A Great Tribulation: Burdie Garrard’s War

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard (“Burdie” to friends was born in Nanaimo in June 1891 and spent his first healthy active twenty-five years on and near the waters of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

“Burdie” Garrard from a detail of a larger group shot at a Vargas Island picnic circa 1912.

Here’s only one of many exciting adventures Burdie and his sisters and brothers had on the water. In 1908-1910, the Garrards were living on Vargas Island, four miles by sea from Tofino. The journey could be easy or perilous, depending on weather and tide conditions. One day Burdie and his older sister Lilly decided to make a boat trip. Dad Frank Garrard recalled “Burdie took the rowboat, which also carried a sail and started over to Clayoquot, and from there intending to go over to Tofino, Lilly accompanied him. The tide was falling as they sailed over…” Frank and his other son Noel were on Vargas Island, watching through a telescope. “There was a ground swell that caused some nig breakers to form on the shallows and Noel and I saw that they were in the path of one of these breakers and it formed just underneath them…Lilly, who was sitting fairly forward in the boat, did not forget the appearance of what looked like a huge hole in the water just underneath the bow of the boat.” They were running with a fifteen foot fall in front of them, for all the time they were on the wave crest! A lucky escape – but fortunes were to change.

Burdie Garrard had lots of experience on West Coast waters. Circa 1912-1913, he was on the crew of the Clayoquot Lifeboat. Burdie is second from left (back of picture). At the front of the boat is Eileen Abraham catching a ride from Tofino to Vargas Island.

Frank Garrard recalled: “In early 1914, Burdie was running a motor boat, after leaving this he got employment on the Dominion Government patrol boat, which was then put in operation on the coast at fishery patrol work and on which Mr Grice (customs officer and fisheries inspector) was conveyed to his different localities.” Burdie’s brother was also on the water. Frank Garrard: “Noel bought a launch from the Stones and was using this for taking parties to different parts of the district. Latterly he was employed, through Porter working for the telegraph department, with his launch during the new construction that was going on in the neighbourhood.”   

“Burdett joined up in the winter of 1915 with the 88th Regiment.”

Frank Garrard memoirs

War was declared on August 4 1914. Some of the local “boys”, like the Garrards’ friends Arthur and Ted Abraham, immediately left Clayoquot Sound to join up. A week later, Arthur Abraham wrote his mother from training camp, “….It’s a pity Noel Garrard and Price (a friend) couldn’t have come down, they probably would have got on too.” Noel enlisted in November 1914. He had to first get permission from his parents as he was only 18 years old. He soon left for England, where he served in the trenches until he got ill. Noel transferred out of the trenches back onto the water and spent the rest of the war on coastal patrol around Ireland.

On December 15 1915, Burdie enlisted with the 88th Regiment in Alberni B.C. He was 25 years old, 5’9  and 145 lbs with fair physical development. Burdie had a couple of weeks’ leave before his training started and he spent the holidays in Clayoquot Sound with family and friends, in particular his “great friend” Eileen Abraham, who lived on Vargas Island with her mother Mrs. Helen Malon (the “dearest friend” of Burdie’s mother, Annie Garrard).

Eileen Abraham and her mother Mrs. Helen Malon, winter 1912-1913

Mrs. Malon kept a daily diary that gives an insight into some of Burdie’s activities. She noted that Burdie and his sister Lilly (a nurse in Victoria) spent New Year’s Eve on Vargas Island. Burdie returned to Vargas on January 5 1916 for a Sunday church service. According to Mrs. Malon’s diary, it was a day of “very cold, very heavy snow showers.” The local motor launch operator Carson Maclean could not fetch Burdie back to Tofino that evening so he stayed overnight.

Soon after, Burdie began training in Duncan B.C. “Cold heavy snow” was a portent of things to come. The winter of 1916 was particularly harsh. There are numerous reports of the troops being called out to clear the streets. Frank Garrard recalled: “they were stationed in Duncan where the building they were quartered in nearly collapsed from the weight of the snow.”

In March 1916, Burdie had weekend leave and came down to Victoria to visit Lilly. At the same time, Mrs. Malon was on her annual visit to Victoria. On March 4 1916, Mrs. Malon reported: “Burdie came to Victoria in the morning. He came up here and went down later to look at coats with me.” Burdie and Mrs. Malon had lunch at the Mecca Grill (“down the marble stairs in the basement of the Sayward Building, lunch specials 25 cents”). They went to the 3pm matinee at the Pantages Theatre, a vaudeville show with Will J Ward and his Piano Girls, in which Mr. Ward sang ballads and the girls played five pianos at the same time. (Other items on the bill were ‘Athena the sensational Oriental dancer’ and that merry musical comedy ‘The Bachelors Sweetheart’.) On Sunday, Burdie joined Mrs. Malon to attend a church service.

Letter from Eileen to say Burdie ill

Helen Malon’s diary May 3 1916

On his next weekend leave in Victoria, things went wrong. Frank Garrard recalled: “Burdett came down with an attack of pneumonia. When he was sickening for this, he happened to be visiting Lilly in Victoria. She, seeing that he was seriously ill, got Doctor Raynor [a family friend] to look at him, with the result that he was invalided in bed at once.”

On May 3 1916 Mrs. Malon was transplanting a few plants in her garden on Vargas Island, when the local “mailman” rowed over with the mail (just arrived by steamship). “Letter from Eileen to say Burdie ill”. A couple of days later she heard by telegraph that “Burdie was a little better, also heard French pushing back Huns in Lorraine. Civilians evacuating Metz and another town in Lorraine.”

Burdie was on sick leave and came up to Tofino, where he enjoyed Vargas Island picnics. Here are entries from Mrs. Malon’s diary: June 18 1916 – Eileen and Burdie went for a picnic all day to Mud Bay, June 19 1916 – Eileen and Burdie went for a picnic but had to come back early on account of the rain.” Despite the activity, Burdie may not have been one hundred per cent well. Frank Garrard later wrote: “It was some time before he recovered — in fact the effects of this never left him, although when he had partly recovered but was still weak, joined the Engineers.”

In July 1916, Burdie returned to military service and went back east for training. Frank Garrard: “Burdie’s letters in July and August 1916 were dated from Valcartier. It seemed by his letters that the sanitary arrangements, water and drainage were none too good at the camp.” Burdie got sick. His military service files show that he was in Valcartier hospital from August 12-25 1916. Frank Garrard: “in his August letter he writes from an isolation hospital where he had been confined with German measles and a cold which stayed with him and which he was trying to get rid of but had a certain amount of difficulty in doing so, owing to the want of medicine of any description.”

“I have been put in hospital with a cold, everything O.K. soon will be out!”    

Burdie Garrard

Burdie arrived in England on December 29 1916. Frank Garrard: “He was quarantined with the exception of one week from December 29 1916 to the beginning of March 1917 with mumps etc., of which he had a severe attack.” Military service files show that around the third week of January, Burdie had a painful swollen face. On January 28 1917, he was admitted to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital Brighton with orchitis (mumps), and was discharged three days later. On April 4 1917, Burdie was admitted to the military hospital in Crowborough. On April 11 1917, Burdie wrote to Frank Garrard, saying that he had a telegram from his brother Noel, who would be visiting the next day. There was a postscript: “I have been put in hospital with a cold, everything O.K. soon will be out!” After visiting Burdie, Noel Garrard wrote his Dad that he had seen Burdie and thought “he was not quite up to the mark, he had a little touch of influenza or something like that.” Noel concluded “I think he started work a little too soon after recovering from his sickness at Victoria.”

Burdie was indeed “not quite up to the mark.” A year after his almost fatal attack of pneumonia, Burdie had more than a “cold” or a “little touch of influenza”. He had contracted pleurisy and pneumonia. He had a continuous cough, “with weakness which has been progressively increasing.” Notes in his medical file dated April 18 1917 state: “consolidation apex of left lung.” His condition the next day: “has cough with night sweats, evening temperature up to 101 F.” Burdie did not improve.

On May 5 1917, Burdie was transferred to Canadian Military Hospital Eastbourne. Frank Garrard recalled that he had received a letter from Burdie in June: “Burdie writes from the Canadian Military Hospital Eastbourne and while there received information that he was to be invalided back to Canada on account of general debility.” Frank received letters from his mother and sister in England, both taking the view that Burdie was “fortunate to be invalided home and that when he rested up he would be fully recovered.” No one yet knew the full extent of Burdie’s illness.

On June 18 1917, Burdie Garrard sailed back to Canada on the hospital ship “Letitia”. He had a fever of 105 F with rapid pulse and complaints of abdominal distortion. Peritonitis developed. Worse of all, written on his medical file is the word “Tuberculosis.”

Tuberculosis is caused the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (also called tubercle bacillus [“T.B.”]). The so-called “White Plague” was a major medical concern in the early twentieth century. “The tubercle bacillus is the most ubiquitous parasite the human race has to contend with,” stated Dr. C.H. Vrooman, medical superintendent of B.C.’s Tranquille Sanatorium, at the 1917 Convention of medical health officers in British Columbia. (The Daily Colonist, September 15 1917) T.B. is a latent infection, and nearly all adults in the early 1900s were infected with mycobacterium tuberculosis (Tuberculosis and World War One by John F. Murray, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Volume 192, Issue 4, June 2015). Dr. Vrooman suggested that T.B. was prevalent everywhere and people mostly had developed an immunity. Those British Columbians not so lucky were being treated the provincial sanatorium at Tranquille near Kamloops – the dry interior air was thought to be beneficial. But there was no cure for tuberculosis.

Upon arriving in Canada, Burdie was sent to the military hospital in Kingston. The Garrards soon learned how ill he was. Mrs. Malon was holidaying at Long Beach with the Garrards on July 24 1917: “Another beautiful day. Heard of Burdie’s serious illness…” Frank Garrard commented “His doctors sent us a warning that he was in a most serious condition although there was no serious danger.” The next day, Mrs. Malon wrote that “Mrs. Garrard much brighter and more hopeful.” By August 8 1917, when Mrs. Malon had tea with the Garrards, there was “better news of Burdie.” Frank Garrard recalled: “In August and September 1917 Burdett wrote from Kingston, thinks he is picking up, but still in bed, was to be X-rayed and had liquid drawn from his back and injected into his hip, as an anti-toxin.”

Despite these probably painful injections, Burdie’s spirits were good – his letter referred to “the presence of Mother and Eileen and the good effect it had on him.” (Annie Garrard and Eileen Abraham had travelled from Tofino to Kingston.) On September 26 1917, Mrs. Malon wrote in her diary, “We heard that Eileen was married yesterday, quietly in Kingston.” Meanwhile, Frank Garrard received a letter from his son Noel, who wondered if military conscription — about to go into effect — would “get” Burdie after he was discharged. Frank Garrard later commented: “Noel did not then recognize how serious Burdie’s illness was.”

In October 1917, Burdie and Eileen travelled to Esquimalt Military Hospital. Tests concluded Burdie must be transferred at once to the Balfour Military Hospital, which had opened in February 1917 to cope with the large number of veterans who could not be accommodated at the Tranquille Sanatorium.

The Balfour Military Hospital was located in the former C.P.R. “Kootenay Lake Hotel” on the shores of Kootenay Lake. Here is a 1910s description of the area: “Situated amongst scenery, not so rugged as that of the Rockies in the north, but which has a softer fascination, all its own, it stands high on the shores of a lake and among mountains, which have been favourably compared with the Italian Alps.” (Resorts in the Canadian Rockies, UBC Open collections) “From the standpoint of scenic beauty and climatic conditions it is ideal for the purposes to which it will be put, that is, a hospital for returned soldiers affected with tuberculosis.”(“New Military Hospital,” The Daily Colonist January 30 1917)

Here is a postcard image of the hotel: https://www.nelsonstar.com/news/lost-kootenay-lake-hotels-remembered-in-postcards/   accessed on March 10 2018.  See another photograph of the Kootenay Lake Hotel in the UBC Library Open Collections.

Kootenay Lake Hotel – Balfour Military Hospital

Burdie later wrote to his Dad about the journey to Balfour. “He described the trip to the mountains and alongside Okanagan Lake and seemed to have found it very interesting. He said the trip was very slow on account of the heavy grades. He mentioned the switchback road on leaving the lake and how just before going into the pass you can look out of the window and see the three tracks below that you had passed over when climbing the mountainside. He was interested in the high wooden trestle bridges on the way.”

On November 1 1917, Burdie arrived at Balfour. After breakfast, he was weighed, his temperature taken and a room allotted to him. He wrote to his dad: “he expected these trips are rather trying on him and he was rather tired.” A later medical file notes that Burdie had been confined in bed since arrival…was allowed up for dinner December 2-8 1917 then back to bed.” (By the end of 1917, there were 120 beds at the hospital.)    

Had a letter from Eileen, none too good on account of Burdie.

Helen Malon’s diary, February 20 1918

A few months later, Eileen was now living in Balfour, so she could be with Burdie. She tried to get some work at the hospital to keep her busy. But she could not stop the decline of Burdie’s health. On March 4 1918, Mrs. Malon had a letter from Dr. H.B. Olsen, head of the hospital: “Had a letter from Dr. O and I decided to go to Balfour.”

On a very cold night, Mrs. Malon and Mrs. Garrard left Victoria on the midnight boat to Vancouver. They travelled by train to the Kootenays — “lovely country all the way up.” When they arrived in Nelson, it was very cold and frosty with lots of snow. The mothers drove down in a sleigh from the train to the Kootenay Lake steamer and sailed up to Balfour, where they were taken to the hospital. “Burdie looked better than I expected.”

For three weeks, Mrs. Malon and Mrs. Garrard stayed across the water in Proctor. Every morning the mothers walked the verandah of the Outlet Hotel and every afternoon they rowed over to Balfour and visited Burdie for two hours. Burdie’s health was up and down. On March 20 1918, Mrs. Malon noted, “Burdie is slightly better, less pain.” (Eileen, meanwhile, was not well when her mother arrived – unclear if an illness or mental strain, but picked up over the next few weeks and made a move to a new accommodation with a “Miss C” who Mrs. Malon liked very much.”)

Two months later, Burdie went before the Medical Board. The Board’s report, dated May 4 1918, concluded that his illness had been contracted in March 1916 while on military service (meaning it was their responsibility to care for him) Here is the selection from his medical report:

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard medical report, May 1918. Library and Archives Canada

In July 1918 Burdie was discharged from the military as “medically unfit” for military service. But he stayed in the hospital — “impossible to move him”. Eileen must have immediately told her mother, who wrote in her diary on July 13 1918: “rowed over to Tofino to tell the Garrards about poor Burdie.”

That summer on the coast, life went on. Frank Garrard’s memoirs are silent on any news of Burdie, and Mrs. Malon’s diaries have almost no mention, merely “bought book for Burdie” and “had letter for Eileen”. At the end of the summer, Mrs. Malon left Vargas Island and moved to Saanich, where she saw the end of the War and survived the “Spanish Flu”.

In June 1919, Mrs. Malon was in Balfour. On June 7 1919, she wrote in her diary “I had a cold and felt stupid. The San as usual. Poor Burdie in a good deal of pain.” On June 9 “poor Burdie in a good deal of pain,” on June 13 “Burdie suffering a great deal,” on June 21, Burdie was sleeping most of the evening. After Major Owen held a church service in Burdie’s room, “Burdie rather brighter and better.” A few days later “Burdie in a lot of pain, poor boy.” Eileen’s 24th birthday was July 1, but as her mother noted, “she could not celebrate.”

In July, Eileen and her mother started camping out. Mrs. Malon: “July 2 1919 – Slept in the tent for the first time. Not very well.” They got someone to put up shelves in the tent – “a great improvement”, “We managed to get our bed more comfy.” The rest of the week was spent in social occasions – “went to supper, played crib”. But on July 7, Burdie was very bad, unconscious for a short time. Mr. and Mrs. Garrard were wired for.” A few days later, Mrs. Malon reported “Burdie keeping pretty well.” On the early morning of July 19, Burdie had another attack.

Frank Garrard received a letter from Burdie, “thanking me for a letter and a copy of an agreement relative to his plot of land adjoining the Tofino townsite.” (He had obtained a Crown Grant for this land in 1915). The letter closed by saying “Eileen would give me all the news of him, as he found it so difficult to write.”

Frank finally had a chance to visit his son. “I managed to get 6 weeks vacation owing not to have taken my vacation the year before.” Frank found the trip to Balfour very interesting, since he was able to see the country which Burdie had described in such detail eighteen months earlier.

Went to meet Mr. Garrard by early boat…Mr. Garrard went out to see Burdie in the afternoon.

Helen Malon’s diary, July 28 1919

Frank recalled: “I was met by Mrs. Malon, who was staying with Eileen in a tent they had fixed up. They had found quarters for me in a house that was rented by Mr. and Mrs. Saunders. He was a T.B. patient but receiving outside treatment and apparently recovering.” The next day Mrs. Malon left to return to the coast.

Frank Garrard now continues the story: “When I first arrived at Balfour, I had managed to get a cold and for a day or so took it easy, spending the greater part of the day in a hammock slung under the trees in an orchard…” Yet he became energetic enough to fix a problem for Eileen. “Shortly after Mrs. Malon left, I managed to make a small split cedar gate for the tent in which Eileen was sleeping, as some small animal, supposed to be a skunk, was prowling outside the tent and it was better to keep it outside than have it get in and make itself at home!”

A light interlude in an otherwise troubling time. Frank Garrard had not seen his son for three years: “Burdie’s emaciation was such a contrast to when I had last seen him that it gave me, as I think it did all of us who saw him, quite a shock. But even then he and Eileen thought that he would eventually regain his health but the doctor warned me that outside of a miracle he could not live.”

During Summer and Fall 1919, Burdie’s sisters came to see him in Balfour: Ethel (the Alberni telegraph operator) and her new husband Fred Street, followed by Olive (who helped her Dad run the Tofino telegraph office). Meanwhile, Lilly had just returned to B.C. from 2 years nursing overseas. Mrs. Malon wrote in her diary on October 3 1919, “Lovely day. Lilly Garrard came to say goodbye on her way to Balfour.”

Burdie’s family had practically no hope of his recovery. He reportedly had a fainting spell, but Lilly (with her medical knowledge) knew this to be a convulsion. On October 25 1919, Lilly and Eileen went to visit Burdie and he seemed very comfortable and in good spirits. Frank Garrard recalled: “But shortly after their departure, he told the nurse that he felt trouble or pain near his throat and he had just taken her hand to show her where he felt the pain and she said he gave the slightest shiver and passed out, his death being very quiet.” Francis Robert Burdett Garrard, aged twenty-eight, had died after three and a half years of illness.

Had Lilly’s wire in the afternoon.

Helen Malon’s diary, October 25 1919

A long sad trip as Eileen and Lilly brought Burdie’s remains to the Coast for burial — Boat to Nelson, train to Vancouver, boat to Victoria. They arrived in Victoria on October 30 1919, a cold day with hard frost. Mrs. Malon took Eileen and Lilly to lunch at Terry’s Drug Store. On the night of November 1 1919, the journey continued by “Maquinna” to Alberni, where Burdie’s sisters Ethel and Enid got on board. The boat arrived in Tofino at 7am on Monday morning, November 3 1919. It was raining. Frank Garrard recalled “The service was held in St. Columba and the coffin taken in the Life Boat [to the cemetery at Morpheus Island.] A headstone with coping was put at the grave by Eileen and stone by the Canadian government.”

Burdie’s burial was arranged by the Clayoquot Sound Branch of the Great War Veterans’ Association and at a later date, an official Canadian Expeditionary Force headstone for Francis Robert Burdett Garrard was installed at his grave. Note — A picture of the official headstone appears in the “Doing Our Bit” military and family history website: Serene and Secluded: Tofino’s Morpheus Island Cemetery) featuring WWI researcher Steve Clifford’s visit to Morpheus Island. For additional photos and information on the two other Clayoquot Sound WWI graves on Morpheus Island, please see my feature on my visit to the cemetery.

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard (1891-1919) headstone, Morpheus Island Cemetery, Clayoquot Sound

This is the headstone that Burdie Garrard’s family placed at his gave: “Which came out of great tribulation.”

The full quote is from Revelation Chapter 7: “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (King James Bible Version)

In December 1921 Eileen and her mother left Vancouver Island and moved to the Isle of Wight and Jersey, Channel Islands. During this time, Tofino had become part of the Portsea Parish in England, and sent a “missionary”, Arthur Munson (from the Isle of Wight) who had enrolled in theological college after a distinguished military service. Rev. Munson boarded with the Garrards and was a popular member of the Tofino community. In November 1928, Eileen Garrard and her mother returned to Victoria. Seven months later, Eileen married Arthur Munson. It’s not clear if she had met him while on the Isle of Wight, or back in Victoria. In any event, the Garrards clearly had a hand in matching their “daughter” with their close friend.

This story is connected with “More than a dishwasher” about Nursing Sister Lillian Annie Garrard.

Sources

  • Details of Burdie’s wartime experiences come from the Canadian Expeditionary Force service files at the Library and Archives Canada.
  • Frank Garrard quotes and letters quoted come from Frank Garrard’s memories written in the early 1940s, copy at the British Columbia Archives.
  • Quotes from Helen Malon come from her diary, copy shared by her grand-daughter Joan Nicholson.
  • Thank you to Colin Nicholson for sharing photographs of Burdie on the beach and of Mrs. Malon and Eileen Abraham. These come from details of larger group photos taken on Vargas Island circa 1912.
  • Thank you to Ron Macleod for sharing the photograph of the Tofino Lifeboat, taken by Bert Drader circa 1912.
  • Thank you to Margaret Stacey and Shirley Harrison for sharing portrait photographs of Burdie and Noel Garrard in WWI
The Garrard family plot at Morpheus Island Cemetery, Clayoquot Sound. “Burdie” Garrard is buried next to baby brother Edward and parents Frank and Annie. I visited the Cemetery in March 2019.