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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Lt. Col. Allen, Part III

Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Allen
106th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalion
WHAllen

If these people at the front were at all suspicious of the manner of my wounding, why did they wait six months before laying a charge? When they heard of my promotion here they did not like it.

However, I am only doing my duty, willing to go anywhere I am sent, in any capacity, at any time, and the last charge in the world I expect to have laid at my door would be the charge of cowardice.

Having a clear conscious in this matter, I can look the whole world in the face and say ‘Not Guilty.”

(Lt. Col. W.H. Allen to adjutant-general, 29 Jan 1916)

Allen image 1

Read Part I here

Allen image 2

Read Part II here

In response to allegations that his wounds had been self-inflicted, Walter Harry Allen demanded a court of inquiry to clear his name. He received a leave of absence from recruiting the 106th Battalion to report overseas. He landed in England than proceeded to France where he faced a general court martial on 22 April 1916. He was charged under Section 16 of the Army Act – “behaving in a scandalous manner unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” – for intentionally wounding himself ten months earlier.

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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. Ryan

Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Ryan
6th Canadian Mounted RiflesRyan

Ryan, who was already a nervous wreck as a result of harrowing experience in the trenches, was demoralized completely by the new tragedy. He came to London unmindful of everything, and disregarded the order for his return to the front. The sequel came in the Gazette’s announcement he had been dismissed by court-martial.

(Washington Post, 5 Nov 1915, 6)

It does seem darned shame that a man like this, although he was a good fellow and a good officer should get these ghost stores of himself put into the papers. It makes the whole thing into a screaming farce.

(Gen. John Carson to Sam Hughes, 18 Dec 1915)

Following a court martial for disobeying orders, Robert Holden Ryan was stripped of command of the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles, cashiered from the CEF and sent home in disgrace. A sympathetic article in the Washington Post called Ryan’s dismissal “one of the most tragic stories of the war.” The real story was not so simple.

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Lt. Col. Pagnuelo

Lieutenant Colonel Tancrède Pagnuelo
206th (Canadien-Français) Battalion
Pagnuelo

I know I deserve to be punished for a breach of discipline, but all I ask from you, gentlemen, is not to be prevented from doing what I wanted to do, namely, going to the Front. If you dismiss me from the service it will be quite impossible for a commanding officer to join the ranks as a private.

(Court martial of Lt. Col. Pagnuelo, Dec 1916)

Born in 1870, Tancrède Pagnuelo was a Montreal barrister and Conservative Party activist. He had unsuccessfully contested the riding of St. James in the 1900 federal election. A reserve officer with the 85th Regiment, Pagnuelo was appointed to raise the 206th Battalion from the districts of Beauharnois, Laprairie and Terrebonne in early 1916. He would prove to be one of the more unfortunate choices.

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Lt. Col. Bott

Lieutenant Colonel J. C. L. Bott
2nd Canadian Mounted RiflesBott

I was not drunk on the 3rd of Oct 1916 … I had nothing to drink since 12:30pm on that day. I had a drink in the morning with Major Laws and I had three more … I brought a bottle of whiskey on the morning in question … As a rule I take about five drinks a day. Spread out through the day. I never have a drink alone.

(Lt. Col. Bott, general court martial, 7 Nov 1916)

Born in Marden, Wiltshire, England on 24 August 1872, John Cecil Latham Bott was a professional British soldier and cavalryman. He was a member of the 20th Hussars from 1895 to 1909, and served in Egypt and South Africa. He immigrated to Vernon, British Columbia after the Boer War and helped to organize the 30th Horse.

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The Fabricator

Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Ryan
6th Canadian Mounted RiflesRyan

Ryan, who was already a nervous wreck as a result of harrowing experience in the trenches, was demoralized completely by the new tragedy. He came to London unmindful of everything, and disregarded the order for his return to the front. The sequel came in the Gazette’s announcement he had been dismissed by court-martial.

(Washington Post, 5 Nov 1915, 6)

It does seem darned shame that a man like this, although he was a good fellow and a good officer should get these ghost stores of himself put into the papers. It makes the whole thing into a screaming farce.

(Gen. John Carson to Sam Hughes, 18 Dec 1915)

Following a court martial for disobeying orders, Robert Holden Ryan was stripped of command of the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles, cashiered from the CEF and sent home in disgrace. A sympathetic article in the Washington Post called Ryan’s dismissal “one of the most tragic stories of the war.”

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The Court Martialled

Lieutenant Colonel V. V. Harvey
54th (Kootenay) BattalionHarvey

In view of this incident I no longer have confidence in Lt-Col. HARVEY and I recommend that he be removed from the command of the 54th Battalion and returned to England where he may be otherwise employed. I would not again send the Battalion into action under his command.

(Gen. Odlum, 11th Brig. to 54th Bn., May 1917)

Between 11:00am on 21 May and 8:00am 22 May 1917, Valentine Vyvian Harvey, his acting second-in-command, Jesse Wright, and the battalion adjutant went absent without leave from camp. For nearly a full day, the 54th Battalion was without its commanding officer. When General Odlum attempted to contact the 54th CO for a 11th Brigade meeting, Harvey was nowhere to be found.

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