Colonel James Frederick Scott, OBE, ED, QC
J. Fred Scott was born to James M. and Mary Scott in Meaford, Ontario, on 3 July 1892 and moved west in 1911, joining his brother on a homestead 100 kilometres west of Alsask, near Oyen. In 1914, he moved to Calgary to article in law, and shortly thereafter enlisted, with Bert, in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Scott was made a provisional Lieutenant in the 21st Alberta Hussars on 20 September 1915 and went overseas as an officer in the 89th Battalion.
His brother, Lieutenant George Herbert Scott, also went overseas and was killed at Courcellette while serving with the 31st Battalion (an Alberta unit) on the 28th of September, 1916.
Transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, Scott served in France as a gunner/observer. Some accounts say he was wounded, Bercuson’s history merely reports that he was declared “medically unfit for flying.” He transferred back to the CEF, this time with the 50th Battalion (a Calgary unit). After coming down with pneumonia (a recurrent ailment for him) he was sent to a remount unit in Canada, rounding up wild horses in the foothills of Alberta. He was discharged as a Captain, turned to ranching and farming, and married Olga Larson in 1920. He moved to Toronto to study law at Osgoode Hall, and came back west to be accepted by the Alberta Bar in 1922.
Scott became a prominent figure in Alberta, gaining success as a lawyer and as a polo player. Scott joined the 15th Canadian Light Horse, a cavalry unit, as a part time Militia officer. He had been made a brevet captain in February 1918 and his statement of service indicated promotion to captain in March 1921, but he was reduced to Lieutenant upon joining the Light Horse. He was again promoted to Captain on 22 July 1924, then Major on 2 September 1926, “Major 2nd in Cmd” on 26 April 1930, and finally Lieutenant Colonel on 25 April 1934. In 1935, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the regiment, which amalgamated in 1936 with another unit to become the 15th Alberta Light Horse.
In mid-August 1939, the Canadian Militia was anxiously watching events in Europe and preparing for a war that by then seemed inevitable. The Calgary Highlanders were slated for mobilization over other units in Alberta; if war came the 15th Alberta Light Horse was not slated for active duty. However, Lieutenant Colonel Harold Riley, the Commanding Officer of the Calgary Highlanders, was declared medically unfit for active service and the commander of Military District Thirteen, Brigadier George Pearkes, VC, approached Scott and asked him if he would lead the unit. Scott loved the cavalry, but in the end chose to don the kilt, and take up the challenge of preparing a battalion for war.
Many Calgary Highlanders resented the change in command; the fact that the Second in Command appointed by Scott, Major Fred Johnston, was also from the 15th Alberta Light Horse, also rankled them. With the troops, however, Scott was popular from the outset. The Regimental history by Bercuson gives many tales of Scott’s relationship with the troops. When one man asked him for leave to attend a funeral, Scott asked him if he had the money to get him there. When the man replied no, Scott loaned the necessary funds to him. When his men got into trouble during the restless days of training and more training, Scott took it as a personal insult. A story recalled by Mark Tennant in Bercuson’s book has Scott visiting a perpetual troublemaker who had been arrested for yet another petty offence. Scott simply said “You know…you and I are going to be together for a long time….Don’t you think that we should more or less agree to get along?” The man to man exchange had its effect; the soldier was no longer a troublemaker after that.
Ironically, considering Scott’s cavalry background (he recalled in his memoirs how superior he felt, between the wars, riding past the infantry on his horse) Scott became a pioneer in infantry training. Battle Drill is discussed in detail elsewhere on this site. Scott invigorated his battalion after long months of routine training, and set the standard for the rest of the Army to follow. Typical of his relationship with his men, Scott did not consider himself above taking the tough battle drill course himself. He was eventually given the nickname “J. Fred God.” But battlefield command was not to be his; at the age of 43 he was considered too old and in February 1942 was appointed General Staff Officer Class I at the Royal Military College in Kingston.
On the 28th of February, the officers held a mess dinner in his honour, and at church parade the next day, Pipe Major Neil Sutherland had the band play a pipe tune of his own composition, entitled “Colonel Scott Farewell.” The Colonel bade farewell in an address printed in The Glen:
To each his land is best and similarly pride of unit happily is strong in all our Canadian Forces. For our unit we can say that we have a good and respected name in the Canadian Army and among those British units and peoples with whom we have come in contact. I believe that the things the Unit has done have all been done well. Our concerts, our lead in experiments with equipment and training, the great number of officers we have serving in staff appointments throughout the Canadian Corps – all these have brought us to a point where in the Canadian Forces at least I question if anyone could be found who had not heard of our unit. Even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid us a special visit after some of our cowboys were featured in the Daily Mail.
Through our introduction of Battle Drill into the Canadian Forces, the enthusiasm for that training has gained a firm foothold in many units…The name Battle Drill and that of the Calgary Highlanders will be closely associated in the minds of the Canadian Army and many British units whose officers have had their instruction at our Battle School. The unit has not been a colorless unit.
The following story was released by the Canadian Press:
CALGARY LEADER BACK IN CANADA ON SPECIAL JOB
Lt.Col. J. F. Scott Officer Commanding Noted Western Unit
TAUGHT NEW DRILLS
Somewhere in England, March 27.-(CP)-Lieut.-Col. J . F. Scott, of Calgary, leading proponent of battle drill in the Canadian Corps, who mobilized and commanded the Calgary Highlanders for 2 1/2 years, returned to Canada to be general staff officer, grade 1, at the Kingston, Ont., senior officers’ school.
His return from overseas was made known last night in Calgary. Until a permanent successor is appointed, Major D. G. MacLaughlan, 35, of Calgary, is acting commanding officer of the Highlanders, with Major Doug Robertson, of Calgary, acting as second in command.
Major MacLaughlan was in the advertising department of the Calgary Albertan before going on active service.
Started Drill School
Colonel Scott, 49, led the Highlanders through all their heavy training in Canada and England, and during the last winter started the first battle drills school in the corps. Under his guidance the Highlanders developed battle drill to a high point of commando perfection and the colonel was responsible to a large extent for selling the idea to the corps generally.
He put on demonstrations for officers of other Canadian battalions and recently some Calgary officers and N.C.O.s went to a British division to give battle drill instruction
Colonel Scott, who spent a great deal of time in the field with his men talking this training, probably will seek to advance battle drill in the home forces in Canada.
Before he left officers of the battalion held a banquet for him. The guests included Viscount Bennett, former Canadian Conservative prime minister and honorary colonel of the regiment, who praised the Highlanders’ progress in training under Colonel Scott and lauded their enterprise for introducing battle drill as a real stimulant of offensive spirit among the troops. Colonel Scott said there were personal reasons which made his return to Canada happy, but added that he was leaving the battalion “with sorrow.”
In May of 1942, Scott transferred to the Canadian Battle Drill School at Vernon, BC, as commanding officer. In October 1944, he was promoted to Acting Colonel and went to act as Commandant of A10 Canadian Infantry Training Centre at Camp Borden, Ontario. In an interview in the Calgary Herald in August 1942, in which he was described as “known to most Calgarians as a mild, kindly spoken city lawyer and King’s Counsel here for many years” he had the following to say:
There can be no glamorizing to the awful business of war…Killing is brutal and harsh on the soul and can never be a refining influence for the future.
But the Canadian soldier deserves at least an equal break in pitched battle and he won’t get it without the killing mentality our enemies have used with such success to date.
What all this will do to them for the peace days to follow I don’t know, but battle drill will, at least, fit them to live through the interim of hell before peace does come.
Scott was discharged on 10 November 1945, and returned to law practice until 1976. He took an active interest in a school named for him in Calgary, and passed away on 13 February 1982 at the age of 89.
Colonel J. Fred Scott Elementary School still proudly displays his photo in their lobby.