Major General Archie Macdonell
Lord Strathcona’s Horse
“Batty Mac, our brigade commander, was crazy as a coot in many ways, I saw him actually get wounded one day … Somebody said ‘Be careful, sir, there’s a sniper’ and he said ‘Fuck the sniper,’ climbed up to get a look and the sniper took him through the shoulder and he went ass over applecarts into his shellhole from which he had emerged … My god, his language! You could hear him for miles around!”
(G.R. Stevens PPCLI, In Flanders Field interview, 1964)
Born on 6 October 1864 in Windsor, Canada West, Archibald Cameron Macdonell earned the nickname “Batty Mac” for his disregard of danger under fire. He graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in 1886 and joined the Canadian Militia before transferring to the North-West Mounted Police. He volunteered during the Boer War and was commanding officer of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse at the outbreak of the First World War.
In December 1915, he was promoted to take command of the 7th Infantry Brigade. His only son, Lieutenant Ian Cameron Macdonell, was killed on 2 July 1916 when his plane was shot down. When Macdonell left the 7th just under a year later, he remarked, “The Brigade has always been a source of pride and joy to me, and when sorrow came into my life, and my only son was killed in action. it was the Brigade that saved me–pulled me through and comforted me.”
When Arthur Currie was appointed take over the Canadian Corps on 9 June 1917, Macdonell succeeded him as commander of the 1st Canadian Division. For political reasons, some allies of the ex-militia minister Sam Hughes pushed for his son Major General Garnet Hughes to be given the appointment instead. Currie insisted on his right to choose his own subordinate commanders and Macdonell remained in command of the 1st Division until the end of the war.
He was commandant of RMC from 1919 until his retirement in 1925. Until his death on 23 December 1941, Macdonell was honorary colonel to Lord Strathcona’s Horse.
Ian McCulloch, “Batty Mac: Portrait of a Brigade Commander of the Great War, 1915–1917″ (Canadian Military History, 1998).