Lieutenant Colonel W.J.A. Lalor, M.C.
2nd Motor Machine Gun Brigade
This Officer gives a history of four years service in France, as a Machine Gun officer. Towards the end of his service, he states, he was developing symptoms of a fear neurosis, and this was finally precipitated by being blown up … There has been a strong tendency to repress his Overseas experiences, and towards self-reproach, as a result of his break-down. He states, now, he is afraid of the crowds, and cannot go to a Theatre. He is afraid to go over a bridge for fear that he will jump off. He has not made up his mind about his future.
(Maj. A.A. Fletcher, Neurological Report, 13 Nov 1919)
Born in Muskoka, Ontario on 22 May 1878, William James Austin Lalor was a prospective homesteader in the west when the Great War broke out. He enlisted with the 1st Battalion in September 1914 and went to France in February 1915. Shortly thereafter he transferred to the Machine Gun Brigade, earning the Military Cross and a promotion to captain.
Lalor commanded the 1st Machine Gun Company from June to December 1916, and from October 1917 until February 1918. During these interruptions he was frequently admitted to hospital with sickness, debility, or trench fever. Following heavy shelling during the Battle of Passchendaele, he began to feel his health break down further. In January 1918, he slipped on ice and shot himself in the ankle. The injury was ruled an accident.
By June 1918, Lalor had been appointed commanding officer of the new 2nd Motor Machine Gun Brigade. Following his long struggle with shell shock and fear neurosis, Lalor finally broke down a few months later. Conflicts with second-in-command Major Harry F. Meurling likely aggravated his nerves further. Looking back decades later, Lalor wrote of his subordinate:
he had the ear of Gen. Brutinel, who was also of Foreign birth, and blood, and if the least thing would happen friend Mureling [sic] would get in his car and go tell Brutinel, just like a little school boy. Now this man Mureling made it very hard for even me … I could not do very much in the matter as Gen. Brutinel thought Meurling was a “little tin god” sort of thing.
Following a bout of pneumonia, Lalor’s health did not improve even with the end of the war. He was admitted to College Military Hospital in Toronto in July 1919 with suspected neurasthenia. A doctor described his condition: “is nervous and easily excited. Does not eat well, sleeps poorly, troubled with nightmares, being shelled etc.”
After the above neurological report, in which Lalor admitted to suicidal thoughts, the doctor diagnosed him with war neurosis, but added, “he shows no evidence of organic nervous disease. In view of his indecision it is not desirable that he continue longer in hospital and it is recommended that he be discharged to do some form of vocational work.”
Lalor died in Muskoka on 16 January 1960.