The WW1 Soldier Who Never Made It To The Front

April 22, 2019.  In researching the stories behind the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, Pieter sometimes discovers that the soldier lost his life BEFORE ever getting a chance to make it into battle.  This is what happened to Private Bruce Sutherland MCKAY (MACKAY) of Albany, the son of David McKay and Almira (Elmira) Harvey.  Born April 16, 1897, according to his attestation papers, Bruce Sutherland, a farmer, enlisted with the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, on March 21, 1918.

Bruce Sutherland McKay 1895-1918 photo from Roma McKay

Bruce Sutherland McKay. (Photo courtesy of Roma McKay collection)

On April 17, 1918 he left Halifax for England, aboard the S.S. Scotian, and arrived in Liverpool, England on April 28, 1918.  That same day, he was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion of the Canadian Infantry.  Unfortunately, he must have gotten ill during the voyage as the next day he was admitted to the Military Isolation Hospital in Aldershot, with a diagnosis of scarlet fever.

Things went from bad to worse for this poor soldier.  While in hospital he developed measles, pleurisy, and bronchial pneumonia.  It was too much for his system and he died in hospital on May 22, 1918.

In most cases, this would be nearly the end of the story.  However, Mrs McKay must have written a letter to the hospital, asking for details on what happened to her son. A letter received from his nurse, Ada Jones, was published in The Pioneer on August 10, 1918:

“Dear Mrs. McKay:

Your letter has been passed on to me, as I was in charge of the ward your poor son died in. First, let me express my deepest sympathy in your great sorrow; it must have been a great shock to you, and there are the times when one seems not able to turn to anyone for comfort or help to bear the burden, unless we know and can turn to Our Father above, and we know He understands and He loves. Now I will try to tell you just what I can. How I wish I could just do something to help your lonely heart.

Your poor boy came in here on the 29th April with scarlet fever. I don’t know if he was very strong at home, but we know camp life is not like home, so this may have weakened his chest, for he developed pneumonia and this eventually took him away from us on the 22nd May at two in the afternoon. I can assure you he was very good and patient. It was a pleasure to do anything for him. At first he was a bit reserved, but later used to speak of the farm he was coming back to. When the days were warm and fine he was carried outside in his bed and would say how some parts reminded him of home, and always spoke very tenderly of his dear mother.

The last three days were the worst he had for pain. The morning he went he often asked if we could help. I tried to tell him how there was One above who could. He said he knew his dear mother prayed for him. At one o’clock he said he felt much better. God was helping him through and was quite conscious till about ten minutes before the end, which was one of the most peaceful ends I have seen, so rest assured, dear mother, your dear son is with Jesus and is looking forward to meeting you there one day.

He was buried in a lovely spot just close to the Military Cemetery with full military honours, where there are a good many others who have sacrificed their lives in this terrible war.

It could not have been possible to have brought him home, for being infectious they would not be allowed to take him on a ship, and I am sure the memory of him in health would be far happier to you than when grim death had come on. Now I do hope this may be a little comfort to you. I just wish I could do something more. May our Father in Heaven put His loving arms around you and comfort and keep you.

Believe me yours very sincerely,

Ada Jones

The cemetery mentioned in Nurse Ada Jones’ letter is the Aldershot Military Cemetery in Hampshire, England.  Graham and Jacqueline Hocking, who live near the cemetery, were kind enough to visit the grave and send photos.  Graham noted that the gravestone inscription lists Bruce Sutherland as MacKay not McKay.

Aldershot Military Cemetery Chapel

Chapel at Aldershot Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Graham Hocking)

ghkneelingbygravestone.jpg

Graham Hocking by the grave of Bruce Sutherland McKay. (Photo credit: Jacqueline Hocking)

Our thanks to Roma McKay for providing a photo of Bruce Sutherland, and to Graham and Jacqueline Hocking for visiting the cemetery and taking photos.  If you have information or photos to share on Bruce Sutherland McKay, please send an email to dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

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