Lieutenant Colonel Thain Wendell MacDowell, VC, DSO was born in Lachute, Quebec on 16 September 1890. His early days were spent in the Brockville area, where he was educated at Brockville Collegiate Institute. He later attended the University of Toronto, where he joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps as an Officer Cadet of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1914, he enlisted and was commissioned in the 38th (Ottawa) Canadian Infantry Battalion (now perpetuated as The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own)).
During service in France in 1916, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on the Somme. The following year at the age of 26, he won the Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917.
On 9 April 1917 at Vimy Ridge, France, Captain MacDowell, with the assistance of two runners (company orderlies, Pvts. James T. Kobus and Arthur James Hay, both of whom were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part) reached the German position ahead of his company. After destroying one machine-gun nest he chased the crew from another. MacDowell then spotted one German going into a tunnel. At the base of the tunnel, MacDowell was able to bluff the Germans to think he was part of a much larger force, resulting in the surrendering of two German officers and 75 German soldiers. He sent the prisoners up out the tunnel in groups of 12 so that Kebus and Hay could take them back to the Canadian line. Seeing that he had been fooled, a German prisoner grabbed a rifle and tried to shoot one of the runners. The German was then shot and killed.
Although wounded in the hand, MacDowell continued for five days to hold the position gained, in spite of heavy shellfire, until eventually relieved by his battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Major following his actions at Vimy Ridge.
He later achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the Frontenac Regiment from Napanee, Ontario. After the war, Colonel MacDowell served as an executive of several mining and chemical companies, and from 1923-1928 he acted as private secretary to the Minister of National Defence. He was placed on the retired list as a Lieutenant-Colonel.
In July 1929, he married Norah Jean Hodgson, of Montreal. They first lived in Toronto but moved to Montreal in 1931. He had two sons, Thain H, and Angus J, who still live in Montreal (2011). His wife died on November 1, 1983.
He died in Nassau, the Bahamas, on 28 March 1960. Colonel MacDowell is buried at Oakland Cemetery (R.R.3, Brockville, Ontario, Canada. Anglican Section 3. Lot 112) in the Richardson family plot. The grave is marked by a headstone.