Saturday, 7 February 2009

Remembering Goldwin McCausland Pirie

Grave Marker at Netley Cemetery

Original grave markers placed during the first World War were usually temporary wooden crosses in a variety of designs.  A photo of Netley Cemetery's original war era grave markers is shown below. The name of the soldier with his rank, unit, and date of death, were generally hand painted directly on the marker, or embossed on a metal plate which was affixed to the cross.  These temporary markers were replaced during the 1920s by the official Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) with standardized headstones. Some of the original wooden markers were claimed by family members at that time.  Examples of these original markers are on display at several museums in Canada including the 48th Highlander Museum in Toronto, and the Hamilton Military Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.

Goldwin Pirie was buried in Netley Hospital's adjoining cemetery. Today Netley Military Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The area is now part of a public park as the historic hospital was demolished in the 1960s. The only feature from the main building preserved during the demolition was the central chapel which is now a museum dedicated to the history of Netley hospitalGoldwin Pirie's grave is one of 42 Canadian first World War soldiers buried in Netley Cemetery. Each CWGC headstone has the standard design with Maple Leaf, name, unit, number and date of death. His family was given the option to pay for an additional line of scripture that could be carved at the bottom.  Grave photo below courtesy H. Fiske, 2014

In the 1920s, Goldwin's aunt, Mrs. Boyce Thompson (Ida McCausland) of Toronto, visited his grave in England and on behalf of his surviving brother and sisters, laid white flowers on the grave, and sent a long letter back to Elsie Pirie detailing the appearance of the grave, the carved scripture they had ordered and the surroundings. She penned the letter while writing it on the headstone so that they would have the letter as a memento. Mrs. Thompson lost her own son, Gordon Boyce Thompson (1884-1908) before the war.  It was a coincidence that her son and her nephew had died on the same day and month - July 1st.  Her son had died in Europe while working on his M.A. in German philosophy in Berlin.

Personal Effects

After his death, a memento of Goldie Pirie's stay at Netley hospital was returned to his family in Dundas.  Charitable workers in the Netley area had set up an embroidery program to entertain the bedridden men, and Goldie's unfinished piece was returned to Canada. This piece is now lost.

Dead Man's Penny

By the mid 1920s the Canadian government forwarded a bronze commemorative medallion to the individual or family that was named as the next-of-kin on a soldier's original military attestation. The same design was sent to all Commonwealth soldiers who died as a result of their military service. It is also known informally as the "Dead Man's Penny".  Goldie Pirie's medal card file indicates that the medallion was to be forwarded to his brother R. F. Pirie in Dundas, Ontario, and is stamped as received.  Photograph

Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-1915 Star

Pirie was also eligible for three service medals which are all recorded as delivered to Dundas.  One, the Victory Medal, has been located.  This copper medal, lacquered in bronze, and gold in appearance, was awarded to all ranks who served in a theatre of war.    A figure of Victory is on the front, and the ribbon runs through a circular loop attached to the medal.  The reverse is marked:  THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION 1914- 1919.

Goldie's Victory Medal (shown on right in photo below) is in good condition and his name, number and rank are inscribed upon the edge of the medal.  It was missing its special rainbow coloured watered silk ribbon when found which would have been mailed with the medal.  A replacement from the era (not a reproduction) was found in 2011.   According to Veterans Affairs, 351,289 of these medals were awarded.  Soldier enlistments were over 600,000, however some men served in Canada and would not have been eligible.

This Victory Medal was always awarded at the same time as the British War Medal.   Pirie's BWM is missing.   When the medals were located, passed down through a relative's estate (Dr. H. H. Pirie), it was found with his brother's (Gnr. R. F. Pirie) BWM (silver coloured, shown left in photo).  Both medals were missing their ribbons.  The BWM was also awarded to all ranks for campaign service.   The medal is silver in colour, with a profile of George V on one side and St. George on horseback trampling symbols of Prussian authority.  It was mounted with a striped blue, white, black and yellow/orange ribbon.  There were 427,993 issued to Canadians.

Lastly, Goldie was eligible for the 1914-1915 Star, a beautiful star shaped bronze medal. This medal is also missing. It was awarded to all who saw service between August 05, 1914, and December 31, 1915. This was awarded to 71,150 Canadians.

His family did not receive the Memorial Cross as his mother was no longer alive.  This sterling silver medal was awarded to mothers and widows.  It hung off a purple silk ribbon.

War Memorials

Goldwin Pirie's name was carved on the family monument in Grove Cemetery, Dundas, and was inscribed on a panel on the 1921 Dundas War Memorial now located at the Dundas Armouries.  

Goldie is remembered on the memorial in Knox Presbyterian church in Dundas, Ontario.  This was his family's church.

In Toronto, Goldie's name appears on the war memorial at St. Paul's Anglican church.  This was likely arranged by his Aunt, Mrs. Boyce Thompson.  In the same church, one of the windows is dedicated to her son and Goldie's cousin, Gordon Thompson, who died in 1908.

Pirie Street in Dundas was named in his honour in the 1980s when new subdivision was added.


Goldie Pirie was remembered in the 1920 Canadian Bank of Commerce Letters from the Front Roll of Honour publications - these were a set of two heavy volumes.  His portrait was published in Volume I with the portraits of most of the 258 employees who gave their lives.   The introduction by Sir John Aird in Volume I included this note:

We in The Canadian Bank of Commerce are privileged to record with grateful pride the death, in action, from wounds and from sickness, of 258 of those who went forth from our service.

The Bank also erected an elaborate Memorial Screen in honour of those employees who died. The Memorial Screen was placed in it's flagship location in downtown Toronto.  This still stands.

Pirie was mentioned in an account of the Canadians at Ypres entitled Welcome to Flanders Fields: The First Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915 (McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1988). This account was written by historian Daniel G. Dancocks.  Goldie Pirie was mentioned in Dancocks' description of the ill-fated charge at Mauser Ridge.

In 2007, another account was published recounting the story of the Canadians at Ypres: Baptism of Fire: The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging Canada, April 1915. Historian Nathan Greenfield included a brief entry on Goldie Pirie's experience during the battle.

Trinity College School

In Port Hope, Ontario, Goldwin Pirie's rugby team photo of the winning school team of 1912 still hangs in a prominent place in Trinity College School, and this photo has lately been added to the archives accessible through their website. His name appears on the TCS roll of honour. An original photo of the Trinity College School World War One Cross of Sacrifice was found among the family papers.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

Finally, photographs and Pirie's story have been added to his record on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (Veterans Affairs of Canada) so that he will not be forgotten.

Alan Goldwin Pirie

Finally, G. M. Pirie's nephew, Alan Goldwin Pirie, a son of his older brother Russell Fraser Pirie, was named in his honour.