By Col Gil Taylor (HCol ret’d) – updated on October 2022
He was cold; he was destitute; he was homeless; on that miserable winter’s night in January 1908, he lay slumped in a freezing Montreal doorway. Disregarded by the two policemen who found him as just another drunk who needed to sleep it off, Trooper James Daly was summarily shipped to the general hospital. It was only when orderly Arthur Hair happened to find Boer War discharge papers in Daly’s jacket that anyone began to take notice.
The blue envelope was his only possession, albeit a proud one, after serving King and country for more than 20 years. Trooper Daly was no drunk: he was in the depths of hypothermia and malnutrition, and he died two days later at the age of 53.
A Veteran who Served the Empire
The facts of this brave soldier’s death were tragic enough, but to add to the humiliation, his unclaimed body was to be turned over to medical researchers with no regard for a Veteran who served the Empire so well.
Arthur Hair could not abide such disrespect, so he and his friends raised enough money to allow the Trooper to be buried with dignity in a cemetery on Mount Royal.
This encounter changed the course of Hair’s life, and with great effort and the support of Montreal’s wealthier citizens, the ‘Last Post Imperial Navy and Military Contingency Fund,’ as they called it back then, was established in April of 1909. The Governor-General became the honorary patron of the fund, and in 1921 the organization was federally incorporated and expanded its operations to cover the entire country.
The first burial outside Quebec took place in Toronto in November 1922, and in 1923, the fund’s profile was further enhanced when Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, Canada’s hero of Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge, became president.
Last Post Fund’s Canadian Field of Honour
The most striking development in the 30s was the establishment of the Last Post Fund’s Canadian Field of Honour in a large cemetery at Pointe-Claire, Quebec. During its inauguration, a major newspaper wrote that it must be “one of the Empire’s most beautiful cemeteries.”
It remains so today, where it is the final resting place for more than 22,000 servicemen and women. The Field of Honour is open to all Veterans of the Second World War, the Korean War, and those who served during peacetime and on special duty. Incidentally, fewer than 26,000 Veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War are living today, along with some 592,000 modern-day Veterans.
The Last Post Fund’s mission is to ensure that no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone, due to insufficient funds. The Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program, administered by the Last Post Fund, provides financial assistance for the funeral, burial, and headstone of eligible Canadian and Allied Veterans. Unfortunately, an undetermined number of unmarked Veterans’ graves remain in Canada, and the LPF continually seeks out and rectifies this unfortunate situation.
Owe a Special Debt of Gratitude
The Last Post Fund has arranged funerals and, where necessary, burials and grave markers for more than 158,000 Veterans from Canada, Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, France, Poland, South Africa, and other allied countries. In addition, in March 2019, the Last Post Fund created the Indigenous Veterans Initiative Program (IVI). Since the program’s inception, 330 unmarked grave cases have been submitted, of which 165 have been approved to date.
No one should be denied a respectful and decent funeral for lack of funds at the end of life, but when it comes to Veterans, we owe a special debt of gratitude to those who have never hesitated to put their very lives on the line for all of us. “To honour and protect in death seems but a small return to those who have protected their country in life.” Arthur Hair, Last Post Fund Founder.
Learn more about the Last Post Fund here.