Lieutenant Colonel Wilton Yates
2nd (Iron Second) Battalion
When he was badly wounded in World War I, he was the first to have successful plastic surgery on his face. It was very noticeable of course when he returned to Swift Current. At one time, as he himself relates, he was consigned to an insane asylum “but never reached it owing to my own machinations.” When wounded he was put in the morgue as dead; was saved by a nurse’s aide and given six months to live.
(Jim Greenblat, Those Were the Days in Swift Current, 1971, 32)
A native of England, Wilton Milwarde Yates was born on 17 October 1879. After being wounded in the Boer War, he immigrated to Canada and became a rancher at Swift Current. He enlisted in Lieutenant Colonel Harry Cowan’s 32nd Battalion in December 1914 and was attached to the 2nd Battalion once overseas.
He relieved Lieutenant Colonel A. E. Swift in October 1916 and took command of the 2nd during the final stage of the battle of the Somme. On 20 December 1916 he was relieved by Major Lorne McLaughlin before Lieutenant Colonel R. P. Clark assumed official command of the 2nd on 10 January 1917. On 27 December 1916, while assigned to a commanding officer course in Etaples, Yates suffered a skull fracture and severe facial injuries when the bus he was riding overturned.
The injury resulted in severe physical and emotional damage. His brain oozed from his broken skull at the time of the accident. The damage was bad enough that it was classified as a gun shot wound in some medical reports. He underwent six operations and even then he was left with debilitating headaches, insomnia, and nervous symptoms. Major Harold Gillies, the father of modern plastic surgery, performed a bone graft transplant into his forehead and root of the nose.
As described in the history of Swift Current, Yates “got badly shot up, came back to his ranch with a silver plate in his head, and a quick temper.” He later moved to Victoria, British Columbia where at ninety-two, he was “blind but as volatile and perky as ever.”
He died on Vancouver Island on 6 December 1976 at the age of ninety-six.
Militia personnel file number: 338-34-13