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A forgotten war hero receives long overdue recognition

May 2018

On 25 May 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Sharpe stood at the window of his second-floor hospital room at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and leapt to his death.  Sharpe was a war hero, having won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), and was a sitting Member of Parliament, having most recently won his seat in absentia while still fighting in Europe.

However, his war service had taken a toll on his mental health.  He had been invalided back to Canada, suffering from “shell-shock”, or what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and was considered a disgrace by many in his regiment, despite having won the DSO.  He was 46 years old.

On 25 May 2018, the 100th anniversary of his death, the Town of Uxbridge gave Sharpe a long-overdue recognition for his service and bravery with the dedication of a bronze statue on Brock Street in Uxbridge, kitty-corner to the Uxbridge Cenotaph which also contains his name.

Uxbridge also re-introduced Sharpe to a nation that had all but forgotten about him.  Around the time of Sharpe’s death, “shell shock” was seen as a shameful weakness and combined with the fact that he committed suicide, also seen as a “shameful act”, people seemed to want to forget about LCol Samuel Sharpe.

LCol Sharpe was born on 13 March 1873 in Zephyr, Ontario (now part of Uxbridge).  Sparpe graduated from the University of Toronto and then Osbooge Hall Law School in 1895.  He returned to Uxbridge and practiced law for 10 years before entering politics as a Conservative in 1909, representing the riding of Ontario North.

Upon being re-elected in the 1911 election, Prime Minister Robert Borden considered Sharpe for the position of Minister of Militia and Defence but ultimately chose Sir Sam Hughes, someone with whom Sharpe frequently clashed.

Sharpe was also a member of the 34th Ontario Regiment, having joined in 1889, where he would reach the rank of Major.  When war broke out in Europe, he was passed over for a command position and didn’t deploy with the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914.  Sharpe suspected his stormy relationship with Sir Sam Hughes was to blame for this snub.

In November 1915, Sharpe was given the authority to raise a battalion, the 116th Battalion (Ontario County), CEF, for Eurpoean service.  Sharpe personally recruited several members from the 34th Ontario Regiment.

Sharpe commanded the regiment in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the Battle of Passchendaele and an attack at Avion, in preparation for the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917.

Shape ran for the Unionist Party in the 1917 election, despite still serving on the European battlefields with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).  He won a decisive victory over his Liberal opponent Frederick Hogg, receiving almost twice as many votes, but would never have a chance to take his seat.

Sharpe personally lead his men into battle and the horrors of what Sharpe saw on the battlefield began to negatively impact his mental health.  He personally wrote to many of the wives and family of soldiers that served and died under his command, feeling personally responsible for having recruited many of them.  Of the 1, 100 soldiers he recruited, only 160 were still on active duty when they returned to Canada.

In December 1917, Sharpe was sent back to England on a senior officers’ course and early the following year, was presented with the DSO for actions during the Battle of Passchendaele.  Not long afterwards, Sharpe was hospitalized with “general debility,” an affliction that is considered,  “…a state of general weakness or feebleness…”

Sharpe was sent back to Canada to recuperate, but suffered a mental collapse on the train back to Uxbridge and was hospitalized in Montreal.  The plaque beside his statue in Uxbridge notes that, “Some said that he could not face the prospect of returning to Uxbridge and facing the families of those who had died, many of whom he had personally recruited.”

LCol Sharpe was laid to rest in Uxbridge Cemetery with full military honours.  He was one of only two sitting Canadian Members of Parliament who died while on military service.  The other was LCol George Baker, who was killed on 2 June 1916 during the Battle of Mount Sorrel (Sanctuary Wood) while serving with the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF.

His wife Mabel remained in Uxbridge and later became the first female councillor elected in Uxbridge.  She stayed in the couple’s home at 50 First Avenue until her death in 1938.  A proposal was made by Heritage Uxbridge to designate the home a historic property in 2017, but this was ultimately voted down by Uxbridge Council.

In addition to the bronze statue, a memorial bust created by artist Tyler Briley of Scugog, Ontario, will be hung in Center Block in the Parliament Building, where a statue of LCol George Baker also resides.

The installation is planned for some time before Remembrance Day 2018, which this year will also mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War.  The memorial bust came about as a result of a motion brought by Erin O’Toole, himself a Veteran and a Conservative MP who represents part of Sharpe’s old riding.

Update:  In September 2019, the provincial courthouse in Oshawa was renamed in honour of LCol Samuel Sharpe.

Sources:  https://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/8637894-lt-col-sam-sharpe-receives-dual-honours-after-100-years, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Simpson_Sharpe, https://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/7579782-designation-recommended-for-uxbridge-s-sam-sharpe-house, http://sculpturebywynn.com/site/col-samuel-sharpe-memorial-sculpture, https://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/7980137-no-designation-for-sam-sharpe-house, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Harold_Baker, https://torontosun.com/news/provincial/oshawa-courthouse-renamed-to-honour-first-world-war-hero?fbclid=IwAR3NuOEBm0eKkfK_PvzpQJRaRUEwITzv5ZECNOmsaQA7vZneRCjv08bzBfQ

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-forgotten-war-hero-receives-long-overdue-recognition/

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