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The Origin Of The Canadian Provost Corps
The Canadian Military Police Corps

by
Sgt-Maj ( retired Major) Donald A. (Don) Tresham, CD


Photo of the late Sgt-Maj Donald A.(Don) Tresham,  CD. This article; "The Origin Of The Canadian Provost Corps, The Canadian Military Police Corps" (CMPC) was prepared by the late Sergeant-Major (MWO retired) Donald A. (Don) Tresham, CD of Ottawa, a former member of the Canadian Provost Corps. Don researched and wrote this article for publication in the former Canadian Provost Corps Association Newsletter, Watchdog; to be printed in a series of parts, with the first part being published in the second edition of the Watchdog, dated: 31 March 1980.

After his distinguished career with the Canadian Provost Corps and the Canadian Forces Security Branch (Military Police) Don subsequently, went on to achieve the rank of Major in the Reserves. He was one of the architects of the former Canadian Provost Corps Association, serving in various capacities on the executive, including the office of the President.

Sadly, Don passed away in Ottawa on the 29 December 2001 and subsequently received his final posting to that Big DB In The Sky. He is fondly remembered by all of his former Provost and Military Police colleagues.



It is thought that the Anglo-French word Provost is derived through the old English Pafost, from the Latin Praefectus, which has always implied one in authority. It is believed that the Provost Marshal was first appointed by the King, probably during the thirteenth century as an assistent to the Earl Marshal of England, in order to relieve that officer of the disciplinary side of his military duties. The Provost Marshal's role included the enforcing of Royal Writs, summoning of Feudal Barons to honour their obligations of military service to the King and enforcing the King's peace in military assemblies and camps; plus, the enforcement of military discipline in the field.

There are many references made to the Provost Marshal in Henry VIII's Articles Of War of 1513 and the duties performed by the Provost Marshal and his Provost men or Tipstaves as they were called.

In 1557 a Provost Marshal was given a HQ War Establishment of 1 Chaplain, 2 Judges, 2 Goalers and 2 Hangmen, so it is not difficult to figure out what his duties consisted of and to say the least; he was not beloved. The Provost Marshal was allotted pay of I pound per day which in those days was an extremely high rate of pay.

Overseas the Provost Marshal was not forgotten. In the Colonial Empire there were semi-permanent and permanent Provost Marshals. The earliest known provision of a permanent Provost Marshal was for the Colony of Virginia in 1611; others that are recorded include: St. Helena 1687, Gibraltar 1724 and various appointments throughout India in the eighteenth century.

During the Napolenonic Wars and in particular, the Peninsular War, there was a notable importance placed on the role of the Provost Service and as a result it was expanded in size and allotted new tasks. Besides a Provost Marshal for each Army, there were many Assistant Provost Marshals recruited from the supporting arms and services and distributed throughout each Army. In addition, Provost Sergeants were appointed to command small detachments of Police. The Provost Service also got support from two newly formed organizations, those being The Corps of Mounted Guides (1809-1820) and The Staff Corps of Cavalry (1811-1820). These organizations were formed to support and suppliment the Provost Service and their specific duties included: route reconnaissance, acting as interpreters, provision of dispatch riders and orderlies and to act as Military Police.

During the long period of peace after the Napoleonic Wars, the Provost Service sank into insignificance. In 1829 the title Provost Marshal General was discontined and in 1844, Queens Regulations laid down that the rank of the Provost Marshal would only be that of Captain.

Although the rank of the Provost Marshal was down graded to that of Capt by Queens Regulations of 1844, the need for a Provost Service was recognized. It was decided that the Provost Marshal would be stationed at Aldershot, England and that one of his duties would be to train as Military Police, men who volunteered for such employment. On completion of their training these men would be employed on police duties or on staff of the military prisons.

Gradually, the men employed on staff of the Military prisons, lost touch with those who acted as Military Police and in later years, a separate Corps was formed to handle military prisons. This is today known as The Military Provost Staff Corps.

The men employed on police duties, required more specialized training and a separate identity and so in 1855, the Corps of Mounted Police was formed as a separate permanent Corps of the British Army. Its original establishnent was very small, consisting of 1 officer, 1 Sgt, 1 Cpl and 18 Privates. The Corps was recruited from Cavalry Regiments and the Cavalry Depot. However, all members of the Corps remained on the muster rolls of the parent Regiments. It was recognized that being a policeman meant extra responsibilities and long hours and in recognition, each Cpl and Pte was given an extra shilling a day and the Sgt was given an extra shilling and six-pence, which in 1855 was a generous allowance.

In 1865 the Corps was reorganized as The Corps of Military Mounted Police, (MMP). A detachment of MMP served overseas during the Egyptian and Sudan Campaign of 1882-84 and a Foot Police detachment was raised in Egypt to met the local requirements of the field force.

In 1885 the Foot Police that had been raised in Egypt became a regular Corps as The Corps of Military Foot Police, (MFP). The establishment in 1885 of the Military Police was, MMF 75 other ranks, MFP 90 other ranks. Both Corps came under command of the Provost Marshal.

By 1899, War Establishments and Equipment Tables etc; had been allotted to the Military Police. In the Boer War (1899-1902) the War Establishments were, 12 MMP and 12 MFP with each GHQ, 12 MMP with each Cavalry Division or 4 MMP with each Cavalry Brigade. 12 MFP with each Infantry Division or 4 MFP with each Infantry Brigade and 16 MFP with Lines of Comunications Troops. In all about 200 members of the military police served in South Africa from 1899 to 1902 and it was the first time that a military police organization had been deployed operationally in numbers, during a military campaign.

Canada, from its birth on 1 July 1867, to-date, has adopted the military posture of maintaining a small permanent regular force, complemented by a larger citizen militia in peace time. In times of hostilities the militia is called upon to mobilize and provide the number required to meet the threat. Because of this posture, Canada never had a permanent military police organization until after World War 2. (The Canadian Provost Corps from 1940 - 45 were an Active Service Force).

From 1867 to 1917, Military Police in Canada, as a Corps, did not exist. In the Permanent Regular Force, policing was handled by regimental or unit police with trial by military authorities. In the Non-Permanent Active Militia, policing was again carried out by regimental or unit police. The powers of Commanding Officers were quite limited and Civilian Magistrates were called upon to handle serious military offences. However, Canada did have a para-military police force, the North West Mounted Police, later the RNWMP and RCMP. The NWMP was modelled after the Royal Irish Constabulary, a force of trained cavalrymen with powers of peace officers. Military discipline and deportment were paramount and in many ways it resembled the Corps of Mounted Police that became part of the British Army in 1855.

In 1869-70, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Prime Minister of Canada, wanted a para-military police force to control the vast Canadian North West. In 1870-71, Lt F.W. Butler, a British Army Officer, was dispatched to survey the North West and recommend a force. Lt Butler recommended a force of 100-150 men, military trained and under command of a Magistrate or Commissioner. A second survey was conducted in 1872 by Colonel Robertson Ross, the Adjutant General of the Canadian Militia. Col Ross recommended a para-mililtary police force of 550 all ranks, based on the establishment of a Cavalry Regiment.

On receipt of this information, Sir John A. Macdonald presented a plan for a force of soldier policemen patterned after The Royal Irish Constabulary and on 23 May 1873 an act was passed establishing the North West Mounted Police.

Since its organisation in 1873, The North West Mounted Police and its successors, The Royal North West Mounted Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police have contributed much to Canada's military efforts, directly and indirectly, to establishing a Canadian military police force. Some of their major contributions are listed below:
  1. The NWMP fought as a cavalry unit in North West Rebellion (Riel Rebellion) of 1885. The force suffered 4 killed in action, 4 died of wounds and 11 wounded in action;

  2. During the South African War (Boer War) 1899-1902, the NWMP did not serve as a formed unit. It did, however, provide 30 Officers and 260 Other Ranks that served in South Africa. These men served with the Strathconas Horse, lst, 2nd and 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles and the South African Constabulary;

  3. In World War 1, 1914-18, the RNWMP provided a Cavalry Squadron that served in France and Flanders. A RNWMP Sqn later served in Russia in 1918-19 with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. Some officers and men served in the Canadian Military Police Corps which was organized on 15 Oct 1917 and disbanded on 1 Dec 1920, and;

  4. During World War 2, 1939-45, the RCMP formed No 1 Provost Company (RCMP). This Company served in Canada, England, Italy and North West Europe during World War 2.

There is no doubt that many members of the NWMP, RNWMP and RCMP, as individuals, contributed much to the organization of an effective Military Police Force in Canada and Overseas. Many held appointments as Provost Officers and Provost Men while serving in the Canadian Army; long before the birth of the Canadian Provost Corps on 15 June 1940.

On 15 Oct. 1917, the Canadian Military Police Corps was organized. (General Orders No. 93 and 94, 1917 refer). These Orders authorized the formation of detachments of Military Police organized into a Corps. The Minister of Defence stated that the majority (at least two-thirds) of the personnel should be composed of Men already enlisted in the forces and so, far as possible, soldiers who had served overseas at the front. The original establishment was as follows:
  • Officers .................... 30
  • CSM's ......................13
  • CQMSIS ..................11
  • OR Sgt. Clerks .........14
  • Sgts ........................100
  • Cpls ........................100
  • L Cpls ....................582
  • Total ......................850 all ranks
Thirty four members of the CMPC were to be mounted and receive mounted pay of 200 per diem. The establishment provided for 34 horses. The Provost Marshal was to be a Colonel, with the DAAG as a Lt. Colonel. APMs were to be Majors and DAPMs Captains. It was further authorized that 25% of the Corporals could be made Acting Sergeant without pay and 50% of the Lance Cororals could be made Acting Corporal without pay. There was no establishment for Privates. Canadian Expeditionary Force Routine Orders, dated 25 April 1918, set out the condition for transfer into the CMPC. They were as follows:
  • Only the best type of man should be recommended for transfer;

  • No transfer would take place until the soldier had served 1 month's probation and was accepted by the CMPC;

  • The Corps was to be a Corps of returned soldiers, and;

  • NCOs and men of the CMPC found unsuitable would not be retained but would be recommended for transfer to the Canadian Garrison Battalion.
And so was the beginning of a formed military police corps in Canada.

The CMPC was organized into 13 Detachments. Two of these Detachments, No. 8 and 9, served with the Canadian Corps in the field. The Detachments were as follows:
  • No. 1 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - October 15, 1917 at London, Ontario.
    Disbanded:- December 1,1920

  • No. 2 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Toronto, Ontario.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • No. 3 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Kingston, Ontario.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • No. 4 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Montreal, Quebec.
    Disbanded: - December 1, 1920

  • No. 5 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Quebec City, Quebec.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • NO. 6 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - January 15, 1918 at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • No. 7 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at St.John, New Brunswick.
    Disbanded: - Deciember 1, 1920

  • Nos. 8 and 9 Detachments, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 (from the Canadian Corps in the Field)
    Disbanded: - December 1, 1920

  • No. 10 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - November 15,1917 at Winnipeg, Manitoba.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • No. 11 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Victoria, British Columbia.
    Disbanded: - December 1, 1920

  • No. 12 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Regina, Saskatchewan.
    Disbanded: - December 1,1920

  • No. 13 Detachment, C.M.P.C.
    Organized: - April 1, 1918 at Calgary, Alberta.
    Disbandid: - December 1, 1920
On 4 December 1917, Lt Colonel G. Godson, DSO was appointed temporary Colonel and Provost Marshal, Dominion of Canada. As Provost Marshal Col. Godson was given the power and authority to:
  • Issue orders to Assistant Provost Marshals, who were under direct command of General Officer Commanding (GOC's), on technical matters involving Provost work.

  • Directly order an Assistant Provost Marshal within a Command to effect the arrest of any officer or soldier against who he considered there is sufficient evidence to warrant arrest;

  • Constantly inspect the personnel of the Provost Branch and ascertain that the APMs and Military Police are carrying out their duties satisfactorily;

  • Visit and inspect any station or place within any Command without previous notification to the General Officer Commanding, and;

  • Report any instances he considers warranted directly to the Adjutant General;
As you can see the Provost Marshal (PM), Dominion of Canada, had ample powers and authority.

In 1917 the official designation of the CMPC was Military Police CEF and, as such, had unit status.

By Order in Council PC No. 722 of 22 March 1918 and CEF Routine Order No. 486 dated 25 April 1918, all detachments of Military Police CEF were converted into a Corps to be known as Canadian Military Police Corps.

To further improve the efficiency of the CMPC a school of instruction, known as the CMPC School, was established at Ottawa on 1 June 1918 and an APM was appointed Commandant. The Military Police course offered at the school was of 3 weeks duration. The school operated these courses until March 11, 1919, at which time the courses were discontinued and the CMPC School was closed.

On 31 May 1918 an Order in Council was passed transferring the Special Force of Dominion Police (780 all ranks), originally formed on 8 Jan 1918 to assist the Militia Dept, from the Justice Dept. to the Militia Dept. This force was placed under the command and control of the Provost Marshal and was officially known as the C14PC Civil Branch. The main task of the Civil Branch of the CMPC was the apprehension of absentees and those who failed to register under the Mobilization Act. By Oct. 1918 the Civil Branch had increased to 969 all ranks.

In some cases the combined strengths of the CMPC Military and Civil Branches were not great enough to enforce the Mobilization Act. This was a serious problem in Quebec. To solve this problem, large numbers of Infantry and Cavalry were attached for duty with the CMPC.

In Oct. 1918 it was necessary to send a force of 937 CMPC and attached Cavalry to Chicoutimi, Quebec to round up defaulters under the Mobilization Act.

To give you some idea of the magnitude of the work done by the CMPC in Canada from 1 June 1917 to 31 October 1918, 1 have listed some statistics below:
  1. CMPC (Military Branch) strength as of 31 Oct. 1918 was 1,853 (Note: Includes 300 Cavalry attached C14PC in Quebec);

  2. CMPC (Civil Branch) strength as of 31 October 1,918 was 969 all ranks;

  3. CMPC (Military Branch) Overseas. No. 8 and 9 Detachments and those attached to other Formations and Sub Units in England and France, 484 all ranks;

  4. Strength of CMPC Contingent, New York City, approximately 50 all ranks. (Estimated from various documents.);

  5. Total strength of CMPC and attachments as of 31 Oct. 1918 - 3,356 all ranks;

  6. Total apprehensions under the Mobilization Act: - 19,824 men who failed to register and 9,454 men who failed to report when ordered to do so;

  7. Total number of cases investigated and reported upon under the Mobilization Act - 269,121 cases.

  8. Total arrests for offences (other than Mobilization Act) - 12,915, and;


  9. Number of deserters arrested - 2,304.
As previously mentioned; the above figures relate to CMPC activities in Canada only.

In 1918 it was found necessary to establish an APM's office in New York City. This appointment was the British Assistant Provost Marshal, New York. Lt. Col. F.S. Hunter, DSO of the Indian Army, a graduate of Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, held this appointment and came under the Provost Marshal, Dominion of Canada. The APM was responsible for discipline of all ranks, British and Canadian in New York City and throughout the United States. He had a small staff of British and Canadian Military Policemen, but I have been unable to determine the exact number of CMPC personnel. Various documents indicate it was a Detachment of about 50 all ranks. It is known that the Canadian Contingent dealt with 958 cases up to 1 Nov. 1918, mostly for desertion. On that date the Canadian Detachment was withdrawn and as far as Canada was concerned CMPC operations in the USA concluded.

In September 1919 the Department of Militia and Defence was asked by the British Government to furnish a unit to process, handle and transport Chinese Coolies from Halifax to Vancouver. It was also requested to staff a Transit Camp at William Head, B.C. These Coolies were members of The Chinese Labour Corps, a unit that served under British Command in France and Flanders during World War I. This Corps was termed "expendable" and was used to dig trenches and other earth works, construct and repair roads and rail lines. At the conclusion of World War I there were about 100,000 of these Coolies in France. The Imperial Government decided that they would be returned to China. Most of the Coolies did not want to return but a decision was made to interne them and have them returned to China. It was projected that some 25 to 30 thousand Coolies would be returned to China via Canada. The plan was to transport them by ship to Halifax, load them on special trains and transport them under guard to William Head and Vancouver B.C. At Vancouver they were to be put aboard ships for passage to China.

The Department of Militia accepted this distasteful task and decided that a Special Guard of the Canadian Military Police Corps be formed to handle this duty. As a result the Special Guard CMPC was authorized with an establishment of 542 all ranks. The Headquarters was in Halifax with Train Guard Detachments of 492 all ranks. Another Guard Unit of 2 Officers and 50 Military Police was located at the Transit Camp at William Head B.C.

The work of the Special Guard CMPC was made extremely difficult because of:

      a. The nature of the duty. Many found it to be distasteful.

      b. The long days put in by the train guards riding trains from Halifax to Vancouver-William
          Head and return, sometimes with a day or less off between return
          trips. After several return trips, with little or no time off, the guards were exhausted.

      c. The arrival of ships at Halifax by day and night carrying Coolies, sometimes with an hour
          or less prior notice to the Special Guard CMPC.

      d. It was originally estimated that 20 to 30 thousand Coolies would be processed.
          It appears that some 70,000 were transported across Canada. Incomplete CMPC records
          account for 48,726 Coolies. The Special Guard CMPC establishment of 542 all ranks
          simply was not large enough, so its members had to work double and sometimes triple
          time between September 1919 and April 1920.

In spite of the work load placed on the Special Guard CMPC it met all requirements on time. During the entire operation there was never a delay in handling disembarkations at Halifax, or loading trains and transporting the Coolies to Vancouver-William's Head. The CPMC were always on time with the required personnel to carry-out their duties.

The Special Guard CMPC was composed entirely of men with "Overseas Service". It is recorded that their dress, deportment and attention to military duties were "second to none". The Special Guard CMPC had a distasteful duty to carry out but they did their duty with the firmness required by the situation.

General records seem to indicate that about 70,000 Coolies were returned to China via Canada, however, the Special Guard CMPC reports only account for 48,726. The special Guard CMPC records at Halifax indicate:

Date - Coolies processed and guarded by CMPC

1919
September - 6,963
October - 6,612
November - 6,418
December - 0,487

1920
January - 7,281
February - 9,757
March - 1,208

Total - 48,726

Disposition of Coolies
Deaths at Halifax - 5
Sent forward by train - 48,721
Death in route - 3
Died at Vancouver - 1
Died at William Head - 13
Missing - believed drowned - 1
Sailed from Vancouver and William's Head - 48,703

The last Coolie sailed for China on 4 April 1920. Guards at Halifax and William's Head were immediately demobilized with the exception of a small rear party to clear out each of the units.

The Commandant of the Transit Camp at William Head was demobilized on 30 April 1920 and the last CMPC Guard Struck-off strength on 31 May 1920.

The Officer Commanding the Special Guard CMPC at Halifax received notication that his unit was reduced to nil strength and that he himself was demobilized on 18 June 1920.

The rapid demobilization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force made it possible to start demobilization of the Canadian Military Police Corps in November 1919. Records indicate the demobilization was effected as follows:

Dates Of Demobilization
  • 1919
    30 November - C2, IPC Detachments in Military Districts 11 and 13 were demobilized. APMs in MD 1, 3and 12 were struck off strength but the other ranks were placed under command of the Ottawa HQ, CMPC.

  • 1920
    16 January - CMPC Detachment in MD 7 was demobilized.

    30 January - CMPC Detachment in MD 5 was demobilized, CMPC personnel in MD1, 3 and 12 placed on strength of Ottawa HQ, CMPC were demobilized.

    20 February - CMPC Detachments in MD 2 and 4 were demobilized.

    10 March - Colonel G. Gobson, DSO, DCM, ADC, Provost Marshal Canada, was appointed to Staff, MD10. DAAG Police appointed at Ottawa and authorized to carry out the final demobili­zation of the CMPC.

    30 April - CMPC Detachment MD 6 demobilized. CMPC
    Special Guard, William's Head, BC, demobilized

    31 May - CMPC Detachment 14D 10 demobilized.

    18 June - CMPC Special Guard, Halifax, NS demobilized.

    30 June - The last other rank on strength of the CMPC at Ottawa, was demobilized.

    15 July - The DAAG Police completed his duties and ceased to hold his appointment. On this date the Canadian Military Police Corps ceased to exist.
In conclusion, the Canadian Military Police Corps did yeoman service during, and after World War I. It served actively in Canada, the USA, Great Britain, and France and Flanders. It was a Corps Elite which only accepted men of the best character. Its Military Branch was composed mainly of veterans who had service at the front. Its Civil Branch was ex-Dominion Policeman. Truly an outstanding Corps composed of the best. Many members of the Canadian Provost Corps knew little or nothing about the founding Military Police Organization in Canada. It is hoped that this series of articles have brought the CMPC from forgotten to remembered. It earned its lineage in Battle and is on the right of the line. It Must Be Remembered!

As a result, a company composed entirely of members of the RCMP, on leave of absence from the force,was formed and proceeded overseas in December 1939 as part of the lst Canadian Division. It must be pointed out that the Canadian Provost Corps did not exist at this time and that this original company of RCMP was not known as a Provost Company.


- The End -
Click below to view a photo of members of the Canadian Provost Corps wearing the uniform of the CMPC,
Canadian Provost Corps Photo