1920s: A Fledgling Navy Struggles to Survive
Formation of a Naval Reserve
Table of Contents
The navy man with the vision to create a Naval Reserve force in Canada was Walter Hose. Walter Hose was a son of England, but since he was born on a passenger liner at sea, his native home was actually offshore. With the ocean in his blood, he joined the Royal Navy in 1890, at the age of 14. Later, in 1902, Lieutenant Hose was posted to HMS Charybdis, and served as the Training Officer for Newfoundland fi shermen who were members of the Royal Naval Reserve. This was his first experience with North America and the Naval Reserve.
In 1911, Commander Hose served with the brand new Canadian Naval Service, on loan to the fledgling navy as the Commanding Offi cer of the Esquimalt based HMCS RAINBOW. In February 1912, he officially transferred over to the Canadian Navy. By this time, Canada's two-year-old navy was, in Hose's own words, "a political football." Wilfred Laurier's Liberal government, which was responsible for the Naval Service Act of 1910, had been defeated in the 1911 election. For this reason, the Canadian Navy was losing support and it was in danger of being cancelled.
Meanwhile, Walter Hose saw a way to get greater support for the Navy across Canada. He spoke with Rear-Admiral Kingsmill, the Director of the Naval Service, about "taking a leaf out of the militia handbook and creating a citizen Navy - a naval volunteer reserve with units across the country." The reply that he got from Kingsmill was "My dear Hose, you don't understand, it can't be done."
Hose did it anyway.
In 1913, some citizens in Victoria expressed an interest in forming a Naval Reserve. Hose gave them his support. When Admiral Kingsmill discovered what was being done on the west coast, he wrote to Hose and complained about his unauthorized action, and gave firm direction to initiate nothing more. Hose
chose to ignore the letter and carried on.
Shortly after, the Governor General visited the west coast. He happened to review the unauthorized Naval Reserve volunteers, and he expressed his support. Then, Admiral Kingsmill was forced to recognize the reserve force, and the new Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) was authorized by an Order-in-Council on 14 May 1914.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the RCN and its newly formed reserve force were in no
position to offer any signifi cant help to Britain. However, as Germany began to conduct submarine warfare against merchant ships, the inability of the RN to meet the challenge, or to provide effective defence of Canadian shores quickly became apparent, and the newly established RNCVR underwent a rapid expansion.
By the end of the war, 6,000 men had served in the RNCVR operating 136 small patrol vessels used for anti-submarine work, minesweeping, and convoy escort duties. Walter Hose, who was by then promoted
to Captain, commanded that patrol service. To the average Canadian, the World War I naval engagements at Coronel and the Falklands don't even
have the same significance as other well-known Canadian naval actions, even though it was at Coronel that the first Canadian sailors died in armed confl ict. Four RNCVR midshipmen serving with the Royal Navy perished off Coronel, Chile, in HMS GOOD HOPE, when fi ve German warships under Vice-Admiral
Graf von Spee, attacked the substantially weaker Royal Navy Squadron on November 1, 1914. The Coronel
disaster was avenged a month later at the historic Battle of the Falkland Islands.
The arms build-up of World War I was to be the turning point for the fledgling Royal Canadian Navy. However, it was not to last. Following the general demobilization at the end of the war, the navy was dealt a blow when the RNCVR was disbanded on 15 June 1920.
After World War I, war weariness, economy and the lack of an "apparent enemy" eventually led to
more drastic defence reductions. In November 1921, an election returned the Liberals to power, now led by Mackenzie King. Cutting defence spending became a popular platform, and the new government proposed to reduce the Navy's budget from $2.5 million to $1.5 million. Walter Hose, who was now the Director of the Naval Service, had a tough decision to make. He realized first that "it would be impossible to maintain the navy we possessed" which consisted of a cruiser, two destroyers, auxiliary craft, and a naval college. Second,"the lack of interest shown in the Navy, both in government circles and by the country at large, for the past twelve years, made it plain that it would be rash to expect any increase in appropriations for the Navy until there was a far greater sea-consciousness, a far greater realization throughout the Dominion of the necessity for a Navy in the scheme of national defence." Therefore, Hose proposed that the Navy be reduced to a single destroyer on each coast, and that the dockyards be reduced to the barest minimum
necessary for maintenance.
To create national naval awareness, Hose suggested that that reserve divisions be established, not just on the coasts, but in major cities across the country. On 1 March 1922, the day after Hose submitted his memorandum; it was initialled by the Minister. On 31 January 1923 the Privy Council Orders No. 139 and 140 simultaneously disbanded the Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) and established the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR).
The initial authorized strength of the RCNVR was 1,000 all ranks. Fifteen Canadian cities were
earmarked for a division. Most were to be of "Half-Company" strength, which was 50, all ranks. These cities were Calgary, Charlottetown, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, Prince Rupert, Quebec City, Regina, Saint John, Saskatoon and Vancouver. Three cities were ordered to man to a "Company" strength, which was 100, all ranks. These cities were Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.
The first commission was given, on 14 March 1923, to Lieutenant Frank Meade, who established a
Company sized detachment in Montreal. By the end of that year, twelve units had been formed. By the time Canada declared war on 10 September 1939, the number had increased to sixteen active units, and the existence of Naval Reserve Divisions across Canada proved to be instrumental to providing fresh sailors to man the ships.