Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Allen
106th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalion
If these people at the front were at all suspicious of the manner of my wounding, why did they wait six months before laying a charge? When they heard of my promotion here they did not like it.
However, I am only doing my duty, willing to go anywhere I am sent, in any capacity, at any time, and the last charge in the world I expect to have laid at my door would be the charge of cowardice.
Having a clear conscious in this matter, I can look the whole world in the face and say ‘Not Guilty.”
(Lt. Col. W.H. Allen to adjutant-general, 29 Jan 1916)
In response to allegations that his wounds had been self-inflicted, Walter Harry Allen demanded a court of inquiry to clear his name. He received a leave of absence from recruiting the 106th Battalion to report overseas. He landed in England than proceeded to France where he faced a general court martial on 22 April 1916. He was charged under Section 16 of the Army Act – “behaving in a scandalous manner unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” – for intentionally wounding himself ten months earlier.
Born on 1 April 1882 in Kidderminster, England, Allen was a carriage builder in Truro, Nova Scotia and had served during the South African War. He enlisted as a captain with the 17th Battalion in September 1914 before being deployed to the 15th Battalion in France shortly after the heavy fighting of April and May 1915. Days after joining the battalion, in early June, he was wounded, hospitalized in England, then returned to Nova Scotia, where he was appointed to raise the 106th Battalion.
“The ability to shoot fast and straight saved my life in the trenches and lost a German his,” Allen declared to potential recruits. “Your bull’s eye means dead Germans and a shortening of the war. Your King and Country both need you so answer the call and come with me.”
He claimed that his strong advocacy for temperance had made enemies among the drinking officers overseas and he protested petty jealousies that hampered his efforts to recruit for his new command. “I want no credit for things I did not do,” Allen explained after his wounds had been called into question shortly after his speech to the Halifax Commercial Club. “But a man who tries to do something gets nothing but knocks and abuse from the very people he is fighting for.”
At the court martial, John Girvan (now a lieutenant) and other witnesses from the 15th Battalion testified to have heard only three shots from an automatic pistol on that day in June 1915. The deep trench seemed to have made an enemy attack impossible. And no Germans had been spotted in the area, which was in the reserves behind the front lines. Allen, acting as his own defence counsel, reiterated the story of the duel with the German soldier that he had frequently repeated since the time of his wounding.
The court found Allen guilty of scandalous conduct and sentenced him to be cashiered. When asked if he wished to make a statement, he responded, “I consider I have had a fair trial and must take the sentence of the court like a soldier.” Major General Arthur Currie recommended the punishment be carried out, writing:
Had Allen shot himself accidentally there would be no reason why he should conceal the fact; there would be nothing disgraceful in being accidentally wounded. That he invented this story is in my opinion proof that the circumstances were of such a nature that he considered it desirable to conceal them.
Defeated, now ex-lieutenant colonel Allen returned to Canada and was replaced by Major Robert Innes in command of the 106th Battalion. “I have played the game squarely, and have refrained from publishing my case,” Allen wrote to Prime Minister Robert Borden, “I am a poor man, but intend to fight my case with every means in my power … My duty to my little son & daughter make it imperative that I remove the disgrace from my name.” Although Allen promised the press that a future investigation into the conspiracy against him would “be one of the most sensational in the annals of military affairs in Canada,” his appeals amounted to nothing.
He appears to have later immigrated to the United States and died in Massachusetts in 1957.
Read more about Canadian officers’ scandalous conduct in my book.