From Dawson City to Regina Trench: How Joe Boyle’s Mounted Yukoners Adapted to Fighting the First World War, 1914–1916


  • Cameron Pulsifer


Joe Boyle, Yukon, Vickers, Hughes, Shorncliffe, Motor Machine Gun Battery, Machine Gun


The Northern Review 44 (2017): 139–162

The Yukon Motor Machine Gun Battery, as it was officially titled as of June 16 1916, began life in Dawson City in October 1914, as Boyle’s Mounted Machine Gun Detachment. Its formation resulted from the coalescence of two factors: the interest of the Canadian Minister of Militia Defence, Sam Hughes, to have mobile machine gun units form a part of the emerging Canadian Expeditionary Force; and the willingness of the wealthy Yukon mining entrepreneur, Joseph Whiteside Boyle, to fund such a unit as an expression of his desire to contribute to the emerging Canadian war effort. With a strength of only fifty men, however, it was a small unit, and military authorities soon realized that mounted units like it would be of little use in the high intensity trench fighting of the Western Front. After its arrival in England in July 1915, its very existence became problematic for a time as authorities tried to figure out what to do with it. This paper explores the conditions that resulted in its survival and continued service when a need was found for motor machine gun batteries to serve with each the four Canadian divisions. The Yukons were attached to the 4th Division, and in time became specialists in a form of machine gunnery that, while suited to the needs of the industrialized form of warfare that characterized that conflict, was no doubt a far cry from the idealized expectations of the unit’s founders and original membership. This article is part of a special collection of papers originally presented at a conference on “The North and the First World War,” held May 2016 in Whitehorse, Yukon.


Author Biography

Cameron Pulsifer

Cameron Pulsifer, PhD, is an historian who worked at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa from 1991 to 2007 when he retired.






The North and the First World War