Lieutenant Colonel George C. Hodson, D.S.O.
1st (Western Ontario) Battalion
I have perhaps foolishly put my Country and the Cause before my personal interests in the past but my patience is now absolutely exhausted and I am out to get justice, one way or the other. I have already lost all a soldier can lose and that is ‘his reputation as a fighting soldier’ … All I have asked is to be returned to the front with my rank or else given a decent appointment in England or Canada with some promotion.
(G.C. Hodson to Gen. Ashton, 20 Apr 1918)
After the death of Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Creighton on 15 June 1916 during the battle of Mont Sorrel, the 1st Battalion was left leaderless and disorganized. Unable to find a suitable replacement from within the battalion or from another frontline unit, Major-General Arthur Currie needed to look to a surplus senior officer in England. He found George Cuthbert Bethune Hodson, former commander of the 9th CMR, which had been broken up some months earlier.
Hodson was born in New Shoreham, England on 21 July 1879. A veteran of the Boer War, Hodson was a bank manager in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and commanding officer of the 22nd Horse. In December 1914, he organized the 9th Canadian Mounted Rifles, which was used for reinforcements in England before being absorbed into the Canadian Cavalry Reserve Depot in February 1916.
Unable to get to France without reverting in rank, Hodson wrote to General Sam Steele, “God knows to a young man like me who is absolutely physically fit and so anxious to get to the Front it is enough to knock the heart out of me as I really cannot see any chance of getting nearer to the Front.” He contemplated that if he remained idle in England he would just go home, but added, “Then again, most of my old Officers have been at the Front for some time, some have been killed and others wounded, and should I have to remain in Canada, during the whole war what will those who return think of me?”
Following an instructional tour of the front in spring 1916, he was recommended to take command of the 1st Battalion after Creighton died of his wounds on 15 June. Although the battalion regained some order after the losses at Mont Sorrel, General Currie admitted, “The atmosphere was never quite right. I knew that the introduction of Lieut-Colonel Hodson into the Battalion had been resented, yet I hoped he would be able to overcome this unfriendly feeling. Instead of this feeling being removed, it become worse.”
The appointment of the outsider over veteran officers provoked strong feelings against Hodson. Some officers sought leave to Canada to get away from the new colonel. Wounded officers resisted returning to the 1st. Hodson exacerbated these feelings by filing adverse reports against some older officers, accusing new reinforcement officers of cowardice, and surrounding himself with appointments from the 9th CMR.
After being promoted to Canadian Corps commander, Currie, concluded, “During the year he was in command of the Battalion I consider he was given every chance, every support and every encouragement, and I consider that he failed.” Although he had been twice mentioned in dispatches and received the D.S.O., Hodson was removed from command of the 1st Battalion on 16 August 1917 and replaced with Major A.W. Sparling.
Hodson did not take this change in command well. He futilely appealed for a court of inquiry to plead his case against disgruntled subordinates. He was sent back to England for training duties but was instead returned to Canada after the adverse report in France. He reported to the adjutant general, E.C. Ashton, who found Hodson, “in a very depressed condition, and as I told him at the time, I considered his mental condition far from normal as a result of continued brooding over his loss of command.”
In January 1918, Hodson was appointed to take command of the 1st Depot Battalion in Saskatchewan but soon faced criticism for poor administration of his Military Service Act duties. Doctors suspected he was suffering from neurasthenia and was in the process of a nervous breakdown. He remained in the militia until retirement in 1925.
He then moved to California and became a naturalized American citizen in 1927. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he wrote to the Canadian defence department, “Those of us who faced the Germans on the Flanders, Lens, Arras and Somme front know they put up a good fight, and unless my judgement is wrong we are in for a long war with terrific casualties, and before it ends every man physically fit, with or without military experience, will be gladly accepted for service.” Although his patriotic motives were appreciated, Canadian officials declined to enlist the now 60-year-old former colonel.
Hodson died in 1969.