On May the 18th, Gwen's body is found. She is labelled Body 218. A member of the family has to see it and confirm her identity. It can only have been Hugh or Martha, or maybe both, who looked upon the face of their dead sister. She had been in the water for days.
This is what it may have been like. (An unidentified woman)
I am sure that Gwen's dead face would haunt Hugh.
Anna will never be found.
Did he see them at night as he stared at the ceiling alone in his bed? Did he see them trapped in the wreckage of the Lusitania? Did he wonder about their last minutes?
Did he hear their voices? Did he remember them charging around Ravenscrag in Montreal? Did he remember them all together in those magic summers in Cacouna?
Now he knew for certain that he would never hear or see them again. How hard this is?
In one day, May 7th, Hugh's boyhood is over.
I recall the same feeling when my own father died unexpectedly aged 55. I was 31 and very much his son. He was in charge. Then he was gone. Suddenly the entire responsibility of my family fell upon me.
It would have been like that for Hugh.
His father is not in England yet. There is no telephone. His father will not be able to arrive for at least a week and even then, he too will be shaken by his loss and his fears for Aunt Marguerite. For now, Hugh is in charge. There is so much to do.
His mother is in a state of collapse. Not only is she badly injured in body but also in spirit. She has two nurses in attendance. But they can help only with her body. Who can help her in her grief? She needs her son.
There is so much to be done about daily living. Marguerite has lost all her clothes and possessions in the sinking. She has a new home to settle at Encombe. There is an endless list of things that have to be done. Emily and Annie, her maids, can only do so much and they too need emotional support. Someone has to be in charge.
Any of us who have settled a dead person's affairs know of the endless list of official things that have to be done. Not the least he had the immediate the care of the body of his dead sister and making the arrangements to send her home to Canada.
Then there is the vast Allan family. All need to be written to. Then there are the thousands of people, connected to the family. All need to be written to.
I am certain that Martha played her role here but there is no doubt in my mind who was ultimately responsible. For, days after the Number 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) arrive in Shorncliffe on May 15th, she is successful in joining the unit as a full Nursing Sister. She attests on May 24th and ships out on June 15 to France. There is little doubt in my mind that Col Birkett and Henry Yates, who had had to refuse her before the sinking as just another unqualified rich girl, were able to justify taking her on. We hear no more from Nurse Gasse about how awful Martha was.
More on Martha in another post.
Hugh, aged 18, is in charge.
But in spite of all this pressure to support the family, Hugh is also being pulled by another force. The call of the war pulled strongly on Hugh. This was more than a patriotic duty, it was a tribal call of honour.
After the the 2nd Battle of Ypres, it is clear that this war will not end soon. It is also clear that the price to be paid will be a steep one. Hugh has already lost two first cousins, MacKenzie's. He has lost his friend Guy Drummond. His other first cousin, Alec Paterson, has survived Ypres and is now in battle again at Festubert.
All his school friends at Eton, and all the young men of his class, are going to the front. His best friend, Victor Cazalet, has just signed up as has his elder brother Edward.
Nearly every Etonian who attended from 1890 onwards signs up. 5,650 Etonians will serve in WW1. 21% of them will die. The same is true for every Public School in England. It would be impossible to be a leader in any of these schools and hold back.
At Eton, as in Montreal, he was also a prince. He had been a member of "Pop". Pop is the elected body of the elite of the school. His best friend, Victor Cazalet, was President of Pop. In mid 1915, Victor was also about to sign up and join his elder brother Edward. Edward was to die. Victor lived to be killed in WW2.
Honour demanded that he serve.
In Canada it was the same. Percival Molson was taking 400 men from McGill to serve as replacements in the Pats. Every man of his class was going to France. No one was staying home.
Does he support his parents or does he go to the front?
There are mitigating circumstances. He and his parents have already lost two children. This is a choice that faces many young men with siblings that already were serving or had been killed.
The parents are torn as well. Who would not wish that one son may live? But at what price in honour could that life be saved? His first cousins the MacKenzie's in Toronto face the same issue. Their first two boys are killed but they cannot stop their third and last son from signing up. He survives.
In the end, the Allans reach a compromise. For 4 months, Hugh stays at Encombe, next to Shorncliffe Camp, and supports his mother and father. At the end of 1915, Hugh officially joins up in his father's regiment. His father also joins up at the same time!
Hugh stays on for a while as an instructor in a safe job. But as 1916 moves on, he cannot resist the call.
He joins the RNAS, The Royal Naval Air Service, as a pilot. The life expectancy of a second lieutenant in the infantry was 6 weeks. The life expectancy of a new pilot was a matter of days.
Why? Why does he sign up for certain death? How do his parents support this?
The answer is honour.
His mother can no longer put herself ahead of the mothers of so many of her friends who had already lost their own sons. How could she be in the same room as her friend Julia Drummond? Or meet with Caroline Kipling?
His father, the Colonel of the Royal Canadian Highlanders, Guys' unit, could not look himself in the face and spare his own son. He could not meet with his cousin Hammie Gault who was wounded again in 1916 and who will then lose a leg and who will still return to the front with a prosthesis.
And most of all, there had been the death of his parent's closest friend, Henry Yates. This I think clinched it.
Yates was the 2nd in Command of the Number 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill). He was 50 years old. He had been living in a tent, close by to Jack McCrae, and had been working non-stop like McCrae. In late 1915, he collapsed with fatigue and a chest condition. He was invalided to the England. In November 1915, Hugh Allan picked him up from hospital and took him home to his parents.
My grandfather Alec was there too for 10 days on his first leave of the war. Alec spent most of his leaves with the Allans who treated him like a son. Hugh would surely have stayed up late talking with Alec about what war was really like. It must have been mildly embarrassing for him I think.
Yates spent that Christmas with the Allans. But, on Boxing Day December 26, he fell gravely ill again and had to return to hospital where he died 22nd of January 1916.
As Hugh had seen the face of his dead sister, he now saw the dead face of his father's best friend. Dr Yates had died for his country just as any solder killed by a weapon.
Yates and Uncle Montagu were very close. Yates younger son was Montagu's godson and was called Montagu. Yates himself had lost his eldest son from an illness when he served as a naval cadet.
How close can be seen by what happens to Yates after his death.
There are only 2 Canadians that died in service in WW1 whose bodies were returned to Canada. One was as a result of a devoted mother who had her son's grave in France robbed, the other was Henry Yates. Montagu arranged for Henry to go home on an Allan Line ship. That is how much the Allans loved Uncle Henry.
This was the final straw for Hugh and his parents. Honour demanded that Hugh take his place in the line of fire. In 1916, Hugh leaves the army and joins the Navy as a fighter pilot. In July 1917, he is killed on his first mission.
Hugh's response is so typical of most men at that time. It was better to die with your tribe and then to survive them. Worst of all, you could not be like the Chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, and use your position to get in the lifeboat.
Hugh fulfilled his duty to his parents and to his class.
Today in our PC world when people scorn the very idea of honour, the hymn O Valiant Hearts is hardly ever sung anymore. Some people have tried to ban it. But when I hear these three verses, I know them to be true. Those who answered the call then and those parents who supported their sons, made this decision as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. They wished it could be otherwise but they went all the same. They went as a junior officer knowing that death was the most likely outcome.
Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human way,
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self same way.
Still stands His Cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.
These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God:
Victor, He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice
This was the metaphor that gave them meaning and hope. Maybe only the hope that they might be reunited after death.
The price of Honour was paid in full measure.