In a letter written in the fall by Private Joseph Edgar McAfee, regimental number 651738 the news that Neil McDermid[i] late of Glamis [Glammis], Ontario was wounded made its way across the Atlantic to find its way into the Paisley Advocate as “news from the front.” In the letter, Private McAfee relates that a fellow comrade of the 18th Battalion simply states, “N. McDermid got wounded in the leg.” Little did the readers know at the time of writing or imagine the future fate of Private McDermid.
This newspaper also reported dutifully on September 25, 1918:
The McDermid family from Glamis appears to be an active influence on the local community. The Paisley Advocate has several mentions of the McDermids in the paper from 1914 to 1918 with the activities of a J.A. McDermid with agricultural matters and winning entries in agricultural fairs being noted. In addition, an area near Glamis was called McDermid’s Grove and there was one event held there:
“The annual union picnic of Elderslie Sunday School Association will be held in McDermid’s grove at Gillies Hill on Tuesday July 4th. In addition to the usual outing and entertainment, there will be arrangement made to raising a sum of money in aid of overseas Y.M.C.A. and Prisoners’ Aid Funds.”
Source: Paisley Advertiser. June 26, 1918.
The goings on of Kate [Katherine] McDermid, Neil’s sister, seemed to be of particular interest as the Paisley Advocate reported her comings and goings faithfully.
On May 13, 1915 it reported, “Miss Bertha Moniton and Miss Kate McDermid motored to Port Elgin on Monday night and returned on Tuesday in time for school.” A wonderful touch regarding the snippet about Kate returning to school in time. Two young women traveling about at this time would be quite progressive and there is a good chance they still where in high school.[iii] Three years later, on May 29, it reported, “Miss Kate McDermid returned to London on Tuesday.”
Not to be left out, her sister, Jean, made the paper too on July 22, 1915, “Mr. and Mrs. Nesbitt made a visiting tour of Chesley and Markdale, leaving Miss Jean McDermid in charge of the store in [their] absence. The latter has since gone to London to accept a position.”
As can be seen, the Misses McDermid moved to London, Ontario sometime in 1915. The reason for their move to London is not available to us but their mother, Christena, was alive up until some time after Neil’s enlistment on April 3, 1916, as she is listed as his next of kin (Mrs. Angus McDermid, widow) and would die in 1918. He later names his sister, Jean, as the recipient of his separation and assigned pay of a combined value of $40.00 per month, approximately $750.00 in today’s currency. By 1918 they had completed the disposal of their household and had fully established residence in London at 7 Ingleside Drive.
With the death of their mother on June 14, 1918, the sisters had not need for the family effects and made a clean cut from Glamis by selling these effects as reported in the Paisley Advertiser, “The Misses McDermid who are having a sale of their household effects this week are leaving later for London.”[iv] Having finalized their disconnection from their hometown, their brother Neil would follow.
Private McDermid was wounded on August, 27, 1918, a particularly hard day for the 18th Battalion, as it sustained 15 men killed and 150 wounded at operations near Guémappe, France. That August was particularly hard on the Battalion as it sustained approximately 131 men who died of the results of action.
He was wounded left hand and leg and this blighty took him to 2nd Western General Hospital, Rusholme, where he had foreign bodies removed from his wounds and by October 9, 1918, was discharged to convalesce at Woodcote Park in Epsom. Having been discharged on December 16, 1918, he moved to Western Ontario Regimental Depot at Witley. There he got into a spot of bother, and he, along with so many men of the CEF, ended up needing treatment for gonorrhea at the Canadian Special Hospital at Witley. This treatment lasted from January 4, 1919 until April 9, 1919, for a total of 84-days. There was a short “intermission” from March 14 to 27, but it appears Private McDermid needed more treatment to resolve his medical issue.
The war over and now that he was cleared of this social disease, he was allowed to return home and was discharged from military service on May 31, 1919, at London, Ontario.
His newfound civilian life would not last long.
On Sunday a gloom was cast over this entire community when the news of the very sad and sudden death of Pte. Neil McDermid was learned. Neil was one of our home boys here who recently returned from Overseas. He went to Toronto to attend the Exhibition. On his return from Toronto he decided to attend [the] London Fair. On his arrival in London on Thursday he took a room at one of the army huts, as was his custom while in the city. Some of his friends were with him Friday and he was in his usual health and spirits. On Saturday he complained of not feeling well but was not though serious[.] [On] Sunday morning his lifeless body was found on his cot death being due to heart failure. His death was a severe blow to his sisters who had not known he was in London. His youngest sister Miss Katherine was here on her holidays. On Monday morning his sister Miss Jean accompanied his remains from London to Kincardine and internment was made in Tiverton cemetery. He was buried under Military Order. He leaves to mourn his sad and sudden demise one brother Dan[v], in Calgary, Albert, and two sisters, Misses Jean and Katharine of London. To these we extend our very deepest heartfelt sympathy.
Source: Walkerton Telescope. September 18, 1919.
Inexplicably, Private McDermid was to die of “heart failure.” Though we cannot know the accuracy of this claim it, in no way, limits the tragedy that was to befall the McDermid family. Their father, Angus, died in 1907, to be followed by the mother in 1918. The sisters now were alone, their young brother who served faithfully, along with others who also joined the 160th Battalion and then saw active service with other units, like the 18th Battalion, returned to only suffer a premature death. His war wounds and his other illness were probably not contributory to his death, but his father died at 45-years old, perhaps from a cardio-vascular related issue.
In death, the connection to the homestead was strong as Private McDermid was buried at Tiverton Cemetery, only 10 kilometers from Glamis.
It must have been a long and lonely train ride for his sister, Jean, as she took his remains home. One wonders of the service, with full military honours, compensated for a loss so young.
[i] Records, such as the family gravestone, show the spelling as MacDermid. All other documentation has it as McDermid.
[ii] Walkerton Telescope. September 12, 1918. Contributed by Jim Kelly.
[iii] The author was not able to determine the ages of Christena, Kate, and Jean McDermid at the time of the writing of this article.
[iv] Paisley Advocate. June 26, 1918. Page 8.
[v] This name is reported in error. According to Private McDermid’s medal card his brother, Donald, resided at 2426 1st A. East, Calgary, Alberta.