Lieutenant Colonel Alex Wilson
33rd (London) Battalion
I know more about Colonel Wilson, as a military man, than his own brother does. To my mind, he is one of the finest fellows living, even though he is a Grit … I picked him out against the wishes of everyone in London, and I am afraid they have made the old man’s road somewhat hard. He is very hard of hearing which, to my mind, accounts for all the trouble on his part.
(Sam Hughes to Robert Borden, 12 Nov 1915)
Born on 17 November 1855 in Seaforth, Canada West, Alexander Wilson was pharmacist with thirty-five years’ experience with 33rd Huron Regiment. A noted marksman, Wilson was a five-time member of Canada’s Bisley team and won several Dominion Rifle Association awards. By the time he was appointed to lead the 33rd Battalion in late 1914, he was, however, past his prime.
Under Wilson’s command, the 33rd gained a reputation for graft and scandal. While still stationed in London in summer 1915, food and goods began to disappear from the battalion stores. As one newspaper noted, “Hungry soldiers’ appetites were the beginning of the end for the alleged thieves.” The complaints caused suspicious military authorities to start an inquiry. The quartermaster and several others were arrested for operating a black market for the stolen liquor and food. During the ensuing testimony, witnesses observed senior officers drinking on duty with the commander present on several occasions.
With controversy and confusion surrounding the battalion, some soldiers took to riots on the streets of London in November 1915. The disorder caught the attention of minister of the militia Sam Hughes who left Ottawa to investigate. In a statement to the press, he said that the soldiers ought to “trim” their own officers rather than fight with the police.
Summarizing the battalion’s troubles, one officer admitted, “What with the quartermaster stores scandals, the riots, the medical officer’s death, and now a murder, the 33rd is putting up a rare preliminary record, and we are liable to have anything happen us now.”
The 33rd sailed for England in April 1933, destined to be absorbed into the reserves where it troops would provide reinforcements for the field. The sixty-year-old Wilson was deemed unfit for service and sent home. He died in Toronto on 29 November 1930.