28 May

the Ross rifle

Government Advised to Abandon Faulty Rifle

One of the greatest controversies in Canada was brought about by national pride, and may have cost thousands of lives. It was over the Ross rifle, used until August 1916 by Canadian troops in World War I.

The problem began several years before the war. The government tried to order British Lee-Enfield rifles for the Canadian forces, but Britain had priority on them, and would not release the quantity required. In 1901 tests were begun on a rifle designed by Sir Charles Ross and continued until after the beginning of war in 1914. It became a matter of pride that Canadians would have rifles so good that Britain would come begging for them. The Ross rifle compared well with the Lee-Enfield in target shooting but jammed when it became hot. It was redesigned and special Canadian ammunition was made for it but it still jammed. Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, was a keen amateur marksman, and the lightweight Ross rifle appealed to him. He did not seem to see its faults, and Ross rifles were issued to Canadian soldiers fighting in World War I. They cost up to $28 each, at least 25 per cent more than Lee-Enfields, and by this time had been altered so much that they were seven inches longer and a pound heavier than the British rifle.

The Canadian soldiers themselves got rid of the Ross rifle. During the battle of Ypres, nearly 1,500 threw them away and picked up Lee-Enfields lying beside dead British troops. Their own rifles had jammed in battle as tests had always shown they would.

British General Alderson made repeated representations to Sir Sam Hughes about the loss of confidence in the Ross rifle. Sir Sam did nothing. Finally, in desperation, General Alderson wrote to the Governor-General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught.

The Ottawa Citizen received permission to print this letter which appeared on the front page of the Citizen, May 16, 1916. It produced the desired reaction: Sir Robert Borden cabled Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, asking him to have a decisive test made.

On May 28, 1916, Haig advised the Canadian Government to abandon the Ross rifle "without delay," and his recommendation was accepted.


28 May

-1664    The West India Company secured a Royal grant of all French colonies in North America.

-1754    Major George Washington was defeated by the French at Great Meadows (near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

-1845    Fire destroyed two-thirds of Quebec and the suburb of St. Roch.

-1881    Britain awarded the United States 15,000 (pounds) reparation for the attack on American fishermen in Fortune Bay, Newfoundland.

-1927    The House of Commons approved Old Age Pensions.

-1934    The Dionne quintuplets were born near North Bay, Ontario.

-1958    President Heuss of the Federal Republic of Germany paid a state visit to Canada. He was the first German head of state ever to have done so.