The Prisoner

Major A. J. E. Kirkpatrick
3rd (Toronto Regiment) BattalionAJEKirkpatrick

With ammunition gone, bleeding and bent,
With hunger, thirst, and weariness near spent,
With foes in crowds on every side to hem
Them in, to capture these, God pity them.

Their day was done, their suffering still to come.
They were to know the full and total sum,
Wearily marching to captivity,
How long? God knows! An eternity

(A. E. Kirkpatrick, Toronto Globe, 22 Apr 1931, 4)

A native of Toronto, Arthur James Ernest Kirkpatrick was born on 29 April 1876. He was a graduate of Upper Canada College, twenty-one year member of the Queen’s Own Rifles and married to the daughter of prominent Liberal Party leader William Mulock. Kirkpatrick fought at Second Ypres as second-in-command of the 3rd Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rennie.

During the fighting at St. Julien on 24 April 1915, German troops surrounded two companies of the 3rd. Refusing to withdraw, Kirkpatrick and his men were soon captured. He spent twenty-months imprisoned in Bischofswerda, Saxony. In an interview with the Toronto Star, he explained, “The greatest suffering among the officers was mental rather than physical.” Found to be suffering from neurasthenia, he was sent to neutral Switzerland in December 1916 where his wife, Ethel, later joined him. Kirkpatrick was released to England in October 1917 and returned to Canada in January 1918.

Recounting his experiences as a prisoner-of-war, he went on the lecture circuit and reassured audiences, “Britons never have been beaten and they’re not going to be now.” Speaking at the height of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, Kirkpatrick admitted, “Some people are nervous, some people are downhearted” but declared it was inevitable that the enemy would be “going down.”

“A dyed-in-the-wool Grit,” Kirkpatrick remained active in Liberal politics after the war. In 1921, he nominated his former commander as candidate for Parliament. “Tonight I speak as a man for man,” he announced, “and when I give you the name of General Rennie I give you the name of a man.”

A leading civic leader in Toronto, Kirkpatrick also championed various social causes from police accountability to arming bank tellers to traffic signs to bilingualism to sex education. He anticipated certain progressive initiatives such as public election funding. He reasoned, “If I were Prime Minister of Canada, or Leader of the Opposition, I would not like to have to go to individual companies or individuals for very large sums of money.”

He served as commanding officer of QOR from 1922 to 1925 and honorary colonel from 1936 to 1946. He was Toronto police commissioner from 1938 to 1944 during the controversial tenure of red-bairing police chief and fellow war veteran Lieutenant Colonel D. C. Draper.

He died at Sunnybrook Hospital on 26 October 1955.

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