This deplorable affair has ruined him absolutely, and his character has been taken from him forever. His family and mother are heart-broken. For two years, since these things began, he has lived in a hell of torture, and whatever term he has to do he will be more than amply punished.
(Defence counsel Mr. Robinette, Toronto Globe, 9 May 1908, 4)
Colin Clark Harbottle assumed command of the 75th Battalion on 16 April 1917. He proved himself a dedicated leader through the last year and a half of the war and won the Distinguished Service Order for his “fine example of personal gallantry and determination.” Ten years, earlier Harbottle had been a disgraced fugitive from justice and convicted criminal.
Born in Hamilton on 31 July 1875, Harbottle was a prominent figure in Toronto social circles; a noted athlete, rifleman and member of the 48th Highlander Regiment. In his position as secretary of the Toronto Club, Harbottle allegedly embezzled over $14,000 dollars in 1905.
In December 1907, the Toronto police issued an arrest warrant for the fugitive militia captain. Harbottle, who had not taken any of the money with him, evaded capture for several months, with sightings reported in Chicago, New Orleans, Texas, Los Angeles and Cuba. An Ontario detective finally found him living in “extreme distress” in Havana, and returned him to Toronto in April 1908.
He was promptly taken into custody and agreed to plead guilty. In passing a four-year sentence to the Kingston penitentiary, the reluctant judge stated, “you have been a soldier, and you have got to take what I am going to give you like a soldier.” The relatively light punishment owed to the fact Harbottle had not fled the country with the money and had been well liked by many in Toronto. Even the crown attorney “could not say a word against him.”
Harbottle resigned his commission in the 48th Highlanders and began his prison term. On his release in 1910, he moved to British Columbia and rebuilt his life as a rancher. In August 1915, he enlisted with Lorne Ross’s 67th Battalion at the rank of major.
Shortly after the battle of Vimy Ridge, Harbottle was appointed to command the 75th Battalion, relieving Major C. B. Worsnop who had succeeded the late Lieutenant Colonel Sam Beckett. Back among Toronto troops, Harbottle redeemed his reputation through his fearless leadership. Harbottle’s mother, “heart-broken” a decade before, witnessed thousands celebrate her son on his return home at the head of the 75th in 1919.
Regaining the respect of his hometown, Harbottle was appointed commanding officer of the Toronto Scottish Regiment. He died of a heart attack while hunting on 19 October 1933. He received a large public funeral fitting “to the memory of a brave and distinguished soldier.”
Digitized Service File (LAC):