McGill 1914-1918 Honour Roll: Complete list of names, age place of birth, place of death and university affiliation
McGill 1914-1918 Honour Roll: statistical profile of fatality section
Recommended external site: Montreal at War 1914-18, by Terry Copp
I want to thank the James McGill Society for this opportunity to reflect upon a turbulent and tragic time in McGill’s history. In November 2014 Professor Desmond Morton presented a lecture before this body intriguingly titled “How McGill Won the Great War!”. This evening might be seen as a bookend to that interesting lecture as we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of that conflict. A century ago the University struggled with a method to commemorate the role played by the McGill community. The McGill Honour Roll 1914-1918 was published in 1926 as a major part of that effort.
November 11th 1918 arrived in Montreal as a dreary cold day. At the Canadian Pacific Railway telegraph office in Windsor Station the early shift was starting to work through the usual pre-dawn morning messages when one from Europe at 6am: the Armistice, ending fighting on the Western Front had finally been signed. But amidst the excitement a problem confronted the telegraphers. This was an era before social media such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. In fact broadcast radio had not even arrived in Montreal. The morning paper early editions had already been printed and distributed. How to spread the news? An enterprising CPR employee had the answer: Dispatch a locomotive in the yards through the pre-dawn city blowing its steam whistle. An awakened city understood the signal, and spilled into the streets to celebrate. By coincidence, a Victory Loan parade planned for that very morning suddenly became an Armistice celebration.
The parade of 160 floats, veterans and marching bands made its way down Sherbrooke Street later that morning. It reached McGill at 10:30am and was met by cheering students on the steps of the Student Union Building. The Union, now the McCord Museum, was “gaily decked with flags and pennants”. The parade was largest event the city had ever seen and there was such relief and energy in the city that a second parade was held a week later. After four years, three months and seven days the Great War was finally coming to an end.
The war left an indelible mark on the world. Death on a scale never seen before, years scarred by tragedy, futility, and devastation. The Canadian numbers were stark: 61,000 Canadians died in the Great War, 172,000 wounded from a country of only 8 million. After the war a further 5,000 would die from war wounds and injuries- many would take their own lives.
McGill was not left untouched. Thousands of McGill’s men and women assumed roles as soldiers, doctors, nurses, and providing unfailing support for the war effort in a myriad of ways.
MCGILL AT WAR – THE CAMPUS
At the start of the war Montreal’s overall population was approaching 700,000, ranking among the top ten in North America. It was the unchallenged population and economic center of Canada and had just marked its 275th anniversary. It stood out from most of the rest of Canada, which in 1914 remained a majority rural population.
It was a city of increasing complexity and diversity. The Anglo business elite, although still economically quite powerful, were starting to decline in power and influence. Among this part of the population , in the words of Terry Copp, McGill was “the jewel in the crown of Anglo-Celtic Montreal”.
At the start of the war there was no effective military force in Canada with only 3,000 professional soldiers at the declaration of war in August 1914. By the end of the war 619,636 would be in uniform. McGill itself provided over 3,000 enlistments.Many joined up for patriotic purposes, spurred on by enlistment drives citing “King and Country”. Some succumbed to peer or societal pressure. Some just wanted adventure. In the words of Dr. James Buchan who enlisted at age 46 and served in the Scottish Rifles
“It isn’t as if I enlisted for patriotism or a sense of duty, or anything like that. I simply wanted to see the war…”
He was wounded in 1916 and spent many years recovering at his home in Northern Ontario.
The University’s official position on the war was made clear in the 1914 Annual Report:
“In common with every right minded Canadian, we realized from the very first that this was to be a war for and about the Empire and we lost no time in actively identifying ourselves with the imperial cause.”
McGill had first offered military training in 1907 and by 1912 The Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) started. In 1913 a provisional armoury was created in a vacant McGill house and November of that year saw the start of a long campus debate about compulsory physical and military training for students.
In the early stages of the war, the Principal noted:
“Like Oxford and Edinburgh, Ambridge and Dublin McGill too must pay the penalty of her sacrifices. The number of her students has been greatly lessened, and the full efficiency of her teaching staff greatly impaired.”
Whatever the immediate cost, it was worthwhile since McGill:
“is fighting in defence of principles which are vital to the civilisation of mankind”
Enrolment in 1914 was just 1223 - a number that would decline significantly as the war progressed. From wartime student body overall, the University estimated that 70% of what they called the “recruiting constituency” enlisted. To achieve this level, enlistment incentives were initially offered to Arts students, but soon spread to other faculties.
These results were important in supporting McGill’s earliest wartime policy:
“that McGill was not to be regarded merely as a centre of learning and scholarship, but also as a great rallying point of patriotic effort”
Throughout the duration, the University continued to press for ever greater enlistment numbers. For example, the Committee of Military Studies introduced a policy of compulsory military training for all students in 1916. The requirement was set at one afternoon of training from 4 to 6 pm and one evening from 7:45 to 10 pm each week. The enlistment effort initially filled the roster of a Provisional Battalion in 1914 , followed by six University Companies. The primary role evolved to provide replacement troops for existing military units notably the Princess Patricia Light Infantry Company and others such as the 148th Battalion in 1916.
McGill recruiting schemes drew enlistments from the McGill students, graduates
and staff as well as the general population. One of the problems was having a regiment of
officer-eligible members where no one wanted to be a private. Drawing
additional enlistments from elsewhere helped solve this issue. The reality that
only half of McGill enrollees in 1914 were Quebec-born also necessitated an
appeal beyond the campus population. McGill was therefore competing with the
similar efforts of the 19 battalions formed in Montreal during the war.
Despite the intense recruitment there was no full army battalion or regiment that bore the University name. However, specific units raised largely on campus carried the McGill name . These included two siege batteries of artillery – the 6th (later 7th ) and 10th, and a university tank group.
In May 1915 McGill’s most celebrated named unit sailed for France. This was the No. 3 General Hospital (McGill), with the Dean of Medicine, Herbert Stanley Birkett in command. The No. 3 was fully staffed by officers from McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, and the enlisted ranks from the McGill student body. The many nurses who served were graduates of the Montreal General and Royal Victoria nursing programmes. Originally planned to provide 520 beds, it was expanded to 2,100 beds upon arrival. In its three year existence saw the treatment of over 140,000 soldiers and performed 11,000 operations. Many other McGill personnel worked in field hospitals, casualty clearing stations and field dressing stations. More were found as ambulance drivers and medical staff in the field of battle.
The University campus itself was also changed since the summer 1914. Most noticeable were the daily drills by the University Companies. The buildings were given over to war time meetings, research work, storage and lectures. One campus observer reported “the green grass of the campus has altogether disappeared under the tread of armed men”. Returned soldiers were accorded their own areas and the Women’s Union took on the work of the local Red Cross.
That was the situation on campus. What of the participants ?
MCGILL AT WAR – THOSE WHO SERVED
The first significant number of the initial McGill recruits arrived at the front with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in February 1915 where the war had already been raging for 6 months. They found unimaginably poor conditions. Rats, lice and the unburied dead were part of their day-to-day life. In a world where to be above ground was fatal, their shovel was as important as their rifle. A trench system 5 feet deep with 2-3 feet of sandbags forming a parapet was there home, with mud and water serving as flooring most of the time. Those stationed in the 700 kilometers of front lines on the Western Front which stretched from the Swiss border to the English Channel had an 80% chance of being killed, wounded or fall victim to accident, illness or injury.
March 15 1915 McGill lost their first soldiers in combat when Lt. Donald Cameron, age
44, of the Princess Patricias and Captain Oswald Tebbutt, age 24, of the British Army were killed in separate
engagements at Ypres. A month later the first major engagement for the Canadian
divisions, the 2nd Battle of Ypres began in April 1915.
In the same battle Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher of St. Catharines Ontario became the first Canadian from a Canadian unit to earn the Victoria Cross in the Great War.
On April 22, 1915 he lay alone it the blasted masonry and mud in the Salient. His 60 man unit had been sent to plug a gap in the line that had been opened when the German army unleashed the first gas attack. Now he was the only one left, using a balky Colt machinegun that normally required a four person team to operate. He held off successive attacks, buying valuable time for troops immediately behind his position. The next day, in similar circumstances, he was killed defending another portion of the line. Fred Fisher was 20 years old.
The gas attack had decimated the defensive line held by elements of the French Territorial and the Canadian army. The result was 6,000 casualties. Captain Herbert Walker, one of the founders of the McGill Daily, helped hold the line with a single platoon while Major Douglas McCuaig rallied the French troops fleeing from the gas into a defensive front. He was wounded, taken prisoner and later awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions.
Just a few hundred metres away Dr. Frank Scrimger, a McGill surgeon, worked from a rear medical station addressing the wounds and effects of gas on a steady stream of Canadian, French and Algerian soldiers. When the situation became untenable due to the intensified fighting in the area of the ominously named Shelltrap Farm the station had to be withdrawn further to the rear. Dr. Scrimger, however, chose to move to a more forward medical station to better provide care. Over the next few days he saved a number of lives directing casualty parties and providing medical assistance in the midst of the frontline carnage. For this he received Canada’s second Victoria Cross. Dr. Scrimger, although wounded in a later action, survived the war and went on to become the head of surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
On May 4th the first medical staff fatality occurred when Major William Dillon, exhausted from treating the wounded from the continuous battles raging around Ypres, left the 2nd General Hospital at night for a break and fell down an unseen cliff.
The increased McGill medical support reflected the reality of the Great War. While McGill’s own fatalities had increased dramatically from 2 in 1914 to 35 in 1915, a more deadly year was to emerge in 1916.
Training and recruitment on campus proceeded apace as the war bogged down and casualties increased. The first McGill Siege Battery, which began recruitment on May 4th sailed for Europe a scant four months later in September 1916.1916 would be most remembered at McGill, however, for the losses sustained in the late spring in a German offensive near Ypres. At the battles of Mount Sorrel and Sanctuary Wood McGill would suffer 37 fatalities, including 22 on June 2nd alone, the first day of the German offensive.
Most were lost during the largest artillery barrage utilized to that point in the war. Among the dead were Corporal William Ford, 24 and Private Eric Ford, 26, both of Portneuf Quebec. They were brothers; both fighting in the Princess Patricia’s front line when hit by trench mortar fire in Sanctuary Wood in the opening attack.
William Ford was the first loss for Macdonald College. He enrolled in 1909, graduating in 1913. At Macdonald he was president of the YMCA and was on the college magazine’s editorial board. He enlisted and went overseas with the 2nd McGill University Company.
On that same day, Captain Gordon Home Blackader was badly wounded, and would die in London in August. A graduate in Architecture, the Blackader Library of Architecture was founded in his memory in 1917 with an endowment provided by his parents.
Just two days later, still fighting in Sanctuary Wood, Private Angus Splicer was killed. He was the only Indigenous person from McGill to lose his life. A student in the Faculty of Arts, and later Law, he left McGill to enlist in March 1915. He was 24 when his position was shelled.
Macdonald’s second loss of life in that battle came later in that same week when Private Julius Richardson of the 24th Battalion lost his life. He was 21, and his father founded the Julius Richardson Hospital in his memory.
Due to the nature and ferocity of the June 1916 battles, many bodies were never found. Most are therefore inscribed among the missing on the Vimy Memorial and the Menin Gate. The names found there include brothers William and Eric Ford and Angus Splicer.
The June battles were soon exceeded by the July bloodshed as the Battle of the Somme erupted further to the south. McGill losses there were lighter there since the actions involved British Army units, but five serving in the British Army lost their lives including one at the infamous July 1st Beaumont-Hamel action, Captain Bertram French, 25, born in Canada but as did 37 others who perished, served with the British forces during the war.
In September one of Canada’s highest ranking officers of the time was killed when a shell hit the 13th Battalion’s headquarters killing eight men, including the commanding officer , Lt. Col. Victor Buchanan. It was his 47th birthday.
The year’s losses concluded with the death of Lt. John Brophy, who died when his plane crashed in England. Born in Ottawa, he was an excellent all-around athlete and excelled on McGill’s football and hockey teams. When the war broke out he became an aviator with the Royal Flying Corps. Stationed in France, he was posted back to England after six months of action, to provide defense against zeppelin bombing raids. He kept the only known diary of a Canadian airman on the Western Front. His death on Christmas Eve at the age of 24 was the 123rd McGill fatality of 1916.
By 1917 total enlistment had reached 2,154 but enrolment dropped below 1,000 students for the first time. Macdonald College numbers had dropped from 200 to 77. The University was suffering financial problems as well as a loss of teaching staff to the military and war time duties. It was expected that enrolment numbers would not recover until 1921, and therefore initial preparations for vocational training and programmes for returning soldiers at McGill began.
While financial and operational difficulties mounted enlistment was a still a priority and a second McGill Siege Battery sailed for Europe June 1917. The McGill death toll for the year would not reach the level of 1916, but the total of 111 dead was not any sort of reassurance that the worst had passed.
Throughout the war the overwhelming number of casualties occurred on the Western Front, in the fields of Belgium and France. However the global range of the conflict by 1917 was reflected in the deaths of Captain Basil Atkins at the re-capture of Kut-El-Amara, Iraq in February with the British Army and Petty Office Edgar Viane in the Ukraine in July.
Petty Officer Viane, born in Ghent Belgium, originally served with the 24th Canadian Battalion, but like many opted for an aviation career and transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service. However, he was trained to be a motor mechanic, rather than a pilot, and was posted to the little-known function of the Armoured Cars who were a ground-based reconnaissance unit. Petty Officer Viane’s group was posted to assist the Russian army in Galicia, and he was killed during the final offensive of the Czarist regime, the Kerensky Offensive. He is the only McGill Roll of Honour recipient to receive the Russian Order of St George medal. He was 21.
At Salonika, Greece Lt. Gwynn Gibbins was killed while serving with the Royal Engineers in munitions disposal. He was a graduate of both McGill College of British Columbia and McGill University. A native of Leicester, England, he was 29.
1917 is noted in Canada as the year of Vimy Ridge. The University suffered over 20 fatalities during the main battle. Among the dead were Major James De Lancey of Middleton, Nova Scotia, a member of the original Students’ Council, twice wounded previously, he was the acting officer in command of the 25th Battalion when he was killed on Easter Monday at age 36.
Private Gordon Gilson from Waterville Quebec , a 1914 graduate in teaching, died on Vimy Ridge on the same day as a member of the 12th Canadian Battalion. In 1926 Gilson School in Montreal was named after him. He was 22.
Captain Percival Molson, a member of Canada’s well-known brewing dynasty, was a star in football, hockey and an Olympic athlete in the 1904 Games. Prior to that he was a member of the 1897 Stanley Cup team and the youngest person appointed to McGill’s Board of Governors in 1901. At the outbreak of war he was instrumental in setting up the University Companies for recruitment and training. After shipping overseas with 2nd University Company he was badly wounded in 1916 at Mount Sorrel but returned to the Princess Patricia’s and was killed in July 1917 near Avion. His will provided $75,000 towards the cost of the McGill Graduates Stadium, opened in 1915. The Stadium was renamed in his honour in October 1919.
More major battles involved University members through the rest of 1917. 10 died on Hill 70 in August, and 17 at the muddy hell of Passchendale in October and November.
Major Kenneth Duggan of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles died two years to the month after his brother Herrick of the Royal Engineers was killed. Both were graduates of Science - both were 24.
On campus enrolment stabilized at a new “normal” of 1,000, but efforts to maintain the purposes of a university in wartime stretched resources to a critical point. The war effort continued unabated however; a McGill tank battalion has been raised and an additional medical field hospital was dispatched to France.Despite some hopeful signs, hostilities are far from over. The Germans mounted a massive spring offensive which would be stopped, but at great cost. In August the Allies will launch the controversial One Hundred Day campaign meant to hasten the end of the war. This led to a further 41 McGill dead in just the final three months, including four under the age of 20. Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, Bourlon Wood and finally Mons, once obscure places now became commonplace in daily news reports and campus conversations. As the war ground to its conclusion, a new scourge entered the fray. Influenza struck civilians and soldiers alike – in fact it would kill more than the Great War itself between 1918 and 1919. Canadian troops soon contracted it and began to suffer and in some cases perish. The first McGill fatality was Captain Clarence Hamilton, a Medicine graduate in 1911 died aboard the transport Huntsend on October 10th. The next day Professor C.H. Macleod famously of the McGill Observatory lost his son Lt. William MacLeod . He had just graduated with his MD that year and was 26. The Canadian Army Medical Corps were the hardest hit with staff in the hospitals and ships the most likely to contract the pathogen.
On November 10th at 3:40pm, Lt Frederick Longworth was the last McGillian to be killed in action at JeMappe, Belgium, on just outside of Mons where the official victory ceremony and parade will be held the next day. Lt Albert Kelly, stationed in the same town with the Princess Pats notes in his diary “shellfire by the Hun” leaves 40 civilians killed and wounded. He does not hear about the Canadian fatalities in that same attack as the war in the west lurches to an uncertain conclusion the next day.
The McGill Honour Roll
On the Western Front where most of the University’s students and staff had been serving, the war was finally over. At home the parades took place and the wait for the troops to return home began. The University reported that by March 1919 all expected staff and students had returned to campus. Missing of course, were the dead and the badly wounded. McGill, of course, was not alone among Canadian universities experiencing terrible loss: Queen’s lost 189 and the University of Toronto 628 as a result of the Great War.
Across Canada cities, towns, villages immediately began making plans on how to recognize the sacrifice and contribution of so many. Churches, synagogues, schools and social organizations also make smaller but equally important steps.
The same question of remembrance arose at McGill. The solution did not follow a straightforward path and as a several years would pass before the initial formal university wide commemoration would be realized. There were a number of challenges and choices. There were two stated aims that had emerged before the war ended– a memorial building and an Honour Roll. These two commitments would twist and turn around each other for eight years. Sometimes blending together, but in the end arriving at different outcomes.
The story of a central memorial structure is a long and complex story of its own, and is far beyond the capacity of my time to include this evening. The discussions began at the start of the Great War: it would take more than 30 years and a second world war to resolve the issue. This was not a new debate: Gordon Burr and Francois Dansereau published an excellent article in Fontanus as a survey of commemoration at McGill regarding three different wars.
The production of a document describing the service of individuals was more easily within reach, and many institutions announced similar plans. An initial Honour Roll listing had been included in the 1914/15 Annual Report. Subsequent Annual Reports updated this endeavour, until 1918 when the decision was announced to produce the list in a separate pamphlet to be published at the conclusion of the war. Until such a pamphlet was produced subsequent additions to the list were published in the Old McGill yearbooks from 1918 to 1920.
In 1919 letters were sent to all graduates for information on war time service and requesting photos of the fallen for a forecast publication of a pamphlet in 1920. The new Principal, Sir Arthur Currie, took an unsurprising direct interest and active role in the production of the list when he assumed office and under his guidance it was elevated from the envisioned pamphlet status to book form. It was also decided that photographs of the fallen soldiers should be included. Many of these discussions and decisions would have taken place in this building, and possibly in this very room.
By 1921 a completed list was actually in hand, but Currie was determined to make the Honour Roll was as accurate and complete as possible. Using his leverage as the commander in chief of Canadian Forces in the closing years of the war he arranged a process for federal government staff members to provide verification of the McGill list against official records.
This larger effort to create a book form Honour Roll, caused delays and consternation but the letters from the Registrar to graduates and families reassured them that the publication is imminent, always just “a few months away”. Acquiring photographs of the deceased was a problem. To this end, the families providing pictures would receive a complimentary copy in an attempt to secure of as many images as possible. Due to the unevenness in the quality of the photographs submitted many photos received heavy retouching for printing purposes, a major concern for both the families and the University.
By December 1924 the Registrar issued a last request for names and information for the Roll.The work was finally completed and in 1926 and it went to print, selling for $6 per copy. It was an impressive production, and finally made good, after eight years, on one of the University’s 1918 commitments. It exceeded the scope and quality of honour rolls produced by other institutions who chose to produce commemorative pamphlets and was a fitting companion to the book format of the University of Toronto Roll of Service, published much earlier in 1921 and other Canadian university service rolls of the era.
The book listed all of the known participants: 1,540 graduates, 1,061 undergraduates and 458 past students. Among the dead, 172 graduates, 128 undergraduates and 63 past students. They are accompanied by 321 photographs. In an appendix provides a summary of the 791 decorations awarded, including the two Victoria Crosses won by Fred Fisher and Francis Scrimger. The preamble provided a retelling of the University’s commitment to war organizational effort and sacrifices. It is told in a patriotic language similar to that of the start of the war, but tempered by the reality that by its conclusion 363 had died. There is no mention of McGill’s research, or contributions from women or non-military endeavours. It is simply, but elegantly, a book of the dead along with “Other Enlistments”.
It is impressive to see how complete and accurate the information is given the era. The collection and sorting of information was a painstaking effort. Nevertheless, some understandable errors crept into the finished product.. In some cases, ranks and units were uncertain, locations of death were often vague or inaccurate and in a very few cases names were not fully correct. We have corrected these elements with the benefit of modern sources, in particular the war personnel service records from Library and Archives Canada.
The Honour Roll lists 363 fatalities. There were with certainly more since the compilation was based largely on self-reporting by veterans and their families, combined with casualty reports culled from the newspapers and campus resources such as the McGill Daily and Old McGill. Yet the later official total arrived at in 1947 has 365 names. How can this be?
Two names, known to well known to McGill in 1926 were not in the Roll. The exclusions were the Lt-Col John McCrae, author of the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” and Major John Dashwood, who died at Vimy Ridge in 1917. Although both lecturers appear in earlier, pre-1926, lists they do not appear in the published book. It would seem that a stipulation that only McGill graduates were included – staff members with degrees awarded elsewhere were left out.
Interestingly, the Roll opens the memorial section not with Prof. John McCrae’s famous poem , but with an extract from the Irish poet Rupert Brooke’s “1914”.
Despite those two exclusions, the original official number of 363 may actually be correct. The recent research indicates the names of two individuals not in military service and who did not die as a result of the war were found to be in the Honour Roll.
The Honour Roll is a magnificent work of commemoration. Compiled and published by the University as an indicator of the respect and debt owed to those listed. The acquisition and compilation of the names and basic background information was a substantial undertaking. It was well received by families and veterans and still serves as a sobering reminder of the loss of life a century and more ago. It is also an icon of an earlier age when Canadian families had to cope with the death of many in their youth, and because of the government policy to refuse to repatriate remains back to Canada, and such service rolls and list became a symbolic gesture to deal with that deprivation.
The historical controversies and arguments of war are best left to the historians and philosophers. It is the stories of individual sacrifice and contribution that deserve to be preserved, so that they can outlast the uncertainty of collective memory. The McGill Honour Roll of 1926 is an ongoing reminder that behind the cold numbers, lay stories of personal achievement and loss in equal measure. There are 3,059 briefly told stories, and 363 with tragic endings.
During the postwar periods of both the Great War and Second World War memorials were built and names were recorded on both campuses. Some elements of present day McGill reflect this effort. The Sports Centre gymnasium and Memorial Pool, and commemorative plaques scattered in other buildings are still evident, even though their genesis may be a mystery to most. The McGill University Archives has steadfastly maintained an array of records and artifacts through the years. Most indicative of the ongoing uncertainty about the importance of remembrance, however, is the anonymity and condition of Memorial Hall on Pine Avenue. Funded by a grateful McGill community and once the center of McGill remembrance activities. Opened in 1950. it now lies unused and “hidden in plain sight” from current generations. But in very recent weeks, hope has arrived in the form of a partnership with the Vimy Foundation to re-imagine the space and allow the stories of dedication and sacrifice to be better known.
In the wake of the massive casualties sustained, the people who came of age during the Great War were known as “the Lost Generation”. More than one in ten McGill enlistees never returned from the Great War and now even the survivors are long gone as well. McGill lost a further 298 lives in World War Two (including the only son of Victoria Cross winner Dr.Francis Scrimger) In the years since McGill has continued to contribute its finest individuals to resolve conflicts in Cyprus, Kosovo, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Congo and elsewhere. We must always take the time to recognize their sacrifice of McGill’s Lost Generation and the contributions of those who followed.
I’ll allow the Honour Roll of 1926 itself to have the final word: