b. 16/09/1890 Lachute, Quebec, Canada. d. 27/03/1960 Nassau, Bahamas.
Thain Wendell MacDowell (1890-1960) was born on 16th September 1890 at his grandparent’s home, The Parsonage, Lachute, Quebec, Canada. His father, the Reverend John Vincent MacDowell, a Methodist minister, married Eleanor Eliza nee Ireland. Thain was one of five children. Thain was educated at Maitland Public School, Ontario, Brockville Collegiate Institute, and Victoria College, University of Toronto (BA 1915). While at university, he joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps and also served in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. On 19th November 1914, he joined the Militia as a provisional Lieutenant in 41st Regiment (Brockville Rifles).
Thain was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 38th (Ottawa) Battalion CEF on 9th January 1915 and was assigned to B Company. He carried out his training in London, Ontario. He was promoted to Captain on 19th July and sailed for Bermuda on 8th August, where he suffered from dengue fever. He sailed for England on 29th May 1916, arriving at Plymouth on 9th June. Further training followed, before going to France, landing at Le Havre on 13th August.
He was awarded the DSO for his actions on 18th November in an attack on Desire Trench and Desire Support Trench at Petit Miraumont on the Somme. He led B Company in bombing three machine guns that had been holding up the advance. After severe hand to hand fighting he captured three officers and fifty men. He was wounded in the left hand by a grenade.
His wound saw him evacuated back to England where he was treated at 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester. He was finally passed fit on 27th December 1916, and he returned to France on 14th January 1917. He rejoined the 38th Battalion and was appointed Acting Major while commanding a company on 1st March.
On 9th April 1917 at Vimy Ridge, France, Captain MacDowell, with the assistance of two runners (company orderlies, Pvts. James T. Kobus and Arthur James Hay, both of whom were awarded the DCM for their part) reached the German position ahead of his company. After destroying one machine-gun nest he chased the crew from another. MacDowell then spotted one German going into a tunnel. At the base of the tunnel, MacDowell was able to bluff the Germans to think he was part of a much larger force, resulting in the surrendering of two German officers and 75 German soldiers. He sent the prisoners up out the tunnel in groups of 12 so that Kebus and Hay could take them back to the Canadian line. Seeing that he had been fooled, a German prisoner grabbed a rifle and tried to shoot one of the runners. The German was then shot and killed.
He was presented with his VC and DSO by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. He was woundd in his VC action and suffered from tonsillitis a week later, resulting in a spell in No 7 Stationary Hospital in Boulogne. He was granted leave and also contracted trench fever. He suffered a mental breakdown and was evacuated to England. As a result, he relinquished his rank as acting Major and was taken on strength of the Eastern Ontario Regimental Depot on 15th July. He was at Mrs Mitchison’s Hospital, Chelsea until 24th July, when a medical board made him unfit for service and he was granted two months sick leave in Canada.
He spent the next three months at Brockville Hospital, Ontario. His period of leave was extended and he was not found medically fit for General Service on 29th January 1918. He sailed for Britain on 5th February and on 1st March was posted to Headquarters Overseas Military Forces of Canada and to the Canadian Training Centre at Bexhill from 4th July to 25th November. He returned to Canada on 7th December and was involved in demobilisation work. A medical board found he was nervous, tired easily and had difficulty sleeping; he was fit for Home Service in Canada only. He was demobilised on 14th October 1919. He did continue as a Brevet Major in the Ottawa Regiment, and in 1927 transferred to the Reserve of Officers and in 1933 was appointed Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of The Frontenac Regiment at Napanec, Ontario.
Thain was appointed Private Secretary to the Minister of National Defence at Ottawa 1923-1928. He then became director of several mining companies as well as President of the Chemical Research Foundation. He travelled to London for the VC Garden Party in 1920, the VC Dinner at the House of Lords in 1929 and the VC Centenary Celebrations in 1956. On 1st July 1929, he married Norah Jean Hodgson, and they had two sons: Thain and Angus. During the Second World War, he gave lectures to the Canadian Army.
Thain died following a heart attack at Nassau, Bahamas on 27th March 1960. He was buried in the Anglican Section of Oakland Cemetery, Brockville, Ontario. In addition to the VC and DSO, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The medals are held by the University of Toronto Memorial Trust.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, TORONTO, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: OAKLAND CEMETERY, BROCKVILLE, CANADA. ANGLICAN SECTION 3 LOT 112
Bill Mullen – Image of the MacDowell VC Grave in Brockville.
University of Toronto – Image of the MacDowell VC Medal Group.