The second son of a Scottish officer, Thomas Bland Strange, was born in Meerut, India, on 15 September 1831, and educated at Edinburgh Academy. Unable, for financial reasons, to follow his brother to Sandhurst, young Tom attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Here talent and performance were more important than good breeding. He graduated at age 20, commissioned in the Royal Artillery and posted to Gibraltar.
He devoted a large measure of his life to his physical and intellectual development. A tall, imposing figure with a remarkable physique, a commanding voice and for much of his life, a full flowing beard. He placed great importance on the hardening and welfare of his troops.
Promoted Lieutenant in November 1853, he was posted to Jamaica, where he contracted yellow fever. Later transferred to the Bahamas, he busied himself in improving Nassau’s defences. In 1856, he received orders to fight in the Crimean War. Before he reached England, the war ended.
One year later, he went to India to assist in quelling the mutiny of the Bengal Army. He soon distinguished himself with determination and flair. His superiors mentioned in dispatches on four occasions. He remained in the Punjab where he delighted in finding novel ways to train his soldiers. He disagreed with his superior on the pay of his soldiers and found his tenure difficult. Before returning to England in 1864, while recovering from a second bout of fever, he made a six-month trek from Tibet to Kashmir, revelling in the physical hardship.
After promotion to Captain and a brief service in Ireland, he joined the Instructional Staff at Woolwich. Tasked to train the Volunteer Artillery, he ran afoul with the system when he condemned the substandard equipment. He received disciplinary action, an occurrence that likely precipitated his move to Canada in 1872.
He became Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores for Canada and commander of B Battery. His relief of the departing British troops was true to form. His direct and uncompromising manner caused little discomfort to the departing officers, gaining much-needed equipment for the garrison. The citizens of Quebec accepted him. His fluency in French and his involvement in the social and sporting activities earned respect and approval.
In his 1873 report, he recommended the establishment of three important Canadian institutions: The Royal Military College, the Dominion Artillery Association, and the Dominion Cartridge Factory. In varying forms, all three exist today. He recommended a four-battery brigade of Garrison Artillery for Canada’s west coast.
After eight years in his beloved Quebec, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange moved to Kingston, where he also became a prominent member of the community. At age 51, he retired with the Honourary rank of Major-General. At the same time, is Gunners, the first Canadian Team to compete at Shoeburyness, England, returned home with the Governor General’s Prize.
General Strange moved to Alberta, purchased a large tract of land, and established a ranch. In the spring of 1885 and the outbreak of the North-West Rebellion, General Strange organized the defence of the Alberta District. The Alberta Field Force, composed of cowboys, Mounted Police and three untested Militia battalions acquitted themselves well, particularly with the engagement at Frenchman Butte.
Back at his ranch, a horse kicked him. His recovery was never complete. To add insult to injury, the British War Office cut his pension because he had returned to service with the Canadian Militia. After a short attempt at politics, he sold the ranch and returned to England. He remained active until his death in England on 9 July 1925.
The contribution made by General Strange is epic in proportion. On his retirement, Major-General R.G.A. Luard, who commanded the Militia, noted that more than 2,700 officers and men had served with Tom Strange during the time he commanded B Battery, and referred to him as “a father to the Artillery of Canada.”
We could do no better.