Lt. Col. Pratt

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur C. Pratt, MPP
133rd (Norfolk’s Own) Battalion

One of my sergeants put it cleverly when he said that, while the Canadians make the best fighting men in the world, they are not soldiers, and he was right when he said it. The Canadian fighters are citizens. The war was merely an interlude in their citizenry. During the fighting they bore all manner of hardship because they were part of the fighting but when the fighting had ended they unconsciously became citizens again and not amendable to the strict discipline of military life. They wanted to get back to the life to which they belonged.

(Pratt, Toronto Star, 19 March 1919)

Arthur Clarence Pratt was a Conservative member of the Ontario legislature for Norfolk South from 1905 to 1919. He was born 6 February 1871 in Lynedoch, Ontario. In November 1915, he joined with Hal B. Donly, his Liberal opponent from the June 1914 provincial election, to raise the 133rd Battalion from Norfolk County.

Unlike most battalion commanders, Pratt had not been a member of the local militia before the war. His lack of militia experience may have been the root of significant tensions with some of his subordinate officers who had long belonged to the 39th (Norfolk Rifles) Regiment. In October 1916, twenty officers demanded that Pratt step down due to their lack of confidence in his ability to lead the unit overseas. Pratt refused and forced several company majors and captains to resign instead.”[1]

After the breakup of the battalion in England, the forty-seven year old Pratt applied to revert in rank to serve in the trenches. Writing home to Donly, he lamented, “this is an awful war, and the darndest war to get to you ever saw.”[2] Though General Mewburn later complimented Pratt as “a man who would be just as willing to go to the front as a private,” the Ontario MPP only managed to secure a position as a staff officer in Dunkirk.

Returning to the Ontario legislature in Match 1919, Pratt was a vocal critic of Ottawa’s repatriation policies. He was particularly hostile toward the headquarters staff at Argyll House. He charged administrative officers with incompetence, corruption and negligence. While Pratt praised General Currie for making incompetent subordinates “mysteriously disappear,” he criticized General Turner for permitting a culture of exploitation and carelessness in London. The disillusioned Ontario Conservative also disparaged Prime Minister Borden, who was overseas for the peace conference, as “a joke” and “a mere page for the big men.”[3]

In response to the two-day Rhyl riots on 4/5 March 1919 in Wales, Pratt defended the disgruntled soldiers and argued that their grievances were justified. Poor living conditions, inadequate pay and administrative mismanagement had created the conditions for angry protests. The Ontario MPP claimed that the early departure of draftees over “old-timers” was the last straw. Describing the rioting, Pratt explained, “Until the shooting began one could not but be impressed with the humor of the whole affair.”[4]

Defeated in the October 1919 Ontario provincial election, Pratt returned to teaching in Norfolk County. He died in 1948.

[1] “Five Officers Quit 133rd Battalion,” Toronto Globe, 3 Oct 1916, 3.

[2] “The 133rd Norfolk,” Toronto Star, 19 February 1917, 6.

[3] “View of Col. Pratt,” Toronto Star, 19 Mar 1919, 3.

[4] Ibid.

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