01.21.14

Remembering Some Famous Military Figures Associated with Cobourg, Ontario: General Arthur Currie’s Libel Suit

Posted in Cobourg Ontario, North American History, Ontario, World War I at 8:17 pm by admin

Sir Arthur Currie

Sir Arthur Currie (Image from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

As Cobourg strived to return to normalcy following World War I, the resort community garnered international attention owing to a dramatic trial which scrutinized wartime actions of General Sir Arthur Currie, Canada’s highest ranking military officer. After the War, Currie became Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University at Montréal. The retired general brought the $50,000 libel action against W. T. R. Preston, a “politician and publicist;” together with F. W. Wilson, the publisher of the Port Hope Guide.[i] In a June 13, 1927, Guide editorial, Preston accused Currie of ‘deliberate and useless waste of human life’ at Mons on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Specifically, Preston claimed that Currie “‘conceived the mad idea that it would be a fine thing to say that the Canadians had fired the last shot in the great war’” in order “‘to glorify the Canadian Headquarters Staff.’”[ii]

Preston, however, was not the first to censure Currie for the alleged actions cited in the editorial, since similar allegations had been voiced earlier in the House of Commons and elsewhere. Nonetheless, Preston’s editorial represented a breakpoint for Currie, who, until the filing of the lawsuit, maintained a “policy of silence.”

The trial, which the Chicago Tribune pronounced as “perhaps the most extraordinary in Canadian history” and the “second battle of Mons,” opened on April 16, 1928, in the Ontario Supreme Court Assizes at Cobourg.[iii] Thereafter, each day’s proceedings were closely followed by newspapers throughout North America. Finally, on May 1st, “[a]fter days of testimony by Canadian soldiers who fought in the World War,” as the Tribune recounted, the jury entered a verdict in favor of Currie,” to the cheers of “one man” who reportedly rejoiced at his “former leader’s victory.” In the end, while Currie’s courtroom victory helped preserve his public image as a military officer, he derived relatively little monetary compensation from the defendants, since the Court assessed damages at $500 rather than the $50,000 Currie originally requested.[iv]

 



[i] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral: Commanded Dominion’s Forces in War,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1933, 20.

 

[ii] “Defends Conduct at Battle of Mons: Gen. Currie, Examined in Libel Suit, Declares No Canadians Fell on Armistice Day,” New York Times, March 12, 1928, 4.

 

[iii] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral.”; “War Chief will Answer Charge of Cowardice,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 13, 1928, 12.

 

[iv] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral.”

01.11.14

Remembering Some Famous Military Figures Associated with Cobourg, Ontario: Father Francis P. Duffy

Posted in Cobourg Ontario, North American History, World War I at 5:57 pm by admin

Given that 2014 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, it seems fitting to highlight several famous military figures from the First World War who were associated with Cobourg, Ontario.

Father Francis P. Duffy

Father Francis P. Duffy

Among the most notable World War I military figures intimately linked to Cobourg was Father Francis P. Duffy. Born in Cobourg on May 2, 1871, Duffy later graduated from St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Thereafter, he relocated to New York City, where he taught at St. Francis Xavier’s College and was subsequently ordained a priest in 1896.

At the onset of the Spanish–American War in 1898, Father Duffy served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and also as chaplain for the 69th Infantry of the National Guard. Almost two decades later, when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Father Duffy accompanied the members of the 69th to Camp Mills, Long Island, whereupon the group was assigned to the legendary 42nd or Rainbow Division. At the time, Father Duffy was also named the senior chaplain of the Division. The 42nd Division owes its name to the Division’s then Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, who observed that the group, comprised of National Guard units from twenty-six states, “stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.”

In recognition of the intrepid chaplain’s heroic actions under enemy fire during a July 1918 battle,  the United States and France bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre respectively upon the clergyman.

In the decades following World War I, the exploits of Father Duffy and his comrades captured the imagination of the American public. Their exploits even served as the basis for the 1940 Hollywood action-adventure motion picture, The Fighting 69th, starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and George Brent.

 

Father Duffy Square (i.e., the northern triangle of Times Square in New York City) in June 1943

Father Duffy’s indelible influence upon soldiers and civilians alike was also evidenced in May 1937, when a large statute of the beloved chaplain was unveiled on the northern triangle of Times Square in New York City.

Seventy-seven years later, Father Duffy still stands tall at the site, aptly dubbed Father Duffy Square.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Duffy, Francis P. Father Duffy’s Story: A Tale of Humor and Heroism of Life and Death with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth. With an historical appendix by Joyce Kilmer. New York, NY: George H. Doran Co., 1919. Available via Google Books.

“Father Duffy Dead; Won Fame in War.” New York Times, June 27, 1932, p. 1.

Internet Movie Database. The Fighting 69th.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (Image source).

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Father Duffy Square. New York, NY: The City of New York, n.d. (accessed January 6, 2014).

New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs. “42d Infantry Division Story of the Rainbow Patch.” S.l.: New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs, n.d. (accessed January 7, 2014).