The Last Day, The Last Hour

The Last Day, The Last Hour: The Currie Libel Trial

ROBERT J. SHARPE
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442697898
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  • Book Info
    The Last Day, The Last Hour
    Book Description:

    First published in 1988,The Last Day, the Last Hourreconstructs the events - military and legal - that led to the trial and the trial itself, one of the most sensational courtroom battles in Canadian history, involving many prominent legal, military and political figures of the 1920s.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9789-8
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword THE OSGOODE SOCIETY FOR CANADIAN LEGAL HISTORY
    (pp. ix-x)
    R. Roy McMurtry

    The Osgoode Society first published Robert Sharpe’s study of the libel action launched by Sir Arthur Currie in 1988, sixty years after the case itself had captured the attention of the whole country. In the two decades since it has been our best seller, and we are delighted to be able to reprint it in a new edition as part of our thirtieth anniversary celebrations. The story of Currie’s response to allegations that as commander of the Canadian Corps in the First World War he had recklessly risked the lives of his troops in an attempt to gain credit for...

  4. Preface to the 2009 Edition
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. 1 Mons
    (pp. 3-15)

    Mons is a pleasant Belgian town. It is the capital of the industrial province of Hainault and the centre of the Borinage coal-mining district. Situated on a hill, it dominates the surrounding countryside, which is marked here and there with slag-heaps from the coal mines. From miles away one can see the seventeenth-century baroque belfry rising from the castle ruins at the town centre. There are many other fine buildings, both public and domestic. St Wandru, the Gothic collegiate church, though it lacks a tower, has a splendid interior with fine statues, windows, and paintings. The streets of Mons, many...

  8. 2 Arthur Currie, the Great War, and the Canadian Corps
    (pp. 16-31)

    Arthur Currie was born on a farm near the town of Strathroy, Ontario, on 5 December 1875, the third in a family of seven children.¹ He grew up on the family homestead founded by his grandfather John Corrigan, an Irish Catholic, and his grandmother, an Irish Anglican, who had emigrated in 1838 to escape religious strife. Upon their arrival they became Methodists and changed their name to ‘Curry.’ Arthur Currie modified the spelling of his surname in 1897.

    Currie was delicate and often ill as a child. He was a good student and was especially interested in literature. His plans...

  9. 3 Sam Hughes: War of Rumours
    (pp. 32-53)

    It is impossible to delve into any aspect of Canada’s involvement in the First World War without encountering the extraordinary Sir Sam Hughes. Hughes was Canada’s minister of militia from 1911 to 1916, and although he had been dead for almost six years when the Port HopeEvening Guidepublished its attack on Sir Arthur Currie in 1927, Currie’s libel trial was the final episode in an old fight between the general and his former minister.

    On 4 March 1919 Sir Sam Hughes rose in the House of Commons to speak in the debate on the speech from the throne....

  10. 4 A Case for the Defence?
    (pp. 54-66)

    Frederick W. Wilson, the proprietor and publisher of the Port HopeEvening Guide,was sixty-seven years old when the Mons article was published. He had come to Port Hope fifty years earlier with his father to take over theGuide,one of the oldest newspapers in the country. Wilson published theGuidein partnership with his own son, Donald. Until the Currie case, theGuide’s only brush with controversy had come when its founder, William Firbie, purchased some type and fixtures from William Lyon Mackenzie, the firebrand Toronto editor, a hundred years earlier.¹

    In 1927 there were over one hundred...

  11. 5 To Sue or Not to Sue?
    (pp. 67-78)

    W.T.R. Preston insisted upon conducting his own defence; Frederick W. Wilson’s lawyer, George Gordon, continued his efforts to settle the case. Gordon met George Montgomery, Currie’s solicitor, in Montreal, and later renewed his suggestion that Montgomery should prepare a statement of facts which, if published by the Port HopeEvening Guide,would satisfy Currie that the record had been set straight: ‘I would be pleased to urge Wilson to sign it. I have acted for him in other matters and I feel I could approach him and have considerable influence in inducing him to accept my view of matters.’¹

    At...

  12. 6 Preparing for Trial
    (pp. 79-97)

    In March 1928, when the trial appeared to be a certainty, preparation began in earnest. Documents alone would not suffice; witnesses who had actual knowledge of the events of the last days of the war were needed. Preparing for a case of this complexity involves an extraordinary amount of work. Currie and his lawyers concentrated their efforts, but still did not know much about the case Wilson and Preston would present. It seems odd that neither side pressed for examination for discovery until shortly before the trial. This procedure, which is described more fully later in this chapter, permits each...

  13. 7 The Trial Begins
    (pp. 98-116)

    Mr Justice Hugh Rose was assigned to the Cobourg assizes in the spring of 1928.¹ Rose was almost exactly the same age as Tilley, and the two knew each other well. Both had been called to the bar in 1894. Rose, the son of a High Court judge, had practised in Toronto with the firm of Beatty, Blackstock, Fasken and Chadwick, and had been appointed to the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1916. He was a careful and diligent judge, well liked by the bar and by his fellow judges. Although on occasion he seemed...

  14. 8 Another Currie
    (pp. 117-130)

    On the second day of the trial, very much to the alarm of Sir Arthur Currie, Regan called a witness who also bore the surname Currie. John Allister (Jack) Currie, who was sixty-six years old at the time of the trial, had had a varied career as a businessman, journalist, and politician. He sat in the House of Commons from 1902 to 1921 as the Conservative member for North Simcoe, and represented the Toronto riding of St Patrick’s in the provincial legislature from 1922 to 1930. In Parliament and in the legislature he was partisan and scrappy, and he certainly...

  15. 9 Defensive Strategies
    (pp. 131-150)

    On the morning of the third day of the trial, Frank Regan adopted a highly dubious strategy. The defendants’ evidence conflicted on most points with Arthur Currie’s version of the Mons attack. Regan was confident that the ordinary soldiers he was calling as witnesses were making a good impression, and he wanted the jury to know right from the start that Currie denied virtually everything they said. The problem, as Regan saw it, was that Currie’s evidence would come in reply after all the defence witnesses had testified. This gave Currie the last word and made it impossible for Regan...

  16. 10 General Currie’s Reply
    (pp. 151-169)

    The first witness called on Currie’s behalf was Colonel Allan Magee, the Montreal lawyer who had done so much to help Currie prepare his case. Magee went overseas with a battalion he helped to organize and train, the 148th, which was officially affiliated with McGill University. The 148th had to be broken up to reinforce other units, and Magee joined Currie’s staff. He worked closely with Currie right up to the end. (He would serve again in the Second World War, training hundreds of McGill graduates as officers, and then move to Ottawa as the executive assistant to the minister...

  17. 11 The Generals Take the Stand
    (pp. 170-185)

    Tilley called to the witness-box a parade of senior officers. Colonel Royal Ewing, commander of the Forty-second Battalion, was first. His evidence added little detail to that given by the men who had served under him, but he did describe an important conference at brigade headquarters. ‘I went to a conference at Brigade HQ, now I wouldn’t be sure whether it was that night [of the tenth] or the following morning, and the question of what was to be done was discussed. We were given detailed verbal orders at the time, to take over from the Patricia’s and carry on,...

  18. 12 General Currie under Fire
    (pp. 186-210)

    Frank Regan’s cross-examination of Sir Arthur Currie was a dramatic confrontation between the combative, scrappy lawyer and the tense but confident general. It was the climax of the trial.

    Q Do you think, Sir Arthur, that the story you have told Mr. Tilley a few minutes ago, and which took about ten minutes, is a complete story or all that the jury should have heard about Mons?

    A We have had a great deal for the last ten days or more. I think mine supplements and makes the story complete.

    Q Well, I wanted to get your view on it....

  19. 13 Verdict
    (pp. 211-226)

    When the trial resumed on Saturday morning, Regan was not at the counsel table. He had slept in; perhaps he had been drinking the night before, after his prolonged duel with Currie.

    Tilley was determined to complete his case before the day was over. He called to the stand Walter Gow, a member of the well-known Toronto law firm of Blake, Lash, Anglin and Cassels. Gow had served as deputy minister of overseas military forces in London from 1917 to 1918. He had been in Mons on n November 1918. Tilley’s reason for calling him quickly became evident.

    ‘Whom did...

  20. 14 Appeal
    (pp. 227-236)

    A libel verdict for the plaintiff is not always received with enthusiasm by the press, but in Sir Arthur Currie’s case the editorial writers warmly endorsed the jury’s decision. The TorontoStarproclaimed that Currie had ‘been completely vindicated, as everyone who shared his campaign must have known he would be.’¹ The KingstonWhig-Standarddescribed Preston’s charges as ‘preposterous and astounding’ and heartily approved the verdict as good for Currie and good for Canada.² The MontrealGazetteagreed that Currie had been vindicated, and congratulated him on having had the courage to bring the suit. Today journalists often contend that...

  21. 15 Conclusion
    (pp. 237-246)

    The Currie libel action was an event of national significance. It is unusual for a lawsuit to capture the attention of the entire country, yet the trial was in the headlines for more than two weeks.¹ The major dailies carried extensive accounts of the trial, and although the law of contempt was thought to preclude any public statements passing judgment on the proceedings or predicting the outcome, few informed Canadians were without an opinion. Public opinion seems to have favoured Currie. But Wilson and Preston, the underdogs, unquestionably garnered support, particularly in their own community, where the trial was seen...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 247-264)
  23. Index
    (pp. 265-270)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-274)