Sunday, 4 January 2015

Anna DURIE (1856 - 1933) - Canada

With many thanks to Steve Cloutier from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, for bringing Ann Durie to my attention.

Born Anna Burgess Peel on 13th November 1856 Thornhill, Ontario, Anna's Father moved the family to New Orleans where he edited a newspaper.

After the Civil War the Peel family went to live in Europe where they witnessed the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.  Anna studied French, German, art and music.

In 1880, at the age of 24, Anna married Lieutenant Colonel William Smith Durie in New York.  Durie was much older than Anna.   The Duries went to live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and had two children - William Arthur born on 8th August 1881 and Helen Frances born in 1883.  William senior died in 1885, leaving Anna a widow at the age of 30 with two children to bring up.  She worked as a poet and writer for the publications "Canadian Magazine", the "Mail" and "Empire".  Anna also broadcast her poetry on the radio.  In her spare time she was a volunteer with the Red Cross.  She saw that both her children had private educations.

Arthur went to work for the Royal Bank, Toronto.  When war broke out in 1914, he volunteered for the 58th Battalion and was sent to France in 1916.  Whereupon Anna went to live in London, where she stayed in hotels and sent food parcels from Oxford Street shops to her son on the Western Front.

Arthur was wounded in the spine on 1st May 1916 near Sanctuary Wood, Ypres.  As was the custom in the First World War, civilian relatives of seriously wounded military personnel were permitted to visit them so Anna went to visit Arthur.   When he was well enough, Arthur was sent back to England to a convalescent home in Brighton.  Anna followed and Helen soon arrived from Canada.

Passed fit for military service and in spite of his mother's determination to get him a "safe" job, Arthur went back to the Western Front to rejoin his Battalion after Christmas 1916.  His mother sent him a copy of a collection of poems by Robert Service with which he regaled his fellow officers.   However, Arthur was not properly fit so he was sent to Menton in the South of France to further recuperate and his Mother went to Menton to be near him.

Arthur returned to his Regiment in March 1917 and, vowing that she would not return home until the war was over, Anna went back to London where Arthur joined  her for some R and R in September 1917.   After Christmas leave in 1917, Arthur returned to the Front, this time to Lens, France, where he was killed by a shell on 29th December 1917.

After the war Anna and Helen visited Arthur's grave but from the outset Anna was unhappy about leaving her son in France, so she set about rescuing his body.  It took several attempts and a great deal of letter-writing and arguing but she persevered, stole her son's body and took him back to Canada in August 1925, where he was buried in St. James Cemetery, Toronto.

According to the article in "The Toronto Star", a newspaper report in a British newspaper in 1930 reported that wealthy British people also stole the bodies of their loved ones buried on the Western France and there was a brisk trade in smuggling bodies home.

Anna died in 1933.  Her main published poetry collections are "Our Absent Hero", 1920 and "Wolfe and Other Poems", 1929.

A Soldier's Grave in France by Anna Peel Durie, 1920

Here lies a widowed mother's only son.
O gentle winds! temper the airs of heaven
That they blow softly where his young head rests
In friendly soil, rich-carpeted with bloom:
Scarlet and gentian blue and butter-gold,
Flecked with an English daisy here and there.
He was no dreamer, though he soundly sleeps;
Rather a man in whom the joy of life
Foamed sparkling to the brim;  and when great France
Sent fort her her bitter, wailing cry for help,
(That France which holds him here enclasped in earth)
Eastward he turned his face and crossed the seas,
Laid youth and glorious manhood in the dust,
And so stepped into immortality.

Sources:  "Canadian Poetry from World War 1 An Anthology" edited by Joel Baetz, published by Oxford University, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, 2009.

Canada's Early Women Writers -

Photos:  Google Images