TORONTO— One of the three fallen soldiers whose names are being added to the Harbord Collegiate monument that stands in front of the school this Remembrance Day is Jewish.
Lieut. Myer Tutzer Cohen, who died at age 22 fighting in World War I, in the 1917 battle of Passchendaele, has been dubbed a “lost soldier” by members of the Harbord Club, the school’s alumni organization, which has for years worked to honour alumni of the downtown Toronto high school who lost their lives fighting in either of the two world wars.
Cohen, who served as a lieutenant with the 42nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, was posthumously awarded a prestigious Military Cross and praised for attacking and destroying enemy patrols and capturing enemy prisoners on the front of Mericourt in France.
Born in Toronto, the third of five children to Moses Mark Cohen from New York and Anna Goslar, from Germany, Cohen attended Holy Blossom Temple and celebrated his bar mitzvah there.
Shortly after his death, he was honoured in a sermon given by the congregation’s spiritual leader at the time, Rabbi Solomon Jacobs, who said: “Myer was born and bred in this congregation. It was within these walls he was accustomed to worship from childhood… we remember him well – the bright, winsome lad, merry in disposition… anxious to fight the battle of life and win for himself a good name.”
Harbord Collegiate, which opened in 1892, had a high proportion of Jewish students right up until the 1960s and has long prided itself on its preservation of history. It unveiled its monument for fallen World War I soldiers in 1921 and a second honouring soldiers from World War II in 2007.
In 1992, the school celebrated its centennial with the inauguration of a museum featuring memorabilia of former students.
Syd Moscoe, a lawyer and Harbord Collegiate alumnus, is chair of the Harbord Club and the de facto archivist of the school’s museum. He meets with student volunteers there on a weekly basis to undertake projects connected to the school’s history, such as upgrading the Harbord Club website, which features names, photographs and accompanying oral histories of alumni who served in the world wars.
“We knew, from whatever information we had, that over 500 students and staff from Harbord Collegiate served in World War I,” Moscoe said.
“We only had names of about 460 of them and knew of 75 who had died. Those 75 names are on the war memorial in front of the school. We knew some were missing, but we couldn’t just go to Veteran’s Affairs and ask, ‘Can you give me the names of everyone who went to Harbord Collegiate?’ They don’t have those kinds of records.”
Last fall, the club was contacted by a group called The Black Watch, the oldest highland regiment in Canada, who were known for wearing kilts, who said they knew of a soldier whose name was not on the monument.
Moscoe and the students he works with spoke to the principal and asked to initiate a fundraising project to get Cohen’s name added to the monument.
In the midst of doing so, last spring, they were informed of a second “lost soldier” whose name had been left off the monument.
“We called the bronze makers [who were working on the new plaque] and said, ‘You’ll have to put two names on,’” chuckled Moscoe.
Then, a few weeks later, they were told about a third.
All three soldiers – Cohen, as well as Lieut.-Col. Thomas Craik Irving and Lieut. Walter Howard Curry – will be honoured at the school’s public Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11.