86th Machine Gun Battalion: A Brief History


by Ken Scheffler

In mid-August 1915, it was announced that a new unit, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion--"the first of its kind in the British Empire"--would be raised and based in Hamilton, Ontario. Shortly afterwards, the prominent Hamilton architect and Major in the local 91st Highland Regiment, Walter Wilson Stewart, was appointed to command the unit.

Recruiting commenced on August 28. Initially, Lt. Col. Stewart, along with several of the battalion's officers, inspected men from local depot regiments--the 13th Regiment, 91st Highlanders, 2nd Dragoons and 1st Field Engineers--and "hand picked" men who met the battalion's "high standards". Men were also selected from the 77th Regiment in Dundas and the 44th Regiment in Welland, the men from the latter forming the battalion's Company D. Therefore, in the matter of a week or so, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion consisted of over 600 men.

Over the course of the next month, recruiting continued at a fairly moderate pace, and by the time the battalion departed for Camp Niagara on September 23, its strength was approximately 1000 men (250 of which were in Welland).

The men of the 86th Machine Gun Battalion were stationed at Camp Niagara for just over a month. During this time they were issued rifles and underwent infantry training.

Upon its return to Hamilton on November 9, the battalion was stationed at the Old Armouries on James St., which had been renovated during their time at Camp Niagara. The men were kept busy with numerous drills and lectures, as well as route marches (when weather permitted) to Rosedale in the city's east end, Ancaster, or other outlying areas.

Much to Lt. Col. Stewart's displeasure, however, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion did not recieve machine guns until well into the new year, so it was not until March 1916 that the battalion's men began training in this respect.

The 86th Machine Gun Battalion was finally sent to England in May 1916 and was stationed at the Risborough Barracks, Shorncliffe, where training was completed. On May 22, 1916, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion was redesignated the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, and the men were transferred to various machine gun units as they were needed.

Lt. Col. W. W. Stewart remained in command of the unit until March 16, 1917, when he took a temporary leave of absence to tour the Front. And so it was that on April 11, 1917, while with the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade, that he was killed.

Lt. Col. W. M. Balfour, who had taken over command of the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, therefore remained in command. On October 8, 1917, Lt. Col. Balfour and Lt. Col. W. N. Moorehouse of the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion replaced each other as the officer commanding of their respective units. On March 18, 1919, Lt. Col. Balfour resumed command of the Canadian Machine Gun Depot and remaind its commander until it was demobilized.


Sources

Information on the 86th Machine Gun Battalion was derived primarily from the Hamilton Spectator. 1