LIEUTENANT JAMES MCDONALD MC
2ND SEPTEMBER 1918 AGE 40
BURIED: TIGRIS LANE CEMETERY, WANCOURT, FRANCE
James McDonald was a married man, a fact which provides a clue to his inscription. It comes from Wordsworth's poem 'Character of the Happy Warrior'. The poem asks the question - "Who is the happy warrior? Who is he that every man in arms would wish to be?" - before enumerating all the noble and honourable qualities that make a man a good soldier, describing him as someone who can withstand the 'storm and turbulence' of warfare but:
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! which, whereso-er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love: -
And 'much to love' meant he had much to lose, which explains why in Wordsworth's eyes he was 'more brave' than those who were not family men.
More than one inscription quotes from Wordsworth's poem, and the term 'happy warrior' had passed into general usage as a description for an all-round good sort. Presumably none of the people who quoted from Wordsworth's Happy Warrior were familiar with Herbert Read's poem of the same title:
His wild heart beats with painful sobs
His strain'd hands clench an ice-cold rifle
His aching jaws grip a hot parch'd tongue
His wide eyes search unconsciously.
He cannot shriek.
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket.
I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.
This is the happy warrior,
This is he ...
McDonald had been born in Scotland in 1878 but by the time he enlisted in September 1915 he was a grocer in Vancouver, British Columbia. He served with the 72nd Battalion Canadian Infantry and arrived in France in August 1916. Severely wounded in his right foot and right temple, he was out of action for the early months of 1917. In July 1918 he went home on leave to Dumbarton in Scotland, returning to the front on 17 August. He was killed just over a month later.