The Vimy Pilgrim

Lieutenant Colonel D.E. Macintyre, D.S.O., M.C.
28th (Northwest) Battalion

At Vimy, Canadians for the first time during the war were a united body. They did what the French failed to do, what the British couldn’t do. They captured the ridge and did it in one jump, in such a manner that it shocked the Germans and caused their leader, Ludendorff, considerable dismay. The French today even are amazed that Canada did that, just as they are amazed that Canada sent 600,000 men to war when she didn’t have to.

(Lt. Col. Macintyre speech, Owen Sound Sun-Times, 9 Apr 1938, 11)

Born on 17 May 1885 in Montreal, Duncan Eberts Macintyre went west at the age of fifteen. He became, as he termed it “a Prairie storekeeper,” as well as land broker and insurance agent in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 28th Battalion in October 1914. He was promoted to captain shortly after the battalion deployed to France and by early 1916 was serving on the general staff with a series of Canadian brigades. He organized and led the 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage, and further helped to cement the battle in public consciousness with his 1967 book, Canada at Vimy

A courageous raider and battalion intelligence officer, Macintyre received the Distinguished Service Order on 15 March 1916:

For conspicuous gallantry when leading an assaulting party after personal reconnaissance . Having reached the enemy trenches, Captain Macintyre acted with great promptness, and later showed great coolness and presence of mind in the selection of a suitable line of retirement.

While attached to the general staff of the 2nd Division, he suffered a serious head wound from an explosive shell on 21 April 1918. Following several months in hospital in England, he was returned to Alberta to recuperate. He was suffering concussion, dizziness, and loss of hearing. Found fit for active duty after six months, he set sail for England on 4 November 1918. He returned to France after the armistice and took command of the 28th Battalion.

After the war, Macintyre relocated to Owen Sound, Ontario. He remained active in veteran associations and worked to kept the memory of the war alive, particularly the victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. He delivered speeches at social clubs and educated audiences with blackboard lectures, illustrating troop movements and the scale of the operations.

By the 1930s, Macintyre’s account of Vimy increasingly emphasized the theme of colony to nation. With the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in France set for July 1936, the Canadian Legion tasked him with organizing a pilgrimage of over 6,000 veterans and their families. “Everyone I met felt that the ceremony at Vimy itself was worth the trip,” Macintyre enthused on his return home.

During the Second World War, his role with the Canadian Legion War Services took the colonel to back to England. His son, Flying Officer John Scott Macintyre, was killed in action over Germany on 23 June 1943. After the liberation of France in November 1944, the colonel visited the Vimy Memorial, pleased to see it had survived intact.

To mark the fiftieth  anniversary of the battle in 1967, Macintyre published Canada at Vimy, based on wartime letters to his wife. Embracing the birth of a nation mythos that he in part had created, the colonel stated in the epilogue, “By this victory Canada achieved at one bound what years of political and commercial effort has not accomplished.”

In a review for the Montreal Gazette, James Ferrabee wrote: “A book of this kind is valuable, because it is written by someone who participated. This particular participant writes in a warmly human way, projecting the mood of men and a country at war.” Recognizing that much had already been said about the national significance of the battle,  Ferrabee concluded, “The historians may argue about Vimy’s place in Canadian history, and whether it has been overplayed. For the soldiers, Vimy or any other battle for that matter, cannot be overplayed.”

On the fiftieth anniversary pilgrimage to Belgium and France in November 1968, Macintyre placed a tablet in Mons to commemorate Private George L. Price, the last Canadian killed just minutes before the armistice. The eighty-eight-year-old colonel died in Ottawa on 14 January 1974.


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