Brigadier JP (Big John) Girvan CBE, DSO*, MC, VD (Crois de Guerre of France)

Commanding Officer 15th Battalion 1918 (The Last 100 Days)

Commanding Officer 48th Highlanders of Canada 1932-1936

Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion 48th Highlanders of Canada 1940

Director of Military Training 1940-45 National Defence Headquarters

LCol J.P. Girvan CBE, DSO, MC, VD was born in Kingarth, Scotland on on 27 November 1887. He was raised in Toronto, worked as a postal clerk and was a multi championship rower.  He joined the 15th Battalion as 27071 Private Girvan J.P and was a Sergeant when commissioned from the ranks in 1915. Girvan received a commission after the battle of St. Julien in late April 1915. By the battle of the Somme, he had been promoted to major in charge of a company. In October 1916, he was forced from the field due to a gunshot wound to the chest. A medical board further observed, “This Officer as a result of 20 months service in Flanders is debilitated and his nerves are shaken. Requires a prolonged rest.”

Following several months rest leave in Canada, he resumed his post with the 15th after the battle of Vimy Ridge and won the Military Cross at Hill 70 in August 1917. Major Maybin (a Sgt-Maj also commissioned from the ranks) had been temporarily Officer Commanding the 15th Bn since LCol Bent had been severely wounded by shrapnel during the battle of Amiens  in August. After Lieutenant Colonel C. E. Bent sustained a serious shrapnel injury in August 1918, Girvan assumed command of the battalion.

Major Girvan arrived from the UK and assumed command as the Arras operations commenced. He led the Battalion at the Crow’s Nest, the Drocourt-Queant Line and the Canal du Nord operations of the Hundred Days and until the war’s end in November 1918. He was awarded the DSO for his leadership at the D-Q line.

LCol Girvan reverted to Major when LCol Bent returned after recovering from his wounds. Following the war he returned to the Post Office rising through its ranks to become Assistant Postal Director and  he remained with the 48th becoming CO again from 1932 to 1936.

In 1940 Girvan became CO for third time as the first CO of the 2nd (Home) Bn before being put in charge of No 1 Training Centre in Camp Borden.  He was promoted to Brigadier, moved to the Directorate of Military Training in Ottawa and awarded the CBE by the war’s end.  He died in Georgetown ON in May 1961 and is buried there in Greenwood Cemetery.

Awards

Date

Award
Citation
Edinburgh Gazette 11-Mar-18
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt (A/Maj) For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Throughout an attack he led his company with the greatest skill and courage, continually going forward into our own barrage at great personal risk in order to check men who were advancing too fast. He directed his men amidst the fiercest shelling, and it was due to his gallant personal example that the hostile counter attacks were fruitless. His reports were invaluable and it was largely due to him that the enemy was held back from the captured ground.

London Gazette 1-Feb-1919
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

First Bar to DSO.
Maj (A/Lt-Col) For marked gallantry and ability in the attack on the Canal du Nord on 27th September, 1918. Crossing the canal on light bridges, and the River Agache by planks, under heavy machine-gun and sniping fire, he pushed on. He personally attacked and captured an enemy machine gun, shooting the gunner and turning the gun on the enemy. He went on and assisted in capturing Chapel Corner and the village of Marquion, and then gained his final objectives. His courage and dash were a fine example to his command.

Croix de Guerre (France)
Unit
Militia / Reserve Bn, 15th Bn (WW 1)
Service number
NA
Fate
Unknown
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