From Clayoquot to Courcelette: Murdo Macleod’s WWI

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. Credit: 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 below 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 Harry Harris from Vargas Island, who Murdo would run into in France during WWI.

A view at Clayoquot in 1914. Credit: 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” (selections from 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.

The Daily Colonist November 23 1916

Murdo spent the next few months at Keighly War Hospital in Yorkshire, where he wrote a letter 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, “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 – 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.

On the evening of Tuesday July 15 1919, Murdo Macleod married Julia Macleod, of Sydney Australia. Julia was the sister of John Macleod, formerly of Tofino (see the canoe photo above). John and Julia Macleod came from Isle of Raasay Scotland but were not related to Murdo. John Macleod had worked with the Royal Engineers, Inland Water Transport Section in Mesopotamia, where he drowned in the Tigris River in July 1917. Julia had just arrived in Victoria and according to the wedding announcement “looked charming in a fawn colored satin gown and carried a bouquet of bridal roses.” Murdo and Julia Macleod made their home in Tofino, where they had two sons, John Ronald and Ian.

Mrs Murdo Macleod and Tofino neighbour Harold Monks on the Maquinna, early 1920s. Credit: 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. In August 1922, Murdo was appointed Dominion Fisheries Officer. Murdo also served as president of the Great War Veterans Association and the Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch.

Murdo Macleod standing left on the Tofino Lifeboat in 1920. Credit: Harold Monks collection

Thank you to Ron Macleod (grandson of Jack Macleod, Murdo’s cousin) for sharing photographs from his West Coast collection. This story originally appeared on the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum website in 2019 as part of an exhibit on Clayoquot Sound and WWI. Read more about fellow Tofino “Pioneer” Joe Grice