Angus and Ervin McDonald

They went to Kamloops to enlist in the Army but were rejected due to the beef from their cattle being required for the war effort.

When the First World War started in 1914, Angus (July, 26, 1889 – January 21, 1974) and his younger brother, Ervin (March 1, 1893 – August 15, 1986) were living on their isolated 2,240 acre cattle ranch on Lac des Roches in the southern part of the Cariboo district in B.C. with their brother, Donald John (Dan) (June 27, 1891 – March 24, 1954) and their father Archibald Rory McDonald (1839 – 1929). The three brothers were born on a ranch near Colville, WA; Angus and Dan died in Kamloops, B.C. while Ervin died in Vancouver, B.C. News didn’t travel very fast in the Cariboo in those years so it wasn’t until about mid October that they even knew there was a war in Europe; the general consensus was that it wouldn’t last long. Angus and Ervin spent the winter, as usual, on their remote trap-lines. In March 1915 they travelled to civilization to sell their winter’s catch of pelts and discovered that the war was still raging in Europe. They went to Kamloops to enlist in the Army but were rejected due to the beef from their cattle being required for the war effort. The recruiting officer took their names and address and Dan’s, also. They were sent home. Twice more they each tried to enlist but were rejected each time for the same reason. Towards the end of 1917 a letter arrived stating that two of them must enlist but the other one had to stay on the ranch to help their 78-year-old father run the cattle ranch; it was up to them to decide which two enlisted. Their father tossed a coin. Dan lost. He stayed home.

Angus, 28, started the enlistment process Nov. 27, 1917 in Clinton, B.C. and finished it Jan. 31, 1918 at Clinton, B.C. #2138839 Pte. A.R. McDonald was in No. 4 Co., 2nd Depot Battalion B.C., Reg’t Canadian Expeditionary Force. Ervin, 24, enlisted Dec. 12, 1917 in Kamloops, B.C. and completed the enlistment at Victoria, B.C. on January 31, 1918. #2138779 Pte. E.A. McDonald was also in No. 4 Company, 2nd Depot Battalion, B.C. Regiment, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Angus’s second name ’Rory’ was accidentally recorded as ’Roy’ on his Enlistment Paper and as ’Roi’ on his Discharge Paper. Sometimes Ervin’s second name has been recorded as ’Auston’ such as on his Canadian Citizenship Paper. They started their Military training in Victoria; while living in tents during the winter but before Ervin could finish his training he was hospitalized from March 18 to April 22 with cerebral spinal meningitis then he was sent to Ravens Court Convalescent Home near Victoria to recuperate. Too sick to finish his training he was discharged as ’Medically Unfit for Further Service’ on August 29, 1918. He said that he felt that fate had dealt him a dirty blow as he really wanted to go overseas with his brother and comrades.

When his training finished, Angus transferred to the 72nd Seaforth Highlander Infantry Reg’t of Vancouver, B.C. a regiment of men with ties to Scotland; they wore kilts — even in battle. Communicable diseases, with their long quarantine time, delayed these mostly former outdoors men being sent overseas several times; Angus had these diseases as a child in Spokane, WA. While waiting to go overseas, Angus was part of a group of soldiers that supplied armed escort to a valuable ’silk train’ from Vancouver to New York. Finally they left for England. Angus landed in France on September 11, 1918 exactly 2 months before the Armistice and 9 and ½ months after he first enlisted. His first major battle was at the battle for Cambrai Sept. 27 to the Sept. 30. After this fierce battle the ’kilties’ were reduced to 182 men of all ranks but they were victorious. Another major battle was for Valenciennes on Nov. 1st and 2nd. There were other battles plus weeks of routing the Germans out of France. It was said “The Huns tried to evade the hated and feared tartans of the attackers”. Another German phrase for the ‘kilties’ was: “The ladies from hell.” After the Armistice the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders were stationed in Belgium while they waited their turn to return to England on May 5th and then to Canada a month later.

When the 72nd Seaforth Highlander Regiment left England aboard H.M. Transport Olympic on June 6, 1919 nearly 7 months after the war ended, they were the last Canadian Infantry Regiment to leave England. They arrived at Halifax on June 13th to an enthusiastic celebration and entrained that night for Vancouver. When the Regiment reached Vancouver on June 20th a Civic Holiday was declared; the soldiers were discharged. There was a grand celebration but Angus was not there as he had been hospitalized in Montreal for about one week with yellow jaundice; he was not discharged until June 28, 1919. He was only back at the ranch a few days when he was struck with rheumatic fever. During their long months of recuperation both Angus and Ervin often said that instead of Dan losing the coin toss, he actually won, as he was still a healthy man. But at least they both survived the war; Angus had served overseas and Ervin was only prevented from doing so also due to a serious, debilitating disease.

While Dan did not join the Army, maintaining their cattle ranch and producing beef for the war effort with only the assistance of his 78-year-old father and the occasional assistance of some local Indigenous people and a young neighbour, was an all-encompassing job especially being many miles from civilization and with so many capable men off to the war. He worked very hard every day with no time off. Men like Dan McDonald should be recognized and honoured for doing their part for the war effort in Canada.

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