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Norfolk Militia
a 1924 essay by Dr. W. A. McIntosh

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The Norfolk Militia has had an honourable career of more than a hundred years. In the War of 1812, in the threatened invasion of 1866, and then in the most gigantic war of all time, from 1914 to 1918, there were Norfolk men.

In the Great War there were decorations of every kind given to men of Norfolk, Military Medals, Distinguished Conduct Medals, Military Crosses, Distinguished Service Orders, one Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and Officers mentioned in Despatches. These swell to such numbers that a mere mention of them all would enlarge this article beyond its allotted space. The Officer Commanding the Fenwick Rifles became Minister of Militia for Canada. Three sons of the Orderly Sergeant of the Fenwick Rifles all saw active service, one winning the Military Cross in the World War. The Norfolk Rifles of today consists of a fine promising body of men who in emergency would uphold the traditions of the men of the Long Point Country.

Sources of exact information are fragmentary and this article is intended to be suggestive only, there being no attempt made to mention more than a small fraction of the number of outstanding names.

In the Historical Atlas of the County of Norfolk, published by H. R. Page & Co., Toronto, in 1877, appears an autobiography of Colonel Titus Williams of Port Rowan. This was first published in Major Ryan's newspaper, the Port Rowan Spirit of The Age. Titus Williams was the son of a Captain Jonathan Williams of the British Army. He was born at Long Island, 1790. When he was 11 years old the family came to Canada and settled in Woodhouse. In 1808 T. Williams received an Ensign's commission in the 2nd Regiment of the Norfolk Militia under Colonel R. Nichol. In 1812 he enlisted (on outbreak of war) and was appointed Lieutenant. General Hill entered Canada after Lt. Williams had been three weeks at Turkey Point with his men. Williams was sent with four companies to Malcolm's Corners, near Waterford. The men were told that they would have to march to Detroit River to assist in repelling invaders. (There was no train service and there were no internal combustion engines.)  About three-fourths of the men revolted. Colonel Talbot attempted to appeal to their patriotism but without success. The men were dismissed to await further orders. Lt. Williams joined the Regulars under Colonel Chambers. A report was made by Colonels Talbot and Boswick on the disaffection of the Norfolk Militia, and after a council, Colonel Boswick and Lt. Williams were ordered to march the militia to Port Dover to join the Regulars. This course succeeded and a satisfactory quota of 100 from the militia was under the authority selected by Lt. Williams. This force was augmented at Sandwich by Tecumseh and his band of Indian braves. The Canadians crossed the river and captured Detroit. After many thrilling experiences, and being taken prisoner on more than one occasion, Capt. Williams finally accepted command of a force of Regulars at Port Dover and Port Ryerse, and after the departure of that force for England, Capt. Williams declined a permanent commission in the Regular Army and became successively Major and Colonel, retiring with the latter rank after loss of eyesight and hearing. At the time this sketch was written (1877) he was living near Port Rowan in his 87th year. Many families in Norfolk cherish records of forbears [sic] who served and lost their lives in the war of 1812-14. Possibly the reason why Detroit is such a favourite is that it was once a Canadian city.

It is a matter of history that the late William Mercer Wilson, Clerk of the Peace and afterwards County Judge, commanded a calvary troop in Norfolk. Col. Wilson's career as the first Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Canada was too well-known to require further reference.

The participation of the Norfolk Volunteers, which may be considered the parent organization of the Norfolk Rifles, now commanded by Lt.-Col. A. A. Winter, is chronicled in The Simcoe Reformer of June 8th, 1906, forty years after the Fenian Raid. The article, which is concise and accurate, was written by the late Lt.-Col. Coombs. In 1866 the Norfolk Militia consisted of four companies: (1) The Simcoe (Fenwick) Rifles; (2) Villa Nova Rifles; (3) Port Rowan Rifles; (4) Walsingham Centre Rifles.

Captain (afterwards Lt.-Col.) Tisdale was in command of the Simcoe company, 
Lt. C. W. Matheson being the second in command. Col. Coombs' article describes the preparations for resisting the Fenian Raid. The four Norfolk companies, with the band of the Fenwick Rifles, were sent to Paris, there a provisional battalion was formed, consisting of six companies, four from Norfolk, together with the Paris Rifle Company and the Mount Pleasant Rifle Company. After about twelve days in Paris, under the command of Major Patton, Commanding Officer of the Paris Rifles (he being the senior officer of the garrison), the Norfolk companies returned home where they were sumptuously dined and entertained.

The names of the Commanding Officers of the Norfolk Rifles, in order of service, are as follows: Colonel Tisdale, Colonel Mabee, Colonel Thompson, Colonel Coombs, Colonel York, Colonel Atkinson, Colonel Renton, Colonel Aiken, Colonel Townsend, Colonel Winter.

Source: Simcoe and Norfolk County published by Pearce Publishing, 1924
(Out of print. Copy available for inspection at Norfolk Historical Society.)
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