The Piano Salesman

Lieutenant Colonel Milton Francis, D.S.O
47th (British Columbia) BattalionFrancis

This officer appears before the Board after one month’s extension of leave. He feels very much better and fit to return to duty. Former hospital papers and medical Board puts his disability as V.D.H. [Valvular Disease of the Heart] which is an old lesion & in the opinion of the Board was not the cause of his present breakdown, which was due to nervous overstain,

(Medical Board Report on a Disabled Officer, 1 Mar 1918)

Born in London, Ontario on 26 March 1884, Milton John Francis was manager of a Fort William music store selling pianos and gramophones. He first enlisted with the 44th (Manitoba) Battalion and transferred to the 46th as second-in-command before assuming command of the 47th just before the Vimy offensive in April 1917 .

Francis’ leadership and organization during the battle of Vimy Ridge won the praise of Colonel Edmund Ironside a professional British soldier with the 4th Division. Brigadier General Edward Hilliam of the 10th Brigade forwarded Ironside’s message to his battalion commanders:

My Dear Colonel FRANCIS:-

I more than agree with Colonel IRONSIDE… As you know, we are more or less a civilian Army, and Colonel IRONSIDE is one of the most experienced officers in the British Army, and I believe myself and would like the men to know, that he would not have written this letter, had he not known the difficulties you had to overcome…

In August, Francis was admitted to a field hospital and therefore missed much of the action at Hill 70. Major Mills commanded the 47th in his absence. He suffered a breakdown in December and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Webb of the 38th Battalion.

Doctors initially diagnosed Francis with Valvular Disease of the Heart but soon attributed his condition to nervous exhaustion. After three months’ rest, a medical Board reported, “Nervous system while not quite back to normal is very much better.”

In 1926, Francis was elected to one term as mayor of Port Arthur. He died on 4 June 1950.

Digitized Service File (LAC):


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