Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Great War: November 11, 1917

Today--November 11, 2017--marks the 99th anniversary of the day the World War I ended. A hundred years ago on this day, the Second Battle of Passchendaele, which began on October 26, had ended the previous day.

No American forces took part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele. Rather it was fought by the British, the Canadians, and a combined Australian and New Zealand corps. But a least one American--a Hudsonian--died in that battle. It was Malcolm Gifford, Jr., the great nephew of the artist Sanford Robinson Gifford.

Gossips has told the story of Malcolm Gifford, Jr., the child of privilege who was arrested in April 1914 for allegedly robbing and murdering a chauffeur he'd hired to drive him from Albany to Troy the previous year, while he was staying at a friend's house after being suspended from his prep school. He was tried twice for the crime, in July 1914 and February 1915, but both trials ended in a hung jury. After the second trial, he was released on a $25,000 bond, and there was not a third trial.

At the beginning of 1917, before the U.S. entered the war, Gifford, then a student at Williams College, enlisted in the Canadian army. On November 8, 1917, in the Second Battle of Passchendaele, he was killed in action. On November 19, 1917, the day his father, Malcolm Gifford, Sr., received a telegram from the director of war records in Ottawa informing him of his son's death, the following head appeared on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register.

The article about his death mentioned nothing of the previous charges against him. Instead it focused on the nobility of his actions.
The noble principle for which the Allies were battling against Germany inspired the young football star, and anxious to do his "bit" for democracy he was one of the first Williams college men to offer his services to Canada. A short time after joining the Canadian artillery, he was serving England and there during the long and rigid training, he made a most commendable record.
Particulars relative to the circumstances in which he lost his life were not contained in the message received by his father, but the statement that he "was killed in action" tells a story of heroism, loyalty and bravery. His battery for nearly three months has seen strenuous fighting, and has won admiration from the war heads. The casualties have been many, but the 43rd has gloriously held her ground, pounding away at the Germans uninteruptedly and effectively, proving beneficial to the infantry charges and withstanding gas attacks and rigid countercharges.
Other newspapers were not so kind. The Albany Evening Journal recounted the whole sordid story in the front-page headlines accompanying the article that announced his death: "Malcolm Gifford, Twice Tried as Slayer, Killed on Battlefield in France"; "Wealthy Youth Dies Fighting in Canadian Unit--Juries Disagreed on His Case"; "Was Charged with Murder of Chauffeur." The Troy Times in reporting his death identified him in the headline as "Young Man Who Figured in Murder Case."

A commemorative book from the Welcome Home celebration that took place in Hudson after the war, on September 8 and 9, 1919, included, among the photographs of the twenty-four men from Hudson who died in World War I, this photograph of Malcolm Gifford, Jr., in the uniform of the Canadian Field Artillery.


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