Lieutenant Colonel Allan A. Magee, D.S.O.
148th (McGill C.O.T.C.) Battalion
“You are told that Montreal’s record for recruiting is wonderful. I tell you Montreal’s record is simply rotten,” said Lt.-Col. Magee at His Majesty’s Theatre last night in a stirring speech…
“We have tried to stir up the patriotism of Montreal but it seems as though we must give up because there is nothing left to stir.”
(Ottawa Journal, 1 March 1916)
Allan Angus Magee was a Montreal lawyer and graduate of the University of Toronto. He was born on 17 February 1881 in London Ontario. At the outbreak of the war, Magee joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps at McGill University as second-in-command. In November 1915, he was selected to raise the 148th Battalion from Montreal.
When Magee complained to the press about the lackluster response from young Montreal men, Liberal politicians argued that French-Canadians were no more reluctant than English-speakers. Senator Philippe-Auguste Choquette asked, “Who are complaining of their fellow-citizens? It is the English people… Who is this Col. Magee, speaking in Montreal, in the district mentioned where the residents are English people?”
The 148th Battalion sailed for England in September 1916. After disembarking, it was broken up before being absorbed into the 20th Reserve Battalion. Magee was selected to go to France in order to join General Arthur Currie’s staff headquarters. Due to Magee’s valuable war services, he was twice mentioned in the dispatches and received the D.S.O.
Magee remained a loyal supporter of Currie into the postwar period and during the general’s tenure as President of McGill University. During the Currie libel trial in April 1928, Magee assisted his former commander in successfully defending his reputation against allegations that he had butchered his men at the battle of Mons.
On 13 June 1927, the Port Hope Evening Guide had published an article that denounced Currie for the “shocking useless waste of human life” in the final hours before the armistice. The allegations had first been articulated by former Militia Minister Sam Hughes in 1919. Encouraged by supporters like Magee, Currie decided to sue the newspaper and defend his wartime conduct.
In addition to preparing much of Currie’s legal case, Magee took the witness stand on behalf of the plaintiff. Under cross-examination, the defence attorney accused Magee of having tampered with an official telegram that had announced the armistice.In the end, Currie was successful and his reputation restored.
In the words of a court reporter, after the verdict, Magee “slapped the General on the back in a fashion which, while it might have bordered on insubordination ten years ago, represented the compliment today.”
On 11 November 1933, Magee read an Armistice Day address prepared by an ailing Currie. The message called for the public to remember the sacrifice of the dead but also struck a sober tone:
…fifteen years after the signing of an Armistice we thought was to end war – when we said “never again,” when the whole world said “never again,” as a pledge made by the living to the dead. That pledge is now but a faint echo, for old hates are reviving, old fears have come back….
Currie died just over two weeks later on 30 November 1933. In 1934, Magee succeeded his late former command as honorary colonel of the McGill contingent of the C.O.T.C. During the Second World War, he trained McGill graduates and advised the Department of Defence. Magee died in 1961.
Digitized Service File (LAC):