I am confident that the French Canadians will defend all their trenches with fierce vigour and will hold on at any price, even the price of death. Let us not forget that we represent an entire race and that many things—the very honour of French Canada—depend upon the manner in which we conduct ourselves. Our ancestors bequeathed to us a brave and glorious past that we must respect and equal. Let us uphold our beautiful old traditions.
(Tremblay, Diary, 1916)
Thomas-Louis Tremblay would prove to be the 22nd Battalion’s most famous commanding officer. Notorious for his strict discipline, he was determined to prove the only all French-Canadian unit serving in the field was the finest in the CEF. Born in Chicoutimi, Quebec on 16 May 1886, he was a graduate of the Royal Military College, a civil engineer and member of the 1st Canadian Field Artillery.
He succeeded an ill Lieutenant Colonel Fred Gaudet in command of the 22nd Battalion in January 1916. “I am perhaps the youngest Bn commanding officer at the front,” the twenty-nine year old Tremblay wrote, “My battalion represents an entire race; it is a heavy responsibility. Nonetheless, I have confidence in myself and I feel that my men respect me.” He viewed the battle of Courcelette on 15 September 1916 as a chance to prove French-Canadian courage and loyalty.
Lieutenant Georges Vanier, who was hospitalized in England recovering from shell shock, related, “Colonel Tremblay, I am told, went through everything, not receiving a scratch. He is a splendid soldier and led his men most gallantly.” Tremblay had in fact been buried by shells three times and went days without sleep during the fighting at Courcelette. He was evacuated sick shortly after the battle.
He did not resume command for five months until February 1917. During his sick leave, discipline in the 22nd had become lax under the temporary command of Major Arthur Édouard Dubuc. Determined to restore unit discipline, Tremblay was not hesitant about ordering the death penalty for deserters. Of only twenty-five Canadians executed during the war, seven came from the 22nd.
In August 1918, Tremblay was promoted to take over the 5th Infantry Brigade. Despite the former 22nd commander’s reputation as a harsh disciplinarian, Vanier had nothing but praise: “Tremblay is a prince, and he has been wonderful to me at all times.”
During the Second World War, Tremblay served as Inspector-General of Eastern Canada. He died in Montreal on 28 March 1951. Vanier eulogized his friend, “Tremblay embodied the true soul of the 22nd. His place in the history of our people is assured.”