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Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment

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Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment

The Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment of the British Army was raised in 1840 for service in Canada. Its members were veterans of service in other regiments of the British Army. The concern which led to the creation of the Regiment was the continuing problem of desertion. Soldiers of the British Army in garrison in Canada were often tempted to flee to the United States from which they would not be deported. At garrisons located close the international border such as Fort Mississauga in Niagara, Fort Malden in Amherstburg and Fort Wellington in Prescott, the problem of desertion was epidemic during and after the War of 1812.

In order to combat this problem, the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment only recruited veterans of at least 15 years' service in the British Army. These men were thought to be more reliable than their younger counterparts. In addition, the pay of private soldiers in the Regiment was doubled to two shillings per day instead of the normal one shilling per day. They were also offered the prospect of a pension upon completion of 21 years of military service and free grants of land.

Starting in 1840, the Regiment was spread out in detachments from St. John's in Newfoundland to Winnipeg in Manitoba.

Another unusual feature of the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment was its uniform and tactical employment. While most infantry in the British Army wore redcoats into the 1880s and 1890s and fought with smoothbore muskets into the 1850s, during the Napoleonic Wars the Army had experimented with regiments of rifle-armed infantry who wore green uniforms in an early attempt at camouflage. Deployed as skirmishers, these men of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, the 60th Regiment, and the 95th Regiment, performed sterling service throughout the Peninsular War and the Waterloo Campaign in 1815.

After the War of 1812, the Duke of Wellington opined that light infantry and rifle-armed skirmishers would prove of great value in any future campaigns in North America. Taking this advice, the British Army elected to embody the new, veterans' regiment as a rifle regiment rather than a more traditional infantry regiment.

The initial weapon of the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment was the Baker rifle, which had been introduced into service in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. While beloved by its users and quite sophisticated in design, it was a flintlock weapon and therefore liable to malfunction in rain or wind. In 1841, the Army adopted a percussion lock rifle called the Brunswick rifle which was intended to retain the Baker rifle's better characteristics with a more reliable mechanism.

The result of this change was unfortunate. The Brunswick Rifle was an inelegant rifle which suffered from a severe recoil when fired. In addition, the inherent problem of loading rifled ammunition down the barrel of a muzzleloading rifle remained to be solved. Where a smoothbore musket could be fired at least three times per minute in experienced hands, a Brunswick or Baker Rifle required a full minute to reload. While accurate to a range of approximately 300 yards rather than the 100 yards of the musket, the slowness of reloading proved a dangerous liability on the battlefield.

Fort Wellington is a national historic site operated by Parks Canada and depicts the period 1846. At this time, a company of the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment was in garrison at the Fort and visitors can see guides in the uniform of this Regiment as well as a restored barracks.

The Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment was disbanded on 30 September 1870 at Kingston.

External links

  • Encyclopaedic history of the British Army: http://www.regiments.org/regiments/na-canada/inf/840rcrr.htm
  • Fort Wellington National Historic site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/on/wellington/index_e.asp
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