Written by: Peter Melnycky, Historian
In 1935, the chapel unveiled within St. Steven’s College displayed plaques commemorating the war service and sacrifices of its brave associates. Dated to 1923, the first plaque honoured 19 Ministers and 61 Probationers who served during the Great War, as well as eight who “bravely fell”. A separate plaque commemorated “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory” eight students of Robertson College “who fell on the field of Honour” during the war. One individual plaque was also dedicated in memory of Harold G. Riddle of Robertson College who died at St. Omer, France in 1916 and proclaimed Virtute Praeclarus (“Brilliance with Courage”) in his memory.
Among the fallen commemorated by Robertson College was Victor Leese MM. Leese was born on the 19th of February, 1887 at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England to Thomas and Lizzie Leese. He arrived in Canada ca. 1912 and was a student of Robertson College where he received a gold felt “A” from former Premier and University Senator, Alexander Cameron Rutherford, in recognition of his proficiency in soccer.
Leese eventually transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion and finally served in Europe with the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish. His attestation papers listed his residence at Delburne, his trade as journalist, (apparently with the Delburne Progress) and identified his wife Elizabeth Jane of Delburne as his next-of-kin. Leese rose through the ranks, being promoted to Lance Corporal and then Lieutenant. He distinguished himself during the battle of Hill 70 in August 1917 for which he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery.
During his service in the field, Leese continued writing, contributing several articles to Maclean’s, Canadas’s National Magazine. In the May, 1918 issue he published, “Zero Day”, a short account of the battle of Vimy Ridge. The preamble to the piece paid tribute to young Canadian soldiers whose valour at the front was a common daily event:
“The war is unkind to the young soldier. It confuses him. Among other things, it discourages, tempts, annoys, and humiliates him; and finally, if he permits, it educates him. But above all it confuses. It is not what, even in his most sceptical mood, he expected. He is compelled to do things for which he finds no reason. Actions amply sanctioned by his private logic are forbidden.…A trench is the narrowest way through life, and one of the simplest….he may cynically accept that hopeless trench as the fitting symbol of all things military. But if he is a good man he will merely get over it.…..And when he has finished getting over it? Oh! Then he is a formidable, splendid thing. He ceases to wonder if he is a hero or a coward; he knows that he is akin to both, and follows from choice the middle way of duty. War is confusion still; but always there is some simple thing to do. He trusts himself in the face of all that remains unknown, with a blind, modest faith. He knows that his neighbor will not betray him……Chivalry is not dead. At zero hour, on recurrent zero days, it is abundantly reborn—in the man-at-arms, the common soldier. Let the world be glad to find him so magnificently common!”
On October 2, 1918, just over a month before the war ended, Leese was killed at the Second Battle of Cambrai. After his departure for the front, Leese’s wife had relocated to Strathcona, and then to Ashley, Market Drayton, Salop, England. At the time of his death, he left behind his three children: eight-year-old James Barker, five-year-old Hilda Victoria and two-year-old Thomas.
Leese was buried at the Canadian War Cemetery at Tilloy Les Cambrai Nord, France. Tilloy was captured by Canadian troops at the beginning of October, 1918 and the cemetery established on the 13th of that month. The cemetery contains 265 burials from the Great War mostly Canadian, of which 25 are unidentified.
The epitaph on Victor Leese’s headstone as requested by his father reads, “For Ever with the Lord”.
Tennyson, Brian Douglas The Canadian Experience of the Great War: A Guide to Memoirs, Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2013.
Canadian Virtual War Memorial: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/529412
Commonwealth war Graves Commission: https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/529412/leese,-victor/
University of Alberta In Memoriam: https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/in-memoriam/home/victor-leese