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
Continue reading

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
Continue reading

Maj. Vanderwater

Major Roscoe Vanderwater, D.S.O.
2nd (Iron Second) Battalion

Vanderwater

Sharp at 4.45 one afternoon in broad daylight and under an almost cloudless sky, three companies under command of Major Vanderwater sprang from their trenches and advanced steadily toward the German line. In front of them our artillery laid down an intense barrage and out men followed so closely that they were almost in the midst of their own shells.

 (The Weekly Ontario and Bay of Quinte Chronicle, 28 Sept 1916, 2)

Roscoe Dudley Vanderwater was a farmer and militia officer born in Foxboro, Sidney Township, Ontario on 6 January 1889. Shortly after the sudden death of his wife, in March 1915, he enlisted with Lieutenant Colonel J. A. V. Preston’s 39th Battalion from Belleville. After the 39th was broken up, Vanderwater reverted in rank from captain to lieutenant and joined the 2nd Battalion on the front.

Continue reading

Lt. Cols. Cowan and McPherson

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Cowan
&
Lieutenant Colonel C.D. McPherson

32nd (Portage la Prairie) Battalion
McPherson

In view of the serious war situation I decided that I would write to you to ascertain what steps those of us located in this part of the world, and wishing to serve, should take … Just to what extent this U.S. neutrality law would restrain us, I do not know. However, I do know that there will be quite a large number who will offer to serve should hostilities break out.

(McPherson to defence minister, 24 Aug 1939)

Harry James Cowan was a Boer War veteran and commanding officer of the 18th Mounted Rifles. In November 1914, he was authorized to raise the 32nd Battalion from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He selected Major Charles Duncan McPherson, of “C” Squadron in the 18th Mounted Rifles, as his second-in-command.

Continue reading

Maj. Gen. Loomis

Major General F.O.W. Loomis
13th (Royal Highlanders of Canada) Battalion
Loomis

We have laid the bodies of many of our best under rows of little wooden crosses. We love those comrades who have fallen; we remember their deeds, and recall their deaths with pride and joy, and we know that their souls go marching with us. We know that the spirit of devotion that animated them remains with us, and we feel that the enemy has no battalions, no gas, guns, shells, nor bombs which will dampen or deter this spirit of determination — the Canadian Spirit.

 (Loomis to W. F. Gibson, The Listening Post, 1 Dec 1917, 3)

Frederick Oscar Warren Loomis was a Montreal manufacturer and member of the militia since 1886. He was born in Sherbrook, Quebec on 1 February 1870. As commander of the Royal Highlanders, Loomis led the 13th Battalion to France in February 1915. He guided the Highlanders through the first major action at Second Ypres and was promoted to command the 2nd Brigade in January 1916.

Continue reading

Lt. Col. Ritchie

Lieutenant Colonel C.F. Ritchie, D.S.O., M.C.
24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion
Ritchie

His battalion held the front line for nine days under very trying conditions prior to our attack . Several counterattacks were completely repulsed, the enemy suffering heavy casualties, and prisoners were made.

(Ritchie, D.S.O. Citation, 8 Cot 1919, 3203)

Charles Frederick Ritchie was three-time commanding officer of the 24th Battalion during some of the heaviest fighting on the front including Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Hill 70 and the final Hundred Days. Born in Three Rivers, Quebec on 12 October 1888, he was a bank manager and member of the 3rd Victoria Rifles since 1909. He led the 24th from 7 December 1916 to 14 April 1917, 4 August 1917 to 22 January 1918, and 5 September 1918 to demobilization.

Continue reading

Lt. Col. Frost

Lieutenant Colonel R.W. Frost, D.S.O.
87th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion

Capt. Frost was twice blown up by shells but remained on duty.

 (14th Bn. War Diary, 3 June 1916)

 Capt. R. W. Frost, for the third time in 24 hours, was blown to the ground by a shell. Too dazed to walk, he was carried to Railway Dugouts, where he recovered and whence, on the following morning, he hastened to duty with the Battalion.

 (R. C. Fetherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment, 14th Battalion, 1927, 87)

Just as the 87th Battalion prepared to deploy to France in summer 1916, Reginald William Frost replaced Lieutenant Colonel I. P. Rexford in command. A native of Norfolk, England, Frost was born on 21 May 1885. He had served seven years with the 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers when he enlisted in the 14th Battalion under the command of Frank Meighen at the outbreak of the war.

Continue reading

Lt. Col. Alexander

Lieutenant Colonel R.O. Alexander, D.S.O.
24th (Victoria Rifles) Battalion
Alexander

Born on the island of Ceylon on 7 August 1888, Ronald O’Keden Alexander was a soldier with the 3rd Regiment, Victoria Rifles and the Royal Canadian Regiment. He served with the 24th Battalion and succeeded Lieutenant Colonel J. A. Gunn in command on 1 November 1916.

After one month, Alexander was evacuated from the field with influenza and appendicitis in December 1916. Doctors determined that Alexander “Had long service at Front and requires rest.” He did not resume command of the 24th until after the battle of Vimy Ridge on 14 April 1917. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and three times mentioned in the dispatches. From October 1917 to demobilization, he was attached as a staff officer to the 2nd Canadian Division.

Continue reading

Lt. Col. Hodson

Lieutenant Colonel George C. Hodson, D.S.O.
1st (Western Ontario) Battalion
Hodson

I have perhaps foolishly put my Country and the Cause before my personal interests in the past but my patience is now absolutely exhausted and I am out to get justice, one way or the other. I have already lost all a soldier can lose and that is ‘his reputation as a fighting soldier’ … All I have asked is to be returned to the front with my rank or else given a decent appointment in England or Canada with some promotion.

(G.C. Hodson to Gen. Ashton, 20 Apr 1918)

After the death of Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Creighton on 15 June 1916 during the battle of Mont Sorrel, the 1st Battalion was left leaderless and disorganized. Unable to find a suitable replacement from within the battalion or from another frontline unit, Major-General Arthur Currie needed to look to a surplus senior officer in England. He found George Cuthbert Bethune Hodson, former commander of the 9th CMR, which had been broken up some months earlier.

Continue reading

Lt. Col. Yates

Lieutenant Colonel Wilton Yates
2nd (Iron Second) Battalion
Yates

When he was badly wounded in World War I, he was the first to have successful plastic surgery on his face. It was very noticeable of course when he returned to Swift Current. At one time, as he himself relates, he was consigned to an insane asylum “but never reached it owing to my own machinations.” When wounded he was put in the morgue as dead; was saved by a nurse’s aide and given six months to live.

(Jim Greenblat, Those Were the Days in Swift Current, 1971, 32)

A native of England, Wilton Milwarde Yates was born on 17 October 1879. After being wounded in the Boer War, he immigrated to Canada and became a rancher at Swift Current. He enlisted in Lieutenant Colonel Harry Cowan’s 32nd Battalion in December 1914 and was attached to the 2nd Battalion once overseas.

Continue reading