William "Bud" Downes

Legend had it that when the statue of the Virgin Mary fell, war would end.

“On the top of the church is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding an infant in her arms,” William “Bud” Downes wrote on a postcard he sent to his mother, Lizzie, and father, William, during the Somme offensive in 1916. “The church has been heavily shelled, and the statue now hangs,” Downes wrote. “Now of course that was a myth,” said Bruce Gillespie, the nephew of Downes. “I don’t think the virgin ever fell,” he said, adding that if it had fallen, it probably fell from gunfire.

The statue may not have fallen but the war did end and Downes was relieved of his service as a bombardier. He returned to Montreal where he befriended war widow Lydia McLean. Her husband was killed in action September 1918, a couple of months before the end of the war. “And that’s the tragic thing about Lydia,” said Gillespie. Lydia was married to A.L. McLean, a lieutenant with the 14th battalion Royal Montreal Regiment who was awarded a Military Cross and the DCM before she and Downes became companions. Though they never married, they lived together in their later years.

Downes became a successful stockbroker in Montreal and he worked for Oswald & Drinkwater. He golfed, watched baseball and had an active business and social life. “He was a compassionate uncle—I had lost my father when I was eight, so he was very kind to me,” said Gillespie.

He and Lydia remained in Montreal, although she developed crippling arthritis and passed away in November 1961. “Her hands looked just like claws near the end,” said Gillespie.

Downes was born in Wales, Great Britain, and enlisted at age twenty-three in 1915. He was awarded two service medals. His sister, Annie Dorothy Downes, also enlisted and went to England in July 1918 to serve as a nursing sister after training at the Montreal General Hospital.

Downes died on March 21, 1966 in his seventies at Ste. Anne’s hospital in Montreal.

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