RHLI 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard Debuts!

By Capt Tim Fletcher

The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry has a new sub-unit and the City of Hamilton has a new attraction. The RHLI 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard made its official debut at the RHLI Change of Command Ceremony on May 16th, 2010, at Bayfront Park.

The Guard is a unique formation. Dressed in the scarlet uniforms of 1862 – the uniforms which gave rise to the famous “thin red line” of history – and using period drill, the Guard honours the founding of the RHLI in 1862, when it was known as the 13th Battalion, Volunteer Militia, Upper Canada. Yes, Upper Canada – this was five years before Confederation!

What makes them unique is their status – the Guard members are all serving soldiers, not re-enactors. This is evident from the precision of their drill, their care and attention to their weapons, the exactness of their uniforms. They are “under orders”, and it shows. They are not “re-enacting” the period, they are perpetuating it on behalf of the original 13th Battalion soldiers.

The Guard took the field for the first time with the Regiment, marching into Bayfront Park with their fellow soldiers, Guard Sergeant-Major Chris Brooks CD – a sergeant in “B” Company of the RHLI - keeping them in step under command of Second Lieutenant Richard Moll, who is a platoon commander also in “B” Company. Then, before the actual change of command ceremony got underway, the Guard was called forward to conduct a demonstration of precision period drill, including firing three volleys from their brand-new, exact-reproduction rifled Enfield muskets for the first time.

The soldiers took their paper cartridges from their pouches, bit off the tips, poured in the powder, rammed home the paper, placed their percussion caps and fired their volleys as steady as the veterans of old – the Riley’s own thin red line once again. The demonstration was wildly received by the audience of military and civilian guests, including family members – it’s been a very long time since this sight has been seen in our City with serving soldiers, representing the military history of our area.

In this day of modern weaponry, it’s hard to imagine the courage and steadfastness it took the soldiers of that era to march into battle, shoulder to shoulder, with a 15-pound musket sporting a 17-inch steel bayonet on the end, able to fire three rounds a minute under ideal conditions, all done while wearing a heavy wool uniform buttoned up the neck. The 13th Battalion – today’s Royal Hamilton Light Infantry – is one of the very few Canadian regiments to have done so, at Ridgeway in 1866. Today, the 13th Battalion lives again.