Lieutenant Colonel A. Bruce Powley
143rd (B. C. Bantams) Battalion
…it has never appeared that the Commanding Officer was capable of a full and practical appreciation of the value of any branch of training.
Has shown little professional knowledge, energy or executive. Is inclined to say much of what he has done and what he intends to do, but to fall short in practice.
(OC No. 11 Military District to Militia Council, 9 Feb 1917)
Wounded at Festubert in May 1915, Alan Bruce Powley returned to recover and raise a new overseas battalion. Inspired by the 35th Bantam Division in the British Army, a number of British Columbia men below the minimum height requirement had petitioned Ottawa to create a similar unit. In November 1915, Powley was authorized to raise the 143rd Bantam Battalion consisting of volunteers under 5’4.
Powley was born on 24 September 1876 in Drayton, Ontario. He was a militiaman with the 14th Prince of Wales Own Rifles in Kingston, the 101st Regiment in Winnipeg and the 88th Regiment in Victoria. He enlisted as a company commander in the 30th Battalion before being drafted into the 7th Battalion on the front. He returned home in November 1915 suffering from shell shock.
Despite Powley’s recruiting efforts, the 143rd struggled to fill its quota. As a result, he began to relax some of the height and size requirements. He reported to Ottawa, “I have a battalion of over half Bantam and the balance of larger men, though their average is below 5 ft. 6 ins. They are training very fast and I hope to proceed overseas with a smart battalion if not wholly a Bantam Battalion”
He also wrote to his member of Parliament, Conservative MP Robert Francis Green, requesting that the battalion deploy to the front intact and to exchange some of its larger men with bantam recruits in other units. Although Powley initially succeeded in getting the 143rd redesignated a railway battalion, when it arrived in England in February 1917, it was formally disbanded.
According to a confidential report from the No. 11 Military District commander in Victoria, military authorities were unimpressed with the quality of the battalion and the leadership of Powley.
Powley assumed command of the 24th Reserve Battalion in April 1917 and returned to Victoria in November 1918. He later worked for the Soldiers’ Civil Re–Establishment and the provincial employment board to assist the reintegration of returned men.