Remembering Corporal Donald Shearn


Corporal Donald Shearn was admitted to the Royal Ottawa Sanatorium in July 1943 with “military tuberculosis.” He died in September.   Library and Archives Canada

By Kevan Pipe

The following is part of a continuing series of profiles of servicemen from the Glebe and St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who gave their lives to Canada and the pursuit of peace in the Second World War. We commemorate and remember their passing 80 years ago.

Not all the 60,000 Canadians lost during the Second World War were killed on the battlefields of Europe and Asia or on the seas or in the air. One young Glebe resident fell ill while serving his country overseas but ultimately returned to Ottawa for his final days.

Donald Fraser Shearn was born May 27, 1920, the son of Charles and Helen Shearn of Ottawa. Married in England, Charles was a member of the Royal Canadian Army following their arrival in Canada. With three sons, the family lived at 165 Fifth Avenue, just a few houses east of Mutchmor School, where all the boys likely went to elementary school. Donald’s older brother Douglas was born in 1918 and his younger brother Alan in 1922. Donald completed four years of study at Glebe Collegiate Institute and achieved his junior matriculation in 1937, when he joined the Government of Canada as a clerk/bookkeeper.

Shearn enlisted for service on February 11, 1941, at age 20. Just six weeks later, on April 1, he was assigned to the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, Canadian Army. Likely due to his accounting background in the public service, he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps. By the beginning of July 1941, he had already arrived in England. Every army needs a logistical support team to support its activities, and Corporal Shearn was part of this backroom organization designed to keep the complex organization of running an army in fine formation.

In September 1941, Shearn was reported to have developed a persistent cough, which he could not rid himself of over the damp English winter. His condition continued to worsen and in May 1942, Shearn was admitted to hospital. His health continued to deteriorate over the next months. On January 25, 1943, he was admitted to #7 Canadian General Hospital where he remained until March. Briefly discharged, he was re-admitted after just two weeks on March 24 to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary Hospital and was deemed to be seriously ill, developing bronchitis and pneumonia.

By June 27, 1943, the decision was taken to return him to Canada.

Arriving home, Shearn was sent to the Royal Ottawa’s Sanatorium where he was admitted on July 7, 1943, with a severe case of “military tuberculosis.” Formally discharged from active duty 10 days later due to his serious condition, Donald’s war was over; now he was fighting for his life.

The first tuberculosis patients were admitted in 1910 to what was then known as the Lady Grey, Royal Ottawa Sanatorium, commonly referred to as “the San,” located on Carling Avenue. (The facility was formally renamed the Royal Ottawa Hospital (ROH) in 1969.) From the ROH website: “Over the first 60 years, the hospital admitted 11,000 tuberculosis patients from all over Eastern Ontario. The average stay was seven months, and the age of patients ranged from infancy to seniors.”

Shearn continued to deteriorate. On Friday, September 17, 1943, due to what he contracted during his active service with our armed forces, he passed away in hospital from pericarditis caused by tuberculosis. These were the extremely early days of penicillin and antibiotics, and it is not known whether this treatment was yet available for this disease, one which is highly treatable today.

Corporal Donald Fraser Shearn, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps, was buried at Beechwood cemetery on Monday September 20, 1943, alongside 210 other servicemen from Canada and the Commonwealth from both world wars.

He is remembered today at both Glebe Collegiate and St. Matthew’s Church.

At Beechwood, he rests, along with his younger brother, Staff Sergeant Alan Shearn, Royal Canadian Army, whose name is mounted on the same headstone. He passed away in 1959 at age 37.

Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of St. Matthew’s, The Anglican Church in The Glebe.

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