This is Uncle Montagu Allan, the "Laird" of Montreal. He is in the uniform of the Colonel of the Canadian Black Watch. After WWII, my uncle Tommy Bourne was also the Colonel of the same regiment.
The Montreal that Grandfather Alec was leaving this weekend was centred around about 50 Scots families. They ran the banks, the railroads, the industry and the fiancial system. All the major companies that would evolve into Canada were started by these few families.
Like Rome in the peak of the Republic, these families were also carefully intermarried in a dyanstic way. So Uncle Montagu's uncle had married his daughter Nina to the son of his main business partner. My own family, the Paterson's seemed to be connected by marriage to most of the inner circle. We were not the wealthiest but, like the Claudians in Rome, we were among the oldest families having arrived at first with General Wolf in 1759. The big money tended to marry Patersons! (Wish it were true today :))
Alec's mother, Nina's daughter, had been brought up in the Allan family as her mother had run off with another man and had been banned from ever seeing her daughter again!
The social and business life revolved around Uncle Montagu. This is his house, Ravenscrag. It was a few hundred yards away from the homes of all the inner circle. My father told me that it was impossible to walk the streets in the Square Mile without meeting a relation.
I say all of this to make one point. This community was very tight. It was also imbued with the Scots ideal of honour. It was entwined with Britain too. The family would spend months a year in England and would routinely entertain the British leadership in Canada. Royalty's second home in Canada was Ravenscrag. They were close. Another Aunt was the life time mistress of the Duke of Connaught, the King's brother. Between the wars, my granny Anna, Alec's wife, was the Prince of Wales daily riding companion.
In every way, this fight was their fight. The Empire was no figment of their imagination and the King was no remote figurehead. This was personal!
So, during these last few days before Alec left with the 800 horses from his extended family, there would have been a social whirl. For, he left not only his mother and father, his two sisters and brother but hundreds of cousins. Like in the novel War and Peace or Gone with the Wind, the community got behind their boys and men.
Little could they imagine what would befall most of them.
And the men were not the only ones who decided to go to Europe and do their bit.
Here is Aunt Marguerite Allan
She and Uncle Montagu decided to spend the war in England to be close to the men. She was to open a convalescent home for wounded officers. Both Alec and his brother Hartland would spend time there. She would take her two younger girls Anna and Gwendolyn. Her son Hugh was at Eton already. Her older daughter, Martha would become an ambulance driver at the front.
Many other families from the Square Mile made the same decision. They wanted to be close to their men and had the financial ability to do this. As we will see, some paid a very high price for this decision as several were to sail on May 1915 on the Lusitania.
So today was Alec's last day in Montreal until the end of 1918. At least he would make it home. Most of those in the batteries of the 2nd Brigade would remain forever in France. For those families that did not go to England, tonight was the last night that they would ever see their son, father or brother.
As I write these words, I think of my own son and daughter and my nephews, nieces and cousins. I tremble as I think of what it must have been like to lose nearly all of them. Thankfully we can never know the future. And at the time, it seemed like a great adventure.
It would have been impossible not to go. Unlike today, when elites shirk their responsibility, then the Scots of Montreal put everything they had on the line. This was their sense of the responsibility that they had. After all they were Scots. Honour and Empire was everything to them.
Tomorrow, Alec, and his battery, will board a train that will take them to Valcartier camp where 30,000 men in tents assemble. In just over a month they will board a flotilla of ships and sail for England. The First Contingent will have been raised in Canada and landed in England in 3 months.
The full list of ALL men in the first Contingent is here