Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Hastings
250th (Polish) Battalion
Col. Hastings, in an address to the recruits promised to help out any of them to the best of his ability it ever they got in trouble.
(Winnipeg Tribune, 24 Mar 1920, 1)
William Henry Hastings was a newspaperman, crown prosecutor and barrister in Winnipeg. He had been born in Peterborough, Canada West on 29 December 1858. In September 1916, he attempted to raise the 250th Battalion, supported by the local Polish-Canadian community. The Polish language newspaper in Winnipeg, Czas, lauded the creation of a special unit to fight “the traditional enemies of Poland” as “an historical event.” However, the 250th failed to reach full strength and later merged with Lieutenant Colonel C. B. Keenlyside’s 249th Battalion.
When charged with murder in 1919, twenty-one-year-old ex-private William Eliuck (spelled various Elneck and Elnech in the press), who had enlisted with the 250th, appealed to his former commander for help. Fulfilling the promise he had made to his men at enlistment, Hastings offered to save the returned soldier from the death penalty. On 18 October 1919, Eliuck and two accomplices had killed a man named William Deforge, a former intelligence officer for Military District No. 10, in a botched robbery. The trio were soon arrested and Eliuck confessed: “I did the shooting alright, thought I had the safety catch on my gun, but I didn’t. I had fired a second shot before I knew what was doing,”
Acting as defence counsel, Hastings stated, “I make no attempt to disguise the seriousness of the affair,” but argued to the jury that the killing had been accidental. Highlighting the accused’s war record, in which he had been wound, Hastings concluded, “Better that Eliuck had died in Flanders and won eternal honor than come back to such a life.” Just over a year earlier, Eliuck had been convicted overseas by court martial in February 1919 for a one-month illegal absence in England.
In this March 1920 trial, the jury returned with a verdict of manslaughter which spared Eliuck the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison. A few months later, the provincial court of appeals ruled that that law had been incorrectly applied; a killing in an attempted robbery constituted murder regardless of intent to kill. The decision did not, however, affect Eliuck’s conviction or sentence.
During the 1929 Winnipeg mayoral election, Hastings acted as campaign manager for the re-election of Lieutenant Colonel Dan McLean, formerly of the 101st Battalion. They were defeated by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Webb, the one-legged ex-mayor and former commander of the 47th Battalion.
Hastings died in Winnipeg on 12 February 1940.
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