The Public Defender

Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Hastings
250th (Polish) BattalionHastings

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 was born in Peterborough, Canada West on 29 December 1858. In September 1916, he attempted to raise the 250th supported by the local Polish-Canadian community. The Polish language newspaper in Winnipeg, Czas, lauded the creation of a special battalion to fight “the traditional enemies of Poland” as “an historical event.” However, the 250th failed to reach strength and later merged with Lieutenant Colonel C. B. Keenlyside’s 249th Battalion.

When Winnipeg man William Elneck, a returned soldier who had enlisted with the 250th, was charged with murder in 1919, he appealed to his former commander for help. Fulfilling the promise he had made to his men at enlistment, Hastings offered to save the ex-soldier from the death penalty.

On 18 October 1919, Elneck 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 Elneck 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 claimed “I make no attempt to disguise the seriousness of the affair,” but appealed to the jury that the killing had been accidental. Hastings concluded, “Better that Elneck had died in Flanders and won eternal honor than come back to such a life.”

The jury returned with a verdict of manslaughter and Elneck was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. A few months later the provincial court of appeals ruled that that law had been incorrectly applied; deciding a killing in an attempted robbery constituted murder regardless of intent to kill. The decision did not however affect Elneck’s conviction.

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.

Digitized Service File (LAC):

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