Lieutenant Colonel Levi Jerome Gilbert
117th (Eastern Townships) Battalion
A CALL TO ARMS
There is not a neighborhood in the Townships where it should be impossible to raise a section, and a section so raised would be a “CHUM SECTION.” Each MAN would be a neighbor, would share the same tents, drill and march side by side, befriend each other throughout the campaign and, let us trust, come home again together rejoicing in perils safely passed, but shared in common, and in a common participation which is surely coming if we all do our Duty.
(117th Citizens Recruiting Association pamphlet, 1 December 1915)
Born on 2 June 1870, Levi Jerome Gilbert was a civic leader in Sherbrooke, Quebec and a gentleman militia officer with the 58th Compton Regiment in the 7th Hussars. As commander of the 117th Battalion, Gilbert recruited volunteers from the Eastern Townships region of Quebec, which included Sherbrooke, Magog and Cowansville.
During a ceremony honoring Colonel Gilbert and the 117th at His Majesty’s Theatre in Sherbrooke on 29 May 1916, civic, business and religious leaders, stressed, “In name and composition, you will go forth as a distinct Eastern Townships Battalion, and you will always be directly associated with your own section of Canada. Your career will be followed with the keenest interest.” After Anglican Bishop Lennox Williams consecrated the unit colours, Gilbert declared, “We will carry them not only as Soldiers of king, but as Soldiers of the KING of kings.”
While Gilbert had promised to lead a battalion of neighbours onto the battlefield, he was powerless to prevent the breakup of his unit for reinforcement drafts. The disorganization of the 117th upon arriving in England in fall 1916 came as a grave disappointment to the volunteers and civilians in the Eastern Townships who had invested so much local pride in the battalion. Many of the reinforcements augmented the 5th Canada Mounted Rifles, which had earlier been recruited from the Eastern Townships in 1915.
Prior to departing Canada, the unit had been inspected by Major General F. L. Lessard, who was unimpressed with Gilbert’s abilities as a commanding officer. He was found to be inexperienced, “easy going” and lacked initiative. Once the 117th was broken up, Gilbert was deemed surplus to requirements and returned to Canada in February 1917.
For the sad story of 117th Battalion paymaster, Captain Robert Bartholomew, read my post at Active History.