Gunner Arthur Hair (1873-1947)
Arthur Hair was born in London, England, on 14 June 1873 and immigrated to Canada at age 13. Hair’s military career began in 1889 when at the age of 16, he enlisted as a trumpeter in the militia in Quebec City. In 1891, he transferred to the Permanent Force as a Gunner in “B” Battery at the Citadel in Quebec City. Hair left the Royal Canadian Artillery in 1898 and returned to Britain. He then enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery, training at Woolwich School of Gunnery in London. He later joined “A” Battery, Royal Artillery, with imperial garrison duty at Meerut, India.
In 1900, with war raging in South Africa, Gunner Hair’s unit was dispatched to Natal, and he fought to the conclusion of the Boer War. The strain and realities of warfare took their toll on Gunner Hair, and in 1902, he received a medical discharge. He received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with seven bars for his wartime service – a high number of battle clasps and a testament to service during the brutal campaign.
In 1903, Hair returned to Canada with his spouse, Janet McIntyre. He found employment as an orderly with the Montréal General Hospital. Over the years, he would rise to the position of chief orderly. He re-enlisted in the militia, joining the No. 5 Field Ambulance, Canadian Medical Corps. In that capacity, he served from 1906 to 1909, reaching the appointment of Sergeant-Major. As per his discharge papers, he performed his duty “efficiently and his conduct was exemplary.”
Arthur Hair is best known for starting Canada’s Last Post Fund. For this action, he deserves our respect and admiration. The origin of the Last Post Fund began in December 1908, when James Daly, a retired British veteran, was discovered in a dire medical state in a downtown doorway and transported to the Montréal General Hospital. James Daly was dying from exposure and malnutrition. Arthur Hair, who worked at the Montreal General Hospital, noticed a blue envelope sticking out of Daly’s pocket. Hair recognized the papers as British Army discharge documents.
Daly had no other possessions besides the discharge papers. He had served 21 years in the British Army, including service in the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856. After British service, Daly immigrated to Canada but fell on hard times. In the early twentieth century, Canada did not have a strong safety net or social programs such as welfare and Medicare to protect vulnerable populations, such as immigrants without family in Canada. In this case, his military pension was not sufficient to cover his daily living costs or cover the costs of a funeral.
After Daly died, Arthur Hair wanted to ensure that Daly received a proper burial. Hair first approached local veterans’ organizations for assistance, but none would pay for the cost of the impoverished veteran’s funerals. Daly then went above and beyond to raise funds from friends and hospital employees for the funeral. This fundraising initiative changed the course of Hair’s life, leading to the establishment of the Last Post Fund.
The Last Post Fund’s mission is “to ensure that no veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone, due to insufficient funds at the time of death.” Since 1909, the Last Post Fund has helped more than 150,000 veterans in Canada and abroad. Today, in cooperation with Veterans Affairs Canada, the Last Post Fund works behind the scenes, ensuring that veterans receive the respectful recognition they deserve at the end of their lives.
Arthur Hair would go on to lead the Last Post Fund until he died in 1947. Hair was an activist of national significance that spoke out when nobody else would, ensuring that veterans received dignified funerals, burials and headstones. His actions had far-reaching long-term benefits, bringing credit and distinction to The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. His family buried him at the National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, the final resting place for over 22,000 veterans and close relatives.
Please consult the site of the Last Post Fund for further details on their current programmes to help Canadian military serving members and veterans.