Alexander Murray

She was left for three years to lament over the minutes leading up to the deaths of her sons.

The pain of losing two of her three sons to war was so unbearable that Jean Murray died of a broken heart at age fifty-five in 1918.

“The death of her sons hit her very, very, very, hard. Her health just kind of went downhill,” her great-grandson, John Calvert, said, adding that Jean’s husband had an accident on the farm and was incapacitated in 1917. “It was all too much for her to take.”

She was left for three years to lament over the minutes leading up to the deaths of her sons, Alexander and John, who died within weeks of each other in spring 1915.

Alexander Murray died while fighting at the Battle of Kitchener’s Wood in April 1915. At the time, he was with soldiers from the 10th and 16th Battalions, who had been ordered to advance to the German lines outside of Langemark, northeast of Ypres, Belgium.

A 10th Battalion diary entry for April 22, 1915, described the scene. “Not a sound was audible down the long wavering lines but the soft pad of feet and the knock of bayonet scabbards against thighs. In C.17.a, a hedge was unexpectedly encountered and the noise of breaking through brought on a hail of bullets, rifle and machine gun fire.”

There was a momentary pause. “Then those unhit burst forward at a fast run and struck the enemy trench,” the diary states.

The attacking Canadian troops headed southwest of Kitchener’s Wood — the wrong direction — exposing them to German fire from several directions. “The enemy were completely taken by surprise and hundreds desired to surrender but owing to the fierceness of the attackers and the large number of the enemy and the fact that some of the enemy continued to shoot, very few prisoners were taken and many lives were lost by the enemy forces,” the diary states.

Murray didn’t make it. He was shot in the gut by machine gun fire and lost in the chaos of battle. To his mother’s dismay, Murray was presumed missing. His body was never recovered.

Alexander Bunyan, Murray’s friend who was bandaging him when he died, later confirmed that Murray was killed in action shortly after midnight on April 23, 1915. “I regretted his death very much as we were great pals,” Bunyan wrote in a letter to Murray’s family.

Alexander’s death came only a few weeks after the death of his brother John, who had died on the last day of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. He had been serving with the the 6th Gordon Highlanders. “(Jean) never really recovered from that. This was a great family tragedy,” Calvert said, adding that Jean’s husband “died a broken man” in 1923.

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