Weaponry and Wartime Experience


Oscar Pelletier; Militia Officer

Oscar Pelletier was a typical Non-Permanent Militia officer. His father, Charles Pelletier, a Liberal senator who had been minister of agriculture in the Alexander Mackenzie government (1873-79), was opposed to his son's taking up a military career. All the same, Oscar enlisted in the Queen's Own Canadian Hussars in Quebec City, before transferring to the 9th Battalion of Carabineers, later the Quebec Regiment of Voltigeurs. In June 1884, after some three years' service, Pelletier registered at the St Jean d’Iberville infantry school to obtain certificates confirming his rank as an officer. He was surrounded by generally bilingual officers of Canadian and British stock; D'Odet d'Orsonnens was commander of the school.

At the outbreak of hostilities in the North-West, Pelletier was a lieutenant on an artillery course at RMC Kingston, where B Battery, a permanent unit, was stationed at the time. Eager to enter the field of battle, he was determined to get a transfer to that unit. He approached his uncle, P-B. Casgrain, the Liberal MP for L'Islet whose family connections included the Conservative minister of militia and defence, Adolphe Caron. The B Battery commander had no choice but to accept Pelletier, whom he attached to one of the two field artillery troops. When the force formed up in three columns, Pelletier and his artillerymen were placed with Otter. In the battle of Cut Knife Hill, a bullet passed right through Pelletier's left thigh, without, however, breaking the bone. While serving in the B Battery ambulance service, Pelletier became acquainted with Gaston Labat, a Frenchman who had come to Canada after the Franco-Prussian War; his is a name that will appear again in these pages.

When the units were being repatriated, Pelletier was in Winnipeg with the medical convoy. Now on the mend, he was able to walk. During his travels, he ran into some members of the 9th Battalion, his original unit. It suddenly occurred to him that it would be nice to go back to Quebec City as a hero instead of to Kingston with an unfamiliar unit. Pelletier's leave to visit the 9th was good for only two hours - a minor problem that was once again quickly resolved. It was laid before the regiment's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Amyot, who, like eight other colonels on that campaign, was a Member ofParliament. Amyot, who represented the Quebec riding of Bellechasse and was a personal friend of the minister, immediately telegraphed Caron, who, according to Pelletier, replied without delay: "Authorization to detach us from the convoy that brought us here was communicated to Major Short." 26

One may wonder what authority a commander could exercise over his unit when a capricious minister had the power to impose or remove men. Poor Middleton's command included nine MP-colonels and one MP private who were in the habit of communicating directly with Caron.