The commanding officer, whose name I have never mentioned, may be an honorable officer. He said in a public address in the city of Moosejaw that he had been stabbed from behind… It was not an utterance an officer should have made. I have my duty to perform, and he has his. So far as I have had any personal relations with him, they have been of unalloyed friendship. I know him very slightly, because he is a stranger in our city.
(W. E. Knowles, Debates, 6 May 1916, 3541)
Born in Leicester, England on 8 September 1879, Francis Pawlett served with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa from 1899 to 1903. He settled in Yorktown. Saskatchewan after the Boer War and joined the 16th Light Horse in 1910. In September 1914, the six-foot-four militia officer volunteered with the 5th Battalion. Pawlett was wounded on the front, invalided to England and returned to Canada in late 1915 to raise the 128th Battalion from Moosejaw.
When Pawlett and the 128th passed through Winnipeg before departing overseas, the Tribune noted, “Seldom has a finer battalion been seen In Winnipeg. Every man was bronzed and hardened. The battalion is fit to a man and there is every indication that it will be heard from in dispatches when it reaches the firing line.”
However, not everyone was impressed with Pawlett’s tough leadership style. In April 1916, Liberal MP for Moosejaw, William Erskine Knowles, called for an investigation into the 128th commander’s excessive disciplinary methods. Pawlett had suspended two privates by their arms in irons until they fainted. Knowles stated, “the barbarous bully who would inflict such punishment should be removed.” As the subsequent report found, this form of punishment was no longer used in the British Army and an official memorandum attributed such harsh methods to some commanders’ “ignorance and over zeal.”
Knowles argued that strict military discipline suited for the battlefield was inappropriate for the “nice boys” of Moosejaw. He maintained if all officers followed the exact punishment regulations, all deserters would have to be shot. The Liberal MP continued to regard Pawlett as “not the highest type:”
I see by the press that a meeting of the battalion, or something of that kind, was held, and a vote was taken to the effect that they would stay by the Colonel, which to my mind is not a good sign. You will always get men who will vote for their colonel, especially that kind of a colonel.
After the 128th was broken up in England in August 1916, Pawlett joined the Imperial Forces and was seconded to the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He replaced Lieutenant Colonel William Gerald Officer on 28 April 1918 and remained in command of the 2nd Battalion until the end of the war. In September 1918, the G.O.C of the 4th British Division noted that under Pawlett’s leadership, “The Battalion has shown fighting spirit worthy of the best traditions.”
Following the reorganization of the postwar Canadian militia, Pawlett assumed command of the 3rd Battalion, North Saskatchewan Regiment. He died from influenza on 29 January 1922.