Lieutenant Colonel Alex Wilson
33rd (London) Battalion
A sordid story of graft was told by witness after witness at the inquiry into the affairs of the 33rd Battalion at the Armories to-day. One after another admitted trafficking in the stores of the battalion, and on top of these confessions… there came revelations of what one of the court characterized as a “liquor supply depot.”
(Toronto Globe, 17 Nov 1915, 3)
Born on 17 November 1855 in Seaforth, Canada West, Alexander Wilson was a pharmacist with thirty-five years’ experience with 33rd Huron Regiment. A noted marksman, Wilson was a five-time member of Canada’s Bisley team and won several Dominion Rifle Association awards.
As commanding officer of the Huron militia regiment, Wilson vowed to stand by Britain when war came against Germany:
The supremacy of the British Empire has enabled her ibid. to exert the greatest force for the personal liberty and uplift of humanity that the world has ever known. I believe that our duty as Canadians, who have enjoyed that protection and security so long, if that supremacy is threatened is to rally for her support, by being ready for the defence of our own part of that Empire, or, if necessary, anywhere that we can have the most influence in maintaining it.
In November 1914, Wilson was authorized to raise the 33rd Battalion, one of the few CEF units to retain the same numerical designation as its original militia unit. After HMT Royal Edward was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea on 13 August 1915, Wilson immediate volunteered his unit to replace the 1,000 British troops lost in the attack. His offer was not accepted and the 33rd did not sail for England until April 1916.
While still stationed in London, Ontario in summer 1915, food and goods began to disappear from the battalion stores. As one newspaper noted, “Hungry soldiers’ appetites were the beginning of the end for the alleged thieves.” The complaints caused suspicious military authorities to start an inquiry. The quartermaster and several others were arrested for operating a black market for the stolen liquor and food. During the ensuing testimony, witnesses observed senior officers drinking on duty with the commander present on several occasions.
With controversy and confusion surrounding the battalion, some soldiers took to riots on the streets of London in November 1915. The disorder caught the attention of Minister of the Militia Sam Hughes who left Ottawa to investigate. In a statement to the press, he said that the soldiers ought to “trim” their own officers rather than fight with the police. He also called of a “grand shake-up of the 33rd Battalion.” Wilson was temporarily relieved of command in December 1915.
When Wilson’s troops were absorbed into the reserves in England, military authorities deemed the sixty-year old Wilson unfit for service. His daughter, Anne Webster Wilson, served in France as a nursing sister and was gassed in 1916.
Colonel Wilson died in Toronto on 29 November 1930.