The Reverter

Lieutenant Colonel G. F. McFarland
147th (Grey) BattalionGFMcFarland

Away over in the Hun lines I could hear male voices singing Christmas Carols very melodiously….

Just about dawn one of our snipers saw a Hun making his way overland from one trench to the other, evidently thinking the light was not yet good enough for rifle-fire. Our fellow “drilled” him clean, and was heard to remark as he ejected the empty shell: “Merry Christmas, Fritz, you …!

(McFarland, Diary, 25 December 1917)

Born in Markdale, Ontario, on 30 June 1880, George Franklin McFarland was a Toronto barrister and member of the 31st Militia Regiment. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1905. In early 1916, McFarland was appointed commander of the 147th Battalion, based in Owen Sound.

147thShortly after arriving in England in November 1916, the 147th was absorbed into the 8th Reserve Battalion under McFarland’s command. In June 1917, he reverted to the rank of major and joined the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles as second-in-command.

Describing the fighting at Passchendaele in a letter home, McFarland explained:

I have experienced my first battle, and it was pure hell. Even yet I am dazed, and I doubt if I could give you a coherent account of it. We are out of the line now, and it is a blessed relief to be away from the continuous roar of the guns.

He remained in the field in August 1918 when recalled Canada to assume the office of assistant judge advocate general in Ottawa. In March 1919, he addressed a parliamentary committee on the issue of pensions for officers who had reverted to a lower rank. Drawing on his own personal experience, McFarland explained the situation:

As we know, it became necessary for a great many officers and non-commissioned officers, especially during the early days of 1917, either to revert to a lower rank in order to get to France, or else to return to Canada.

With regard to the officers, it was, as I say, a voluntary matter, and I can speak from experience in regard to the officers of my own battalion. By authority, they were all told by me that such reversion to go to France would not affect their pension or their separation allowance.

Under questioning from MPs, McFarland asserted that officers who had been disabled should receive the pension for the higher rank held before going to France. Unionist MP Frederick Forsyth Pardee inquired, “you should get the same pension as if you had been Colonel in France?” “Precisely,” McFarland replied, “at the present time if I were disabled I would not, but if I were killed my widow would.”

War veteran and Liberal MP Charles Gavan Power pointed out that McFarland wanted it to “work both ways.” The issue was not so much the rank held before going to France or the one held at the time of a disability on the front, it was whichever rank and therefore whichever pension was higher.

McFarland was appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1933. He died in Toronto on 15 May 1950.

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