Henri Chassé

A soldier and a man of action, Henri Chassé preferred life in the trenches to the monotony of the barracks.

Henri Chassé (baptized Marie-Joseph-Émilien-Henri), journalist and officer; b. 30 Dec. 1885 at Quebec, son of Honoré Chassé, a lawyer, and Émilienne La Roque; m. there 11 Oct. 1920 Raymonde Tanguay, daughter of Georges Tanguay, a Quebec businessman, and they had three sons; d. 9 July 1928 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.

Henri Chassé showed an interest in military life at an early age. By 15 March 1902 he was already a captain in the militia. The death of his father in 1903 forced him to interrupt his studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, where he had been enrolled since 1898. He presumably then went to work at the Imprimerie Chassé, which had been founded by his father and now was being run by his mother, who had become the head of a family of nine children. From 1 Feb. 1905 to July 1914 he would serve successively in the Signalling Corps, the 89th (Temiscouata and Rimouski) Regiment, and the 5th Field Artillery Brigade. In 1909 the Conservative owners of the printing house that produced the newspaper L’Événement suggested to Émilienne La Roque that they merge their company with hers. At the same time, they put her in charge of the newspaper, for which her husband had worked before founding L’Avant-Garde at Quebec in 1896; he had also written for the Quebec newspaper Courrier du Canada. In all likelihood Henri began his journalistic career at L’Événement shortly after the merger. He stayed at this job and had become the paper’s news editor by the time World War I broke out. He was 28 years old. Within a few weeks he volunteered for overseas service.

In October 1914 Chassé was recruiting for the 22nd Infantry Battalion, which he joined officially on 6 November in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), with the rank of lieutenant. This battalion would be the only French Canadian infantry unit to see action during World War I. Chassé was already so proud to be serving in the 22nd Battalion that the physician who examined him on 5 November noticed he had a tattoo of its crest: a beaver and the motto Je me souviens.

After months of training in Saint-Jean and then Amherst, N.S., Chassé embarked with his unit on the Saxonia on 15 March 1915. He was promoted captain during the battalion’s stay in England the following summer, and went to France with it on 15 September; he attained the rank of major and became second in command on 6 Oct. 1916. He returned to England on 4 April 1917 to take a third-level course for officers. On 15 August, during the battle for Hill 70 in France, he was in command of Company A. For the gallantry and courage he displayed on that occasion, he was awarded the Military Cross on 18 Oct. 1917. Chassé was reappointed second in command of the battalion on 6 Sept. 1918, and he led it during the occupation of the Faubourg Saint-Roch, on the outskirts of Cambrai, on 10 October. On 8 March 1919 he would receive the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership. Chassé had the honour of being in command of the battalion when it passed through the city of Bonn, Germany, in December 1918. Returning to Canada on 16 May 1919, he was demobilized on 30 September and settled at Quebec. He had been wounded in action twice.

Chassé was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel on 25 July 1919 and became the first commanding officer of the 22nd Regiment of Canada’s Permanent Force on 1 April 1920. It became the Royal 22nd Regiment on 1 June 1921, in recognition of the 22nd Battalion’s valour under fire. Chassé received this honour when in command, and it had been preceded by another one on 25 March 1921, when Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander-in-chief of the Allied armies from the end of March 1918 until the armistice on 11 November, had gladly accepted his invitation to become the regiment’s honorary colonel.

Chassé relinquished command of the 22nd on 15 Sept. 1924 to become deputy adjutant and quartermaster general of Military District No.4; he probably moved to Montreal. He held this post until his death four years later from an attack of inflammatory rheumatism, which he is believed to have contracted in the trenches in Flanders. He was 42 years old. A soldier and a man of action, Henri Chassé preferred life in the trenches to the monotony of the barracks. Motivated by a sense of duty, he chose to stay at the front in the spring of 1916, rather than return to Canada as second in command of the 178th Infantry Battalion. He distinguished himself by his zeal for work, good humour, and attachment to his unit and his men. He remains closely linked to the first ten years of the history of the French Canadian infantry regiment. He had the particular honour of overseeing the transition from the 22nd Battalion to the Royal 22nd Regiment. He and the other members of the battalion who accompanied him into the new regiment had succeeded in their aim: to make the second a worthy successor to the first. Two of Chassé’s sons, Pierre and Henri, would later command the regiment’s 1st Battalion.

—Text by Jean-Pierre Gagnon, “CHASSÉ, HENRI (baptized Marie-Joseph-Émilien-Henri),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 3, 2015. For this article's bibliography and other related information, visit Dictionary of Canadian Biography online.