Called for King and Country

  • 10 novembre 2015

Major JM LangstaffOne hundred years ago, during World War One, the Law Society of Upper Canada encouraged lawyers and law students to enlist for service. Incentives were provided: remitting fees of lawyers in active service and allowing students to advance one year or be called to the Bar without examination. Approximately 500 lawyers and law students enlisted ( an astonishing 30% of the profession); 113 did not return home.

James Miles Langstaff (1883-1917), of Richmond Hill, graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1912.

He was a partner with the firm Lowell, Reid, Wood & Wright when the war broke out. Shortly afterwards, he joined the 75th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditiary Force. There he rose rapidly to major, and was recommended for the military cross.

Shortly after, his life was ended by a bullet on the front. He died on March 1, 1917, at the age of 33.

Said NW Hoyles, then principal of Osgoode Hall Law School, “The touching sonnet written by him when overseas and found after his death among his papers revealed a side of his nature unsuspected by most who came into contact with him in his student days.

“He speaks there of the ‘secret joy’ with which he lived the soldier’s life, with its perils and discomforts. This life he took up quietly and courageously at the call of duty, as so many of our bravest and best have done, and in the ‘path of duty’ he found the ‘way to glory’.”1

A Sonnet on War

I never thought that strange romantic war
Would shape my life and plan my destiny;
Though in my childhood’s dreams I’ve seen his car
And grisly steeds flash grimly thwart the sky.

Yet now behold a vaster, mightier strife
Than echoed on the plains of sounding Troy.
Defeats and triumphs, death, wounds, laughter, life,
All mingled in a strange complex alloy.

I view the panorama in a trance
Of awe, yet coloured with a secret joy,
For I have breathed in epic and romance,
Have lived the dreams that thrilled me as a boy.

How sound the ancient saying is, forsooth,
How weak is Fancy’s gloss of Fact’s stern truth!

-       Major JM Langstaff, Toronto lawyer


1 JM Major Langstaff, A Memorial, Langstaff, MP and Others. The Library of the University of Toronto.

To learn more about the role of Ontario lawyers in WW1, visit the Law Society’s virtual museum at

Credits (all photos except Langstaff portrait): CWM 19930012-397 George Metcalf Archival Collection© Canadian War Museum Langstaff Portrait: Photo courtesy of the Law Society of Upper Canada Archives