Lieutenant Colonel Barry Combe
161st (Huron) Battalion
Had an attack of acute gastritis Aug 1917. Began to feel somewhat run down then and to lose weight.
He is slightly pale and his muscles show wasting—weight 160 lbs. He states that this is a loss of 20 lbs. He complains of being very easily tired, then he feels slightly dizzy.
(Medical Board, 11 Oct 1918)
Hugh Barry Combe was born on 23 September 1864 in Clinton, Canada West. He enlisted as a bugler in the 33rd Huron Regiment as a boy and rose to become the commanding militia officer. In December 1915, he offered to raise a battalion from his home county. The farmer families of the rural area were unreceptive to patriotic pleas, however, and largely unwilling to allow their sons to enlist.
In contrast to the vigorous recruitment drives in big cities like Toronto, one 161st officer complained, “out here in the peaceful counties, never a word to be said, and unless a man really desires to enlist he can go on his untroubled way, quite unawakened as to his duty. It certainly ought to drive the city men to the country simply by its unfairness.”
“Let the town fellows enlist” said one elderly farmer. The women of the farms were one of the toughest obstacles to recruiters. Attempting to alleviate some of the farmers’ concerns about manpower, Combe allowed his soldiers to be contracted out to assist in seeding and the harvest.
Civilian recruiters and 161st officers complained about the lack of government support in organizing the process. In particular, the three local Huron Conservative MPs, Jonathan Joseph Merner, James Bowman and Edward Norman Lewis were criticized for their lack of involvement. Since each battalion operated relatively independently, they were largely left to their own devices to secure volunteers. The 161st eventually sailed for England in October 1916 with only 750 men.
On arriving to England, Combe relinquished command to Major Robert Murdie and was seconded to the Imperial Forces. He joined the headquarters staff of the 1st and 3rd Armies from August 1917 until September 1918. He suffered from several attacks of gastritis and was evacuated to England with general debility.
Combe died on 29 October 1945.