Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour:
“Klondike Joe Boyle” – Joseph Whiteside Boyle, DSO.
One of Canada’s most legendary First World War soldiers never formally enlisted with an active military force. Joseph Whiteside Boyle, DSO, was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1867. An entrepreneur with an engineer’s ingenuity, Boyle headed north, arriving in Dawson City, the Yukon just as the Klondike Gold Rush broke out in 1897. A savvy businessman, Boyle become known as “Klondike Joe Boyle”, controlling a massive gold dredging operation.
At the declaration of war in 1914, Boyle’s offer to raise an entire machine gun company was readily welcomed by the Minister of Militia, Sam Hughes. Desperate to be nearer to the action, Boyle left the Klondike for England in 1916. Deemed too old for military service, Boyle was made an Honourary Colonel of the Canadian militia. Still dissatisfied, Boyle volunteered with the American Corps of Engineers.
By 1917, Boyle was in Russia, befriending the Tsarist family and re-organizing the faltering Russian railway system that had hindered the country’s war effort. Arriving in Tarnapol as the Russian defenses crumbled, Boyle, without military authority, took it upon himself to organize an emergency defensive line that held long enough for the Russians to make an orderly retreat. Following the Russian Revolution in November 1917, Boyle managed to smuggle the Crown Jewels of Romania out of the Kremlin and return them to the Romanian royal family.
By 1918, Boyle was working with British secret service agents, organizing acts of sabotage against German and Bolshevik forces and overseeing a network of approximately 500 spies. In Romania, he mediated a ceasefire and in April rescued 70 high-ranking Romanians held captive by revolutionaries in Odessa. After the war, Boyle secured a $25-million credit from the Canadian government to the country of Romania.
Following his death in 1923, an unknown woman dressed in black visited Boyle’s grave to place flowers. The mysterious visitor returned each year until the death of Queen Marie of Romania in 1938.