The Scapegoat

Major H. LeRoy Shaw
87th (Grenadier Guards) BattalionShawHL

Major Shaw said that he was going overseas because he had no ties or obligations to hold him back, and that his spirit was only the same as many of his friends, and of many with whom he was not acquainted. With them, he said, it was a question of where their home and family duties ended and duty to their country began. 

(Maj. Shaw speech, Montreal Gazette, 14 Feb 1916, 14)

Born on 28 June 1878 in Prince Edward Island, Harold LeRoy Shaw was manager of the Montreal Imperial Life Assurance Company when he joined the 87th Battalion in September 1915. He went to France as a company commander in August 1916. He served as acting battalion commander between March and May 1917, and led the 87th through the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

While Lieutenant Colonel R.W. Frost recovered from shell shock, Major Shaw took over the 87th on 24 March 1917. Two weeks later, he commanded the Grenadiers through the assault on Vimy Ridge. Official war historian G.W. Nicholson would later blame Shaw for failing to target a German trench with artillery bombardment, leading to “machine-gun fire cut[ting] down half the 87th’s leading wave.”

ShawRecent analysis appears to cast doubt on the accuracy of this account and the fault attributed to Shaw may have been exaggerated. Nevertheless, Shaw was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel J.V.P. O’Donahoe a month after the victory at Vimy. He resigned his commission and returned to Canada. When a Montreal pastor claimed that Canadian troops had been twice pushed back at Vimy and had only secured the ridge with reinforcements from a British regiment, Shaw attempted to correct the record. Confirming that Canadians had never retreated and achieved the victory alone, Shaw remarked, “I know. I was there.”

Shaw resumed his insurance business and was later elected alderman for Montreal. He died in Knowlton, Quebec on 27 April 1947.


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