I was not drunk on the 3rd of Oct 1916 … I had nothing to drink since 12:30pm on that day. I had a drink in the morning with Major Laws and I had three more … I brought a bottle of whiskey on the morning in question … As a rule I take about five drinks a day. Spread out through the day. I never have a drink alone.
(Lt. Col. Bott, general court martial, 7 Nov 1916)
Born in Marden, Wiltshire, England on 24 August 1872, John Cecil Latham Bott was a professional British soldier and cavalryman. He was a member of the 20th Hussars from 1895 to 1909, and served in Egypt and South Africa. He immigrated to Vernon, British Columbia after the Boer War and helped to organize the 30th Horse.
In November 1914, Bott set out to raise a mounted battalion from British Columbia. The Victoria Daily Colonist praised his appointment as commander of the 2nd CMR, noting that Bott “is generally considered a most efficient officer and there can be no question as to the respect in which he is held by his men as well as his popularity among them.” Meanwhile, fellow militia colonel, J.R. Vicars, described Bott as “only a fair man … troubled with big head and not popular with the men.”
Although Bott had selected the best horsemen from the province and was eager to see action in France, everyone soon realized that it would be an infantry war. The battalion landed in France in September 1915 but the mounted rifle regiments were quickly reorganized as dismounted units.
Bott led the 2nd CMR for nearly eleven months through the battle of the Somme. In June 1916, Bott assumed temporary command of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade after Brigadier General Victor Williams was taken prisoner at Mont Sorrel. The heavy fighting at the some appeared to take a toll on his health.
Bott was court-martialled in November 1916 for alleged drunkenness the month earlier. He denied the charge and claimed fatigue had been mistaken for mere intoxication. He explained the circumstances: “I was in the trenches for six days and six nights at Bn. H.Q. and during that time we did one attack ourselves and supported two other Bns. in another attack.” Despite admitting to making a frequent habit of drinking with his officers – with as many as five drinks a day- he was acquitted.
Despite the verdict his time on the front was at an end. Suffering from chronic bronchitis, Bott relinquished command of the 2nd CMR to Major G. C. Johnston in November 1916. He took command of the 16th Reserve Battalion before returning to Canada in 1918. In England, ironically he took charge of courts martial at Seaford.
After the war, Bott resumed his ranching in Vernon. He died on 21 May 1926.
Digitized Service File (LAC):
Militia personnel file number: 8444-1