The Harvard Class of ’19 Student: Private David Sidney Laird

Could this be Private David Sidney Laird? This is a photograph from the LAC with the caption of “A Canadian who won the high jump at a sports meeting held behind the lines. September, 1917.” Online MIKAN no. 3387477

Question 10 on the Attestation Paper filled out for each man that enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force asks:

Have you ever served in any Military Force?
If so, state particulars of former Service.

In the majority of cases this question, if answered, involves a recruit’s involvement in either the Canadian Militia or in the Imperial Forces and/or Militia of the United Kingdom.

Attestation paper 1 for Laird indicating his military experience

Detail of David Sidney Laird’s attestation papers (page 1) showing his involvement in the Harvard Regiment.

In one case for the 18th Battalion it was answered with: Harvard Reg. Boston Mass. for 6 months.

David Sidney Laird photo

Possible picture of David Sidney Laird. Cut of the military uniform is of note. Is it American or Canadian of origin?

David Sidney Laird of Amherst, Nova Scotia and a member of a distinguished family with roots in Confederation and Prince Edward Island through his grandfather, David Laird – Privy Council, was indicating on his application that his involvement with the Harvard Regiment, a militia unit formed in late 1915 at Harvard University, as his military experience.


The Harvard Regiment at this time had its roots in the recognition that war may be coming to the United States and that there was interest in establishing a Regiment for the training of Harvard students in military skills. The formation and development of the Regiment[i] occurred before it was officially sanctioned by the administration in Harvard[ii]. The announcement of a Captain C. Cordier to command this unit being announced in the Harvard Crimson newspaper on January 3, 1916 and the university’s administration approval being recorded in the newspaper on February 12, 1916 stating that President Howell had approved the provisional regulations made by Captain Cordier during the creation of the Regiment.

In fact, the Student Council Committee on Military Affairs had created a “tentative enrollment plan” in early December 1915 and the Harvard Crimson dutifully records the responsibilities and commitment for those involved in the “University Regiment” and the expectation was that all male students of Harvard University would participate in this training[iii]:

“According to the proposed plan, men who join must agree to devote three hours a week to drill and lectures and to prepare a monthly solution to a map problem. Two hours each week will be devoted to drill and a lecture will take up the remaining hour.”[iv]

The training offered was essentially an overview of military sciences in consisted of 24 lectures of a range of military subjects and six “tactical walks”. As the program expanded training in equitation[v] and military medicine[vi] were offered.

It was in this context that that an 18-year-old Canadian student, David Sidney Laird – Harvard Class of 1919, lived and participated in the Harvard Regiment. He would have a stronger motivation than his American compatriots as Canada had been at war for over a year and as he started the Fall Term in 1915 the 1st Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force had been bloodied at 2nd Ypres and the 2nd Canadian Contingent was preparing at this time to move to the Continent to engage in battle in the Flanders region.

Details of Laird’s participation in the Harvard Regiment is, as yet, undocumented but one can imagine the social interaction between himself and the fellow students that participated in the Regiment. The administration at Harvard supported the formation of this unit and dedicated significant resources to its inception, maintenance, and promotion[vii]. With Laird’s later participation in sports events during his service in the C.E.F. one could surmise that his athleticism found expression at Harvard in some form (saving that Harvard’s inter-mural sports program was shut down to make way for the activities of the Regiment) and his country’s active participation in the Great War would contrast sharply with the United States’ policy of isolationism. The Harvard Regiment, on the other had, was an expression most certainly of pro-militarism and anti-isolationism.

There were those who opposed the formation of the Regiment and wrote the Crimson published December 22nd, 1915 to express their thoughts:

“To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

The militarist fever seems to be sweeping over professors and students alike in this University to an unprecedented degree. The Harvard Regiment, the Military Lectures, the many letters in the University press are but instances. When, however, President Fitch, one of the spiritual leaders of the Harvard men, publishes in the Bulletin a letter, vehemently attacking the ideal of “peace as an end in itself” as “A dangerous and essentially degenerative doctrine,” it becomes right that mere students, otherwise undesirous of publicity, should speak their minds.

…Force can and does achieve victory, but whether that victory is the victory of truth and justice or simply and solely the victory of the “great battalions” depends upon pure chance.

National service? Assuredly, We young men desire it, but it must be on the plane of William James‘ national service for co-operative improvement of humanity, not for the achievement of “national honor” by organized murder, aided and blessed by the ministers of the Church of Christ in the name of Righteousness.”[viii]

The Crimson shows many articles during World War 1 with detailed Regimental Orders[ix] outlining the activities and training of the Regiment.

After the Fall and Winter term of 1915-16 ended Laird traveled back to Amherst, Nova Scotia and on the 18th of July, 1916 in Aldershot, Nova Scotia attested to the C.E.F. He was born on October 14, 1897 in Somerset, Prince Edward Island and listed his occupation as student. He was almost 19 years old. He was a tall 5’10” and weighed 130 pounds.

From his enrollment in the C.E.F he eventually joined the 18th Battalion. It should be noted that it was a rare occurrence of a reinforcement coming from the Atlantic Region as most of the reinforcements to the Battalion where from Ontario raised battalions.

Laird’s athleticism was important to the morale of the 18th Battalion. Sports days and other events, especially in celebration of Dominion Day, were much anticipated contests of skill involving many sports and Private Laird distinguished himself twice by winning the High Jump competition and those occasions are noted in the War Diary, they were of such importance.

Canadian Corps Sports day. Sports held at VILLERS AU BOIS. Final events for Corps Championships being decide at this meet. Pte. D.S. Laird, 18th Battalion winning "High jump" and 2nd Division winning Football. 3 admitted to hospital.

September 30, 1917: Canadian Corps Sports day. Sports held at VILLERS AU BOIS. Final events for Corps Championships being decide at this meet. Pte. D.S. Laird, 18th Battalion winning “High jump” and 2nd Division winning Football. 3 admitted to hospital.


July 2: Canadian Corp sports at Camblain-le-Abbe. 18th Canadian Battalion Football Team won the final by 2-0. High Jump won by Pte. Laird of B coy.

July 2, 1917: Canadian Corp sports at Camblain-le-Abbe. 18th Canadian Battalion Football Team won the final by 2-0. High Jump won by Pte. Laird of B coy.

Private Laird’s athleticism was no prevention against the stresses of combat and the environmental effects of being exposed to trench warfare.

David Sidney Laird returned to Harvard after his demobilization. He did graduate – Posthumously.


Harvard War Degrees

The Springfield Republican, Springfield, Massachusetts, Thursday, March 17, 1921 page 11 Via: Janette Fraser,

“A war degree was conferred posthumously on David S. Laird, ’19, of Amherst, N.S., who came to Harvard in 1915, enlisted in the Canadian army shortly afterwards, returning to college in 1919 after 3 years fighting, and after completing the requirements for the war degree died last August of heart trouble.”

He died at the Devereux Mansion Hospital in Marblehead, Massachusetts on April 8th, 1920 from a combination of endocarditis, aortic insufficiency, and mitral insufficiency. The death certificate indicates that a contributory factor was arthritis experienced over 3 years and that this disease was contracted in France.[x]


Though his father was living in Amherst, Nova Scotia David Sidney Laird was buried in his native Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

Mrs. Mathieson, wife of Chief Justice Mathieson, has received a telegram from her brother, Mr. D.R. Laird, stating that his youngest son Sydney had died very suddenly Sunday in Boston, where he had been under treatment in a hospital. The deceased was only twenty-three years of age. After a course in the Latin School at Amherst he entered Harvard University and was a student there when the war broke out. He enlisted in the Nova Scotia Highlanders and fought with their regiment for three years. When the war was over he re-entered Harvard and resumed his arts course. Mr. Laird spent last summer in Charlottetown. He was a young man of splendid intellectual and physical attainments, and excelled in athletic sports. He was very popular with his associates and the news of his death will be learned with deep regret by all who knew him. He leaves to mourn besides his father, one brother, Arthur who is taking an engineering course in Harvard, and one sister Alethe, at present in Charlottetown. The remains will be brought to the Island for burial and the funeral will take place from the residence of Chief Justice Mathieson. Notice of this will appear later. The bereaved family will have the deep sympathy of all in their great sorrow.

Source: The Charlottetown Guardian; August 10, 1920; Page 3. Via

His degree as promulgated after his death in 1921 and related in the above article by the Springfield Republican almost one year after his death.[xi]


End Notes










[x] See death certificate attached.

[xi] See news article attached.


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