People in Profile - Murdo MacLeod's WWI


Guest article by curator of Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war, Stephanie Ann Warner.

Tofinoites unite on the Western Front! Tofino’s WWI history has a nice little story how Murdo Macleod met up with various Tofino neighbours far away in England and France.


Murdo Macleod and his cousin Jack Macleod. Image courtesy of Ron Macleod.

Murdo Macleod was born on December 27 1885 in Scotland. While Murdo put his birthplace as “Isle of Raasay” on his attestation paper, his son J.R. Macleod learned that the family was from Kyle Rona and Fladda (both small islands North of Raasay.) It appears that Raasay was the hub of most activities and therefore cited as “home”.

Murdo’s brother Ewan came to Canada in 1903, reunited with Murdo to work at the Bamfield Cable Station in 1905, moving to Clayoquot shortly thereafter. Another brother, Alex, joined them. (Alex worked on the Lifeboat and later became a well-known coxswain).

This photograph shows Murdo at the back of the photo (right) on the beach. In the boat is brother Alex (also wearing a corsage – perhaps they had been at a wedding?). There is a John Macleod in the photo. He is no relation to Murdo and Alex, but did come from Raasay. Also in the photo is Henry (Harry) Harris from Vargas Island, who Murdo would run into in France during WWI.

A view at Clayoquot in 1914. Image courtesy of Ron Macleod.

In the years leading up to the war, Murdo worked in construction, mainly as a road crew foreman. Therefore, it’s no surprise that he enlisted with the 1st Canadian Pioneer Details. “Pioneer” battalions’ role was to do heavy construction work at the Front – building roads, trenches, railways etc. Murdo enlisted in Vancouver on October 5 1915 and arrived in England on November 15 1915.

Murdo arrived in France in March 1916. He became Corporal of the “A” Company of the 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion. Murdo was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for work done with a party of men on the Battle of the Somme on September 15 1916.

Not long afterwards, there was a West Coast “meet up”! In early October 1916, Murdo ran into Joe Grice of Tofino, Harry Harris and Jerry Lane of Vargas Island. Murdo wrote to his brother Ewan that “all the boys are going strong and getting the last kick out of the Huns now” (Source – a letter published in The Daily Colonist, November 23 1916).

A few days later, on October 8 1916, Murdo was wounded at Courcelette. Parts of his upper lip and nose were shot away by shrapnel. His lower lip and chin were badly split.

On October 10 1916 Murdo was admitted to St Johns Ambulance Hospital, Etaples and on October 12 1916, he was transferred to Folkestone. Murdo spent the next few months at Keighly War Hospital in Yorkshire, where he wrote a letter to his brother, later published in The Daily Colonist. He stated that he was getting “first class treatment and consideration from the Red Cross.” Murdo also wrote that he “expects to be back again to be in at the finish with the others.”

This expectation was not realized. Military records are always tricky to decipher, but it appears that he spent the rest of the war working in England and visiting hospitals for follow-up surgery.

In spring 1917, Murdo was now in Purfleet with the Canadian Railway Troops (the newly re-branded 1st Canadian Pioneers). On August 19 1917, Murdo was admitted to Ontario Military Hospital, in Orpington Kent for a “plastic” operation. He returned to Orpington in February 1918 for follow up surgery.

While at Orpington, Murdo had his second west coast meet up! He later wrote to Frank Garrard, the Tofino telegraph operator, that he was sure surprised to meet Frank’s daughter Lilly – a nurse at the hospital – and Frank’s son Noel – on leave and visiting his sister. [Read about Nursing Sister Lilly Garrard in our previous story: “More than a Dishwasher”]

From March 5 1918 - April 16 1918 Murdo was on sick furlough (leave), a result of post-surgery and another on-going digestive condition. Given the long amount of time for the leave, it’s likely that he went up north to Raasay to visit his parents. Murdo’s health continued to be iffy, and on September 24 1918 he was invalided to Canada and went to Shaughnessy Military Hospital in Vancouver.

Murdo was discharged from the military as “unfit for service” on January 21 1919, and he returned to the west coast. Six months later, he was married in Victoria. Murdo married Julia Macleod of Sydney Australia. Julia, who had arrived the week before, was the sister of John Macleod, formerly of Tofino (see the canoe photo above). John Macleod had gone to work with the Royal Engineers, Inland Water Transport Section in Mesopotamia, where he was drowned on the Tigris River in July 1917. John and Julia Macleod came from Isle of Raasay Scotland but were not related to Murdo. A news report of the Macleod wedding noted that Julia “looked charming in a fawn colored satin gown and carried a bouquet of bridal roses. She was attended as bridesmaid by Miss Florence Nightingale MacLean. The bridegroom was accompanied as groomsman by his cousin, Murdo MacLeod. (It’s unclear who this other Murdo Macleod was). Murdo and Julia made their home in Tofino, where they had two sons.

Mrs Murdo Macleod and Harold Monks on the Maquinna, early 1920s. Image from Harold Monks collection.

In the early 1920s, Murdo worked again as a road crew foreman on the Tofino-Ucluelet road. He may also have worked on the Tofino Lifeboat, as he appears in this photo from 1920.

Murdo Macleod standing left on the Tofino Lifeboat in 1920. Photo taken by Harold Monks. 

In August 1922, Murdo was appointed Dominion Fisheries Officer when John Grice was "superannuated" (the old term for retirement). Murdo also served as president of the Great War Veterans Association and the Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch. Read more here

Prepared by Stephanie Warner

Sources: Murdo Macleod’s military service, Library and Archives Canada; The Daily Colonist digital edition; Francis C. Garrard memoirs, BC Archives; J.R. Macleod’s family history shared by Ron Macleod.