Lieutenant Colonel H. J. M. R. DesRosiers
163rd (Canadien-Français) and 22nd Battalions
I do not believe a more competent O.C. than Lieutenant Colonel DesRosiers could be found in the C.E.F. The breaking up of the battalion would demoralize us. If allowed to go to the front as a unit, we will try our best to be a source of pride to our race and credit to Canada.
(Maj. Asselin to Arthur Mignault, Nov 1916)
Henri Joseph Marie Romeo DesRosiers was born in Vaudreuil, Quebec on 11 July 1880. A prewar member of the 65th Regiment, DesRosiers enlisted with the 14th Battalion in August 1914. A veteran of Second Ypres, DesRosiers was recalled to Canada in early 1916 to take command of a new French-Canadian battalion.
Despite his reputation as a militant Nationalist, journalist and editor, Olivar Asselin had proposed to raise a francophone unit from Montreal. Despite his central role in recruiting volunteers, Asselin agreed to serve as second-in-command to the recently returned DesRosiers. Asselin explained his decision not to command the battalion himself, “My sole condition is that the chief command be given to one of those officers at the Front, or from the Front, who have shown their mettle under fire.”
In May 1916, the 163rd sailed for garrison duty in Bermuda, taking the place of Tancrède Pagnuelo’s 206th Battalion. Pagnuelo’s unit had been disbanded after the corrupt colonel was court martialled for dissention, perjury and extortion. In November 1916, the 163rd eventually arrived in England, where it was absorbed into the 10th Reserve Battalion under DesRosiers’ command.
After Major Dubec and most of the senior officers of the 22nd Battalion were wounded during the battle of Amiens in early September 1918, DesRosiers was select to take command. Georges Vanier approved the appointment, noting, “He is a sterling man who will make an excellent commander of the battalion.”
During the interwar years, DesRosiers was vice-president of the Imperial Tobacco Company, which he had been associated with since 1901. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was appointed deputy minister of defence. His selection was in part due to the Government’s realization that they had no high-ranking francophone official in the defence bureaucracy.
Urging Quebec voters to support the 1942 conscription plebiscite, DesRosiers warned that with naval and air power used against Canada, Hitler:
…could, entirely at his convenience burn, kill until such time as we accepted the conditions he wished to impose upon us. And, at such a moment, I would pray Providence to protect from your fury those who know nothing of the art of war, but who do not wish to give their confidence to our military leaders.
DesRosiers resigned as deputy minister of defence three months after the end of the war and returned to civilian life.