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The Old Soldier – Regimental Sergeant-Major Thomas McKenzie remembered at Wolseley Barracks

September 2019

In London, Ontario, the historic Wolseley Barracks, has been a fixture in the city since 1884, when it was established as the home of “D” Company of the Infantry Corps School, on farmland in Middlesex County, owned by John Carling, son of the founder of the Carling Brewery. Although it is still an active Canadian Army establishment, it’s a shadow of its former self, a victim of a city that grew up around it and the declining needs of Canada’s military.

Wolseley Barracks was the Home Station of The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Canada’s senior infantry regiment and the oldest Regular Force infantry regiment until 1992, when Wolseley Barracks, then officially known as Canadian Forces Base London, was reduced to a Detachment of CFB Toronto.

A significant number surplus buildings have been torn down, but among those remaining are the original 1886 U-shaped “A” Block building, also known as Wolseley Hall, that currently houses the RCR museum and the 4th Battalion, Royal Canadian Regimen, along with the McKenzie building, the only barracks building remaining, which currently houses 31 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters.

The McKenzie Building is named after Regimental Sergeant-Major Thomas McKenzie, Regimental #2001, considered the first recruit of the Royal Canadian Regiment, joining “A” Company of the Infantry School Corps on 7 January 1884.

McKenzie was born in Gibralter in 1830 and joined the 64th Regiment (North Staffordshire Regiment) in 1841 as a bugler, drummer, and flautist in the regimental band.

In 1849, the 64th was posted to India, where Thomas was quickly promoted up the ranks from Corporal (1851) and then Sergeant in 1854.

In 1856, Sergeant McKenzie served as the bugler to the commanding general, Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram, while the Regiment served during the Persian War.

McKenzie saw action at the reliefs of Cawnpore and Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. McKenzie was later promoted Colour Sergeant.

In 1861, McKenzie volunteered to go to British North America, to train militia soldiers, arriving in Saint John, New Brunswick the following February, where he trained soldiers from the 62nd Battalion of the New Brunswick Militia.

McKenzie went on active service with Saint John Volunteer Battalion as the Regimental Sergeant Major with the during the Fenian Raids in 1865-66.

Formally retiring from the 64th Regiment and the British Army in 1868 after 27 years service as a Captain, McKenzie was later appointed as the Militia Stores Keeper in Fredericton. It was here in 1872 that the young Canadian Government established a Military School of Instruction. McKenzie was appointed as the school’s sole drill instructor.

McKenzie served in this position until 1883, when the first regular infantry regiment was formed: the Infantry School Corps.

McKenzie resigned his commission so he could join the Corps as its first member on 7 January 1884. He was immediately appointed the Corps Regimental Sergeant Major, a position he held until he retired in 1895, by which time the Corps had been renamed 24 May 1893 as the Royal Regiment of Canadian Infantry.

In retirement, RSM McKenzie maintained his military connections, serving as custodian of the Fredericton Armouries and Military Compound.

McKenzie died on 26 February 1910, and is buried in the Rural Cemetery in Fredericton.

Today, Wolseley Barracks is no longer considered a base, and most of the land has been redeveloped for residential and commercial uses. What remains has been sectioned off and still functions as a military establishment for the London-area reserve units, including 31 Service Battalion, the 1st Hussars, the 4th Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and 31 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters.

The RCR Museum and 4 RCR are the sole flag-bearers of the regiment at the former Home Station. The RCR Headquarters Company also remained at Wolseley Barracks until 2009, when it joined the 1st and 3rd Battalions at Garrison Petawawa, near Ottawa.

Sources: https://www.unb.ca/nbmhp-database/york-county/soldiers-in-york-country/regimental-sergeant-major-thomas-mckenzie-canadas-first-regular-soldier.php, Sentinel magazine xxxx 197x.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-old-soldier-regimental-sergeant-major-thomas-mckenzie-remembered-at-wolseley-barracks/

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