The Vanished Officer

Lieutenant Reginald J. Woods
The Lake Superior Regiment

An illustrated story of one officer featured in my book Scandalous Conduct: Canadian Officer Courts Martial, 1914–45.

On 16 August 1944, Lieutenant Reg Woods joined his regiment fighting in France. After being under enemy fire for the first time, he vanished the next day. Two months later, Woods resurfaced in London claiming amnesia. He was admitted to a neurological hospital as a possible psychiatric casualty. Was he a battle exhaustion case deserving treatment or a disciplinary problem? One doctor believed the amnesia genuine, but the hospital’s commanding medical officer suspected Woods was faking to conceal deliberate misconduct. He was arrested and charged with desertion.

Woods comic 1
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The Nervous Officer

Lieutenant Kenneth Cameron Fellowes
84th and 25th Battalions

An illustrated story of one officer featured in my book Scandalous Conduct: Canadian Officer Courts Martial, 1914–45.

Speaking quite impersonally, it is manifest that having regard to the very trying conditions at the Front it would never do to establish the principle that an officer who by reason of his nervous condition failed to carry out an order given to him could escape the consequences by attributing the fault to his nervousness. Men at the front have to “stick it” at all costs, and the establishment of a precedent excusing the failing to do so would be very dangerous.

(Maj. Walter Gow, 17 Jan 1917)

Fellowes 1A
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Victoria Cross at Ypres

Captain Francis Scrimger
Canadian Army Medical Corps

On the afternoon of 25th April, 1915, in the neighbourhood of Ypres, when in charge of an advanced dressing station in some farm buildings, which were being heavily shelled by the enemy, he directed under heavy fire the removal of the wounded, and he himself carried a severely wounded Officer out of a stable in search of a place of greater safety. When he was unable alone to carry this Officer further, he remained with him under fire till help could be obtained.

(Scrimger, VC citation, 22 June 1915)

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Lt. Col. Allen, Part II

Lieutenant Colonel Walter Harry Allen
106th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalion

I had my suspicions at the time but on account of being very busy did not do anything. Later on it became common talk throughout the regiment. I talked the matter over with my Officers, but as Allen had gone to Canada we decided to keep it quiet. However, his boasting and newspaper talk, and his being appointed to command a Regiment has been too much for us all … I think in the interests of the service his cowardice and conduct should be exposed … 

His story was simply a joke.

(Lt. Col. W.T. Marshall, 15th Bn. to Sam Hughes, 4 Jan 1916)

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Lt. Col. Farquhar

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Douglas Farquhar
Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

Have we the right to grieve for the dead, who have lived and died as the Colonel? We can only be sorry for ourselves and each other. His face showed no sign of suffering or regret … He, more than any other, has given us a reputation and a standard which we must strive to maintain. He himself is with us no longer, but his influence and his memory will endure with the life of the Regiment.

(Lt. Talbot Papineau to Lady Evelyn Farquhar, 22 March 1915)

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