The Pawn

Major J. H. Sills
44th (South Saskatchewan) BattalionSills

The Officer Commanding the 44th Battalion who was in England undergoing treatment for a damaged shoulder and his Second-in-command had each been adversely reported on by me, and I had placed Major Sills, a Graduate of the Royal Military College, Canada and who had 16 months experience in France and whom I knew to be a most efficient Officer and capable business man in Command of the Battalion.

(Gen. W. Hughes to Gen. Turner, 20 Mar 1917)

John Hamilton Sills was a civil engineer, militiaman and graduate of the Royal Military College. A descendant of United Empire Loyalists he was born in Frankford, Ontario on 1 May 1882. Sills enlisted with William St. Pierre Hughes’ 21st Battalion in April 1915 and was promoted to July in August 1916.

In summer 1916, he transferred to division headquarters before being attached to the 10th Infantry Brigade under the command of General Hughes, his original commanding officer of the 21st Battalion.

On 27 December 1916, Hughes appointed Sills to take command of the 44th Battalion from Lieutenant Colonel E. R. Wayland. Fourth Division commander Major General David Watson superseded Hughes’ decision and quickly replaced Sills with Reginald Danbury Rhys Davies on 18 January 1917. Hughes was sacked the same day.

Hughes believed Watson had purposefully sabotaged the 44th Battalion in order to undermine his leadership. He bitterly complained, “Disaster to my Brigade was courted as a means of securing my dismissal.”

Sills served as a staff captain with the 3rd Infantry Brigade until the end of the war. He was mentioned in dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order.

He died in Belleville, Ontario on 26 September 1930.

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