Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthNovember 14, 1883
Place of BirthEmerson, Manitoba
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinLachlan Lamont McPhail (father), Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingRailroad conductor
Service Details
Regimental Number439270
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMay 25, 1915
Age at Enlistment31
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathMay 13, 1976
Age at Death92
Buried AtChapel Lawn Memorial Gardens, Winnipeg

McPhail, Malcolm Nathaniel

Lieutenant Malcolm Nathaniel McPhail signed up with the 52nd Battalion in May 1915 and served for almost four years in England, France and Belgium. He returned to Canada in August 1919.

Malcolm was the oldest son of Lachlan Lamont McPhail (MacPhail) and Mary McIntyre of Kenora, Ontario. Lachlan and Mary were both born in southern Ontario and they were married in Toronto in July 1882. Lachlan was living in Winnipeg before he got married and Malcolm, their first child, was born on 14 November 1883 in Emerson, Manitoba. Not long after that they moved to Rat Portage (now called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. Seven children were born there: John Alexander, Katie, Isabella, Madeline May, Lachlan Lamont (died as an infant), Laughlin Lionel and Elizabeth Victoria. Lachlan worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a builder and inspector of bridges and buildings. When he left the CPR he went into business as a carpenter and contractor and by 1911 he was employed as a warden at the local jail. In 1911 and 1912 he also spent some time in Scotland working as an immigration agent.

The war started in August 1914 and Malcolm enlisted nine months later, on 25 May 1915. He was working for the Canadian Pacific Railway at the time and he signed up in Kenora with the 52nd Overseas Battalion. The battalion was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. On 17 June the Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the unit. They trained there over the summer and fall and left for the east coast in early November, embarking from St. John, New Brunswick on 23 November on the SS California. The men spent 2-1/2 months in England before being sent to France on 20 February 1916, as part of the new 3rd Canadian Division.

Malcolm had been promoted to Lance Corporal in Port Arthur and on 11 May 1916 he became a Lance Sergeant. The first major operation for his unit was the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916), their ‘baptism of fire.’ He was promoted to Sergeant on 1 July and later that summer the Canadian Corps moved south to take part in the Somme Offensive. The 52nd Battalion boarded trains on 7 September and a week later they were in the Somme area. On 16 September they took part in the attack near the village of Courcelette, where they suffered heavy casualties. The battalion was involved in further operations in October before being relieved and moved north to a quieter sector near Arras.

In December Malcolm was sent to the 1st Army School of Instruction, where he spent a month taking courses. He rejoined his unit in mid-January 1917 and on 15 February he received a commission as a Temporary Lieutenant. That spring all four Canadian divisions took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-14 April 1917). A few days after it ended Malcolm became ill with gastritis. He was treated at the Duchess of Westminster Hospital in Touquet then he served some time on base details. He rejoined his unit in May and in late June he was given a ten-day leave of absence. At the end of August he developed trench fever and he spent about two weeks recovering at No. 10 Field Ambulance. From September 1917 to March 1918 Malcolm served as the Town Major in Lozinghem, a village northwest of Lens. Town Majors were responsible for the billeting of troops in towns and villages behind the front lines. They arranged quarters for the soldiers and officers as well as access to baths, the supply of water and the disposal of waste.

Malcolm was back with the 52nd Battalion in the spring of 1918. That summer the Canadians were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare and they were heavily involved in the last months of the war, a period known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. When the Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November the 52nd Battalion was in Wasmuel, Belgium, just west of Mons. The troops proceeded to Mons that afternoon and they stayed in Belgium for the next three months. Malcolm’s unit returned to England in February 1919 but he was kept in France for two more months. He was back in the UK in April and from 7 May to 5 August he served with the Canadian Red Cross Research Depot at Witley Camp. During that time he was Mentioned in Despatches (11 July 1919). By then most of the Canadian troops had returned home and Malcolm embarked for Canada on 13 August on the SS Baltic. He was discharged on demobiilzation on 22 August in Winnipeg. His brother Laughlin Lionel had also enlisted in 1915 and he served overseas with a field ambulance unit.

Malcolm settled in Winnipeg after the war, living with his parents and going back to work as a brakeman for the CPR. After just a month on the job he lost his right foot in an accident, while on a run between Winnipeg and Kenora.

He was married in Winnipeg on 12 August 1922, at age 38. He wife, Constance Paull, was born in Lancashire, England and came to Canada with her family in 1913, when she was 12. Malcolm and Constance had two sons, Donald and Phillip. They spent many years living in Oak Lake, Manitoba, where Malcolm was the owner and manager of the Oakland Hotel. He belonged to one of the early veterans’ associations that became part of the Canadian Legion. He was a member of the Canadian Legion, Oak Lake Branch No. 79 as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans of Canada. His son Donald served in the air force in the Second World War.

By the early 1940s Malcolm and his wife were living back in Winnipeg, He worked as a clerk for CNR then for the Manitoba Telephone System, and he retired around 1964. He passed away in Misericordia Hospital on 13 May 1976, at age 92. Constance died in 1998, at age 91. They are both buried in Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens in Winnipeg.

By Becky Johnson

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