Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Fonseca
197th (Vikings of Canada) Battalion
War Invention by Colonel Fonseca Rips Barbed Entanglements to Pieces
Proof of the military value of the new war machine invented by Lieut.-Col. Fonseca, of the 197th Battalion, was submitted to a number of experts In the art of modern warfare at Fort Rouge Tuesday afternoon. The news that a weapon which can successfully combat barbed wire In the field had been Invented created great Interest and Col. Fonseca consented to a series of tests to substantiate his claims.
(Winnipeg Tribune, 8 Aug 1916, 5)
Despite his Latin name, Alfonso Gomez Fonseca raised a battalion of Scandinavians from Manitoba. He was born in Winnipeg on 14 June 1876. His father, William Gomez da Fonseca (1823—1905), was born in the Danish West Indies, moved to North America and became an early Winnipeg pioneer in the 1860.
In February 1916, Fonseca was appointed to raise the 197th Battalion. Dubbed the “Vikings of Canada,” the unit was conceived by Endre Johannes Cleven to attract volunteers of Scandinavian descent. Cleven was a Norwegian born musician and prominent leader in the Scandinavian community.
On 3 July, the colonel was involved in a serious car accident near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Captain Cleven was killed and Fonseca was hospitalized. Two weeks later against doctors’ orders, an injured Fonseca returned to duty. However, without the leadership and recruiting ability of Cleven, the battalion struggled to fill its ranks.
Learning in December 1916 that the 197th was to be broken up for an overseas draft, Fonseca reverted to the rank of captain in order to sail for England. He reasoned, “As long as I can fight for the Allies I care not whether I go as a lieutenant-colonel or a private. I signed up to fight not to a high position and draw a big salary.” Despite his offer, Fonseca was struck off strength and returned to Canada in March 1917.
In 1920, he moved to Los Angeles where he became president of the Canadian Society of California. He died in the city on 10 March 1957.