Guy Drummond

Guy Melfort Drummond was one of Canada’s earliest war heroes of the First World War.

Guy Drummond photographed in the trenches of the Ypres Salient

The son of Sir George Alexander Drummond, a wealthy industrialist and financier based in Montreal, Guy Drummond was widely recognized as one of the most promising young Canadians. A peacetime officer in the Canadian Militia when the First World War broke out in August 1914, Guy quickly volunteered to sail with the first Canadian contingent For a member of one of Canada’s wealthiest families who only recently married, to voluntarily serve his country, Guy Drummond was quickly upheld as the exemplification of Canadian patriotism.  Even more so later in England, when Guy voluntarily chose to revert to a lower rank, from captain to lieutenant, so that he could continue immediately to the Western Front with the First Canadian Division.

The First Canadian Division was first sent to the Ypres Salient, a bulge in the trench lines extending eastward around the Belgium town of Ypres. It was a cruel fate that the Ypres Salient had been chosen by the Germans as the place to test their newest weapon: poison gas. On the morning of April 22nd, 1915, the Germans opened cylinders of chlorine gas across from a French Algerian Division based in the Ypres Salient. Clouds of greenish-yellow smoke quickly overwhelmed the Algerians, who were unaware of the gas’ suffocating effects until it was overtop of them. The Algerians withdrew in a panic, opening a threatening gap in the line that the Germans could exploit to outflank the adjacent First Canadian Division, and possible seize the Ypres Salient.

Lieutenant Guy Drummond was serving as second-in-command of an infantry company in the 13th “Black Watch” Battalion. As the 13th Battalion was entrenched adjacent to the Algerians, on the extreme flank of the Canadian Division, it was the first Canadian unit to engage the German advance. As he was bilingual, Lieutenant Drummond appealed to the retreating Algerians and his heroism encouraged many to stand their ground. The Black Watch put up a heroic defence against the German advance, but was overwhelmed. Guy Drummond, along with dozens more from his company, perished in battle. The First Canadian Division managed to halt the German advance, even in the face of further gas attacks, but at extreme cost. Total Canadian casualties were approximately 6,000 men, one thousand of which were killed in action.

As news of the Second Battle of Ypres filtered back to Canada, the appalling casualties shocked many on the home front. It was brutal awakening to the realities of modern war for Canada to suffer such huge losses in its first major engagement on the Western Front. The death of Guy Drummond was covered extensively by many Canadian newspapers and he, along with many other heroes, came to symbolize the generation of young Canadians lost in the First World War. The Montreal Witness published this mournful editorial:

“Montreal could hardly have been hit harder in a single battle than by the loss of such a group of her younger leaders… The achievement of the Canadian force will rank in history with the great deeds of war from Marathon to Waterloo, but glory will not give us back these men.”[1]

Guy Drummond was twenty-seven years old when he died, and his wife Mary was pregnant with their first child.        Mary Drummond came to be upheld as a symbol in her own right, as her continued charitable work for Canada’s war effort exemplified the stoicism of war widows.

The digitization of Canada’s First World War veteran pension files reveals a new aspect of Mary Drummond’s charitable work as five months after Guy’s death, Mary Drummond submitted a claim for a war widow’s pension. These documents reveal that the officials at the Pensions & Claims Board were somewhat astonished by her claim as war widows could not receive a pension if “should she be or become wealthy”. As one of the wealthiest widows in Canada, Mary Drummond claim was at first denied. This was until she revealed she intended to donate the pension money to the other soldiers’ wives and children of the 5th Royal Highlanders. The Pensions & Claims Boards relented and Mary Drummond received a yearly pension of first $576.00 and later $720.00, which she continuously donated to other war widows and orphans until 1927.

Click Here to access Guy Drummond’s Military Service File at Library and Archives Canada

 

[1] Montreal Witness 27 April 1915 p. 1

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