Lieutenant Colonel J. Hilliard Rorke
248th (Grey) Battalion
The enthusiasm of Lt.-Col. J. Hilliard Rorke is catching and the 1000 Leaguers of all over the County have got the spirit of extreme optimism and are entering upon the campaign with renewed vigour.
(Flesherton Advance, 15 Feb 1917, 4)
Facing the dismal late-war recruiting environment, Joseph Hilliard Rorke devised a new strategy to fill his battalion. In January 1917, he formed the “1000 Thousand League,” composed of one thousand citizens in Grey County who each pledged to secure one volunteer by 1 March. Born on 30 November 1876 in Thornbury, Ontario, Rorke was a graduate of McGill University, a journalist, and business executive. An expert shot, he had served in the Boer War and was member of the 31st Regiment and the McGill C.O.T.C. His cousin, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Victor Rorke commanded the 20th Battalion on the front from December 1916 to June 1918.
Ultimately, Rorke’s “1000 League” system failed. Although he found hundreds of citizens who promised to find a recruit, the battalion sailed for England with less than 300 men in June 1917. The colonel bid farewell to Grey County and Owen Sound: “Recruiting has been hard. But the task of raising the 248th battalion to its present strength has not been altogether unpleasant, nor unduly laborious, because of the fact that the earnest citizens of this county have been behind us in every endeavour.”
Rorke was struck off strength back to Canada in September 1919. He was posted to the Kapuskasing internment camp before being discharged as medically unfit.
He died in Montreal on 25 March 1934 following a long illness. At his funeral, Archdeacon Colonel John Almond declared, “Those of us left among the survivors of the two wars, the South African and the Great War, are made to feel lonely as we see our thing ranks depleted more and more by death.”