Lieutenant Colonel Hercule Barré
150th (Carabiniers Mont-Royal) Battalion
If it had been intended to punish me and my battalion for a breach of discipline, no more drastic measure could have been adopted than the order to break it up and disperse its men, without their Officers, through the cadres of four different English speaking battalions.
Even if the necessity of breaking the cadre were conceded, from every point of view, the dispersion of the men is indefensible.
(Barré to Edward Kemp, 14 Feb 1918)
Born on 31 March 1879 in Montreal, Hercule Barré was a Quebec advertising manager with eighteen-years’ experience in the 65th Regiment. Wounded in the leg while fighting with the 14th Battalion during the second Battle of Ypres, Barré was invalided to Canada on board RMS Hesperian. When a German U-boat torpedoed the ocean liner off the coast of Queenstown, Ireland, Barré assisted the crew in evacuating the ship and loading the lifeboats. Sam Hughes praised the major, noting that his “conduct was only keeping with his splendid service at the front.”
Barré returned to Montreal in September 1915 to raise a French Canadian battalion from his home province. When Barré’s 150th Battalion arrived in England in September 1916, it provided reinforcements for the Quebec-based battalions, the 14th, the 22nd, the 24th, the 87th and the 5th Mounted Rifles. To the great disappointment of Barré, military authorities formally disbanded the 150th in February 1918. He immediately wrote to Minister Edward Kemp, Sir George Perley and Lord Beaverbrook to express his displeasure.
Of all the Quebec, battalions only the 22nd was French-Canadian. Most of the 150th troops, who were largely French-speakers, were drafted into battalions under English-speaking officers. Barré argued that this policy was faulty on both sentimental and practical grounds.
He argued that the decision harmed civilian morale in Quebec because the soldiers “shed French Canadian blood without credit to the French Canadians.” Furthermore, the bilingual Barré asserted that the policy undermined combat effectiveness due to the language barrier. In his letter to Kemp, the former 150th commander explained, “The great majority of my command have a very poor command of English. As a direct consequence, many of them will have to carry out, and risk punishment for inadequately carrying out orders, the full purport of which they cannot gather.” Barré received a transfer to France where he joined the 22nd in June 1918 and the 87th in November.
In 1919, Barré became Trade Commissioner and Commercial Attaché in Paris. He continued to oversee Canadian imports and exports with France until the Second World War. He managed to escape Paris merely days before it was captured by the Nazis on 14 June 1940. Returning to Canada, Barré worked with the Department of National Defence to organize army recruitment in Quebec.
He died on 30 December 1944.
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