At the start of the First World War, most officers were appointed based on their personal or professional connections, or simply their standing in the local community. Almost all belonged to the professional middle class—doctors, lawyers, prominent businessmen, and local politicians, and they were overwhelmingly of British heritage. Their education varied, and often they lacked any military experience beyond time in the local peacetime militia.
The case of Colonel William Merton Overton Lochead provides a typical example. As a leading citizen, he was granted a commission as a Major in the local Militia Regiment before being appointed commander of the 118th Battalion.
One of Lochead’s first tasks as commander of the 118th was to recruit a group of men to serve as officers in the new battalion. As was often the case across the country, there was no shortage of applications as many interested candidates wrote to Lochead asking to be appointed as officers in the 118th. However, the number of spots for officers was limited and he was forced to turn away most of the applicants, encouraging them to enlist in other units if there was no room in the 118th.
Men chosen to be officers in the 118th were sent to the Divisional School of Instruction for officers serving in Military District 1 in London, Ontario. For a second lieutenant, the course lasted only a few weeks. This was considered appropriate for the young, professional, middle-class men recruited as officers.
Most of Col. Lochead’s officer applicants were actually from outside Waterloo County, mainly Toronto. Many of them were simply men looking for a spot in any battalion heading overseas. There were attempts to make exceptions though. Private R. Wilhelm of the 118th was the son of a prominent Berlin resident, and Lochead’s superiors at District Headquarters in London suggested that the 118th make Wilhelm an officer. They believed that his standing in the community and his German heritage would help improve the battalion’s relationship with the community, adding that “his Teuton name makes him all the more anxious to demonstrate that he is a good British subject.” This, however, did not convince Lochead who responded by stating in a February 15, 1916 communique that “after full consideration, we feel that we cannot properly find him a place.” Class, rather than community standing seem to remain the single most important factor in officer selection.
Gardner, Nikolas. “The Great War and Waterloo County: The Travails of the 118th Overseas Battalion,” Ontario History 89, no. 3 (1997): 119-236.
Hayes, Geoffrey. Waterloo County: An Illustrated History. Waterloo: Waterloo Historical Society, 1997.
Maroney, Paul. “‘The Great Adventure’: The Context and Ideology of Recruiting in Ontario, 1914-17.” The Canadian Historical Review 77, no. 1 (1996): 62-98.
Moss, Mark. Manliness and Militarism: Educating Young Boys in Ontario For War. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
O’Brien, Mike. “Manhood and Militia Myth: Masculinity, Class and Militarism in Ontario, 1902-1914.” Canadian Journal of Labor Studies 42 (1998): 115-141.