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Chaplain’s body washed up on the shore of Ushant island

The following is an excerpt from a letter from Peter Gower to The Maple Leaf about six people from Kingston who were drowned in the sinking of the HMHS Llandovery Castle, which includes the following details about Hon. Capt. Donald Macphail, Chaplain. The complete story will appear in The Maple Leaf, due out in early December.

Donald MacphailDonald MacPhail was born on 23 April 1864 in Perth, Ontario. He was the husband of Louisa, and lived on 35 King St. West in Kingston, Ontario. He graduated from Queen’s University in 1889. By 11 July 1916 when he attested, he was working as a Presbyterian Minister. He had served in the 37th Militia Regiment (Haldimand Rifles), the 72nd, 27th, and 38th battalions and was serving with the Chaplaincy Service on board HMHS Llandovery Castle when it was attacked by a German submarine on 27 June 1918. He drowned, age 54, and was survived by his wife and several daughters, including Katherine.

MacPhail’s body was carried by the currents from the south coast of Ireland where the attack took place to an island off the west coast of France at the southernmost end of the English Channel. In trying to visit all the graves of Kingston’s First World War dead, I had to make a special trip to the Atlantic coast of Brittany to find Lampaul on Ushant (Ile d’Ouessant).

I drove 575 kilometres from Rouen, through countryside with familiar Second World War names, but far from the Western Front of the Great War. Next morning, the ferry took me from Brest to the island, and I then walked along D81 to Lampaul. It was not difficult to find St. Pol church, a huge building in a small village, with the graveyard behind it. There are eight Great War burials there, including the Reverend Donald George Macphail, whose body washed ashore on 1 September 1918.

I wondered if I was the first from Canada to ever visit his grave. I weeded it, paid my respects to all, and walked around much of the island before catching the ferry back to Brest. It was a strange, quiet and moving day, far from the battlefields, but a piece of land where those who served and died for us are remembered.

The photo of Macphail in his Highland uniform was colourized by David Fuller.

David Fuller

Writer, historian and baseball guy. Also managing editor of the branch magazine, The Maple Leaf