Lieutenant Colonel George W Morfitt
137th (Calgary) Battalion
The Major has another good one. During his recruiting experiences—and he has enrolled 3,800—he has come across two Tipperary men who did not know their birthday. He christened them both for Christmas Day, so that it would be easy for them to remember in the future.
(Medicine Hat News, 7 Oct 1915, 4)
Born on 16 March 1873 in St. Mary’s Ontario, George W Morfitt was a Calgary broker and member of the 103rd Militia Regiment. Before his appointment to command the 137th Battalion in November 1915, he had been a recruiter for the 31st under Arthur Henry Bell and second-in-command of the 82nd. Suspicious of foreign volunteers with Germanic names, the “eagle-eyed” recruiting officer vowed, “I’m not taking any chances—not if I know it. A German who slips into the 82nd will have to get up pretty early in the morning.”
Conservative MP for Calgary, R. B. Bennett, sponsored the organization of the 137th Battalion. The forty-four year old politician had attempted to enlist himself but was turned away as medically unfit. Bennett shared Morfitt’s fear about enemy aliens enlisting in Canadian units in order to join the German and Austrian armies overseas. He defended the disfranchisement and internment of aliens, warning, “Spies have been discovered out in the western country. They have been found in western battalions, and have met their death as such in the early morn.”
Morfitt and the 137th sailed for England in August 1916. After the unit was absorbed into the 21st Reserve Battalion, the former commander was recalled to Canada in order to assume responsibilities as recruiting director for Alberta.
Although Bennett was confident in ultimate victory, he was deeply concerned over the mounting cost:
…when I see the best men of the Empire being drained from it; when I see the population of the province in which I live being lessened day after day by the departure of men who are so willingly, so gladly, so nobly, so patriotically giving their services for the cause of freedom, I ask myself; where will it end? Sir, we may win a great war, and we may lose an Empire.
RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6357 – 16