Lieutenant Colonel Tancrède Pagnuelo
206th (Canadien-Français) Battalion
I know I deserve to be punished for a breach of discipline, but all I ask from you, gentlemen, is not to be prevented from doing what I wanted to do, namely, going to the Front. If you dismiss me from the service it will be quite impossible for a commanding officer to join the ranks as a private.
(Court martial of Lt. Col. Pagnuelo, Dec 1916)
Born in 1870, Tancrède Pagnuelo was a Montreal barrister and Conservative Party activist. He had unsuccessfully contested the riding of St. James in the 1900 federal election. A reserve officer with the 85th Regiment, Pagnuelo was appointed to raise the 206th Battalion from the districts of Beauharnois, Laprairie and Terrebonne in early 1916. He would prove to be one of the more unfortunate choices.
The authorization of another French-Canadian battalion in Montreal drew opposition from Major Olivar Asselin of the 163rd. Asselin urged the militia minister to do something about Pagnuelo, who he regarded as lazy and corrupt. Asselin was particularly baffled by the 206th recruiting slogan, “Last to go—First to profit of the victory.”
Notorious for its lack of discipline, the 206th was to be assigned garrison duty in Bermuda. Angered that his unit was to be taken from him, Pagnuelo addressed his troops at Valcartier on 15 July 1916:
… the authorities have sacked the officers, and we are going home. They are doing this without consulting us, and I consider that it is a revenge because we are French-Canadians, and because of small errors here and there …
Now, boys, military law forbids me to speak any clearer, but if you are clever enough you will read between the lines you will know what to do. I will give you all passes to go where you like, and you may take for granted that the money subscribed to the Regimental fund will not be spent to look for you or for the purpose of chasing those who do not come back. I repeat it again, you are condemned to go to Bermuda where it is very hot. You understand, do you. I won’t say any more, do as you like and don’t be afraid.
The none-too-subtle call for mass desertion caught the attention of Major Asselin and Quebec military authorities. In December 1916, Pagnuelo was court-martialled on eleven counts of fraud and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. In addition to his speech, officials determined that he had committed perjury before a board of inquiry, stolen battalion funds, and extorted money from his men.
Claiming to be anxious to get to France, Pagnuelo apologized for the speech and promised, “if I am permitted to go to the front and if I get as many Germans as I have got bulls-eyes at a 1000 yards in shooting matches, I will do my bit.”
On 14 December 1916, Pagnuelo was sentenced to be cashiered, stripped of his Long Service militia medal and banned for life from the King’s service. He was also sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in Bordeaux Jail.
The Justice Department released Pagnuelo after two months. The former 206th commander, however, also demanded the verdict be overturned and be reinstated in the militia. He futilely complained: “I have been wronged in respect to my civil rights … I lose all my rights as advocate … and it will be impossible for me to occupy in the future any public official position, parliamentary or otherwise.” His appeal was denied.
With the war over, in 1920, Pagnuelo tried again. He noted his past political loyalty to the Conservative Party but implied he could cause trouble for the government. “To avoid more litigation and political friction,” he humbly submitted, “I would accept, a Royal amnesty and military rank and decorations as a satisfactory compromise.” This appeal met with the same result as the first.
In September 1939, as Canada faced another world war, Pagnuelo offered to volunteer “for any military duties, even disagreeable ones, in Canada, being over-age for overseas service.” He reminded the defence department that his legal appeals remained pending but added, “this offer is made in good spirit, without any further protest to my arrest and condemnation.”
He also used the opportunity to offer advice on how recruitment in Quebec ought to proceed, writing:
I sincerely hope, the numerous military blunders made in 1914-1918, in the recruiting of the French-Canadian without taking in consideration the mentality and customs of the race, will be avoided. Personally, I am in favor of a general mobilization, with conscription decree, for Canada duties, subject to future events in Europe … knowing well the anti-conscription cry, I believe I could render valuable services.
His offer appears to have been ignored. Pagunelo died in January 1946.
Militia personnel file number: 4017-2