The Imposter

“Colonel” Omar Leslie Macklem

Detroit—“Colonel” Omar L. Macklem who for several days has been lionized locally as a war hero, and who has figured prominently in military demonstrations here, today was ordered deported to Canada…

(New York Times, 6 Nov 1917, 3)

Entire vindication has been given Col. Omar Macklem, whose famous case aroused the interest of the whole country…

(Toronto Globe, 11 Dec 1917, 10)

After United States border officials deported Omar Leslie Macklem from Michigan in November 1917, Canadian military authorities charged the “bogus colonel” with impersonating an officer and forging cheques. Born on 12 June 1884 in Tilbury, Ontario, Macklem had enlisted as a private with the 33rd Battalion in March 1915.

While fighting in the trenches with the 10th Battalion, Macklem was shot in the face with an explosive bullet. He later claimed to have remained twenty-six hours in No Man’s Land. Although he survived, the injury left him severely disfigured and blind in his left eye. While recovering in London, England, Macklem made connections with members of the city’s social elite.

Due to this new social network, when Macklem was discharged from the CEF, he gained a position with the War Office in London. He claimed to have invented a new type of safer grenade worth tens of thousands in royalties. Explaining the creation of the supposed safer design, he recalled to the press, “I was convalescing at the hospital and how the idea first came I really don’t know. But I knew that hundreds of our boys at the front had lost their lives with the time grenades.”

Supposedly with permission from the War Office to wear a staff colonel’s uniform, Macklem left for the United States to secure a patent on the grenade design and promote war bonds. While visiting Detroit, he convinced Mayor Oscar Marx, other city officials and “society dames” of his war hero status. Suspicious of his preposterous claims, American authorities soon deported Macklem across the border to Windsor.

In a signed confession to Canadian officials, Macklem stated, “My object in making this statement is to set myself right, and to clear the army of any stigma that may be attached to it by me wearing an unauthorized uniform.” Macklem believed “Of course, my friends in England have stood by me all the way through.” He claimed British General Sir William Robertson had telegraphed Canada to confirm the right to wear a colonel’s uniform. When asked by the Canadian government for confirmation, Robertson denied any contact with the imposter.

Conman, inventor, war hero or shameless self-promoter, Macklem died in 1961 while living in England.

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