Lieutenant Colonel R. Bickerdike, D.S.O.
87th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) Battalion
But I speak feelingly on this question, as I have a son, two grandsons and seven nephews at the front–that is, I had seven nephews at the front, but two have been killed and two badly wounded.
(Robert Bickerdike, Sr., House of Commons Debates, 2 May 1917, 1015)
Robert Bickerdike Jr. was a graduate of McGill University and a Montreal civil engineer. Born on 30 September 1869, he was the son of Robert Bickerdike Sr., Liberal MP for St. Lawrence (1900—1917). The elder Bickerdike was a leading philanthropist, humanitarian and outspoken opponent of the death penalty. During the conscription debate of 1917, the elder Bickerdike broke with long-time friend Wilfrid Laurier in support of the Military Service Act.
After the outbreak of the Great War, Bickerdike Jr. joined the 58th (Westmount Rifles) Regiment and helped to recruit for the 23rd and 60th Battalions. In September 1915, he was commissioned as an officer with the 87th Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Frank Meighen (later Lieutenant Colonel Rexford).
Captain Bickerdike fought with the 87th through some of the bloodiest battles of the war including the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and Cambrai. On 21 October 1916, he was shot in the neck at the Somme and evacuated to England. The forty-seven year old Bickerdike returned to the field in February 1917 with a promotion to major. He was twice mentioned in dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order in January 1918.
Several months after the armistice, Bickerdick was promoted to lieutenant colonel and took command of the 87th Battalion in March 1919. He led the troops home following demobilization in June. He died in Montreal on 9 November 1958.
In the House of Commons, Bickerdike Sr. explained the cost of military service on his family:
I have no doubt that few the members of this House understand the nature of shell shock and the results which it causes. I do, a little. A grandson of mine was blown up by a shell at the battle of the Somme which took place several months ago, and he has been in an English hospital ever since and has not yet quite recovered. My grandson’s nerves are in a very shattered condition, and I question very much if he will ever be the same man again…
The Liberal MP cited the example of his grandson to argue that similarly affected soldiers could “hardly be accounted responsible” for homicides or other crimes. For Bickerdike Sr., the psychological effects of the war confirmed his belief in the immorality of capital punishment.