Lieutenant Colonel Harry F. Meurling, M.C.
2nd Motor Machine Gun Brigade
I was in command of the 2nd M.M.G. Bge. at the time, and I had as 2ic a man by the name of Mureling [sic], he was not a Canadian, and spoke very broken English, which was very hard to understand, and he was a most objectionable fellow indeed, how ever he got where he was is more than I can tell.
(Col. W.J.A. Lalor to Col Snelgrove, 18 Dec 1936)
Harry Frederick Victor Meurling was a Swedish civil engineer born on 23 April 1875. When he enlisted with the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles in May 1915 he cited military experience in the Swedish Royal Navy and the Belgian Congo. Of his time serving the notorious central African regime of King Leopold, Meurling stated in 1922: “Many mistakes were made, the blame for which were more rightly laid to human nature than on him in particular, and history, I am sure will only remember him as a man with a great vision and the courage to carry it out.”
In June 1916, Meurling became commanding officer of the Yukon Motor Machine Gun Battery, which landed in France that August. He was invalided to England with a nervous debility in March 1917 before returning to the field one month later. He received the Military Cross for gallantry in addition to the Distinguished Service Order. In June 1918, his unit was absorbed into the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel W.J.A. Lalor.
Following a long struggle with shell shock and fear neurosis, Lalor broke down a few months later. Meurling replaced him in September 1918. Although highly decorated and well-regarded by many of the men, Meurling evidently provoked extreme animosity from some fellow officers. After Major H.J. Brownlee was dismissed by court martial near the end of the war, he and supporters held a grudge against the Swedish colonel.
Decades later as Brownlee attempted to secure exoneration, Lalor wrote:
Now this man Meurling made it very hard even for me as he was as I said before Second in command, and he used to try and ‘ride’ me, but as you can understand that could not be and he tried to bully all the other Officers in the Bde. especially Major. Brownlee, and he picked on him at all times, in fact he made poor Brownlee’s life miserable.
After explaining the circumstances around Brownlee’s dismissal, Lalor added, “I think the wrong man was punished, Meurling was not fit to be in command of a pack of hounds, let alone good men.” Another brigade veteran recalled that the Swede’s “sarcastic, cutting, blasphemous reprimands at times were almost unendurable.” This former sergeant added that “I have seen the Colonel apparently in a spasm of temper order a motor machine-gun crew to attack practically an invulnerable ‘pill-box’ with the result that almost the entire crew was wiped-out.”
Although one former officer thought it well known that Meurling had “died in the insane asylum in the West” soon after the war, the Swede lived until 4 May 1954, dying in Quebec.