Lt. Col. Holmes

Lieutenant Colonel W.J.H. Holmes
48th (British Columbia) Battalion

He did not salute, so immediately after passing I stopped, turned back and asked him “what’s the matter. Why didn’t you salute?” He swiftly looked at me without taking his hand out of it pocket … His manner appeared to be so insubordinate that I asked him for his paybook … I then ordered him under close arrest.

(Court martial of Pte. Parents, 4 Jan 1919)

William Josiah Hartley Holmes was a graduate of the Royal Military College, a British Columbia land surveyor and first commanding officer of the 102nd Rocky Mountain Rangers. He was born on 28 May 1871 in St. Catherines, Ontario but moved to Victoria with his family. In 1910, Holmes was part of an expedition to explore Crown Mountain. Although he had retired to the reserve militia list in 1912, he was appointed commander of the 48th Battalion after the outbreak of the First World War.

Holmes and the 48th sailed for England in January 1916. The battalion was re-designated the 3rd Pioneers and dispatched to France three months later. Holmes’ unit earned special recognition form Allied Command for its “good work” during the fighting around Mount Sorrel and the Somme.

In May 1917, General Julian Byng praised Holmes and his men for their efforts at the battle of Vimy Ridge but regretted to inform him that the 3rd Pioneers were to be broken up to provide reinforcements. Unable to replenish its ranks with British Columbia volunteers, the battalion was dispersed among the 7th, 29th and 75th. Major General Lipsett of the 3rd Division explained to Holmes:

I need hardly write that I am very sorry to lose the Battalion from my command, for I feel not only that I am losing an excellent Battalion which has always done its Duty well, and which you have every reason to feel proud, but I also feel that I am parting from a number of good loyal friends.

While in command of a reinforcement camp in December 1918, Holmes testified against a private court-martialled for insubordination and failing to salute. The private was sentenced to 70 days Field Punishment No. 1.

After the war, Holmes resumed his work as a surveyor and civil engineer for the British Columbia government. He was briefly employed in road construction work in China during the 1920s.

He died at the Veteran’s Hospital in Vancouver on 10 July 1954.


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