Regiments will long remember their days of toil and sweat, and especially those days of blood and tears.
Rangers can remember the starving march from Fort Saint Francis, the terrible glory at Brandywine or
Queenston Heights, and there are many chapters from the First World War.
Perhaps it might be time to also remember a day of great joy.
Some 2,800 years ago, the central theme in Homer’s “Iliad” was about homecoming. For a warrior, there
was and remains no more sacred moment than that. One has left the suffering and peril behind and is
back in the embrace of family and community once more. It is an occasion of the greatest rejoicing.
On May 24 th , 1919, almost six months after the Armistice, the 20 th Battalion finally came home from
Europe. They did not come home quite alone... the 19 th Battalion came home with them. It was only fitting,
both Battalions had been formed together, trained together, and were brigaded together in the 4 th of the
2 nd Division. They had literally fought side by side from St. Eloi in March 1916 until Mons in November
1918. It was not unusual for platoons and companies of these two battalions to be attached to the other
as the dictates of battle required.
If the 20 th might have been mainly said to be the men of York County and its Rangers, the 19 th were the
pride of Wentworth County. Most were of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, who might
lack the long history of the Rangers, but were no less pleased to uphold its reputation.
The 19th and 20 th Battalions also came back together on the same ship – the SS Caronia. Both units were
in similar shape. 760 Rangers (many recently out of hospital) had boarded the Caronia. The 19 th was in a
similar state. Some 4,300 men had come through the 20 th Battalion since they marched away from the
CNE grounds in early 1915... Over 930 were buried somewhere in Europe and many of the 2,200
wounded had been shipped home earlier. Others had been detached for other purposes throughout the
course of the war.
Caronia had embarked on May 13 th and entered Halifax on in the early evening of May 21 st . By that time,
the scarred and ruined city (a consequence of the Mont Blanc explosion of December 1917) was steadily
regaining its efficiency as the Canadian Expeditionary Force returned. It took next a couple of hours that
night to disembark. By Midnight, the two battalions were on trains rattling through Nova Scotia.
The states of mind of the returning troops can be guessed at...
Like most of the returning soldiers, the men of the 19 th and 20 th Battalions kept much to themselves.
There were things they would never tell their families, and nightmares that would take a long time to be wrestled down... if indeed they ever could be. The jests, songs, slang and habits that had pulled them through the trenches could not be easily set aside. We know, a hundred years later, that most of Canada’s returning soldiers were not so ready to completely part company with each other.
That is a part of Home-Coming too... the fellowship of brothers in arms cannot be easily set aside, no
matter that looming attractions of family and home.
Even so, there was the expectation of family, friends, old neighbourhoods, familiar sights and sounds.
There is also a slight tinge of apprehension, there will have been changes, and not just those in the
soldiers themselves. Even so, the troops soon learned just how eagerly they were awaited.
On the morning of May 24 th , the trains pulled into the old Toronto North Station at Davisville (long since
re-purposed to the needs of the TTC, while elements of the railway station now serve as an LCBO). Their
kitbags and other luggage went into trucks, and the troops formed up. Perhaps the banners and flags
gave a hint at what awaited them.
The two battalions wheeled out of the train station and headed down to Yonge. The were to follow Yonge
down to Bloor and then head west to Varsity Stadium on the UofT grounds to be dismissed.
The sidewalks of Yonge Street down to Bloor were jammed with family members, neighbours, wounded
comrades (many themselves incapable of marching), and well-wishers, waiting to welcome the two
battalions home. The crowd wasn’t quiet, their joy at the return of their men was all too palpable.
The 19 th had led the march to the Varsity Arena at the University of Toronto, and the 20 th followed close
behind. However, the crowds that watched their men march past now thronged towards the stadium too.
In the end, the stadium was so packed that the tail end of the Ranger’s column couldn’t get inside. If there
was any prolonged ceremonial planned, it was curtailed by circumstances.
The troops were dismissed, and the next day both battalions were officially demobilized. Their ordeals
were over, and the rest of their lives awaited.