Angus Sutherland

"In the presence of shellfire I could make no progress but would fall to the ground screaming like a baby, and start shaking like a leaf."

Angus Sutherland—preacher, family man, war hero—was a pious man who loved his craft. But due to ailments brought on by the Great War, in his mid-thirties, Sutherland had to resign from ministry with the Presbyterian Church.

At twenty-nine-years-old, Angus Sutherland would not have been pressured, as the younger men were, to go to war but, indeed, he still chose to do so. “If I were to guess I would suspect that [his faith] played a role in influencing that decision,” said son Robert Sutherland.

Sutherland was born in 1886 and grew up in northern Scotland on a sheep farm. He moved to Canada in 1911 and worked briefly for the Grand Trunk railway in Montreal. But when he felt called to ministry, he quit his job. He decided to study with the department of Theology at McGill University and while he was a student there, before the war, he trained with the Black Watch Highland Guards. Angus enlisted with Canada’s oldest military regiment—the Canadian Grenadier Guards on November 12th, 1914.

The History of the Canadian Grenadier Guards by Duguid Fortesque (1965) makes reference to Sutherland several times. The author presents him as an essential contributor to the regiment’s efforts: “at Vimy Ridge Sgt. Sutherland led the third wave of the A Company, whose job was mopping up after the first two waves, and was expected to reach the enemy fourth line.”

He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1918.

As a testimonial to his outstanding work exhibited while in charge of the 4th Div. Pack Train at the Battle of Passchendaele, he was recommended for the Military Cross—but he never did receive the prestigious award.

Sutherland was hospitalized on several occasions during his time with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He contracted many illnesses and was wounded frequently —typhoid, bullet wounds, head injuries and influenza were just some of his many afflictions. After he was honourably discharged from the army in 1919 it became clear, however, that he suffered also from a condition that was more elusive—shell shock.

When applying for an invalid pension he said, “true I was never in hospital for shell shock but that fact did not prevent my having it in a very pronounced way. In those days we carried on until we were practically in before reporting to the MO…in the presence of shellfire I could make no progress but would fall to the ground screaming like a baby, and start shaking like a leaf. The very sound a shell approaching in the air would cause me to fall down helplessly and huge the earth.” He was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that his son suggests was linked with his wartime past. He had difficulty speaking for the rest of his life.

“When he was ill and couldn’t sing anymore he would still go around the house humming hymns to the best of his ability …He was unable to shave himself, and I had to do that when I was a boy. He couldn’t control his hands… I know [his religion] most certainly helped him cope,” said Robert.

It would have been very uncommon for a woman to be in a position of religious leadership at the time, but Angus’ wife Violet took over the pulpits for him for a short while after his resignation. Well versed in scripture herself, she would likely have read the sermons written by Angus for his congregation.

“[My father] was very concerned about everybody. He used to go around visiting some of the old people, he couldn’t say much but he would sit with them. He would visit veterans and I would sit there and I could feel the love in the room,” said Robert.

Angus Sutherland died in 1942 at his home in Priceville, Ontario.

“ [He] gave liberally from his meager resources to the work of the Kingdom. He now serves where strife, wounds and suffering are unknown,” read his obituary.

Do you have an ancestor who served in the Great War? Submit their story and it could be included on this Great War Album website.