Excitement ruled when war-hero general paid a visit to Sarnia

Lady and Lord Byng received a tumultuous welcome in 1922. Submitted Photo

Phil Egan

Close friends called him “Bungo.”

More formally, he was known as The Right Honourable Lord Julian Byng of Vimy, Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada.

To many veterans of the First World War, he was simply the hero of the Battle of Vimy Ridge – the general who led the Canadian Army to victory the first time all four of its corps fought together as one unit.

Whatever you called him, his visit to Sarnia with Lady Byng on the Tuesday afternoon of April 18, 1922 was hailed as “one of the most notable events in the history of Sarnia.”

Mayor Crawford declared a half-holiday and the streets were riot of colour. Hundreds of Union Jacks waved in the breeze, and red, white and blue bunting was draped along the parade route.

Patriotic banners flew: God Save our King, The Imperial City Greets You, Welcome to Sarnia, Success to the British Empire, and The Maple Leaf Forever.

One banner even made an attempt at poetry – “Biff, Bang Bing, Vimy and Everything.”

Lord Byng had been named Governor-General in 1921. His visit to Sarnia was part of a national tour that included a trip down the Mackenzie River and along the Arctic Ocean coastline.

The vice-regal party was met at the downtown rail depot when their special train arrived shortly after 4 p.m. Mayor Crawford and city councillors extended official greetings, and the parade followed with thousands of cheering citizens lining the streets.

Joining the parade were the Sarnia Band, the Machine Gun Company, the Boy Scouts and the Imperial Pipe Band. A group of war veterans marching under the command of Major N.L. LeSueur, M.C., together with a collegiate cadet corps and civic, county and chamber of commerce officials.

During a public reception at City Hall residents had a chance to meet Lord and Lady Byng.

Following the reception, Lord Byng laid the cornerstone for a new war memorial in Point Edward and then met war veterans at the Sarnia Service Club on Front Street.

Meanwhile, the ladies of the city held a separate reception for Lady Byng.

For Sarnians who might have difficulty naming the current Governor-General, such adulation may seem odd.

But the victory at Vimy Ridge has become known as “The Battle that Forged a Nation.” Canadians were proud of the sense of nationhood the battle had brought, and he was seen as the architect of that victory.

Lord Byng was a rock star of his era.