third in the province is the 143rd Battalion, CEF - the BC Bantams...The 121st Battalion (Vernon) is first and the 131st (New Westminster) is second and the Bantams are next in line."3w 

"The 143rd Battalion , BC Bantams, is about to publish its own organ.  The Bantam Review, a weekly newspaper devoted to the doings of Powley's Pullets, will make its appearance on Saturday morning, replete with accounts of the Bantams' activities.  The Bantam Review will be an eight-page paper and it is expected that as in all else the Bantams have done, it will vie with any other publications seen since the Canadian Expeditionary Force was established."3x 

October 1916

"...Lt. Colonel Powey [sic] could not enlist enough suitable men at the pace he needed, he regretfully reported to Ottawa on October 15th, 1916.  We were finally forced to take in some larger men, with a view to later exchanging them for smaller men of other units.  But exchanges in Canada are not easy, and the result is I have a battalion of over half Bantam and the balance of larger men, though their average is below 5 ft. 6 ins.  They are training very fast and I hope to proceed overseas with a smart battalion if not wholly a Bantam Battalion".1f

During October the Battalion was medically examined under new, more restrictive medical requirements and as a result lost 150 recruits.5a

When permission was given to raise bantam battalions, the regular battalions started accepting men under the regulation height of 5"4". Powley was aware this was happening, and he realized these regular battalions were taking in men who would have allowed him to fill his battalion quickly with bantams. In October 1916, Lt.-Col. Powley wrote to Robert Francis Green, the member of parliament for the riding of Kootenay (later Kootenay West) explaining his problems with recruiting bantams. He asked for Greens support for the following suggestions:

1. That the 143rd Battalion be sent to England intact and not be broken up. (As had started to happen with other battalions)

2. That all battalions presently in England with men under 5'2" be exchanged for larger men with the 143rd or the bantam battalion from Toronto, the 216th Battalion, with the intention of forming a brigade, and having a pool of replacement bantams from which to draw.

December 1916 - Battalion strength: 960

Recruiting efforts continued and in an attempt to garner 40 more recruits the 143rd threw down a challenge to Hardeen, an escape artist.  See the ad here. In December the battalion started a "Give Us His Name" recruiting campaign.  They published coupons in the paper asking people to fill it out with the name of someone who they think SHOULD be in khaki.  Talk about wanting to be on good terms with your neighbors.

Cpl. R Stephen, on the recruiting staff, wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Colonist about problems with recruiting.  Cpl. Stephen also put his recruiting efforts into writing poetry:

Where on the streets in the daytime are those
Who have failed to enlist and wear khaki clothes?
They're skulking away from the light of day;
You'll find them at dance halls quite cheery and gay.

Since girls who have sweethearts that fight for the right
Don't dance with these fellows who keep out of sight.
Are the "slackers" confined to the masculine kind?
Oh no! We have girls just the same, bear in mind!

If you've never felt it your duty to knit,
Or help all you can the lads that show grit,
We ask you tonight to give us a name
Of a fellow you know not "playing the game."

January 1917

Lieut. Robert Ely reports that 500 names have been sent in, in response to the "Give Us His Name" advertising campaign, and out of that they hope to get the sixty needed recruits.3al 

On January 6th, a telegram was received from the Adjutant General in Ottawa with permission for the 143rd to be converted to a Railway Construction Battalion.

MODIFIED REGULATIONS WILL ASSIST BANTAMS--According to the new recruiting regulations issued from Work Point, the 143rd, since being made a railway construction corps, will be permitted to enlist a great many men who have hitherto been unable to measure up to the physical standard demanded.  Flat feet have been a reason to be rejected.  A recruit with flat feet will have to undergo a five mile walk.  Men whose eyesight has been a barrier will be able to re-apply.  Men who wear glasses, lost fingers or toes and are deaf in one ear can now be eligible to join the 143rd.3am 

In January the Battalion was also advised to expect orders for service overseas.  When the 143rd was requested to advise the strength of the battalion (number of officers and other ranks) that was ready for embarkation, Powley reported the following:

Officers:                    32
Staff Sergeants:         14
Sergeants:                 38
Other ranks:             893


As the time approached for the Battalion to be shipped overseas, security started to tighten up.  In a telegram advising the strength of the Battalion, the code name Wellgaze is used to refer to the 143rd Battalion.  Then there was this gem of a telegram in code, the translation of which is definitely lost to history.

February 1917 - Battalion strength: 977

On Feb 6th the Battalion was advised they should be ready to move on Feb 9th.  That day two parties of the Battalion shipped over to Vancouver on the Princess Mary and Princess Victoria.  In Vancouver the Battalion was split into 3 parties and shipped east on three separate special trains. 

Over the 12 months the 143rd was recruiting, it had enlisted 1350 men in total, but due to medical rejections, transfers and desertion, their final strength leaving Victoria was 977. 

Next:  Training the 143rd Battalion

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