September 24, 2015 - 9:53 AM
KELOWNA - Jack McMillan's death on a European battlefield 99 years ago resulted in a heartbreak so profound that it's still felt by those who win a scholarship created in his name.
McMillan was one of four brothers from Kelowna, B.C., to fight in the First World War. Three of them died, two on the battlefields of France, including McMillan on Sept. 27, 1916, and one in hospital after contracting pneumonia in the trenches.
No other Kelowna family lost three of their sons to that war.
A $500 bursary, created in McMillan's honour by the Imperial Order of Daughters of Empire in 1927, remains one of the longest continually awarded local scholarships.
"It’s such a tragic story," said Erika Henfling, a past scholarship winner.
"Just think how often the McMillans opened their door to find someone there with a telegram, telling them that another of their boys had died.
"Even after all these years, it's sort of heartbreaking to imagine that."
During the war, 128 men from Kelowna, which had a population of about 2,000, were killed.
News of the war's outbreak in August 1914 was received in Kelowna in a celebratory fashion, with men from the Okanagan heading to the city to enlist for military service.
"The town is gay with uniforms and has a garrison appearance," the local paper reported at the time.
A little more than two years later McMillan was dead at the age of 28.
Before enlisting, he served as a member of the board of directors of a grocery store, the vice-chief of the fire brigade, a Sunday school teacher, a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge and an avid lacrosse player.
"There were few in Kelowna who did not know Jack McMillan, for his happy, friendly manner had made him acquainted with everybody, and the sad news of his death has cast a gloom over the city, habituated though people are becoming to bad news of this kind,” the newspaper reported at the time.
His former employers drew their shop's blinds and closed for the day when learning of the tragedy, the paper added.
For the McMillan family, the war news only got worse.
Their son Leonard was killed the following April in France, and another son-turned-soldier, Neil, died in hospital in October 1918.
Another fourth son, Colin, was badly wounded at Ypres and again at Vimy.
Two other McMillan boys enlisted but did not see combat before the war ended.
A Kelowna branch of the Imperial Order of Daughters of Empire, which celebrates Canada’s ties to Britain, was created in 1919.
A century ago the order would have been the most important women's organization in Kelowna, but today it has just 14 active members, including 102-year-old Gertie Johnston, who still attends the regular meetings.
Henfling received the McMillan scholarship in 1970 and said it made a big difference in her life.
"I came from a poor family, and the scholarship was one of the reasons I was able to go to college," said Henfling, an Okanagan College library technician who has researched McMillan's life.
"Not a year goes by when I don't think of him on Remembrance Day."
After she retires, Henfling plans to join the order.
"I think helping them raise money for the scholarships would be a good way of paying tribute to the McMillan family."
News from © The Canadian Press , 2015