The Shopkeeper

Lieutenant Colonel J. A. W. Allan
20th (Central Ontario) BattalionJAWAllan

Replying to the address of welcome, Col. Allan spoke briefly, thanking his fellow townsmen for their many expressions of kindness. He had visited England, Wales, Scotland, Belgium and France, where he was in the trenches for a short time. He thought the ultimate victory of the allies was beyond doubt, but much hard fighting remained.

(Toronto World, 25 Sept 1916, 2)

Born on 6 September 1864, John Alfred Walker Allan was a successful hardware merchant and mayor of Newmarket (1913—1914). He stepped down at the outbreak of the Great War to raise the 20th Battalion from his hometown and central Ontario. Commanding officer of the 12th York Rifles, Allan had also served in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

Allan sailed with his troops to England but shortly after landing in summer 1915, he was replaced due his alleged inability to maintain discipline. Major-General Sam Steele reprimanded Allan for being too lenient with his men and refusing to force them on an eight-mile hike. The 20th commander justified his conduct arguing, “I have a bunch of men, not Indians.”

20thSteele concluded that Allan would never “be fitted to command a battalion.” General Lord Brooke of the 4th Brigade was more charitable, noting that Allan had been “badly supported by his officers.”

Major C. H. Rogers assumed command of the 20th on 21 August 1915 and Allan resigned his commission. Dressed in civilian clothes, Allan was welcomed back to Newmarket but refused to discuss his resignation or future movements. Although others speculated that Allan would soon return to the front, he resumed his commercial business.

In May 1918, while tending his shop in Newmarket, Allan assaulted the town clerk and attacked a peace officer when the constable tried to intervene. Although liable to two years in jail, Allan was only fined $38.15. He died of pneumonia in Toronto on Christmas Eve 1928.

Digitized Service File (LAC):

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