'Eddie' McKay honoured on UC Hill

First World War flying ace, student commemorated with plaque

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Professor Graham Broad

Justin Wu

TAKING TIME TO REFLECT AND REMEMBER. Professor Graham Broad led a research project with his students at King’s University College, studying the life of WWI soldier and local hero Alfred "Eddie" MacKay.

For Remembrance Day, a class of history students at King’s University College has brought to light the story of a former student who fought and died in the First World War.

Alfred “Eddie” MacKay, born near Stratford, Ont., on Dec. 27, 1892, came to the Western University of London Ontario " as Western was then called " as a student in the Faculty of Arts in 1915.

Although the class was unable to obtain little direct information on Eddie’s character and dispositions, it was able to gather records of his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his efforts in the war.

Professor Graham Broad, a professor in the history department at King’s, proposed the project to his class.

He commented that Eddie’s exploits on the field and in the war were regularly run in the Gazette.

“He was an outstanding athlete … he was the highest scoring player on both [Western’s] rugby and hockey teams. In fact, there was a hockey cup named after him, the Eddie MacKay Memorial Cup, in the early 1920s,” he said.

In 1916, contrary to the popular trend of Canadian Army enrolment, Eddie decided to join the Royal Flying Corps, which, as Canada did not have its own air force, meant serving with British forces.

“That is actually why he isn’t commemorated on any of the other markers on campus,” Broad said. “Because he didn’t serve with the Canadian Forces, when they made these markers they missed his name.”

“[Eddie not only] survived the first tour of six months at a time when the life expectancy of a pilot was about 30 days,” Broad said, but also became what is known as an ace, a fighter pilot who destroys five or more enemy aircraft.

In a dramatic turn of events, Eddie fought a duel with Germany’s most famous flying ace, Oswald Boelcke, the pilot who trained the legendary Red Baron, and survived.

Eddie did not shoot him down, but watched as the ace collided mid-flight with another German plane in the course of their duel.

“For a brief time Eddie was an international hero actually, for bringing down this German ace in October 1916,” Broad elaborated.

After being promoted to Captain and Commander of a training squadron, Eddie volunteered to return to the Western Front. He celebrated his 25th birthday two days after Christmas, 1917, but was killed in action the following morning.

Like the rest of the students in professor Broad’s original class, Corey Everett has now graduated, but she recalled everyone was emotionally affected when they first heard of MacKay. The class quickly jumped on board.

This year, the class has seen its work translated into a commemorative plaque engraved in stone, presented during a ceremony on University College Hill yesterday. The plaque is placed on a large rock near a Maple tree on the north side of UC Hill.

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