John Perry Murray

For John and others like him, the war was still seen as something of an adventure, as well as a duty to fulfill.

The recruiting officer stared hard at the would-be recruit. At five-feet-six-and-a-quarter inches tall, the youngster from Toronto was baby-faced, but certainly big enough to fight.

“When were you born?” the recruiter demanded.

“July 31st, 1897,” came the reply.

And with that, fifteen-year-old John Perry Murray bluffed his way into the Great War.

“He lied— oh yes, he did,” John’s now eighty-year-old daughter, Diane Murray, said with a laugh. “He never said anything to his parents. He just ran away from home when he was fifteen, thought he’d go fight the war in Europe. He was a great one for lying.”

It was March 20, 1916. On the Western Front, the French and Germans were engaged in the months-long Battle of Verdun, during which more than 714,000 soldiers would be killed or wounded. The Conscription Crisis was still a year away, and for John and others like him, the war was still seen as something of an adventure, as well as a duty to fulfill.

In Toronto, recruiters were working overtime to find new enlistees. Streetcars bearing patriotic signage such as “Join the Buffs and Hunt the Huns” rolled through the city enticing men to sign up. It certainly worked on John; he enlisted with the 198th (Canadian Buffs) Battalion and served as a private.

Diane said her father never spoke of his time in uniform. His discharge certificate states that he was discharged in December of 1918 “for medical reasons,” but Diane doesn’t recall her father bearing any scars from war wounds.

When the Second World War broke out in late 1939, however, she remembered her father immediately trying to enlist, only to be turned down for colour blindness. “He was colour blind in the First World War, as well, but they didn’t mind back then,” she said. Undeterred, John—at the time, a chartered accountant on Bay Street—chose to leave his family and job in Toronto to move to Ottawa, where he lived with his sister and went to work with the Victory Loans program.

“He did what he wanted to,” said Diane.

He returned home to Toronto after the war, and continued his accounting career. John Murray died in 1967 at the age of sixty-seven.

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