Alexander Grant MacLachlan

As the man yawned and stretched, a shot rang out. It was a sniper. MacLachlan watched helplessly as the top of the sentry's head exploded.

In his later years Alexander Grant MacLachlan—who stood barely five and a half feet tall—would joke that he only survived the war “by being short.” He must also have been incredibly lucky, as he survived numerous firefights, including the Battle of Sanctuary Wood, Belgium, in June 1916.

Born to missionary parents in Smyrna, Turkey in 1896, MacLachlan tried to enlist in 1914 while underage but was rejected. After studying engineering at Queens University for less than a year, he enlisted in spring 1915 with the First University Company, reinforcements for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

In summer of 1916, he was transferred to the British Army due to his fluency in Greek and put to work in the intelligence unit that was planning the Salonika campaign against Turkey.

While MacLachlan did not often talk about his war experiences, he did share stories with his family—some humorous and some horrifying. Once, while on sentry duty, he heard strange noises coming from a nearby overturned wicker basket. Fearing it might be a hidden German, he readied his bayonet, only to discover a stray cat.

On another occasion, MacLachlan went to relieve a fellow sentry. As the man yawned and stretched, a shot rang out. It was a sniper. As MacLachlan watched helplessly, the top of the sentry’s head exploded and he crumbled to the ground.

“My grandfather held the dying comrade in his arms until he died,” said Tim Soper, MacLachlan’s grandson. “How does a man experience such a thing and not be changed forever? My mother remembers that he would wake at night from terrible dreams. What haunting memories did he keep from us forever?”

After the war, MacLachlan returned to Kingston, Ontario, where he lived until he died in 1973.

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