In March 1915, Revere Osler went off with one of the Canadian contingents, and was given duty at one of the hospitals as an orderly officer. The hospital was one of the best in England, and had been erected at Cliveden, the Astor estate. Osler was a consultant to this hospital and visited the McGill Unit at Camiers. A postcard sent from Montreuil-sur-Mer, on the way, is characteristically Oslerian: “Here with Revere – such a lovely walled town – the first stopping place of Sterne on his Sentimental Journey. Am sending you a full account of my trip.” How many Sterne enthusiasts would remember that at such a time?
Revere was now an assistant quartermaster at Camiers, awaiting his call to the combatant forces. Before this time came, he had a leave and went home to Oxford where, during his stay, the house caught fire and threatened the loss of the library. All this time, the “Open Arms”, as the house at 13 Norham Gardens came to be called, was just what its nickname implied. It was always full of guests coming and going. Everyone turned to the Oslers in their trouble.
Revere had one more leave. He was now with the Royal Field Artillery and was getting his training. Osler took refuge in his books, and evinced an active interest in his growing collection, as many references in his letters of the period testify.
His activities in the hospital continued and many a cable went to Canada to cheer the recipients. These usually read, “Has been seen by Osler considers doing well”. He wrote many letters and received and answered hundreds of cables of inquiry from anxious relatives. He was much moved by the injustice of a Canadian Commission appointed to investigate the care of Canadians in the hospitals. As a protest, he resigned his position as consultant to the Canadian Hospitals, but later on, when the commission was replaced, his resignation was withdrawn.
Towards the end of 1916, Revere was in the 593 Brigade, Battery A, and was stationed on the Seine right in the thick of the fight. [This was the Battle of Ypres)
Until August 29 of the next summer, he continued at it. Then, while he was at work preparing to move the battery, a shell struck, and wounded him severely in his chest, thigh and abdomen. He was carried to the dressing station, but in spite of transfusion and operation, he died before morning. The great-great-grandson of Paul Revere was buried near the place he fell.
Osler made the following entry concerning this blow:
I was sitting in my library, working on the new edition of my textbook, when a telegram was brought in, “Revere dangerously wounded, comfortable and conscious, condition not hopeless.” I knew this was the end. We had expected it. The Fates do not allow the good fortune that has followed me to go with me to the grave – call no man happy till he dies.
The War Office telephoned at nine in the evening that he was dead. A sweeter laddie never lived, with a gentle, loving nature. He had developed a rare taste in literature and was devoted to all my old friends in the spirit – Plutarch, Montaigne, Browne, Fuller and above all, Izaak Walton, whose Compleat Angler he knew by heart, and whose “Lives” he loved.
There is no need to attempt to picture the sorrow or the bravery of the stricken father. Sir William and Lady Osler remained a day in seclusion and then courageously took up the challenge of comforting others. He continued his routine duties in the cataloguing of his library. He resumed work on a new edition of his textbook, the work interrupted by the news of his son’s death.
Osler entertained soldiers and friends, trying to be his old self and even deceiving those who did not know him well. But all the time, he continued to lose weight. To a friend who had had a similar loss, he wrote:
Grief is a hard companion, particularly to an optimist, and to one who has been a stranger to it for many years. We decided to keep the flag flying and let no outward action demonstrate, if possible, the aching hearts.
The Edward Revere Osler Memorial Fund was established by his parents at the Johns Hopkins University. This took the form of a Tudor and Stuart Club, with club rooms and a library, the nucleus of which was Revere’s own collection. The Club was “to encourage the study of English literature of the Tudor and Stuart periods” and the fund was for the “purchase of further books relating to these periods, and in the promotion of good fellowship and a love of literature among the members.”
This passage is from
"Sir William Osler: A Personal Biography" by John Ruhräh, MD,
published in 2015 by MedChi.