This officer was the only surviving Lt.-Colonel, all other senior field officers having become casualties. He was twice ordered to deal with serious situations on the brigade front, first, in the case of an enemy counter-attack, and a few days later when there was some confusion and loss of direction of our troops.
(Sparling, D.S.O. Bar, London Gazette, 1 Feb 1919, 1600)
Albert Walter Sparling was a Saskatchewan farmer born in Pilot Mount, Manitoba on 12 July 1891. He enlisted in Russell Boyle’s 10th Battalion and earned a promotion to the rank of major in the field. After George C. Hodson was sacked, Sparling assumed command of the 1st Battalion on 17 August 1917 during the battle of Hill 70. Shortly thereafter he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry.
The citation read:
This officer personally directed his battalion in the attack on two villages, and advancing boldly across open ground under heavy machine-gun fire, encouraged and inspired all ranks in the performance of their duty.
He later won a D.S.O. Bar and remained in command of the 1st Battalion until the end of the war.
During the Second World War, Sparling worked for the Department of Defence and served with the 2nd Division while stationed in England. In 1940, Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed him to a Special Committee on the Orientals in British Columbia. Sparling was the sole member to oppose the military training and enlistment of Asian-Canadians. He argued that in the event of war with Japan, a dispute between a white and Japanese-Canadian recruit “might further set in motion currents of race hatred in other parts of the world, with the usual sequels of reprisals and counter-reprisals.”
After the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Hong Kong in December 1941, Sparling pressed for the expulsion and internment of the Japanese-Canadian population from the coast. As an officer in charge of troop training, Sparling attested during the Hong Kong Inquiry that the Canadian battalions sent to the Far East had been as well trained as any unit in Canada. Critics countered, “In other words, there were no units in Canada at that time with real battle training.”
Defence Minister James L. Ralston defended Sparling against critics’ accusation that he was merely one of “the so-called brass hats”; those older officers, “who have lost touch and who are away back in the days of 1914-18.”