It was such fighting ability that enabled my 21st Battalion to come home with the record of never having been given a black eye in over four years of active participation in the war. They never went after anything they did not take, and they never gave up anything they captured. Of the original 1058, less than 150 are now alive, most of them buried in Flanders’s Fields and in the Somme.
(W. Hughes, “An Appreciation,” in H. W. McBride, A Rifleman Went to War, 1935)
William St. Pierre Hughes was Inspector of Penitentiaries and commanding officer of 14th The Princess of Wales’ Own Rifles Princess of Wales’ Own Rifles. Born on 2 June 1864 in Darlington Township, Canada West, he was also the younger brother of Sir Sam, MP for Victoria and Minister of Militia. In November 1914, Hughes, a veteran of the Northwest Rebellion with over thirty years’ experience in the militia, took command of the 21st Battalion, based in Kingston.
The 21st sailed for England in May 1915. In September, it joined the 4th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division in France. Hughes remained in command until his promotion to brigadier general of the 10th Brigade in July 1916. Elmer Watson Jones succeeded him in command of the 21st.
Two months after Sir Sam was dismissed from Cabinet in November 1916, the younger Hughes was sacked as commander of the 10th Brigade. Citing poor performance during the battle of the Somme, General David Watson of the 2nd Division pushed for Hughes’ dismissal. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hilliam of the 25th Battalion took command of the brigade on 18 January 1918.
Hughes strenuously protested his removal and accused Watson of organizing a conspiracy to ruin his brigade. He claimed to have “incurred the displeasure” of Watson after criticizing the division’s tactics during the battle of the Somme:
I would have expected and would have richly deserved to have been shot had I been responsible for this slaughter. It was the direct result of the inefficiency of or the indifference of the Divisional Commander.
“I am most anxious to see the War through to the end,” he vowed to General Richard Turner, “I want to do my bit at the Front to a finish.” Nevertheless, Hughes was unable to secure another command post and returned to Canada in May 1918.
He resumed his position as Inspector of Penitentiaries and stayed active in military affairs by helping to organize the 21st veterans’ association. He died in Ottawa on 1 June 1940, one day before his seventy-sixth birthday.
Captain H. W. McBride’s 1935 memoir, to which Hughes wrote the preface, praised the original 21st commander:
He attracted me from the start, as a real soldier. Later I was destined to know him as one of the broadest-minded and most generous men I have ever met.