The German heritage of many of the settlers of Waterloo County affected locals’ support for the 118th Battalion. With Canada and Britain at war with Germany, Canadians with German heritage faced possible repercussions if they did not display adequate forms of patriotism. How did they manage this without disregarding their traditions and culture? The result was a compromise between these two concerns. To avoid persecution, many supported the war by distinguishing their Germanness and the German people from Prussianism and the acts of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Like other parts of Canada, people living in the region participated in activities that supported the war effort, including supporting the Canadian Patriotic Fund. The New Hamburg chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, for example, organized a patriotic promenade concert that raised $250 for the Canadian Patriotic Fund. While the Waterloo County council voted to donate $2,500 in September, 1916. However, there was also resistance to the war effort, in particular to recruiting.
Colonel Lochead, the officer in charge of recruiting efforts for the 118th Battalion, often reported significant resistance from the local community and his relationship with the community is documented in his papers. For example, in Elmira, a recruiting officer reported to Lochead that a father had literally locked up his son when he heard that the boy had joined the 118th. The recruiting officer stated that this was an example of the general disinterest shown by the people of Elmira to enlist stating that he had “failed to accomplish a great deal in the way of convincing the public here of their duty.”
One of the factors that exacerbated the strained relationship between the 118th and Waterloo County was the fact that many of the newly raised men came from elsewhere in Ontario and so lacked familiarity with the area and its German heritage. As an example, the battalion’s machine gun section had been recruited in Toronto and on 15 February believing that the local community was being too overtly German, these men broke into and ransacked the Concordia Club, a prominent German-Canadian club. Unfortunately, this was not the first nor was it to be the last violent action taken by 118th servicemen against members of the local community.
Our collection reveals the community’s conflicted support of the war and the tensions that arose from it. For examples, see File #37 on the Patriotic Fund. For the far more common resistance to the war effort, see File #54 on absentees
Bray, R. Matthew. “‘Fighting as an Ally’: The English-Canadian Patriotic Response to the Great War.” Canadian Historical Review 61, no. 2 (1980): 141-168.
Campbell, William J. “‘We Germans…are British Subjects’: The First World War and the Curious Case of Berlin, Ontario, Canada.” Canadian Military History 21, no. 2 (2015): 45-57.
Chadwick, W.R. The Battle for Berlin, Ontario: An Historical Drama. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992.
Gardner, Nikolas. “The Great War and Waterloo County: The Travails of the 118th Overseas Battalion,” Ontario History 89, no. 3 (1997): 119-236.
Hayes, Geoffrey. Waterloo County: An Illustrated History. Waterloo: Waterloo Historical Society, 1997.
Wilson, Barbara M. and The Champlain Society for the Government of Ontario, eds. Ontario and the First World War 1914-1918: A Collection of Documents. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1977.