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Book Reviews


SOLDIERS OF THE QUEEN: THE CANADIAN GRENADIER GUARDS OF MONTREAL 1859-2009, by Brigadier-General (retired) William J. Patterson

Reviewed by Michael Goodspeed

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by William J. Patterson
Montreal: Canadian Grenadier Guards Corporation, 2009
500 Pages, $64.95
ISBN: 978-0-9813596-0-1

Reviewed by Michael Goodspeed

This lavishly illustrated volume is the story of one of Canada’s distinguished militia regiments. It is a ‘doorstopper’ of a book at a hefty price tag, but if you are an ex- Grenadier, have a particular interest in this illustrious Montreal-based regiment, or you are a history buff who wants to get a feel for the life and times of one of Canada’s enduring institutions, this book is well worth the price. The Canadian Grenadier Guards (CGG) and Brigadier-General (ret’d) William Patterson are to be congratulated, for, in Soldiers of the Queen, they have not only meticulously recorded their regiment’s history, but they have brought to life a century-and-a-half of Canada’s past.

One of the first things that the layman will notice about this history, and, indeed, this regiment, is that the Canadian Grenadier Guards perpetuate a strong ‘Guards’ tradition. It is interesting that Patterson sees nothing at all unremarkable in these customs and this culture being so firmly rooted in a Canadian regiment.1 Like much of the Canadian Forces (CF), the traditions and styles of Britain’s imperial forces were incorporated almost wholly into our military, and with the passage of more than 150 years, these traditions have become internalized and are now woven deeply into the nation’s military fabric. In this respect, Canada has not been unusual, as most Commonwealth armies have a strong tradition that stems from their British roots. And most notably, both Canada and India have maintained, each in their own way, modifications of this very visible Guards tradition.

The CGG is also a unique organization in the CF insofar as it can, at least indirectly, trace its lineage back to the temperament and time of New France, which is surely an exclusive distinction among Canadian institutions. The author does not make a claim to a direct lineage, but he cites the fact that combined voluntary militia service of Anglophones and Francophones in the Montreal area goes back at least as far as the days when, shortly after the Treaty of Paris, coherent companies of French Canadian militia volunteered to fight alongside British regulars at Detroit.

In the initial three chapters, William Patterson describes, from this surprising beginning, the development of one of Canada’s first militia regiments: from its early days, when, under the Militia Act of 1777, territorially raised companies were required to parade on the last two Sundays in June and the first two Sundays in July. It is a story that tracks the regiment through the 19th Century with its numerous colourful changes of name and inevitable reorganizations: the Montreal Rifle Rangers, the Prince of Wales Rifles, the Hochelaga Light Infantry, and the 1st Regiment Prince of Wales Fusiliers, then on to being the 1st Regiment of Canadian Grenadier Guards.

From the fourth chapter through to the last, the bulk of the book documents the Regiment’s participation in Canada’s wars and peacekeeping missions, from South Africa through to Afghanistan. Herein, Patterson provides a chronological description of the unit’s expansion and shrinkages, from recurrent periods of impoverished peacetime parades and exercises, when the militia was little more than a military ‘fig leaf.’ Patterson is particularly strong in this inter-war period, and illustrates that throughout these lean and difficult times, as always, the CGG maintained intense pride in its identity, its sense of purpose, and its dignity. Patterson capably recounts the Regiment’s story of unit recruitment, training, and the momentous battles of both the First and Second World Wars, its routine during the Cold War, and its participation in peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan.

As can be expected in such a work, in much of this narrative there is a strong similarity to other Canadian regimental histories. However, Soldiers of the Queen is distinctive in that it is extremely well illustrated. The book’s photographs, as much as its narrative, bring the history of this Regiment to life. The author has clearly spent countless hours scouring through albums and archives, and his efforts are well rewarded in this volume.

As military history, Soldiers of the Queen is a faithful and factual recounting of the Regiment’s existence. There is little in this book that is contentious or controversial, as Patterson has set himself the straightforward task of recording and chronicling the regiment’s activities in one volume. In this manner, the author has devoted his efforts to encapsulating regimental war diaries and regimental publications, as well as occasionally illuminating his narrative with interesting examples drawn from various regulations and orders.

Soldiers of the Queen also has other related value in that it provides historical background for those interested in the important subject of evolving military culture. Patterson’s description of this distinguished regiment provides a good basis from which to find research material on the subjects of cohesion, the nature of tradition, group identity, and morale. This is a thoroughly researched and comprehensive account of its subject. In summary, it is a book that anyone with an interest in the Canadian Grenadier Guards, or the institutional development of the Canadian militia, would be well advised to read.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Michael J. Goodspeed, an officer in the Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and a distinguished author of Canadian military fiction in his own right, is currently Deputy Chief of Staff for Learning Support at the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston.


  1. In fact, in one form or another, Guards traditions are maintained by several Canadian regiments: the Governor General’s Foot Guards, the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Royal 22e Regiment, and the Governor General’s Horse Guards.

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