Saturday, 28 July 2007

Pte. Goldwin McCausland Pirie

Pte. Goldwin McCausland Pirie
No. 7076, 1st Battalion Western Ontario Regiment.  Died on July 1st, 1915
at Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Southampton, England,
of wounds received during the 2nd Battle of Ypres.

Family Background

Goldwin McCausland Pirie was born in Dundas, Ontario, Canada. His parents were Alexander Fraser Pirie, newspaper editor, and Hester Emma McCausland.  A. F. Pirie had begun his career on his father's paper, The Guelph Herald, and had moved on to Toronto in the early 1870s.  Pirie became editor of the Toronto Evening Telegram in the early 1880s. After he married in 1889, he spent a year in Montreal as editor of the Montreal Star, and decided to relocate to Dundas to raise a family. Mr. Pirie acquired the Dundas Banner, and took on the role of editor and publisher.  He was elected President of the Canadian Press Association in 1893, and was a very well known and popular figure among Canadian newspapermen.  Although he never lived to see the first World War, nor his son die, back in May 1893 he spoke in Chicago at the World Press Conference about recognition deserved for the 40,000 Canadian soldiers (his figures) who served in the American Civil War.   His own brother (step), Thomas Pirie (1830-63), served with the 16th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Co. I, dying of dysentery at Redbone near Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Goldwin (known to his family as Goldie), was the youngest son in a family of two sons and two daughters: Russell Fraser Pirie (1890-1956), Elsie Gowan Pirie (1892-1933), Goldwin McCausland Pirie (1894-1915), and Jean Booth Pirie (1895-1958). Goldwin was born on April 12th, 1894, at the family home in Dundas.  This home on Sydenham Street still stands.  Goldie was named after his father’s mentor at the Toronto Evening Telegram, Goldwin Smith (1823-1910).  Goldwin Smith's home in Toronto, known as "The Grange"  is still standing and backs the Art Gallery of Ontario, and is open for tours.

Tragedy struck the family twice when in 1901 Mrs. Pirie died unexpectedly of pneumonia, and Mr. Pirie died just two years later in 1903. Four children were left without parents. Goldie Pirie was only 9 years old. After the death of Hester McCausland, their paternal aunt, Mrs. Ada Murdoch (1860-1948), formerly Pirie, stepped forward to act as the children's guardian. Although she had married, she was no longer living with her husband, and they had not had children. She moved into the Pirie family home with the children, and took on responsibilities as their guardian. Images of Dundas, Ontario, circa 1900-1915

Life Before the War

Goldie Pirie began his education in Dundas, attending Dundas Public School.  He appears in a group photo of Dundas High School Cadets from 1909 posed under a large Union Jack with the words "Loyal Canada" set across the flag.  This original photo is held at the Dundas Museum and is viewable in their online digital photograph collection.

In April 1911 he was sent to Port Hope's Trinity College School (TCS), a boarding school for young men. He did well in sports and was a member of the school rugby team and played on the team during a major victory. He was photographed as a member of the victorious TCS 1911 Rugby team, and this team photo is still on display at TSC. These comments appeared in the school yearbooks regarding G. Pirie's work on the rugby team: “Centre half, first year man, but thoroughly acquainted with the game. Best kick in years, fair catch, good dodging runner, and combination play. Inclined to be slightly erratic at commencement of games, but settles down and finishes strong.” (1911) “Centre half, Weight 165 pounds, height 5’ 10”, a fine kick, sure catch, and dodging runner who uses his head.” (1912).

TCS's online archives include this 1911 team photo.  Additionally, Goldie Pirie was mentioned in TCS's history The School on the Hill / Trinity College School 1865-1965  (1965) in a section on the war years:
Sad days lay ahead as the casualty lists lengthened to include boys, some of whom were only 14 at the beginning of the war.  A few of them were recalled by Dr. Ketchum on Armistice Day, 1942.  Their numbers, he told the boys, included great halfbacks like Goldwin Pirie; skillful bowlers like Tom Saunders in whose memory the Communion vessels and candlesticks were given; clever hockey players like Alec Sutherland; and steady, dependable young men like Herby Moore...all lads full of fun and good humour, able young men with fine prospects in civil life.  By war's end, the enlistments had risen to 596, including nine former masters.  The dead numbered 123. (The School on the Hill, pp. 74-75)
After his graduation from TCS in 1913, Pirie joined the Canadian Bank of Commerce and began working as a bank clerk at the Yonge and Eglinton branch in Toronto.  The Toronto Directory for 1914 lists his address as 300 Sherbourne - this would have been a larger building divided up into apartments.  Today this building still stands and supports a shelter for low income seniors.

Enlisting with the 1st Contingent Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.)

G. M. Pirie enlisted in August 1914.   His name appeared on the list of Canadian Bank of Commerce staff which was published in the 1920 Letters from the Front.  This list included the notation that Pirie enlisted on August 14th from the Yonge and Eglinton branch in Toronto.  This statement was published shortly before the list:
There were 1701 members of the staff who undertook war-service, and 258 of them laid down their lives.
Pirie began his military service with the 77th Wentworth Regiment which included men from Dundas. The 77th Wentworth contingent left Dundas for Valcartier Camp by train in August 1914 after a parade and send off. The Dundas Star reported that on that day a final photo of the Dundas volunteers was taken while posed in front of the Grafton's store in downtown Dundas, shortly before the men marched off to the train station. This final photo cannot be located at present.  About 30 years later in the 1940s, one of Goldie's nephews was to work as a teenager painting store signage for Grafton's.

Valcartier Military Training Camp, Quebec, Canada

Goldwin Pirie sent several letters home to Dundas from Valcartier training camp in Quebec. These letters were published in the Dundas Star, and provided details of the exploits of the local men, and a humourous look at life at a military training camp. During September 1914 an informal group photo was taken of Goldie with three friends who were from Dundas. This is the only photo that remains of Pte. Pirie at Valcartier. His final letter that was published in the Dundas newspaper was a goodbye to the people of the town of Dundas on behalf of himself and the Dundas men. The 77th Wentworth men, now known as the 1st Battalion Western Ontario Regiment, were now about to leave the camp to move on to Quebec where they would board transports to sail to England for further training. Pte. Pirie's military file includes an index card that was titled "Quebec Pier" and "S.S. Laurentic", and dated October 4, 1915.

Salisbury Plain, Military Training Camp, England

The 1st Battalion sailed left Canada on the ocean liner Laurentic I as a part of the historic troop convoy carrying Canada's First Contingent to England. The Laurentic landed at Plymouth Sound, and after a warm welcome, the men continued on to Salisbury Plain for further military training. The men of the 1st Battalion were stationed at Bustard Camp, one of several camps located across Salisbury Plain. The terrible conditions at Salisbury Plain due to constant rain are well documented.

Pte. Pirie likely continued to write home from Salisbury Plain, but these letters are all lost. All that remains today is a December 1914 Christmas card which included a group picture of the men of the 1st Battalion at Salisbury Plain. This photo is the only known photo of Pte. Pirie in uniform.

1st Battalion C.E.F. moves on to the Front Lines

In early 1915 the 1st Battalion crossed the English channel, landing in France, and then moving on to the front lines in Belgium. Once the men began their training in the trenches, Pte. Pirie, because of his athletic experience, was selected for additional training for bomb throwing.

2nd Battle of Ypres

The Canadians heroically resisted the deadly German chlorine gas attacks, now referred to as the start of the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915. A number of Canadian counterattacks were immediately launched in response to this German attempt to gain ground during the confusion of an unexpected gas attack.

Goldie Pirie participated in the counterattack which began early in the morning on April 23rd and involved a joint assault towards Mauser Ridge by the 1st and 4th Battalions C.E.F., accompanied by other Allied units. Goldwin Pirie was wounded during this counterattack which began at dawn. Although there are no specific records available today pinpointing what time he was wounded, it seems most likely that he was wounded during the initial assault when he was acting as a bomb thrower. By the time he was first spotted by other soldiers who recognized him, he appeared to be unconscious.  An account that appeared in the Dundas Star indicated that Pte. Pirie was left for dead on the field for four days after he was wounded - or from the morning of April 23 to 26.

The situation on the battlefield was critical as so many of the men of the 1st and 4th Battalions had fallen wounded or dead in this counter-attack towards Mauser Ridge. The attack went on all day. This meant that it was difficult for stretcher bearers and others to reach the wounded without being injured themselves, not to mention the fact that the vast numbers of wounded simply overwhelmed all available resources. The fact that Pte. Pirie was eventually rescued and carried off the battlefield was a result of the heroism and determination of his fellow Canadians. The bravery of Canadian stretcher bearers and medical officers of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (C.A.M.C.) led to many rescues under difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Accounts that appeared in the local Dundas and Hamilton newspapers included information transcribed from letters sent home by men who had played a part in this counterattack. These accounts led to an early rumour that Pte. Pirie had been killed in action. The Dundas Star newspaper reprinted the letter home from a survivor of the assault. Pte. Burgess recalled: " I saw poor Pte. Pirie hit by a shell and killed". The newspaper published accounts by Burgess and other correspondents. These letters described a relentless and terrifying advance in the early morning hours of April 23rd as the men marched forward in the face of enemy fire. Roll call the following day saw only 350 of 1,000 men in the 1st and 4th battalions. Dundas stretcher bearer Burns Rayner, 4th Battalion, wrote that during that charge they lost 4 of 16 stretcher bearers, and were lacking stretchers and had to resort to carrying the wounded men on their backs.  Rayner also reported that he had passed Pte. Pirie on the battlefield as he had thought he was dead. Days later, the Star published the letter of Woodville Cowper, 1st Battalion, No. 7024, who had discovered that Pte. Pirie was in fact alive. His May 9th letter to his relatives in Dundas was published in the Star, in part: "It was reported G. Pirie was killed or missing, but George Inksater of Paris, sent me word yesterday that he bound him up in a hospital. Gaines was with Pirie, and left him for dead. Rayner would swear he saw him dead, but we are all rejoicing to hear that he is still alive. There are a lot of mistakes made, as I helped to bury fellows whom it was impossible to identify." Other wounded Wentworth Battalion soldiers were sent by ambulance to the nearby town of Poperinghe for first aid, and then by train to Boulogne. There was an aid station at Vlamertinghe - this station received the gas casualties as well. I am not certain at this time at which battlefront aid station he received his first treatment, as there were several in the vicinity, including that of Dr. John McCrae, the poet.

Sadly, Goldie's friend, Corp. William Henry Gaines, 7000, of 21 Gage Avenue South, Hamilton, died on June 15th, 1915, only about 7 weeks later.

Brief Stay at a Hospital in Boulogne, France

After Pte. Pirie was first picked up off the battlefield for medical care, he was likely taken to a casualty clearing station behind the front lines. At this point a decision was made to send him on for further care to a hospital in Boulogne, France. We hear directly from him for the first time from Boulogne, where he managed to send a message to his Aunt Ada in Dundas. He told her that he was on the "speedy road to recovery" and that he would soon be sent on to Shorncliffe Camp in England for rehabilitation before returning to the front. He seemed to minimize the extent of his injuries. It is possible that he thought that he might recover soon, however, he may have been trying to spare his family from worry. The Hamilton Spectator published extracts from this note as part of an update on his condition. However, at Boulogne the serious nature of his wounds led to his transport via hospital ship back to England for further care at Netley (Royal Victoria) Hospital.

Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Southampton, England

Information regarding his arrival in England are found in his military records where it was noted that he was received at Southampton from the HS Oxfordshire on May 12th, 1915. He was admitted into Netley hospital on the same day.

Netley Hospital provided care and treatment to many of the Canadians who were wounded throughout the First World War. A 1916 article recalled the reception of the Canadian wounded after the 2nd battle of Ypres: "...the whole staff - doctors, nurses and orderlies - pressed upon them, cheering and weeping, shaking them by the hand, even the stretcher cases, in a wild hysteria of gratitude for the men who had saved Ypres and the gate to England."

After the events of this battle, the British papers praised the heroism of the Canadians at Ypres in facing the poisonous gas, and bravely counter-attacking to protect the front line and prevent the German advance. This praise was a sharp contrast to the early reports on the First Canadian Contingent while they trained at Salisbury Plain in late 1914 and early 1915, prior to moving to the front lines in Belgium and France. Then, the new Canadian troops were described as poorly disciplined and trained and unlikely to hold up well in combat. Early in the war the bed space at Netley hospital was enlarged by a temporary Red Cross Hospital built of aluminum huts. This expansion was located on the hospital grounds and helped to accommodate the increasing floods of wounded soldiers.

Pte. Pirie survived for two months at Netley. He died there on July 1st, 1915 as a result of infected wounds that led to recurring internal hemorrhaging. His military file which is now held at the National Archives of Canada contains all the medical charts and reports completed at Netley and include his daily temperature chart, with notes of morphine given, and details of several surgeries conducted to stop this internal bleeding. The charts indicate that his temperature was continually elevated. No effective treatment was available in mid 1915 for advanced wound infections. Antibiotics had not yet been discovered. The Carrell Dakin treatment of hypochlorous acid was in general use by late 1915 and eased many wound infections, but it needed to be applied very early in the treatment to be effective.  Other common methods of treating infected wounds at that time included cutting away (thus widening it) and disinfecting and draining.  Pte. Pirie's medical charts are complete for the two months that he stayed at Netley up until his death from a final hemorrhage. They include staff and doctor signatures and a full description of the patient's condition upon arrival, subsequent treatment, and time and cause of death.

Hospital Visitors

During his hospital stay he received a number of visitors from friends and extended family. His sisters Jean and Elsie made plans to travel from Dundas and visit him in hospital, but this trans-Atlantic journey was cancelled when they were advised of his death.

Goldwin Pirie was visited at Netley by Frank Lennard (of Lennard's Knitting Mills in Dundas). Another visitor was Mr. Jack Wort, of Salisbury Plain. Mr. Wort later wrote to Mr. Bertram in Dundas, indicating that his wife had received a phone call from Goldie while he was at Netley, and Mr. Wort "got together a car" of visitors and visited Goldie in the hospital. He wrote that Goldie was "delighted" by the visitors, but in great pain. Mr. Wort wrote that he felt that it might have been easier if he had been killed immediately. He said he understood that Goldie had come to the point that he "no longer cared whether he lived or died", and said that he missed his friends and countrymen. Goldie told Mr. Wort to let Mr. Bertram in Dundas know that they needed more ammunition. The Bertram Company manufactured munitions during the war.

Death of a Soldier

Goldie Pirie died at 10 pm after a final operation on July 1st, 1915. Dr. George R. Pirie, a cousin who was working at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London, coordinated Goldie's funeral arrangements for the funeral to be held the Monday following his death. He attempted to contact Goldie's fellow soldiers and friends Leonard Bertram and Arthur Turner, as both were convalescing in British hospitals following wounds received at the 2nd battle of Ypres, and invite them to attend Goldwin Pirie's funeral. Unfortunately his telegram was not received and they were greatly disappointed at missing their friend's funeral. The funeral at Netley was attended by Dr. Pirie and the Mr. Wort. There may have been other mourners in attendance.

Link to:  Remembering Goldwin McCausland Pirie

G. M. Pirie's older brother was Russell Fraser Pirie. Gnr. R. Fraser Pirie entered the war in December 1915, joining up in Toronto with the 41st Battery Canadian Field Artillery. R. F. Pirie was a graduate of Queen's University, and later Osgoode Hall law school. He returned to Toronto in early 1919 after his war service. R. F. Pirie served in the Veteran's Guard of Canada in the Second World War as an officer in a POW camp based in Petawawa, Ontario. He was the grandfather of the author of this article.

In addition, a number of Goldwin Pirie's relatives served in the First and Second World Wars.   Further details may be viewed through the links below, and on this Military Family Tree:

Bios and photos of family members Served in World War One

Bios and photos of family members Served in World War Two

Suggested Reading / Online documents
  • Mobilization of the First Canadian Division1st Canadian Contingent - Canadian News Souvenir Edition / In Honour of The Canadian Contingent / 1914. Information about Valcartier and Salisbury Plain including photographs.
  • Nasmith, Col. George G., On the Fringe of the Great Fight. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1917.
  • Baptism of Fire: The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915. Nathan M. Greenfield. Harper Collins, 440 pages, maps, b/w photos, index. ISBN: 978-0-00200727-6.

Author: M. I. Pirie, Canada, 2007-12.  In memory of Goldwin McCausland Pirie.