The Despised

Lieutenant Colonel D. H. MacLaren
157th (Simcoe Foresters) BattalionMacLaren

Mater spoke of the responsibilities of the senior officer for the breaking up of the battalion. She is quite right Col Mac is to blame for most of it. His selection as O.C. of a battalion of the calibre that one was, was unfortunate to say the least. He had no personality and inspired dislike instead of loyalty to him. He was disliked by the officers and despised by the men. However perhaps I can say more about it another time.

(Lieut. Leslie Frost, 157th Bn. to Parents, 15 Jan 1917)

David Henry MacLaren was a militiaman with over thirty years’ experience  in the 42nd and 35th Regiments. He was born on 13 December 1863 in Barrie, Canada West. In November 1915, the fifty-two year old pharmacist was selected to raise the 157th Battalion from Simcoe County. Future Ontario Premier, Leslie Frost (1895—1973) enlisted as a captain under MacLaren’s command.

Once in England, the 157th troops were divided between the 116th and 125th Battalions. Writing home on 7 December 1916, Frost despaired, “Well the worst has come to the worst. We are to be broken up tomorrow.” Although Frost determined to revert in rank in order to serve on the front, he argued, “I firmly believe that a lot of officers have enlisted with no intention of going to the front now.” Frost served with the 20th Battalion from August 1917 until he was wounded in April 1918.

Attempting to convince Frost to join the 157th, MacLaren had explained, “As in Great Britain, a man is taken at his value, and generally gets all that is coming to him.” According to Frost, the colonel got what was coming to him by losing his command, to the derision of his men.

For his part McLaren explained in a letter home after the breakup of the 157th, “There is no probability of my getting the command of a battalion at my age, 54 years. They tell me that is at least ten years too old for this war.”

After a brief tour of the front in February 1917, MacLaren eventually reverted in rank to take an appointment with the Forestry Corps. In this capacity, he was wounded by shrapnel in France. In his own old age, Frost was more charitable to his former commander as he better appreciated the difficult position faced by the middle-aged colonel.

When MacLaren returned to Canada in 1918, he became sheriff for Simcoe County, a position he held until retirement in 1933. He died on 29 March 1947.


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