The Invisible Soldier: Captain WAP Durie, His Life and After


205 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55199-094-6
DDC 971.3'54103'0922




Reviewed by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the World War I historian at the Canadian War Museum. He is
the author of No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the
First World War and Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the
Writing of the World Wars.


It is always heart-rending for parents to bury their children, but
during the First World War a whole generation was forced to endure that
unimaginable sorrow. For the grieving family members, there was no
closure. Almost 60,000 Canadian fallen were left in France or other
theatres of combat. While some families visited these vast cemeteries,
most never again saw the remains of sons and fathers. Anna Durie, the
fiery matron of a once well-off military family forced into genteel
poverty, refused to leave her dear son’s body in France.

Journalist Veronica Cusack has spun a fascinating tale of the shy,
reserved, and unassuming bank clerk, William Arthur Durie, and his
hectoring, prodding, and cossetting mother, Anna. Like many men, he
escaped into the army and found his place there until he was killed in
combat. Cusack explores the fascinating interaction of the Durie family
through their letters, diaries, photographs, and ephemera, which were
collected in the Ontario Archives. Yet she moves beyond the historical
record, taking authorial licence to delve into the Duries’ private
thoughts and actions. The Invisible Soldier therefore falls somewhere
between history and historical fiction. That does not in any way
diminish the story, which is told with verve and passion in an active
first-person voice.

At times Cusack is a little sloppy with some of her accounts of battle,
such as her depiction of a creeping barrage where Captain Durie is to
have thought that his own artillery was trying to kill him and, later,
that somehow, “inexplicably,” the enemy machines stopped. In fact,
the enemy guns were wiped out by the barrage that soldiers like Durie
relied on for their safety. These errors are slight, but perhaps an
indication of the dangers inherent in putting words in the mouths of
real people. This type of writing rings truer when Helen Cusack, the
sister of William, intones after the war, while trying to disinter her
brother’s body and smuggle it back to Canada, “there is nothing in
our lives but Arthur’s return.”


Cusack, Veronica., “The Invisible Soldier: Captain WAP Durie, His Life and After,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,