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Lost soldier, son of former B.C. premier recognized by university

The 21−year−old soldier has no grave and his name doesn’t appear on any war memorials.

James (Boy) Dunsmuir was among a group of Victoria residents and 1,193 men, women and children who died in the historic attack that factored into the United States’ declaration of war. File photo provided by The Canadian Press.

A cherished son of a former British Columbia lieutenant governor was on his way to battle in Europe in 1915 when the ocean liner RMS Lusitania was sunk in the Atlantic by two German torpedoes.

James (Boy) Dunsmuir was among a group of Victoria residents and 1,193 men, women and children who died in the historic attack that factored into the United States’ declaration of war.

Organizers say a ceremony was held Friday to unveil a plaque commemorating Dunsmuir at Hatley Castle, where he spent his school holidays and stabled his horse and kept his dogs.

The 21−year−old soldier has no grave and his name doesn’t appear on any war memorials, his great nephew said in a speech written for the unveiling at Royal Roads University.

"We are dedicating this plaque here today so that future generations will know about the sacrifice of your beloved son Boy," Michael Audain, 79, said in the prepared text.

"His name will not be lost in the mists of time."

The plaque was installed at Hatley Castle, a former residence of the Dunsmuir family that was completed in 1910.

In the early 1940s, the castle was transformed into a dormitory and mess hall for cadets and staff at Royal Roads Military College. The vine−covered building now serves at the university’s administrative centre.

The memorial is significant because Dunsmuir’s body was never recovered after the sinking, said Audain, chairman of Polygon Homes Ltd. and a member of the Order of Canada.

Audain’s father believed the young man descended below the ship’s decks to be with his steed when there was no room in a lifeboat.

"It’s really commemorating the spirit of those days," Audain said in an interview before the ceremony. "The call went out and young men all over the empire, as it was called in those days, rallied to the call to arms without any question."

Dunsmuir had left the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in Victoria with his father’s consent, and was on his way to join the Royal Scots Greys when he boarded the vessel. It was supposed to be the fastest transport from New York to the Western Front.

When the news arrived over the wire that Dunsmuir and other British Columbians had drowned, people rioted in downtown Victoria, Audain said. Some businesses with German names were damaged.

Dunsmuir’s father, who was also named James Dunsmuir, was so pained by his son’s death that he became a recluse, Audain said.

He would listen to his gramophone in the evening as Canadian singer Henry Burr sang, "Where is my Wandering Boy Tonight?"

The former premier and lieutenant governor held office in the early 1900s.

Audain said he unveiled the plaque, with the support of the university, on Friday because it marked both the former politician’s and his father’s birthdays.

"I hope people, when they visit this great house, will perhaps pause for a minute," Audain said.

"It tells you something about the family that built it and once lived there and ... one of Canada’s richest men, who lost his son under these conditions. I think it tells you something about the tragedy of those days."

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