b. 20/02/1894 Montreal, Quebec, Canada.. d. 19/08/1917 Loos, France.
Okill Massey Learmonth (1894-1917) was born on 20th February 1894 at St Louis Road, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was an only child of William Learmonth, a stenographer, and Martha Jane Richardson. By 1918, William was Deputy Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Quebec.
Okill was educated at St George’s School, Quebec and Quebec High School. He worked for the Union Bank of Canada in Quebec and then on a private estate on Anticosti Island, Quebec, before being appointed to the Provincial Treasury Department at Quebec. He was elected a member of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec on 11th March 1914.
Okill enlisted in 8th Regiment Royal Rifles on 1st October 1912. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Valcartier, Quebec on 29th August 1914. He was attested on 22nd September and sailed for Britain on SS Scotian with 12th Battalion on 3rd October, arriving on 15th October. He transferred to 2nd Battalion and sailed for France on 8th February 1915. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 4th June, but fell ill with gonorrhoea in November 1915, and was treated in a series of hospitals before returning to his Battalion on Boxing Day.
He was promoted to Corporal on 6th May 1916 and was in action in the Observatory Ridge sector near Ypres and received gunshot wounds to his right index finger and leg on 13th June. He was admitted to 7th Stationary Hospital, Boulogne next day and was evacuated to Britain on HMHS Jan Croydel, where he was admitted to Royal Free Hospital, London on 15th June.
He was commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on 12th June, and was granted leave back to Canada to recover from his wounds. On his return to Britain he was attached to 12th Reserve Battalion at Shorncliffe, Kent and transferred to 2nd Battalion on 16th October. He attended a Lewis Gun course in December 1916.
He was involved in the storming of Vimy Ridge on 9th April 1917 and was appointed Temporary Captain the following day. On 15th April, he was appointed Acting Major and assumed command of No 3 Company. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the frontal assault on 3rd May 1917 at Fresnoy-en-Gobelle. He is believed to have been engaged to Nursing Sister Irene Winifred Lamarche, and changed his will to make her the beneficiary. It is possible they planned to marry in Paris and from 1st July 1917 he assigned $50 a month to Mrs OM Learmonth. However, he visited the Consulate-General in Paris and postponed the ceremony. Irene then returned to Canada.
On 18th August 1917 east of Loos, France, during a determined counter-attack on our new positions, Major Learmonth, when his company was momentarily surprised, instantly charged and personally disposed of the attackers. Later, although under intense barrage fire and mortally wounded, he stood on the parapet of the trench, bombing the enemy and on several occasions he actually caught bombs thrown at him and threw them back. When unable to carry on the fight, he still refused to be evacuated and continued giving instructions and invaluable advice, finally handing over all his duties before he was moved to hospital where he died.
He died at No 7 Casualty Clearing Station and was buried in Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery, near Lens, France. His medals, plaque and scroll were sent by post to his mother. In addition to the VC and MC he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC is held by the Governor General’s Foot Guards Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GOVERNOR GENERAL GUARDS MUSEUM, OTTAWA.
BURIAL PLACE: NOEUX-LES-MINES CEMETERY, LENS, FRANCE.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT II, ROW K, GRAVE 9
Canadian War Museum Portrait
War Illustrated, 1st December 1917