Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

Ile Royale Is Returned To France

In 1747 the Compagnies Franches of Île Royale (those that had been sent to Rochefort, France) were dispatched to Quebec to reinforce the town's garrison. When Louisbourg was returned to France in 1749 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, these troops, bolstered by 16 additional companies, returned to the fortress that had been their base. Once again, reported Intendant 1750, "the soldiers of Île Royale, finding themselves in a foul, frightful land and confined in one place, [were] bored and their minds [were] occupied only with treachery." 131 In order to relieve some of the isolation of the troops, the general staff suggested that a few companies from Île Royale be rotated with others from Canada. This measure was adopted in 1752, and thereafter two companies were expected to replace one another every two years. However, this "did not please everyone" 132 in Canada, and the idea was probably abandoned just before of the Seven Years' War. Instead, more rigorous discipline became the main method of improving the situation at Louisbourg.

This task was accomplished by Michel Lecomtois de Surlaville, who arrived in 1751 as major of the garrison. He observed that the ranks were "poorly aligned, [that] some soldiers didn't even know how to handle their guns properly," and that they talked among themselves. March-pasts "lacked any fixed rules"; the soldiers bore their arms any way they liked; and their hair was "not at all or poorly attached" in a queue. Their weapons and equipment were in disarray, and their clothing was "filthy and worn." A former colonel of the Grenadiers de France, Surlaville showed how displeased he was at this state of affairs. Officers were required to wear their uniforms and provide an example of good discipline. Sergeants had to spend time with their men and share their meals, while cadets were warned not to be absent from drills. The soldiers were expected to be in their barracks, to be clean, and to "comb and attach their hair." Surlaville greatly increased the number of drills, and noted some progress 133 after a few weeks. The regime he enforced, based on the idea that in isolated garrisons, strict but fair discipline made soldiers feel proud and hardened them to military life, had not previously been much in evidence on Île Royale. When Surlaville departed from Louisbourg in 1754, he left behind a well-disciplined garrison accustomed to military exercises and with a strong esprit de corps.