The Rainbow. A World War One on Canada's West Coast Timeline

Piles of broken glass
Aug 19, 0700 hours. Victoria.

The mayor had read the Riot Act at midnight, standing on the back of Tiger Company’s hook and ladder truck, at the corner of Blanshard and Johnson Streets. By first light, the anti-German mobs had long ago gone home. A few were sleeping off their hangovers in the City Gaol. By 7:00 AM street sweepers were making piles of broken glass outside the Krieghoff Hotel. The proprietor stood on the sidewalk, holding a raw steak to his right eye, and shaking his head in disbelief.

“What are we to do?” he asked no one in particular. “Where are we to go?”

Two men made rude expressions at him as they carried a red velvet couch out the door and down the street. Crowds were thinner now, and made mostly of gawkers.

The scene was much the same outside Carl Lowenburg Men’s Furnishings on Wharf Street, and Simon Leiser and Company on Yates Street, Moses Lenz Wholesale Merchants, the former German Consulate, and the German Club. All glass within reach was broken, and merchandise looted or dragged out into the street. The rioting had started before dark at the Kreighoff Hotel, ostensibly in response to the rumour of a party celebrating the German victory at Prince Rupert. Then the violence and looting had accelerated, fueled by the contents of the Krieghoff and German Club bars. The police and fire department drew the line at arson, and had hosed down the crowd on a couple of occasions when small fires were lit. The mob was itself in disagreement on the use of fire, knowing that non-German establishments were cheek by jowl with German-Canadian businesses. Some brawls had broken out within its ranks.

In Chinatown, all stores were bolted and shuttered, but residents did not sleep a wink, fearing that the mob would not satiate themselves on their German neighbors and would come looking for more premises to smash. As it turned out, their fears did not come true this time.

The militia, under direction of the Premier and Colonel Roy, had declined a desperate call from the Victoria Police chief to intervene, so law enforcement had been stretched thin. The militia had cancelled all leave however, which drew down the anti-German numbers on the street for any subsequent night’s activities.

“Rioters Wreck City Premises” said the Headline of the Daily Colonist. “Mob, in Anti-German Demonstration, Does Damage Estimated at $20,000—Police are Powerless.”

Other headlines read: “German Cruiser Nürnberg ravages North Coast. Prince Rupert, Ocean Falls, Anyox, Swanson Bay shelled.” “Coastal Steamship Service Disrupted. GTP, CPR, and Union Steamship Lines report ships captured or missing—details still unclear.” “War Comes to Ketchikan,” followed by a reprint of the Ketchikan Daily Miner Story. The residents of Victoria had their worst fears confirmed, although not many were by this point surprised.

Interspersed with these alarming headlines were stories of a different kind: “Esquimalt Coastal Artillery Practice Fires Today—Defence of Capital Certain.”

“Militia Deploying Overwhelming Force to Resist Any Possible Landing.” “Premier McBride to Give Speech at Legislature at Noon on State of the Province’s Defences.”

Original Digital object not accessible

Original Digital object not accessible

Original Digital object not accessible

Photos from City of Victoria Archives.
The riot was real, but slightly different, and in 1915 in response to the sinking of the Lusitania. The first newspaper headline is as historical.
Broken Hand
Aug 19, 0700 hours. HMCS Rainbow, off Port Hardy.

The fishing wharves and sawmill of Port Hardy shrank to stern as Rainbow steamed into Queen Charlotte Sound. The low light reflecting off the wavetops cast a glare in the eyes of the lookouts, their binoculars sweeping every quarter. The occasional call of “Smoke!” from the lookouts caused action stations to be manned, but on closer inspection each sighting turned out to be a tugboat pulling a log boom or coal scow, or a missionary boat on its regular circuit

Rainbow stopped and boarded the small Grand Trunk Pacific steamer Prince John, when Hose deemed her awkward Morse light reply to be suspicious. It turned out that the signalman was working with a broken hand. Around 0800 Rainbow entered narrow but deep Christie Passage, between Nigel and Balaklava Islands, and passed by Scarlett Point Light into the open part of Queen Charlotte Sound. To port, the open Pacific stretched to the horizon. This was the most exposed stretch on the Inside Passage route.

Now the smoke of two ships could be seen. The lookouts soon established that the more distant ship was the Prince George, almost out of sight 18 nautical miles to the north between Cape Caution and Egg Island Light. The nearer ship, only 5 miles distant, proved to be the Canadian Pacific Railroad freighter Otter, northbound to load up on salmon from the coastal canneries. Upon sighting Rainbow, her wireless began to transmit RRR BEING CHASED BY UNKNOWN WARSHIP RRR, and she ran to the north, her funnel belching smoke.

“I think they protest too much,” said Hose, “we may have our first German prize right here. Action stations!” and the chase was afoot. Despite the Otter being only able to work her way up to 10 knots, with a 5 mile head start the Rainbow took a whole hour to run her down. Hose, mindful of damaging the engines again, refused to exceed the Rainbow’s 15 knot limit. The forward 6 inch gun kept the quarry covered the entire pursuit. The waist 4.7 inch and 12 pounder guns were manned but could not train. In the swells of Queen Charlottes Sound, even in the moderate sea, green water was coming onto the main deck through the lowered shutters of the foremost 4.7 inch gun and the 12 pounders. Eventually, the 12 pounders on the lee side, and all waist guns on the exposed side were shipped fore and aft and the shutters closed, keeping the main deck drier. Rainbow steered somewhat to port of the Otter, to allow the lee broadside to fire if it came to that. Hose could see no armament on the freighter.

Otter ignored Rainbow’s frequent orders to stop throughout the entire chase. The lighthouse keeper at Pine Island Light had a front row seat for this drama, and watched the chase from his verandah, documenting it with his Seroco folding camera. The ships passed within 500 yards of his light at their nearest approach. The lighthouse keeper’s photos became iconic images of the first year of the war. When later interviewed, he said that from his perspective, the pace of the pursuit was so leisurely, that had his hobby been painting, rather than photography, he could have rendered the scene on canvas without being rushed.

Rainbow drew alongside Otter at 0920 hours. The captain of the freighter remained convinced that he was being molested by a German in a crafty disguise, and was still determined to avoid a boarding.

Hose became impatient. “Fire a shot across their bows,” he ordered. “Use a blank cartridge.” He wanted to avoid wasting any of his precious Lyddite high explosive shells. The captain of the Otter finally conceded, and hove to. Rainbow’s sailors managed to execute an improvised boarding action as the two ships bobbed in the swells off Cape Caution. Both crews were surprised to learn the other was not German. Hose felt a mixture of disappointment and relief. The Otter’s captain, was embarrassed, but also proud at having been able to lead a warship on such a merry chase. The exchange ended with much laughter, and promises to meet on better terms in the future.

Even as Hose chuckled at the misunderstanding, his gaze lingered on the entrance to Smith Sound to the east. Another one of the innumerable spots to stage an ambush on this jagged coast. It would take an age to patrol every inlet. Even if every fisherman became part of the Empire’s intelligence apparatus… He paused, and realized this was how it would have to be. The Fisheries Protection Service activating all of their resources would multiply the Navy’s scouting capacity. But in order to get any picture of the coast, the fishermen themselves would have to be the eyes. After all, they knew the coast.

He expected many of the fishermen operating out of small canneries, especially the Indians, would have no idea yet that there was even a war on. The Fisheries Protection Service could function as the glue to connect the mobilized fishermen to the Navy’s command structure. Hose tapped his fingers on the bridge wing rail. The problem, he reflected, was the state of wireless telegraphy. The technology was too big and heavy and expensive. Perhaps someday, every fish boat could carry a wireless. But he had to work with what was available today. There was no way around the delay that a British Columbia fisherman would take to pass vital information up to the Naval command.

Rainbow rounded Egg Island Lighthouse. Before her lay Fitz Hugh sound. Past Bay Point, to starboard, was the entrance to River’s Inlet. Thirty miles up the cannery-lined inlet was its self-named town, River’s Inlet, with its Fisheries Protection office and launch. The Merlin had been ordered to meet the Rainbow, to load a machinegun and ammunition, but Hose had no idea when the Fisheries officers had received the orders, or if they even had at all. Although Rainbow could steam all the way to the town, there was no time. If the Merlin was unable to meet Rainbow, he would leave their gun and ammunition at Addenbroke Island Light in Fitz Hugh Sound.

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"She was broad and fat,
And loose in the stays,
But to catch her took the Antelope,
Two whole days,
God damn them all!"
"She was broad and fat,
And loose in the stays,
But to catch her took the Antelope,
Two whole days,
God damn them all!"
Always liked that song!

The whole chase was nice. Th Otter running makes sense--most sailors won't know one cruiser from another.
Prince John was a neat little scene, too--sending with a damaged hand can sound like someone sending in a foreign language.
In the days before radar and with only wifty wireless, it had to be a continuous exercise in frustration to chase down raiders and their consorts. In this situation, it would be very easy for The Rainbow and Nurnberg to pass each other by, especially if one or the other tracks into one of the long and winding fjords, or being on the other side of an island. Captain Hose has a very un-enviable task.
Aug 19, 1000 hours. Victoria.

The sound of bagpipes preceded the arrival of the militia. The timing and route of the deployment, for the papers had scrupulously avoided calling it a parade, was widely published. The militia had left their barracks at Willows Camp and marched down Fort Street.

Leading was the Pipe Band of the 50th Gordon Highlanders, resplendent in their black ostrich feather bonnets and Prince Charles Edward Stuart tartan kilts. The crowd that lined the route was immediately reminded that the idea of bagpipes is one thing, but standing in the path of an approaching Highland pipe band is quite another. The screaming note of the drone and the sheer volume of the pipes and drums says unmistakably, this is martial music. This is the music of war. This music has been played for a millennium as we march into battle, so as to hearten our friends, and terrify our foes. No one can stand in the presence of such a din and be unmoved. Children saluted. Men considered joining up. Mothers felt some relief that perhaps, this might not be the end after all.

Behind the band came the regimental headquarters, with Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Currie and his staff officers on horseback. Next, marched the companies of infantry, the first two companies in Highland dress uniform, the rest in khaki. The state of some of the private soldiers suggested that their uniforms had been scrounged and cobbled together from whatever was available. This was in fact the case, on account of their commanding officer having embezzled the uniform funds to pay off his losses in real estate speculation. Despite this, the soldiers looked no less fierce, and if their commander suffered any embarrassment, he did not let it show. The machine gun company of the Regiment came last, carried in trucks with their weapons prominently displayed.

The rumble of the trucks soon faded into the sound of hooves clip-clopping on the road. The company sized Victoria Independent Squadron of the 30th Regiment, British Columbia Horse rode by, rifles in scabbards, each cavalryman wearing a Pattern 1908 sword.

The cavalry was followed by heavy trucks pulling two 60 pounder guns and limbers from the Colberg Heavy Battery, the Island’s heavy artillery mobile reserve. Then came the 13 pounder field guns of the 5th Regiment. The artillery pieces had been trucked over to Willows Camp early that morning for the sole purpose of taking part in the parade.

The chugging of the artillery tractors in low gear gave way to the snare drums of the 88th Fusiliers Band. Then the rest of the Regiment marched by, company by company. By the end of the parade, the spectators were emotionally exhausted, tired, bored even, by the sheer number of soldiers in the Capital, keeping them safe from the enemy.

The militia marched down Fort Street through residential neighborhoods, and turned onto Johnson Street headed for downtown. The Highlanders, Cavalry and Artillery turned south onto Douglas, Victoria’s main street, while the Fusiliers continued west across the Johnson Street bridge towards Esquimalt. The crowds on the side of the road only increased as the troops passed through the city’s commercial center. By now a large crowd of civilians was following down the street. The route took them past the chateauesque Empress Hotel on the stone Inner Harbour Causeway.


Nick P

This may interest some - it's a photo of the 50th marching through Victoria in 1914. The pipe band would have been wearing the red tunics.
The King God Bless Him
Aug 19, 1100 hours, HMCS Rainbow, Fitz Hugh Sound.

Six bells rang on the forenoon watch. The bosun piped “Up spirits”. Brown perked up, at his position on the after bridge. Alas, this was the one part of a sailor’s day that he missed, now that he was an officer. Four non-commissioned officers walked with the air of ceremony about them to the galley stores. The NCOs emerged back on deck several minutes later and set up the scuttlebutt, the large wooden tub wrapped in brass straps with THE KING GOD BLESS HIM appliquéd in brass letters. The Master at Arms undid the padlocks on the oak breaker, and poured nearly two gallons of rum into the tub.

The bugler blew the Rum Call, and the men began to line up beneath the first funnel in order, by mess. As the purser consulted his ledger, each sailor in turn was ladled a gill, two and a half ounces, of rum diluted with 10 ounces of water, into their small galvanized bucket. The line advanced. Most men poured their grog into a tin or ceramic cup and drank it right away. Some doled part out to a mate according to some prearranged barter transaction. The men returned to their stations, or back below decks.

When the last crewman had been served, the coxswain picked up the tub, swirled it about and made a great show of flinging the remainder into the scuppers. Brown knew from experience that despite the coxswain’s best efforts, most of the excess would somehow still remain at the bottom of the tub, to be consumed later in the chief and petty officer’s mess. As an officer, he could have wine or beer in the officer’s mess with his evening meal, but would forever be banished from the lower decks’ sustaining ritual, the rum tot.

Brown would have liked some fire in his belly. To starboard was the entrance to River’s Inlet. Directly ahead was the Inside Passage route to… all the places that Nürnberg had already destroyed. The starboard side of the Sound was a series of archipelagos with countless places for a cruiser or smaller armed prize to skulk, waiting for the perfect time to launch an ambush. Rainbow’s first notice of the German’s presence could be the impact of a torpedo.

All about him, lookouts kept watch. Brown hoped their vision would be sharpened by the fresh tot of rum in them. He seemed to recall that his vision would have been woozy. Every few minutes a new line of sight opened down a small channel between islands, from which a waiting German could attack.

Stern Stuff
Aug 19, 1200 hours, Victoria.

The pipers led the crowds to the Legislature building, which was decorated with red, white, and blue bunting and a wooden arch with patriotic slogans. Many Victorians had merely been following the excitement of the marching soldiers, when they found themselves on the Legislature lawn. The 50th Gordon Highlanders band and the two companies in dress uniform marched onto the lawn and took positions on either side, flanking the stage on the Legislature steps. The remainder of the troops marched onward to the waterfront and Beacon Hill Park. The artillery and cavalry stopped on Bellville Street, between the Legislature lawn and the harbour. The trucks shut off their engines. Behind them, the three funneled CPR liner Princess Victoria sat at her berth at the company terminal. By noon the police estimated there were between 1500 and 2500 people in front of the Legislature, when the Premier of the province, Sir Richard McBride, began speaking. The Premier stood high on the podium, and projected his voice over the crowd like a Shakespearean actor.

“We face today,” he began, “perhaps the greatest challenge our age. The enemy may very well be at our gates. It is true that the German Navy is nearby, perhaps at our very door. It is true that by guile and perfidy the enemy has inflicted damage to the industry to the north of our fair province. British Columbia has been bloodied, and we are angry.” The crown rumbled and interjected.

“Fear not, we shall have our revenge.” The crowd cheered, angrily. “But it is important to understand, if it seems to you that the government is silent on certain matters, that some details of our preparation cannot be released to the public where military secrets are involved. War is a particular condition of affairs, and officialdom is constrained in what information can be shared with the public. I am sure that every patriotic British Columbian is with us on this front.” The cheering of the crown was interspersed with cries of “Hear, Hear!”

“We can however share what should be obvious to all. The Royal Navy saw fit to fortify their great Pacific naval base. Canada inherited these defences, and the guns of Fortress Esquimalt are strong and true. The Hun know there can be no attempt to force the harbours of Victoria or Esquimalt, lest they wish to hasten their own destruction.” By this point the crowd was cheering at every pause.

“The gallant men of the Royal Canadian Navy are at this very moment seeking out the enemy, in order to bring the battle to him. A great legacy of Empire is that Canada has inherited the traditions of the Royal Navy, a navy that has ensured no enemy sullied Britain’s shores since the time of William the Conqueror. We have the utmost faith in the Royal Canadian Navy to defend our sacred shores in British Columbia.”

“Furthermore, I don’t believe I give too much away to observe that even as we speak, ships of the Royal Navy are sailing to our coast to stiffen our already formidable defences. As well, to remind you of a fact which I expect all are aware, that the Empire of Japan is an ally of Great Britain, and has issued an ultimatum to Germany, that is expected to bring Japan into the war on August 23rd, a short four days from now. Our Japanese allies have a wealth of powerful ships that shall put the Germans to flight, once they join the struggle.”

“As well, it should be abundantly clear that the German raiders have no invasion fleet. A German cruiser or two carry only the sailors to operate the ships. There will be none of the Kaisers troops marching in Canadian streets. Our militia forces so outnumber the enemy that any landing attempt would be foolhardy. As a further precaution, our militia are preparing positions to cover any likely landing spot.”

“I am sure you are all reading in the papers of the progress of the war in Europe. While we face this challenge at this moment in our local waters, we must not be distracted from the fact that the main calling for Canada is to stand with Britain and our allies, to send our boys over to defeat the Hun in France and Belgium, and send the Kaiser’s armies packing back to Germany. Our situation here in British Columbia is dire and immediate, but it is also fleeting.”

“We need only to weather this storm. Our forbearers were made of stern stuff when as pioneers they settled this land, and the people of British Columbia remain so. Let us keep our heads, and let the soldiers know that the civilian population stands solidly behind them.”

“Now for the remainder of the afternoon, do not be alarmed to hear the guns of Fortress Esquimalt performing their drills.” The final cheering of the crowd was loud and sustained, with exclamations of “Hurrah!”, for the coastal artillery. The pipe band started up with Alba an Aigh, performed the first verse at a stand, then continued playing as they marched off the join the rest of the Regiment, followed by the two companies of infantry. The Princess Victoria sounded her horn. The field artillery trucks started their engines and trundled off as well. The sound of distant coastal artillery guns rolled across the water and echoed around the stone walls of the city.

Good stuff, as ever.
One of the things I like about this site is that it’s like the very best sort of history book, with the added bonus that you don’t actually know how things are going to turn out.