The Badass of the Week.

Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell

Thain MacDowell was born in Quebec in 1890 and would go on to become one of Canada's greatest war heroes, proving himself as a balls-out asskicker during his service to the crown in World War I, where he knocked kraut faces in two of the most pivotal battles of the war and racked up more bling than a multi-platinum rapper and his entire entourage combined.

In a bloody war where the average life span for an Allied Infantry officer was roughly equivalent to the amount of time it takes him to yell "over the top!", Captain MacDowell gallantly led a company of the 38th Canadian Battalion in its quest to find a bunch of German people and make them become death as quickly as possible.  At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, which at the time was the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, he won the Distinguished Service Cross for bravely sprinting up to three separate German machine gun nests along the Desiré Trench, face-kicking the shit out of the gunners with a steel-toed boot embossed with the words "Fuck the Kaiser", and then subsequently capturing fifty-three prisoners who surrendered to him immediately after seeing him rabbit-punch a German machinegunner in the neck and explode his entire head into a fine red mist like a really disgusting water balloon.  During the fighting, he got shot in the hand but he didn't even give a shit.  He sucked the bullet out of his wound and spit it with such velocity that it ended up killing three guys, changing direction mid-flight like the Oswald bullet that killed JFK.

While he wanted to go on with his quest to impale German soldiers with their own stupid pointy helmets, MacDowell's officers told him he should head back to London and get some medical attention for the gaping gunshot wound he had received at the Somme.  After a brief stint there, he quickly returned and resumed command of his company of the 38th Battalion, just in time for the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which would turn out to be one of the turning points of the war.

E-mailer Greg sent me a succinct and badass account of what was to be the Canadian Military's finest hour:

For the first couple years of the war, the Allied Powers were generally getting stomped by the Germans and having an all-round crappy time thanks to stuff like the introduction of chemical warfare.  One of the toughest strongholds along the German defensive line was at Vimy Ridge.  The Germans had the area fortified with barbed wire, tunnels, three lines of trenches, machine gun nests and a ridiculous amount of artillery.  Both the British and the French failed multiple times to take and hold the ridge, including one ill-fated attempt where the French lost 150,000 men, including 3000 Foreign Legionnaires.  Meanwhile, the CEF (Canadian Expedentiary Force) had been gaining a reputation amongst the Allies for being extremely hardcore, despite having very few professional soldiers in their ranks and craptacular gear and weaponry (thanks to some douchebag general back home giving all of the government contracts to his rich buddies).  So the Brits called up one General Arthur Currie, commander of the CEF, and asked him to take a shot at Vimy.  Currie accepted and proceeded to gather up all 5 divisions of the CEF into the Voltron-esque Canadian Corps. 

The Corps spent months preparing for the battle by digging tunnels and rehearsing the battle on a scale replica of the ridge (!).  When the time finally came, the Corps kicked things off with the largest artillery barrage in history up to that point that lasted an entire week, interspersed with trench raids at night.  Over 1,100 cannons of every kind imaginable kind including crappy little field artillery dragged by mules, naval guns mounted on train cars and probably 16th century trebuchets and bottle rockets shelled the ridge so much it could be heard over a 100 miles away in England.  The Germans aptly dubbed this "The Week of Suffering."  After Currie decided the Germans had had enough Howitzing, infantry was sent in to storm the ridge.  The Canadian infantry employed a number of new tactics for the time including platoon-based orders, aerial reconnaissance, and a creeping barrage, which means the Canadian had to run around killing Germans while trying very hard not to get splashed by their own artillery.  Thanks to extensive planning and coordination, friendly fire was minimal.  After 2 hours the ridge was taken with 2 to 1 casualties inflicted on the Germans plus 4,000 prisoners taken.  The Germans were heavily demoralized and a big hole was punched in their defensive line, contributing greatly to the Allied victory.




It was during this battle that Captain MacDowell would prove himself to be among the ultimate badasses of the war.  On 10 April 1917 MacDowell, along with two Privates who served as runners for him, climbed up the ridge near the area known as "The Pimple" - a tall hill near where the fighting was fiercest during the campaign.  During all the confusion and artillery shit that was exploding all over the place MacDowell and his runners became separated from the rest of their company, but no badass military commander worth his sidearm would ever let that stop him from completing his mission.  As the group reached the ridge, they came under fire from two separate German machine gun nests.  MacDowell quickly hit the deck and put his insane D-League Softball skills to the test, chucking grenades all over the place like a freak.  He blew the shit out of one of the nests, killing the weapons team, and managed to render the second machine gun inoperable.  Once the guns were knocked out, MacDowell rose to his feet and started determinedly marching towards the gun emplacement and glaring at the lone surviving German machinegunner.  The dude took one look at this crazed Canadian, double-checked that his weapon was in fact broken, and immediately ran like a bitch into a tiny tunnel that had been dug into the side of the trench.

Well MacDowell wasn't about to let this kraut get away.  He ran to the edge of the tunnel and shouted in for the German to surrender.  Nothing.  He carefully took two steps into the darkness before noticing a huge hole in the floor with a ladder going straight down.  Since he wasn't about to back down from the opportunity to deliver a right proper thrashing to a deserving individual, MacDowell climbed down the 55-step ladder into a small passage 75 feet underground.  He instructed his runners to wait outside for him.

Once at the bottom, MacDowell took a few steps into this strange lair.  Before he knew it he turned a corner and came face-to-face with the German machinegunner he had been chasing, as well as two German Infantry officers and seventy-five enlisted soldiers, all with their guns drawn and aimed directly at MacDowell's face.

Now this is the point in the story where most non-badasses would crap their pants, surrender, and/or be brutally machinegunned to the ground in slow motion while sad violin music plays in the background.  Not Captain MacDowell.  He had a plan.  And gigantic balls the size of small planets.

MacDowell calmly looked over the room of angry gun-toting Huns, before turning around and yelling at the top of his lungs, "Third Corps!  Fourth Corps!  We've found them!  All units proceed down the ladder and prepare to attack on my mark!"

Seventy-seven soldiers dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

In order to keep his ruse from being discovered, MacDowell sent his prisoners up in groups of twelve, where his runners were waiting to tie them up and take their weapons away.  After successfully capturing seventy-seven men using nothing but his nutsack, MacDowell and his men continued to hold their position for five days until the rest of the Battalion caught up to them and relieved them from duty.  For his actions at Vimy, he was personally awarded the Victoria Cross by the King.  After the battle, he returned to the UK to be treated for shell shock and for a gunshot wound he suffered at Vimy before returning to work at Battalion Headquarters until the end of the war.  He was the only one of the four Canadaians awarded the Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge to survive the war.

MacDowell's success at Vimy is a perfect example of how badassery not only involves being awesome at hand-to-hand combat and gun-to-face combat, but it also means having the massive brass balls it takes to bluff your way out of a situation when you're facing death straight in the eye and not only survive the encounter but emerge victorious.  During the war he was single-handedly responsible for the capture of 130 German soldiers, destroyed multiple enemy machine gun nests and won the highest award for bravery offered by the British Commonwealth.  So the next time someone tells you "Canada Sucks" you can tell them about Captain MacDowell and his insane ability to make German people surrender to him even when they have no good reason to do so.  Or you can just throw down your hockey gloves and your lacrosse stick, take off your lumberjack shirt, chug your Molson and bash their face in with your bare hands.  Whatever works for you.




"They were all big strong men...
They had plenty of rations,
but we had a great time taking them prisoner."

- Cpt. MacDowell


Links:

Canada at War

Legion Magazine

The Private Hell of a Hero







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