Esdaile, John Michael
The following obituary first appeared in a Canadian newspaper having been written by Russ Merifield and John Stikeman longtime friends of the Esdaile family.
“John Michael (Mike) Esdaile died in Toronto on 9 August 1999 of heart failure, aged 79. The seventh child of his family, he was born on 16 October 1920. He attended Hurstpierpoint College before joining the armed forces at the start of the Second World War.
He was assigned to India with the rank of Lieutenant. When Japan entered the war in 1941, Mike’s unit was suddenly posted to the defence of Singapore and it was transported in a troop ship formerly known,ironically, as The Empress of Japan. Just before the ship reached Singapore, that area was overrun by Japanese forces. But higher authorities instructed the ship to proceed to its destination with .the result that all on board shortly became prisoners of the Japanese – an astonishing and humiliating experience for a young lieutenant who had not yet fired a shot in anger.
Captured Allied troops, including Mike’s group, were rounded up and forced to travel many miles north to the Burmese jungle where they became slave labour for the Siam- Burmese railway, building the railway bridge over the River Kwai. The trek was exhausting and many fell by the wayside.
Fellow prisoner, Ken Soubry, credited Mike with saving his life by helping him to keep moving forward. Thus started a four-year incarceration so miserable that Mike would not discuss the experience until very late in his life. When freed, his clothes were in tatters and he weighed barely 100 pounds. The main dividend from Mike’s prisoner experience was his lifelong friendship with Ken, who arranged for Mike to meet his sister, Moira Soubrey, after the war ended. This quickly became a serious romance, culminating in a happy 53-year marriage. They were blessed with three outstanding children, two sons who became doctors and a daughter who qualified as a lawyer.
On release from the army in 1946, Mike joined Standard Oil of, New Jersey. After postings in Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, he joined Champlain Oil in Montreal where he became a vice-president. In 1963, he became an executive of the parent company, Imperial Oil, in Toronto, where he served until formal retirement in 1985. However, his talents were still in demand and he was engaged as a consultant to Petro Canada for several years more.
Mike diligently served both his company and his community. In Montreal, he was president of the Executive Development Institute and rector’s warden of St George’s Anglican Church. In Toronto, he became president of the American Petroleum Credit Association, president of the Toronto Hunt Club, rector’s warden at St James Cathedral and a governor of Trinity College School.
In 1999, Mike gave an informal talk to the Retired Men’s Club at Glenview Church, most of whom were themselves war veterans. It was a modest, understated, wryly humorous effort that did not fool the old veterans one bit. They knew they were in the presence of a genuine hero who had survived almost incredible oppression. At the conclusion, the group rose spontaneously to give Mike the first standing ovation in the history of the Club.
Mike never lost the scars, internal and external, from four years as a war prisoner in the Burmese jungle but he soldiered on without complaint. He survived to become a considerate and loving husband and parent, a successful executive, a devout churchman, a leader in community service, a friend treasured by many – a top-flight citizen in very way.”