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The history of the valiant First Hussars regiment

Published on

Phil Egan

Sarnia and London are connected by more than the 160-year-old London Road.

Both cities are home to garrisons of the celebrated First Hussars, which is the primary Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment of the Canadian Army.

In Sarnia, the regiment is based at the George Stirrett Armoury on Confederation Street.

Armoured reconnaissance, for those familiar with the exploits of the First Hussars, conjures images of prowling tanks. One of these, appropriately nicknamed “Calamity,” can be viewed today on Front Street in front of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 62.

Another, “Bold” remains in Normandy, where First Hussar tanks came ashore at Juno Beach on D-Day. “Holy Roller” is on display in London.

The First Hussars are a tank regiment today but originally derived from two independent cavalry troops in London and St. Thomas. They were formed in 1856 and joined the year of Confederation as “St. Thomas and London Squadron of Canada.”

Men of these units stood on guard for Canada during the Fenian Scare in 1866, when fanatical Irish-Catholics sought to liberate Canada from imperialist rule.

Designated “Hussars,” or light cavalry in 1888, they were amalgamated into the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles at the outbreak of the First World War, having already won their first official battle honours during the Boer War.

Sarnia’s George Stirrett was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for conspicuous gallantry during the bloody Battle of the Somme. One of the First Hussars’ more distinguished soldiers of the Great War, Stirrett would go on to be awarded the Military Cross before the war ended.

The unit fought with distinction at Vimy Ridge in 1917, and especially in the “Hundred Days” series of fights in late 1918, when Canadians took the lead in chasing the defeated German army back towards the Rhine.

During the Second World War, the First Hussars sailed for Europe in 1941 as part of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade. They were among the first to storm Juno Beach on D-Day in Normandy in June of 1944, engaging German anti-tank weapons and machine gun nests. Tanks of the First Hussars were actually the only Allied forces to reach their D-Day objectives.

The First Hussars came to Sarnia in 1964, having resumed their peacetime role as a reserve armoured reconnaissance-training unit. They brought with them, for training purposes, a Sherman tank. In 1967, the First Hussars’ responsibilities shifted from armoured training to reconnaissance, and the heavy weaponry became expendable.

The Sherman tank, christened “Calamity” was offered to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62. Dedicated three days before Remembrance Day in 1970, Calamity has served as a visual tribute to the fighting men of this glorious Canadian regiment and their colourful and valiant history.

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