William Patrick Doolan, MM


The Kingston Whig Standard November 12, 1988





A LOCAL HISTORY IS A complicated -- if very satisfying -- exercise in research and writing, but it has to exist at several different experiential planes if it is to succeed. At one level, the "local" experience fits into the regional, the national and the international as part of the broader economic, social and political picture. At another level, "local" history must also develop the distinctiveness of particular places.

But if the writing of "local" history is to truly capture the essence of place, it must also incorporate the people -- all of them. We cannot write of Kingston's early years without referring to John Ross, Michael Grass and Molly Brant; but what about the Mississauga chief, Mynas, who sold his lands to the Loyalists? The Cartwrights and Stuarts were prominent members of Kingston's nascent society, but so in their way were local worthies such as Bridget McDallogh who ran off with Tim Ghigan, "the lame fiddler ... that was put in the stocks last Easter, for stealing Barney Doody's game cock."

Indeed, local history requires that writers transcend the usual subject-object relationship of traditional scholarship. In writing a community's history, the writer and the subjects are fused together in a joint enterprise of reconstructing the lived-in-past.

All these elements come into play when trying to understand the impact of the First World War -- the Great War on the local community: Kingston's part in an international conflict; Kingston's distinctive military tradition and role; and the impact of the war on the local citizenry. Much of this is accessible in standard archival and library sources, but the more personal experience of the citizen-soldier is usually quite elusive. Luckily, however, we had a little treasure trove of memorabilia to help us.

Plumbing repairs in an attic in a house on Macdonnell Street yielded dozens of postcards, several unlabeled photographs, "Khaki Club" library books, and a few military documents. From these -- together with the official records of Regimental No. 454549 -- we outlined the enigmatic odyssey of one William Patrick Doolan, a Kingstonian who volunteered to serve overseas in the First World War.

Some of this was used in Kingston: Building on the Past as a vignette of a citizen-soldier's war. This stimulated involvement by local readers: Doug and Willa Thompson provided a family picture of three generations of Doolans and a contact with "Paddy" Doolan's surviving daughter, Mary Mellow; Mrs. Mellow has filled in some of the gaps in the family story by identifying photographs and recalling her father's reminiscences; a colleague at Queen's, Ken Russell, reported on Paddy Doolan's decades of service as a technician and character in the department of chemistry at the university; military records provided details of Paddy's military career.

With these reactions, our partial vignette was being fleshed out into a family and social context. William Patrick Doolan's war -- Paddy Doolan's war -- started to come alive not only as a military experience but as part of the family's experience during these harrowing days of The Great War.

Sgt. Doolan of the 21st

In August 1914 William Patrick Doolan, "tanner," was living at 13 Clergy St. West with his wife Alice, the former Alice Maud Leighton. Like many Canadians of the day, he was an immigrant, having been born in Birmingham, England, on Dec. 22, 1889, to a large Irish family. Like other Kingstonians, he could not fail to be aware of the onset of war and of Canada's role in it -- especially as a member of the local militia. Indeed, his was a military family: his father, father-in-law, brother and brother-in-law would all soon be in uniform.

International tensions increased throughout the summer of 1914, and with the inevitability of British involvement, crowds assembled around the Daily British Whig's Bulletin Board. On Aug. 4, the Whig reported: " Kingston has been stirred by the war. News from the front has been eagerly sought. Everybody is talking war. On the streets, in the offices, in the shops, in the stores .... The seriousness of the situation has been realized." The next day, the headlines declared the expected: "All Europe Aflame in Mighty Struggle." Subsequent editions affirmed that Kingston had "war fever," but apart from a few fist fights between local patriots and a few unfortunate "saurkraut-eaters," Kingston was spared the excesses of patriotic fervor that saw burnings and affrays elsewhere throughout Canada.

The local military moved quickly to the qui-vivre: British officers at RMC returned to Britain to join the colors; the RCHA batteries were placed on alert; men of the 14th Regiment guarded such vital facilities as the Cataraqui Bridge, the ammunition depot at Fort Henry, the Barriefield wireless station, Kingston dry-docks and the water supply. Such was the concern that the local populace was warned, "The 14th men are on real war duty, and they have orders to fire on anyone prowling about guarded territory and refusing to make known their business." But apart from reports of a mysterious plane landing and taking off near Barriefield, the accidental discharge of a rifle and feared threats to the grain elevators, there were few real disruptions of the local peace.

There was no doubt, however, that a state of war existed in Canada as well as in Great Britain. And certainly local military preparations underscored this. Kingston was the home-base of the local militia unit, the 14th Princess of Wales Own Rifles. Its facilities and military heritage required a more substantial role, however, and on Oct. 19, 1914, Lt.-Col. (later Brig.-Gen.) William St. Pierre Hughes was authorized to organize the 21st Battalion of infantry to be drawn from the eastern Ontario region. Recruits were billeted at the Armouries, the stables of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, the adjacent Artillery Park and a cereal mill at the foot of Gore Street.

The battalion trained for the next six months, and on May 5, 1915, it received its own colors from the Kingston's Army and Navy Veteran's Association. The Daily British Whig reported that 15,000 people lined Montreal Street to the Grand Trunk Junction Station. As the bands of the RCHA, the 14th and 21st, played The Girl I Left Behind Me, Tipperary and Johnny Canuck's The Boy, the trains rolled out from Kingston en route to Montreal. The next day the battalion boarded the Metagama together with hospital units from Queen's, McGill and Laval universities and, by May 16, was encamped at West Sandling Camp, Kent, as a unit of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. On Sept. 14 of that year it received the order to embark for France.

Paddy Doolan did not leave with the 21st in May 1915. He had enlisted with the 14th Princess of Wales Own Rifles militia in 1899 while continuing to hold down his job in the tannery. His brother, Teddy, had already gone overseas, however, and sent a patriotic postcard from his barracks at Shorncliffe saying, "It won't be long before you will be here for they want more." Teddy also enquired after the "baby." The baby was Mary Doolan, born on Oct 22, 1914. It was Mary who was to receive the dozens of postcards that documented Paddy's experiences in the Great War.


On July 3, 1915, Paddy Doolan signed his "attestation paper" for service with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. He gave his permission to be vaccinated, affirmed that he understood the nature and terms of his enlistment and made this formal declaration:

I, William P. Doolan, do solemnly declare that the above answers made by me to the above questions are true, and that I am willing to fulfill the engagements by me now made, and I hereby engage and agree to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should that war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war provided His Majesty should so long require my services, or until legally discharged. This was followed by a formal oath:

I, William P. Doolan, do make Oath, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth, his Heirs and Successors, and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of all the Generals and officers set over me. So help me God. Three days later, the completed attestation, declaration and oath were certified by the magistrate and approving officer, and Paddy Doolan joined the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.

Following his enlistment in the 59th Battalion, Paddy Doolan was part of the recruitment effort that saw units of the local troops touring Kingston's back-country, visiting farms and enticing young men to volunteer for services overseas -- a duty that did not make him a welcome visitor to the farmsteads of the area. But by April 11, 1916, he had arrived in England and sent a postcard from Liverpool with this assurance to his wife: "Arrived safely. Cannot cable. Don't know where we are going."

Like many other members of the CEF he was stationed at Shorncliffe, where he received instructions in entrenching before proceeding to an NCOs course. On July 11, 1916, he was taken on the strength of the 39th at West Sandling with the rank of sergeant. A month later, at his own request, Paddy Doolan reverted to the permanent rank of private and proceeded overseas to reinforce the 21st Battalion. On August 31 he joined the ranks of his home-town battalion.

With the 21st in Action

By the close of the war, the 21st's colors were to include battle honors for St. Eloi (1916), Somme (1916), Vimy (1917), Hill 70 (1917), Passchendaele (1917), Amiens (1918), Arras (1918), Cambrai (1918) and Mons (1918) -- and Paddy Doolan was to share in several of these engagements.


Within three weeks of joining his unit, Paddy was a casualty. On Sept. 30, 1916, Lance-Corp. Doolan had received several gunshot wounds. Apparently, these were not serious -- if ever gunshot wounds are not serious -- as following a brief stay at the Divisional Rest Station at Warloy, he was discharged back to duty on Oct. 7, 1916. Not until Dec. 4 of that year did the Department of Militia and Defence notify his wife, Alice Doolan, of his condition with a terse

I have the honor to state that information has been received by mail, from England, to the effect that the marginally noted non- commissioned officer was transferred from the Divisional Rest Station to No. 4 Canadian Field Ambulance on October 4, 1916, suffering from gunshot wounds in the hip, shoulder and face. But by that time, Mrs. Doolan was no longer in Canada. Life with a young baby and no bread-winner must have been hard in 1916, and she risked the hazards of an Atlantic crossing to be closer to her husband. Together with her young daughter, Mary, she stayed with relatives at Weymouth, and it was here that she received the limited news provided by a multiple-choice Field Service Card: "I am quite well.... I have received your letter. Letter follows at first opportunity."

January and February 1917 saw Paddy Doolan at a "bayonet fencing course," and on April 12, 1917, Corp. Doolan was again promoted to the rank of sergeant. On Oct. 31 he was granted 10 days leave, rejoining his unit in the field on Nov. 17 -- clearly, arithmetic was not his forte! Christmas was spent in France, and a program for the dinner for the sergeants of the 21st Canadian Battalion established the order of proceedings and the tone of the event: party-goers were warned that there would be "only one fight for each W.O. and Sergt.," that there would be "no issue of whale oil" and that "Stretcher Bearers" would be in attendance. An imaginary orchestra was to play "She sits among the cabbages and peas" and the various other performances included a "Song (If Sober) from Sgt. W.P. Doolan."


Two days later, Sgt. Doolan was ordered to proceed to England for a musketry course at Hayling Island. He returned on Feb. 4, 1918, with the commendation that he was "fit for musketry instructor." He was soon back in action, and a citation dated March 15, 1918, described the events for which he was recommended for a Military Medal:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In connection with a raid on the enemy trenches, this Sgt. showed great initiative and daring in house to house fighting. He led his section with great determination against an occupied house, and owing to his gallantry and personal braveness sic, succeeded in occupying it.  He personally killed several of the enemy, thus allowing the second party to advance. It was largely owing to his gallant action that the raid was a great success.”

The award was reported in the London Gazette on April 25, 1918, but on May 12 Sgt. Doolan was wounded again -- this time, a shrapnel wound to the head, which he described as a real "blighty," and he was invalided back to Britain. A flood of postcards to his daughter, Mary, marked his movement from hospital to hospital -- the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Clarence House in July, the 4th Canadian General Hospital Basingstoke in October. But all of this had been interrupted by a major event. On Aug. 27, 1918, Sgt. W.P. Doolan received a formal invitation from Sandhurst, the Lord Chamberlain, "By Command of the King," to "Admit the Bearer to the State Apartments, Windsor Castle, on Tuesday, 27th August, 1918, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m."


In Kingston, Alice and Mary had returned from overseas. They were much involved in helping the grandparents-Leighton run the Khaki Club in buildings behind the Fire hall on Ontario Street. Soldiers and sailors dropped in for drinks, sandwiches and books while on leave or recuperating from their wounds. The war was to drag on for months yet, but on Monday, Nov. 11, 1918, the first Kingstonian to hear of the Armistice was Columbus Hanley, manager of the Great North Western Telegraphy Company, when at 5:00 a.m. he received the message, "The Armistice is signed." Bells and sirens proclaimed the news, and by 6:30 a.m. the Market Square was full of celebrating inhabitants, students and returned soldiers. The Daily British Whig's banner headlines proclaimed, "The War Is Ended, Kaiser Abdicates, Germany Quits, It's Over -- Over There." Mayor Hughes cabled King George, "Kingston enthusiastic in demonstration. We send loyal greetings and pray God Save the King." Nor was President Wilson neglected. Hughes cabled, "Heartiest greetings and fondest felicitations. Proud of your country's part in bringing about victory. May we long abide together in unity." 

Back in Britain, Sgt. Doolan cooled his heels in Liverpool. He had been notified that he was to be invalided to Canada. Throughout November his daughter received a barrage of postcards letting her know that her father was "fed up with waiting." But on Nov.22 came the message, "Daddy hopes to start for home next week." By Friday, Dec. 20, 1918, he had arrived in Halifax and wrote, "Arrived O.K. Expect to start for Kingston tomorrow (Saturday), and get home Monday." At 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22, a large crowd assembled at the Grand Trunk Station on Montreal Street to meet a hospital train carrying four officers and 37 NCOs on their way to the Queen's University Military Hospital. The Daily British Whig reported the event:

The mayor welcomed the boys on behalf of the city, and spoke of the gratitude of the people of Canada to those who had fought and suffered in order that the war might be won. He assured them that the city of Kingston was proud of the part they had played, and that the people were willing and ready to do all in their power for them in every way. Three Kingstonians were among this contingent, including Sgt. W.P. Doolan. On Feb. 21, 1919, Paddy Doolan -- holder of the Military Medal, British War Medal and Victory Medal -- received an honorable discharge, "being medically unfit for further War Service."

"Lest We Forget" But this did not end the war for him entirely. Like many of his fellow soldiers, Paddy Doolan never forgot the horror, filth and deprivation of the trenches. Nor did he forget his comrades who had fallen. Together with other veterans, W.P. Doolan was a member of the "Memorial Committee" chaired by A.T. Tugwood that sought to establish a permanent tribute to the men of the 21st who had fallen in the Great War.

There had been some recognition. On Dec. 12, 1921, the King's colors of the 21st were placed in St. George's Cathedral. Three days later Baron Byng of Vimy, the former commander of the Canadian Corps and then Governor-General of Canada officiated at the unveiling of the Memorial Tablets and the dedication of Memorial Hall at City Hall. Stained-glass windows commemorated the 254 Kingstonians who had fallen in several theatres of the war: Ypres, April 1915; St. Eloi, April 1916; Somme, 1916; Jutland, May 1916; Sanctuary Wood, 1916; Lens, August 1917; Vimy, April 1917; Passchendale, 1917; Cambrai, 1918; Amiens, August 1918; Scapa Flow, November 1918; Mons, November 1918.

But the 21st merited individual recognition. Mary Doolan remembers pouring over a book of designs with her father and selecting the one that was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1931. On that day, City Park was the scene of an elaborate program of events to mark the unveiling of the War Memorial for the 21st Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF. Pride of place was given to the parents of soldiers killed in action -- especially those of Cecil Boyer of Belleville, the first of the 21st to fall at Messine Ridge. While the military units present stood to attention, the flags veiling the memorial were released by mothers of sons killed while serving with the 21st. Maj. Rev. W.E. Kidd, MC, padre of the 21st, dedicated the memorial to the Glory of God and in the name of fallen comrades, closing with a plea for peace and understanding between the nations of the world. The dedicatory address was given by Lt.-Col. J.C. Stewart, DSO, officer commanding the RCHA. He paid tribute to the regiment and the fallen:

The history of the 21st Battalion is the history of the Canadian Corps, and is inscribed as one of the most precious pages in Canada's history. The position of Canada today in world affairs is very largely due to the name made for Canada by her soldiers in the World War. It is a position for which the 21st Battalion can justly claim her due share. The pipe band of the PWOR -- the regiment perpetuating the 21st Battalion -- played Flowers Of The Forest, and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded by former buglers from the 21st Battalion.

Appropriately, at the banquet held that night at the La Salle Hotel, the toast to "Canada and the British Empire" was proposed by one of Kingston's heroes, Brig.-Gen. A.E. Ross, CMG, MP; the toast to "Our Guests" was proposed by another, William P. Doolan, MM, Esq.

Paddy Doolan died on March 11, 1976, but he never forgot his service overseas some 60 years earlier. Nor would his daughter, Mary, and wife, Alice Maud, who also shared his fears and their own suffering and deprivation during the Great War.


And for years after the Great War, Mary polished his medals for the Friday evening drills with the PWOR, where he continued to serve as sergeant. During these years, while he trained new recruits to his old unit, he was carving out a new career. For some four decades -- after years of independent study -- he served as a much-valued and highly respected technician in the department of chemistry at Queen's. He was sorely missed by faculty and students alike on his retirement. And in 1988 his granddaughter, Kathy Mellow, graduated from Queen's with a B.Sc. Eng. before returning to her unit at Camp Borden as lieutenant in the Canadian Army. A Queen's graduate and an officer too. Paddy must be very proud!


Below, Paddy is shown training troops of the 14th PWOR at Kingston for possible action in WW2


Cataraqui Cemetery
Kingston Ontario


Paddy Doolan's medals


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