Brig. Gen. Griesbach

Brigadier General W. A. Griesbach, D.S.O.
49th (Edmonton Regiment) Battalion Griesbach

I had an idea at one time, that after the war over half of the Canadian parliament would be men who had served in the war. I had an idea that it would be hardly possible for a man to be elected to parliament who had not served his country in the war on active service. Yet in the present parliament we have in the commons some nine men out of 235—no I beg pardon, 234, for one is a woman—who have served overseas.

(Griesbach speech, Ottawa Citizen, 3 May 1923, 3)

 William Antrobus Griesbach was an Edmonton barrister, Conservative political figure and member of the 19th Alberta Dragoons. He was born in Fort Qu’Appelle, North-West Territories on 3 January 1878. A veteran of the Boer War, he was authorized to raise the 49th Battalion In January 1915. By October 1915, Griesbach and his Edmonton volunteers had deployed to France as part of the 7th Infantry Brigade in the 3rd Canadian Division.

After distinguishing himself in the battle of the Somme, Griesbach was promoted to brigadier general in command of the 1st Infantry Brigade. He was six times mentioned in dispatches and earned the D.S.O. and Bar.

A local Conservative activist before the war, Griesbach had been one-time mayor of Edmonton (1907) and successive legislative candidate. During the December 1917 federal election, Unionist supporters endorsed Griesbach to run in Edmonton West against powerful Liberal boss Frank Oliver.

In a rematch from 1911, Griesbach defeated Oliver by a large margin. Although the Liberal narrowly led the civilian vote, as Oliver’s own Edmonton Bulletin noted, “the four thousand soldiers who have gone from that riding will not allow their idol to go down in defeat.” Indeed they did not. Griesbach received 2938 soldier votes compared to 160 for the venerable Liberal.

After three years in the House, Griesbach was appointed to the Senate and promoted to major general in September 1921. In the upper chamber, he emerged as an influential advocate of pensions for disabled veterans and surviving dependents. Griesbach argued that the people of Canada had established a contract with the veterans but emphasized the importance of financial responsibility. “After all,” he reasoned, “a bankrupt Canada is no good to anybody, and least of all to the ex-service men.”

Griesbach remained in the Senate until his death on 21 January 1945. His last speech in December 1944 was a forceful argument in favour of conscription. He had concluded, “We hope that our public men and leaders will have the intestinal fortitude to carry out that policy, let the chips fall where they may.” He died before the next Senate session began.

Senator Gerald White, former commander of the 224th Battalion, eulogized:

He was, as well all know, a very strict disciplinarian, Nevertheless, he always enjoyed the esteem and confidence of every officer and man who served under him. This was due to the fact that he was fearless and would not order his subordinates to assume any risk that he himself was not willing to take.

 

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