The Double Colonels

Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Oliver

Lieutenant Colonel W. J. Douglass

34th (Guelph) Battalion

This officer was sent from the trenches in France Sept. 1916 suffering from nervous exhaustion due to shell fire, was in hospital in England one month then returned to Canada. At present he complains of sleeplessness, loss of strength, loss of appetite, and is easily startled and is 12 lbs. underweight.

(Douglass, “Medical History of an Invalid,” London, ON, 8 July 1916)

In January 1915, Andrew Joseph Oliver, commanding officer of the 29th Highland Light Infantry was appointed to raise the 34th Battalion from Oxford, Perth, Wellington, Waterloo, Huron and Bruce. William James Douglass, commanding officer of the 32nd Bruce Regiment was appointed second-in-command. Born on 25 May 1862 in Ashton, Canada West, Oliver was a prominent Galt manufacturer and nineteen-years member of the 29th Regiment. Born at sea on 1 January 1872, Douglass was a Walkerton accountant with nearly thirty years’ experience in the militia.

On 23 March 1916, Oliver and Douglass proceeded to France on a one-month instructional tour of the front. Oliver joined the 31st Battalion while Douglass was assigned to the 14th. After Oliver returned to Canada as a surplus officer in May, Douglass took temporary command of the 34th in England.

In August 1916, Douglass transferred to the 1st Battalion and became acting second-in-command. He lasted only a short time in the trenches before suffering a severe nervous breakdown during the battle of Courcelette in mid-September. Diagnosed with neurasthenia, he was granted several months rest leave to Canada. Upon returning to England in November 1916, he assumed command of the 34th, which had been reorganized into a Boys’ Battalion. When that unit was disbanded in June 1917, Douglass was struck off strength to Canada.

He remained troubled by nervous symptoms, constipation and heart disease after the armistice. Major D. G. F. Boyer of the College Military Hospital in Toronto, determined Douglass exhibited “a slight degree of neurasthenia… which is shown by his slight insomnia and dreaming.” Concluding the case was not severe, the doctor speculated, “He would be better with occupation in civil life.”

Douglass died on 14 August 1967 at the age of ninety-five.

Douglass, Digitized Service File (LAC):

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