Left my batt. & France for England. 8 am, this is the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I have the best Batt. in France, there never were men tougher, braver more loyal, more capable, more loved by CO, the finest fighters. It just about broke my heart, I could not say goodbye to a single one. God, how I loved them.
(Warden Diary, 8 Jan 1918)
Born on 8 November 1871 in Baywater, New Brunswick, John Weightman Warden was a British Columbia broker and veteran of the Boer War. He was among the first to enlist after the declaration of war in August 1914. Describing his experiences fighting with the 7th Battalion in the trenches, he explained, “The Boer War was nothing compared with this war. I had been in South Africa, but I found that I knew nothing about war at all.”
After Warden was seriously wounded at Second Ypres, he returned to British Columbia and raised the 102nd Battalion from Victoria. Dubbed “Warden’s Warriors,” the 102nd departed Canada for England in June 1916 and deployed to France two months later as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division.
In January 1918, Warden volunteered for a “secret mission in the east.” Although extremely reluctant to leave his battalion, the 102nd commander admitted he could no longer stand his superiors, Brigadier General Victor Odlum and Major General David Watson, whom he considered “very mercenary men.”
The mission Warden had signed up for was a 1,000 man Imperial expedition to the Caucasus under the command of General Lionel Dunsterville. Named Dunsterforce, the troops’ official mission was to prevent German intrigues in the region and train local fighters.
Throughout the three-month campaign in summer 1918, Warden kept a diary of his experiences traveling through the east. He considered the Armenians to be “rotters” and “cowards.” He remarked, “I do not blame the Turks for killing them off. They are worse than the Jews or Bolsheviks.”
Frustrated by British mismanagement and inept Russian allies, Warden became disillusioned with the mission, which he ridiculed as “Dunsterfarce.” The Imperial troops had been tasked with helping to defend Baku, a city on the Caspian Sea controlled by the Centrocaspian Dictatorship. Besieged by an Ottoman army, Warden fought on the front line but complained that the White Russian general was “tearing his hair & acting like a man who had lost his mind or sense.”
After the city fell on 4 September 1918, Warden and Dunsterforce were withdrawn. Warden grumbled that, “Dunsterville should be made a full Gen & knighted & kicked out as they do everyone who makes a mess of his job.”
Warden soon embarked on another anti-Bolshevik adventure to Vladivostok in early 1919 as part of the Siberian Expeditionary Force. However, he soon was frustrated by the rivalries among the coalition countries:
The Canadians are not liked by the British Staff here, & the British is detested by the Canadians. The same applies to the Americans, Japs & French & etc. Each branch of the Allies is suspicious of the other. Each is afraid the other will get a little more foothold than he & there is not semblance of unity, which augurs very badly for the success of the Allied endeavours to make law & order. The British are very weak in their personnel. Just like Dunsterville was…
Again irritated by Allied disorganization, Warden returned to Canada disappointed in October 1920. Addressing the former members of the 102nd, Warden spoke about his experiences in Siberia, warning that Socialism was the “creeping stage” to Bolshevism.
He became a Vancouver city councilor and unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 1920 British Columbia election. He was warden of the Essex County Gaol in Ontario from 1930 until retirement shortly before his death in 1942.
Diary of Lieut.-Col. J. W. Warden, http://www.gwpda.org/1918/WardenDiary.pdf