His Honor Judge Smyth, is, and apparently has been for some time, absent from his judicial duties without leave, and it would appear from the correspondence before me that he is acting as Commanding Officer of the 209th Overseas Battalion.
(Deputy Minister of Justice, 17 Nov 1916)
William Oswald Smyth was a district court judge based in Swift Current and major in the 27th Light Horse Regiment. He was born in Toronto on 4 October 1873 and practiced law in Montreal before moving west. Although “anxious to go to the war,” Smyth was initially denied the opportunity to enlist. Justice Minister Doherty explained, “it did not appear necessary that the judges should be permitted to abandon their judicial duties for the purpose of undertaking military service.” Undeterred, Judge Smyth took command of the 209th Battalion and went overseas anyway.
After the 209th was broken up in England, Smyth was compelled to resume his judicial duties under the threat of removal from the bench. Even before the war, the militia department had been somewhat uncomfortable with a judge holding a commission in a militia regiment. As the militia could potentially be called into service during a riot, it could cause some awkwardness if someone was both an officer and a magistrate.
Upon being appointed second in command of the 27th Light Horse in 1913, Smyth replied, “It would appear that the only embarrassment to the administration of the law would be in a civil sense, with which I feel that the Department of Militia does not concern itself in any extent.”
The commanding officer of the 27th Light Horse, G.S. Tuxford, more strongly objected to Smyth’s promotion because he felt that the judge was incompetent as an officer. Just months before the outbreak of war, in February 1914, Tuxford had threatened to resign from the regiment rather than accept Smyth as his second. Ironically, when Tuxford joined the CEF for overseas service in September 1914, Smyth assumed command of the 27th Light Horse.
After only a couple of months in England and after a short tour of the front with the 31st Battalion, Smyth returned to the Saskatchewan in January 1917 After thirty years as a judge, he retired to British Columbia, where he died in 1947.