Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada
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Glossary

Select a letter to browse an alphabetical listing of terms and definitions.

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Machine gun

Mounted automatic gun delivering continuous fire. After various experiments by inventors of the mid-19th century to create a quick-firing weapon, the first operational machine gun was patented in 1862 by Richard J. Gatling, an American physician. Its first combat use in Canada may have been at Batoche, Saskatchewan in 1885. The Gatling was manually operated as were other machine guns invented at that time. In 1884, another American, Hiram S. Maxim patented the automatic recoil machine gun. John A. Browning, another American, invented the first successful gas-operated machine gun in 1890. Once the main technological hurdles were overcome, machine guns appeared in numbers in various armies of the early 20th century. They were used extensively by Canadian troops during the First World War, and their effectiveness in the battles of 1914 was a primary cause of trench warfare. Machine guns were fitted on airplanes and Canadian pilots fought in aircrafts with considerable success.

Martello Tower

Round stone towers of several stories with artillery on top. They usually had a low, wooden, cone-shaped roof that could be removed when clearing for action. They were very strongly built and made ideal outlying forts that, while relatively inexpensive to put up, were difficult to capture. They were first built in Canada at Halifax in 1796, and later at Québec (1808-1812), St. John (1813-1815) and Kingston (1846-1848). Most are still standing today. The name "Martello" is said to derive from Cape Mortella in Corsica and became popularized in England during the Napoleonic Wars when defence towers were built along the English coast.

Matross

Assistant gunners to help loading, firing and sponging guns in the Royal Artillery and the Royal Canadian Artillery.

Medal

Decorated piece of metal, usually in the form of a coin, awarded to a soldier as a distinction or honour for services rendered, proficiency or acts of courage. Medals were not commonly worn in armies until the 18th and 19th centuries. The first widely distributed medal was the cross of the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Louis instituted by Louis XIV in 1693 for officers in the French armed forces, which represented a knighthood with the title of "chevalier". Many Canadian officers received it during the 18th century.

There were no medals in the British armed forces until the Napoleonic wars, when they were issued to senior officers to commemorate battles. Several Canadian officers received such medals for battles fought in the War of 1812. It was not until 1848 that the British Military General Service Medal was established for the enlisted men.Veterans of the War of 1812 need only apply for it, if they were still alive. Bars were available for Fort Detroit (16 August 1812), Chateauguay (26 October 1813) and Chrysler’s Farm (11 November 1813). At the same time, the Naval General Service Medal was instituted to be awarded to officers and sailors and there was a bar for "Shannon with Chesapeake" (1 June 1813). The British imperial government gave the North-West Canada Medal to Canadian troops engaged in suppressing Riel’s rebellion in 1885.

The Canada General Service Medal, instituted in 1899, was the first to be issued by the Canadian government. Thereafter, medals were commonly awarded to officers and enlisted men for campaigns and good service. British Commonwealth medals were awarded to Canadians until the 1970s, when distinctive Canadian medals were introduced. Canadian volunteers serving in other armed forces were also awarded decorations, for instance the members of the Canadian contingent of Zouaves in Papal service.

See: Canada General Service Medal, Croix Saint-Louis, Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Flying Medal, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross, Military Medal, Victoria Cross

Merchant Navy

Commercial freighters and passengers liners that play a vital supporting role during wartime. Also called the Merchant Marine. The fleets carrying the expeditions that attacked Québec in 1690 and 1759, and Louisbourg in 1758, were mostly made up of merchants ships. For instance, the fleet carrying Wolfe’s army to Québec included 34 English transport ships, 7 English ordnance vessels, 4 English victuallers’ vessels, 6 American ordnance vessels, and 68 American transport ships, including sloops and schooners. "Ordnance" vessels were merchant ships hired by the Board of Ordnance to carry military supplies in wartime. In 1813, during the American War, several ordnance vessels were sent to Québec from London laden with arms and supplies for Canadian militiamen. Merchant ships are also called upon to carry troops, and the first large-scale transport of Canadian troops occurred during the South African War (1899-1902).

The merchant marine played a vital role from the outset of the First World War, transporting agricultural products, industrial suppllies and hundreds of thousands of Canadian soldiers to Europe. From 1916, as the Canadian commitment to supply troops to Europe grew, the Canadian government secured the use of the world’s biggest ship, RMS Olympic, sister ship of the Britannic and the famous, ill-fated Titanic. Carrying up to 7,000 troops per trip, the RMS Olympic carried some 72,000 Canadian troops to Europe and about 58,000 back to Canada until the summer of 1919. Some ships did not make it due to German submarines but this danger did not become severe until the first years of the Second World War. Although not officially part of the military services, Canadian merchant navy sailors were exposed to considerable perils from U-Boats during that conflict and, out of about 15,000 men serving on merchant ships, 1,465 perished.

See also: Canadian marine, Provincial Marine