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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Remembering Sergeant John Daniel MacDonald—Died of Wounds April 27, 1917

John Daniel MacDonald was born at Arisaig, Antigonish County on April 3, 1884, the fourth of of Donald and Flora MacDonald’s six children. Some time prior to 1911, John Daniel married Margaret Mann, a native of Mulgrave. The couple established residence in the Guysborough County community, where John Daniel worked as a locomotive fireman on the Intercolonial Railway.

Sgt. John Daniel MacDonald in civilian life.
On November 2, 1915, John Daniel enlisted with the 85th Battalion at Halifax and spent the winter of 1915-16 training on the Commons with the unit. The formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade in early 1916 led to a significant delay in the unit’s overseas departure, as its personnel spent the summer training alongside their Brigade mates at Camp Aldershot. The four units departed Halifax on October 12, 1916 and arrived in England after a seven-day voyage.

While two of the Brigade’s units were dissolved before year’s end, the 85th remained intact and crossed the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917. The battalion completed introductory tours in the line with experienced units and was assigned to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working unit” prior to the Canadian Corps’ scheduled attack on Vimy Ridge, France. Its soldiers were assigned such tasks as carrying supplies to front line units, escorting and guarding the anticipated prisoners of war, and constructing communication trenches in the aftermath of battle.

As the attack progressed during the morning hours of April 9, 1917, 11th Brigade units assigned the task of dislodging German soldiers from Hill 145—the ridge’s highest elevation—suffered significant losses and failed to reach their objective. Concerned that German control of the strategic location might threaten the success of the advance along the remainder of the ridge, military commanders called upon the 85th’s “C” and “D” Companies to complete the task.

At 6:45 p.m., the inexperienced soldiers proceeded up Hill 145 without the protection of an artillery bombardment and successfully secured its western slopes. The following morning, the 85th’s remaining two Companies joined their comrades in the newly established Canadian line atop the ridge. The battalion remained in the trenches for three days as Canadian units consolidated their hold on the strategic location, pushing German forces down its eastern slopes and through the villages below.

In the aftermath of the unit’s withdrawal from the line, John Daniel was promoted to the rank of Acting Sergeant on April 13, a testament to his character and leadership. One week later, the 85th was permanently assigned to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade and commenced regular tours in the line. On the night of April 24, two of its Companies—one of which included John Daniel—returned to the trenches south of Avion. The following evening, personnel commenced construction of a new section of front line and communication trench.

The morning of April 26 opened with supporting Allied artillery launching a “practice barrage” at 5:15 a.m., in preparation for an attack by 1st and 2nd Division units slated for April 28. The bombardment prompted “very heavy enemy retaliation,” a number of the German shells striking the 85th’s location and inflicting 13 casualties.

Sgt, John Daniel MacDonald, 85th Battalion.
John Daniel was among the soldiers wounded during the bombardment. He was evacuated to a nearby field ambulance, where he died from his wounds on April 27, 1917. sergeant John Daniel MacDonald was laid to rest in La Chaudière Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Bruce MacDonald's "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917" contains a detailed version of Sgt. John Daniel MacDonald's story, along with profiles of 71 other Guysborough County soldiers and sailors who died during the first three years of the war. The book is available for purchase at bantrypublishing.ca .

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Remembering CSM Donald Drummond Fraser—Died of Wounds April 12, 1917

Donald Drummond Fraser was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County on November 14, 1895. The second of five children in the family of Alfred W. and Christina “Tina” (Murray) Fraser, Donald’s parents were Pictou County natives. The Fraser family was active in mining operations at Goldenville, where Alfred was employed at the time of his 1893 marriage.
CSM Donald Drummond Fraser.

Both Donald and his older brother, Alexander Murray, enlisted for overseas service with the 6th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles, at Amherst, NS on March 30, 1915. Donald had commenced training with the unit in early February and earned a promotion to the rank of Corporal prior to his attestation. Six weeks after completing their attestation papers, the siblings were transferred to the 55th Battalion (New Brunswick) and accompanied the unit to Camp Valcartier in mid-June.

Within days of their arrival, military officials assigned the brothers to a reinforcement draft destined for the 1st Battalion (Western Ontario). The draft departed Quebec on June 19 aboard SS Corsican and arrived in England nine days later. Temporarily assigned to the 12th Reserve Battalion, both brothers received promotions in August. Donald advanced to the rank of Lance Sergeant—a Corporal acting in the rank of a Sergeant—and was confirmed in the full rank of Sergeant before months end, while Murray was appointed Lance Corporal.

Officially transferred to the 1st Battalion on August 27, Donald and Murray crossed the English Channel to France the following day and joined the 1st Battalion in the field on September 4, 1915. The 1st was one of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s most experienced battalions, having crossed the North Atlantic in October 1914 as part of the 1st Canadian Contingent. Assigned to the 1st Division’s 1st Brigade, the unit crossed to France in early February 1915 and entered the trenches of Belgium’s Ypres Salient alongside the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions—all Ontario units—before month’s end.

Throughout the winter and spring of 1915 - 16, Donald and Murray served with the 1st Battalion in the Belgian trenches. Their first introduction to major combat occurred in June 1916 at Mount Sorrel, where Murray was amongst the unit’s fatalities. Donald followed the 1st to the Somme in August 1916 and was promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major—his Company’s senior-ranking non-commissioned officer—the following month. He was two months shy of his twenty-first birthday at the time.

While not involved in the Canadian Corps’ major Somme battles, the 1st suffered considerable casualties during its tours near Courcelette and Regina Trench. The unit followed the Corps northward to sectors near Vimy Ridge, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916 - 17. As spring approached, the Canadian units prepared for their assault on Vimy Ridge, scheduled for early April 1917.

The 1st Division occupied the right flank of the Canadian Corps’ line at Vimy, its units having to cover the longest distance to reach the village of Farbus, their final objective. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 1st Brigade occupied support positions behind the 2nd Brigade, which launched the initial phase of the attack at 5:30 a.m. and secured its first and second objectives within two hours. The 1st, 3rd and 4th Battalions then passed through their lines and advanced toward the village of Farbus and an adjacent wooded area.

By mid-morning, the 1st Battalion had captured its final objective and set about consolidating its position. Personnel remained in the line for two days following the advance, the last of its soldiers retiring during the night of April 12/13. The 1st reported two Officers killed and four wounded during the tour, while 47 of its “other ranks” (OR) were killed, 156 wounded and 26 missing following the battle.

Company Sergeant Major Donald Drummond Fraser was one of the first day’s casualties, “severely wounded by an enemy shell immediately after his Company had reached their objective.” He was evacuated to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station, where “he succumbed [to his wounds] on April 12, 1917.” Donald was laid to rest in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Fraser Memorial stone, Lorne St. Cemetery, New Glasgow, NS.
Detailed summaries of Murray and Donald Fraser’s stories are among the 72 profiles included in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available online from Bantry Publishing.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Remembering James Arthur "Red Jim" Taylor—Died of Wounds April 10, 1917

James Arthur “Red Jim” Taylor was born on August 13, 1882 at Forks at St. Mary’s, Guysborough County. The fourth of five children raised by Mary Ann (Mason) and John William Taylor, Jim’s father was a local boot maker. It was John William’s second marriage; several years older than his bride, he passed away sometime prior to 1901.

Following his mother’s death in 1908, Jim relocated to Stellarton, where he resided with a younger sister, Bess, and worked in the local coal mines. When military recruiters canvassed Pictou County in search of recruits for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, Jim enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Stellarton on March 19, 1916.

Ptes. "Red Jim" Taylor (right) & Dan C. McIsaac.
Following a summer’s training at Camp Aldershot, Jim departed for England aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916 and arrived at Liverpool, England six days later. When the 193rd was dissolved several months later, Jim was transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on December 5, 1916. He proceeded to France the following day and spent one month at the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre. On January 2, 1917, he was temporarily assigned to the 3rd Entrenching Battalion.

Following seven weeks’ service in the forward area with the labour unit, Jim received a second transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on February 24, 1917. He departed for the 85th’s camp on March 5 and joined its ranks three days later. The 85th was the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s senior unit. Its soldiers trained alongside the 193rd at Aldershot and its ranks contained numerous personnel from the province’s various mining communities. The unit had arrived in France on February 10, 1917 and commenced introductory tours in the trenches with experienced units before month’s end.

In the weeks prior to the Canadian Corps’ scheduled attack on Vimy Ridge, France, the 85th was attached to the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working” unit. During the battle, its personnel were scheduled to carry supplies and ammunition to front line units, escort and guard prisoners of war, and construct the communication trenches required to access the ridge, following its capture. Lt. Col. Allison Hart Borden, the 85th’s Commanding Officer (CO), nevertheless insisted that his charges prepare for combat alongside the 11th Brigade’s regular units. As subsequent events unfolded, Borden’s foresight proved most beneficial.

The 4th Division received the most challenging part of the Vimy Ridge operation—the capture of Hill 145, the ridge’s highest feature. At 5:30 a.m. Aril 9, the 11th Brigade’s 87th and 102nd Battalions went “over the top” with their 1st, 2nd and 3rd Division counterparts. While units to their right made steady progress toward their objectives, the 4th Division’s soldiers encountered fierce resistance from German strongpoints along the slopes below Hill 145.

By early afternoon, while the three Divisions on its right had secured their objectives, the outcome on the 4th Division’s frontage remained uncertain. In need of fresh troops to complete the task, Major General Sir David Watson, the 4th Division’s CO, ordered two of the 85th’s inexperienced companies to prepare for battle. “C” and “D” Companies were outfitted at mid-afternoon and made their way through Tottenham Tunnel to the same “jumping off” trench from which the 4th Division launched the morning attack.

While artillery units were initially scheduled to provide a covering barrage, military commanders cancelled the action at the last minute, lest the shells shell Canadian soldiers trapped on the hill, as well as those holding positions on its flanks. As a result, the two Companies proceeded up Hill 145 at 6:45 p.m. without artillery support. In a fierce firefight that lasted approximately 15 minutes, the 85th’s soldiers drove the Germans from the western side of the hill and down its eastern slope. They then set about establishing a new line along the crest of the ridge.

Pte. J. A. Taylor's headstone, Villers Station Cemetery, Villers au Bois, France.
The 85th lost more than 40 soldiers in the April 9 attack, while numerous others were wounded. Private James Arthur Taylor was amongst the casualties evacuated to No. 11 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment. Jim succumbed to his injuries on April 10, 1917 and was laid to rest in Villers Station Cemetery, Villers au Bois, France.

Jim Taylor's story is one of 72 profiles contained in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available at Bantry Publishing.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Guysborough's "Vimy Boys"

Dozens of Guysborough County natives participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge, launched in the early morning hours of April 9, 1917. By day’s end. five of the county’s young men were among the day’s 3,598 fatalities.

*****


Sergeant Levi Martin “Lee” Hart was born at Canso, Guysborough County on March 7, 1890. Lee’s father, George Norris Wilberforce “Will” Hart, advanced to the rank of Major with the 66th Regiment, Princess Louise Fusiliers, before retiring to Canso, where he opened a mercantile business. His mother, Ella Blanche Smith, was a Halifax native whose family was actively involved in the city’s business community.

Sgt. Levi Martin "Lee" Hart
After completing his high school education, Lee obtained employment with the Bank of Montreal’s Canso branch. He subsequently worked at branches in Danville, QC and Lunenburg, NS, but eventually headed west in 1912, having accepted a position in a Weyburn, SK real estate office operated by his maternal uncle, Howard H. Smith.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lee continued to work in Saskatchewan, but by early 1916 he began to contemplate military enlistment. After completing an officers’ training program at a local School of Instruction, Lee enlisted with the 152nd Battalion at Weyburn on June 5, 1916. Following several months’ training at Camp Hughes, near Brandon, MB, the 152nd departed from Halifax on October 3 and arrived at Liverpool, England ten days later.

Upon arriving overseas, Lee was promoted to the rank of Acting Sergeant, but “reverted to ranks” following the 152nd’s dissolution. On November 12, 1916, Lee was transferred to the 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry). One of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s most experienced units, the 5th first entered the Belgian trenches with the 1st Canadian Division’s 2nd Brigade in late February 1915.

Following his transfer, Lee immediately crossed the English Channel to France and joined his new unit in the forward area on December 2, 1916. He served with the 5th in the sectors near Vimy Ridge for four months and participated in the preparations for the Canadian Corps’ attack on the German stronghold. The 5th Battalion occupied the Corps’ extreme right flank in the hours prior to the assault, its objective to capture the German front line and advance to a “red line” in front of a second defensive position.

At 5:30 a.m. April 9, 1917, the 5th’s soldiers went “over the top” toward the German line and succeeded in securing their first objective within 30 minutes. Personnel continued the advance, securing the “red line” by 9:00 a.m.. The advance cost the unit 14 Officer casualties—including five fatalities—and 200 “other rank” (OR) casualties. Lee was one of its OR fatalities, struck “by a machine gun bullet just as he was about to leave a shell hole.” He was laid to rest “where he fell” and later reinterred in Nine Elms Military Cemetery, Thélus, France.

*****

Private Harold Kennedy was born at Guysborough, Guysborough County on February 26, 1898. His attestation papers list his next of kin as William Kennedy, son of Jeremiah Kennedy, Salmon River Lake. His father’s identity remains a mystery, but documents in his service file identify a “Helen Hester, Seattle, Washington” as his mother.

Harold enlisted with the 121st Battalion (“Western Irish”) at Vancouver, BC on July 3, 1916. Six weeks later, the unit departed Halifax but was subsequently disbanded after arriving overseas. Harold was transferred to the 102nd Battalion (British Columbia) on December 5, 1916 and crossed the English Channel to France the following day.

The 102nd was part of the 4th Canadian Division’s 11th Brigade and arrived in France in August 1916. The battalion received its first major combat experience at the Somme in October and November 1916. Harold was part of a large group of reinforcements who joined the unit in early January 1917 as it rebuilt its ranks. Harold served with the unit throughout the next three months and was in the line on the morning of April 9, 1917 as the 102nd prepared to advance on Hill 145, the ridge’s highest point.

While the unit gained its initial objectives by 8:00 a.m., German soldiers atop Hill 145 survived the morning’s artillery barrage and enfiladed their position throughout the morning. The 87th Battalion to its left had failed to maintain pace, exposing the unit’s flank to sniper and machine gun fire from atop the ridge. While the 85th Battalion advanced during the early evening hours and finally captured the hill, the 102nd sustained significant casualties from the devastating fire throughout the day.

Pte. Harold Kennedy's headstone, Bois Carré Cemetery, Thélus France
A staggering 113 OR were killed, 180 wounded and 27 missing following the 102nd’s three-day Vimy tour. Nineteen-year-old Harold Kennedy was one of the OR killed at some point during the first day’s fighting. His remains were recovered from the battlefield and laid to rest in Bois Carré Cemetery, Thélus, France.
*****

Private Arthur Freeman Levangie was born on May 18, 1893, the second child and oldest son of George and Sophia (Cashen) Levangie, Port Felix, Guysborough County. Arthur was working as a steward on the Intercolonial Railway when he enlisted with the 237th Battalion at Saint John, NB on June 26, 1916.

Ptes. Arthur Levangie (left) & Amos Cashin.

One of several “American Legion” units organized across Canada during the early months of 1916, the 237th focused on recruiting American veterans interested in overseas service. The recruitment of citizens from a “neutral” country created considerable controversy. As a result, authorities dissolved most “American Legion” units before they departed Canada. Following the 237th’s dissolution, Arthur was transferred to the 97th Battalion—an “American Legion” unit that remained intact—and departed for England on September 18, 1916.

Shortly after arriving overseas, the 97th was also dissolved, at which time Arthur accompanied its personnel reported to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) — Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Depot at Seaford, England. Arthur was assigned to the PPCLI’s ranks on December 13 and crossed the English Channel to France.

The PPCLI was the Canadian Expeditionary Forc’es most experienced unit, having arrived on the continent in December 1914 and entered the Belgian trenches on January 5, 1915. As with other Canadian batalions, its soldiers spent the first months of 1917 in trenches near Vimy Ridge, France. The PPCLI and RCR led the 7th Infantry Brigade’s attack on its assigned sector of the ridge, achieving their objectives within two hours.

While casualties were light during the advance, German artillery subjected the PPCLI’s position to heavy shell fire throughout the day and evening. While its personnel maintained their position, 60 soldiers were killed, while another 142 were wounded and 10 missing during its time in the line at Vimy Ridge. Private Arthur Freeman Levangie was one of the 10 soldiers initially reported “missing” following the first day of fighting. He never returned to his unit and his remains was never located.
Private Arthur Freeman Levangie’s name is among the 11,285 Canadian soldiers’ names engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge. All were killed in action on the battlefields of northern France and have no known grave.
*****
Private Allen Ellsworth Munroe was born at Whitehead, Guysborough County on July 31, 1894, the third of seven children and second-oldest son of Andrew David and Anna Ernest “Annie” (Ehler) Munroe. Allen enlisted for service with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916 and departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916.

Pte. Allen Ellsworth Munroe

Following the 193rd’s dissolution several months later, Allen was transferred to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), the second of three units recruited for overseas service by the Montreal-based militia unit. All three became known as the Canadian “Black Watch,” through the militia unit’s affiliation with the famous Scottish regiment. The 42nd had arrived in France in October 1915 and commenced service in the line with the 3rd Canadian Division’s 7th Brigade, alongside the 49th Battalion (Edmonton, AB), RCR and PPCLI.

Allen joined the 42nd’s ranks in early January 1917 and served with the unit in the trenches near Vimy Ridge in subsequent months. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 42nd was one of three 7th Brigade units slated to participate in the initial advance. While the 42nd’s soldiers secured their initial objective by 8:15 a.m., the 102nd Battalion to its right failed to keep pace, exposing the 42nd’s left flank to devastating German fire from Hill 145.

The unit suffered an estimated 200 casualties by mid-morning and experienced great difficulty in evacuating its wounded. Its soldiers nevertheless maintained their position until supporting Canadian units succeeded in capturing Hill 145 and securing the ridge. The 42nd reported five Officer fatalities and 291 OR casualties during its 48 hours in the line. Private Allen Ellsworth Munroe was amongst the OR killed during the first day’s fighting. His remains were retrieved from the battlefield and laid to rest in Liévin Communal Cemetery, France.

*****
Private George Louis Dort was born at Peas Brook, Guysborough County on November 25, 1897. The fifth of George Louis and Martha (George) Dort’s eight children, George enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on March 31, 1916. He departed for England with the 193rd on October 12, 1916 and was initially transferred to the 42nd Battalion on December 5, 1916, following the 193rd’s dissolution.

While he crossed the English Channel to France the following day, George was hospitalized with influenza shortly after arriving on the continent. As a result, he spent more than two months at CBD Le Havre, awaiting orders to proceed to the forward area. On February 24, 1917, George received a transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) and joined his new unit in the forward area two weeks later.

The 85th had arrived in France on February 10, 1917 and its personnel were completing introductory tours with experienced units at the time of George’s arrival. As its soldiers had no combat experience, the 85th was attached to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working unit,” while the Canadian Corps completed preparations for the attack on Vimy Ridge. Its soldiers would carry ammunition and supplies to front line units, escort and guard prisoners of war, and construct communications trenches to captured positions as the battle progressed.

Despite its “working” assignment, Lt. Col. Allison Hart Borden, the 85th’s Commanding Officer, insisted that his soldiers prepare for combat alongside the 11th Brigade’s regular combat units, a decision that later proved critical. The Brigade’s units faced the day’s most formidable challenge—the capture of Hill 145, the ridge’s highest position. On the morning of April 9, 1917, while the attack proceeded successfully to their right, the two 11th Brigade units spearheading the advance failed to displace German soldiers from their advantageous positions atop the hill.

The morning attack’s final outcome hung in the balance as German snipers and machine gunners enfiladed Canadian units along Hill 145’s flanks. Concerned that the position might provide Germans with an opportunity to mass a counter-attack, Major-General David Watson, the 4th Division’s Commander, called upon two of the inexperienced 85th Battalion’s companies to prepare for battle. “C” and “D” Companies were outfitted for combat at mid-afternoon and made their way through Tottenham Tunnel to the trenches below Hill 145.

At 6:45 p.m., the two companies advanced up the hill without the benefit of artillery support. While fierce German fire hindered their progress, the soldiers maintained their composure and succeeded in dislodging the enemy from Hill 145’s western slopes. The ridge’s highest feature secured and German forces pushed down its eastern side a secure distance, the 85th’s soldiers settled in for the night.

Pte. George Louis Dort's headstone, No. 2 Canadian Cemetery, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.

The following morning, their “A” and “B” Company comrades joined them atop the ridge as Canadian units cleared pockets of German resistance and pushed enemy forces down the remainder of Hill 145’s eastern slope. The 85th had received its first combat experience, but it came at a price. An estimated 43 soldiers were killed during the evening attack. Young Private George Louis Dort was one of the fallen soldiers. Seven months shy of his twentieth birthday, George was laid to rest in Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.

*****

Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains detailed profiles of Guysborough’s five “Vimy Boys,” along with 67 other stories outlining the war service of the county’s soldiers and sailors who died in military service during the war’s first three years.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments - March 1917

Three individuals with connections to Guysborough County enlisted for service with Canadian military units during the month of March 1917:

1. Vernon Foster Hendsbee:

Vernon Foster Hendsbee was born at Canso, Guysborough County on November 17, 1895. The third of Elias Grover and Ellen Amelia (Haines) Hendsbee’s four children, Vernon was living at Middle Country Harbour at the time of his enlistment with the “Field Artillery Howitzer Ammunition Column” at Halifax, NS on March 10, 1917.

Vernon departed Halifax aboard HMT Megantic on November 24, 1917 and arrived at Liverpool, England two weeks later. After spending the winter of 1917 - 18 in England, Vernon crossed the English Channel to France on March 8, 1918 and reported to the Canadian Field Artillery Reinforcement Depot. One month later, he was assigned to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column as a “Driver.”

Vernon’s time in service was plagued with health issues. On May 23, 1918, he was admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance, where his sputum was tested for tuberculosis. Transferred to No. 19 Casualty Clearing Station before day’s end, he was diagnosed with bronchitis and was transported to No. 5 General Hospital, Rouen for treatment on June 6. He spent one month in hospital, after which he was discharged to No. 13 Convalescent Camp.

On July 22, Vernon was released from hospital and reported to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp, Étaples. While he progressed to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre on August 5, a suspected case of dysentery prevented his return to the forward area. Vernon was admitted to No. 20 General Hospital, Camiers on August 14 and spent one month in its care. Discharged to No. 6 Convalescent Depot, Étaples on September 16, he was re-admitted to No, 56 General Hospital, Étaples on October 24 with influenza.

Due to his health record, Vernon was invalided to England on November 1 and admitted to 2nd West General Hospital, Manchester. Transferred to Woodcote Park Military Convalescent Hospital, Epsom on November 12, he was discharged two weeks later. Vernon spent the winter of 1918 - 19 in England. He was admitted to No. 9 Canadian General Hospital, Kemmel Park on April 5, 1919 for treatment of influenza and discharged one week later. Vernon spent the spring and early summer awaiting orders to return home.

On August 9, 1919, Vernon departed for Canada aboard HMT Caronia and was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS before month’s end. He eventually settled at Sand Point, near Mulgrave and married Mary Ann (Laurie) Hendsbee, a 28-year-old widow, on May 8, 1923. Vernon worked in the local fishery, while he and Mary Ann raised a family of four children, three sons and one daughter. Vernon was also an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Mulgrave.

Throughout his post-war years, Vernon was plagued by the same health problems that disrupted his military service. He passed away at Sand Point on April 9, 1964 and was laid to rest in St. James Cemetery, Melford, Guysborough County.


2. Andrew Haley:

Andrew Haley was born at Port Felix, Guysborough County on August 6, 1902. The youngest of six children born to John Adam and Matilda (Richards) Haley, Andrew was determined to follow in his older brother Simon’s footsteps. Simon attested with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916 and departed for England with the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade on October 12, 1916.  Transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion in January 1917, Simon was assigned to the 85th Battalion’s ranks in July 1917 and immediately departed for France.

Several months prior to Simon’s arrival at the front, Andrew travelled to Saint John, NB, where he attested for service with the 216th Battalion on March 13, 1917. One of several “bantam” units recruited for overseas service, the 216th accepted men who did not meet the height requirements of regular infantry units. Andrew gave his date of birth as August 8, 1898 at the time of his enlistment, While his height - five feet two inches - and weight - 120 pounds - would not have been unusual for a “bantam” candidate, he was actually five months shy of his fifteenth birthday at the time of his enlistment.

While Andrew trained with the 216th for six weeks, authorities eventually realized that he was underage. On May 2, he was transferred to the “Details Company,” Military District 6 and placed on the “Composite Battalion” pay card. Two weeks later, Andrew was discharged at Halifax for “being under-age.” His military record recorded his age as 16 years, six months—one year older than his birthday indicates.

Undaunted, Andrew returned to Guysborough County, where he joined the ranks of the 94th Victoria Regiment, Argyll Highlanders. The unit was one of two militia units that guarded the Commercial Cable Company facilities at Hazel Hill and the location where the trans-Atlantic cable came ashore near Canso. After serving with the 94th for more than a year, Andrew successfully completed the required medical examination for military service at Hazel Hill on June 25, 1917.

Five weeks later, Andrew made his way to Camp Aldershot, where he once again attested for overseas military service on July 30, 1918. While he enlisted on a “Military Service Act” conscription form, the line that should have contained his “MSA” number stated that he was “transferred from 6th C.G. R. [Canadian Garrison Regiment].” On this occasion, he gave his date of birth as August 5, 1900. While his height and weight remained the same, military authorities did not challenge his stated age, although a note at the top of the form stated: “Not to be sent O/S [overseas] until 19 years [of age].”

Andrew departed from Halifax on August 2 and arrived in England after a 13-day voyage. He was “taken on strength” by the 17th Reserve Battalion at Camp Bramshott on August 16 and remained in England throughout the winter of 1918-19. Following the cessation of hostilities, the Canadian Expeditionary Force required personnel at the front to carry out work consolidating the various small graveyards scattered across France and Belgium into military cemeteries. On May 16, 1919, Andrew was assigned to the Canadian War Graves Detachment (CWGD) and made his way across the English Channel to France.

In the weeks following the November 11, 1918 Armistice, British military authorities turned their attention to the issue of the war’s fallen soldiers. While the recent battlefields contained the remains of soldiers killed during the final weeks of combat, officials also faced the challenge of dealing with numerous isolated graves and “a myriad of accidental inhumations.”

The Directorate of Graves Registrations & Enquiries (DGR&E) in co-operation with the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC)—established on May 21, 1917—commenced planning the establishment of cemeteries in all combat areas. An estimated 160,000 “isolated graves” required removal to cemeteries, while the two organizations set about combining smaller cemeteries into larger ones. Perhaps the greatest problem was locating and identifying an estimated 500,000 soldiers who were “missing, presumed dead.”

Exhumation work commenced on November 21, 1918 and continued throughout the winter of 1918-19, as weather conditions permitted. The Canadian government volunteered its services in searching battlefields in the Albert/Courcelette and Vimy Ridge areas, where large numbers of Canadian soldiers had served throughout the war. Australia presented a similar offer in relation to the Pozières and Villers Bretonneux areas.

Private Andrew Haley was amongst a group of 1000 Canadian soldiers who volunteered for duty with the Canadian War Graves Detachment in the spring of 1919. While his decision may have been inspired by a desire to see the battlefields where the war was fought, Andrew may have also planned to visit the grave of his older brother, Simon, who was killed near Dury, France on September 2, 1918 and laid to rest in Dury Mill British Cemetery.

The Canadian War Graves Detachment crossed the English Channel to France on May 18, 1919 and six days later proceeded to the Arras area by train. The unit’s two Companies commenced their work on June 2, one of No. 2 Company’s platoons assigned to the Courcelette area while remaining personnel assisted in burying the dead at Maroc British Cemetery and combed the “shelled areas” in search of human remains.

The soldiers toiled six days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the remainder of the day occupied with recreational activities. The widespread presence of unexploded shells on the battlefield made for treacherous working conditions. Despite repeated warnings, two “other ranks” (OR) died from injuries sustained in accidental explosions during the first two weeks of work, while several others suffered wounds.

For reasons not specified in the CWGD’s war diaries, the unit’s work ceased in early July 1919. Andrew returned to the United Kingdom on July 8 and departed for Canada aboard HMT Saturnia before month’s end. He was officially discharged from military service at Halifax on August 13, 1919. Andrew initially returned to Port Felix, where he worked in the local fishery. He eventually relocated to Halifax, where he was employed as a “seaman.”

Andrew married Helen Agnes LeCoff [LeCouffe], a native of Dalhousie, Restigouche County, NB. The couple remained in the Halifax area, where Andrew worked as an “air craftsman” during the early 1940s. He later became a Constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). His wife Helen passed away in 1973. No records exist as to whether the couple had any children. Andrew Haley died at Halifax in July 1979 and was laid to rest in Lower Sackville, NS.


3. Maynard Emerson Giffin:

Maynard Emerson Griffin was born at Goldsboro, Guysborough County on March 13, 1883. The oldest of Obed Chute and Theodora Ernst (Bezanson) Giffin’s six sons, Sometime after 1900,Maynard relocated to Halifax and was employed as a tailor. He married Ida May Levy on September 30, 1908. The couple had five children—three boys and two girls—when he enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on March 15. 1917.

Maynard’s father, Obed, went to sea at an early age and became a renowned Nova Scotian mariner. He enlisted for service with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in July 1917. Despite his age—he was 66 years old at the time of his enlistment—Obed served as Skipper aboard several RCN vessels during fourteen months of military service.

Maynard was promoted to the rank of Sergeant shortly after his enlistment. While he passed his initial medical, a second, more thorough examination at Camp Aldershot determined that his “vision [was] very defective. Left eye absolutely useless. Can only read D 200 at 30 feet with right eye.” As a result, Maynard was discharged as “medically unfit’” on May 31 1917.

Maynard returned to his work as a tailor and remained in the Halifax area following his military discharge. A set of twin girls joined the family in 1921. Maynard Emerson Giffin passed away at Spryfield, NS on December 26, 1970.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Remembering Private John James Ignatius "Jimmy" Fraser—Died of Wounds March 24, 1917

John James Ignatius “Jimmy” Fraser was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County, NS, the second of of John James and Elizabeth “Lizzie” (O’Neil) Fraser’s five children. While census records indicate that Jimmy was born on October 12, 1899, he reported his year of birth as 1896 when he attested with the 106th Battalion at Antigonish, NS on December 7, 1915. A younger brother, Colin Francis (DOB June 5, 1901) similarly misrepresented his age when he joined the same unit six weeks later.


Jimmy departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 16, 1916 and landed in England nine days later. Transferred to the 40th Reserve Battalion on October 5 following the 106th’s dissolution, Jimmy spent little more than a month with his new unit. On November 10, 1916, he was selected for service with the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) and five days later crossed the English Channel to the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) at Le Havre, France.

Jimmy joined the 87th’s ranks at Frévillers, France on December 7th and before month’s end entered the Zouave Valley trenches, near Vimy Ridge, for his first “tour in the line.” The 87th served a regular rotation in the forward area throughout the months of January and February 1917. The arrival of spring weather brought a noticeable increase in artillery, mortar and gun fire. During a tour that commenced on March 18, the 87th sustained daily casualties, its greatest losses occurring on March 23 and 24, when five “other ranks” (OR) were killed, six OR wounded and one OR died of wounds.

Private Jimmy Fraser was wounded by gunfire on March 23 and rushed to No. 18 Casualty Clearing Station for treatment. He died of his wounds at 10:00 a.m. the following day—March 24, 1917—and was laid to rest in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Jimmy was seven months shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his death.

Jimmy’s younger brother, Colin Francis, had accompanied him to England but remained in England with the 26th Reserve Battalion throughout the winter and spring of 1916-17. On June 20, 1917, Colin was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). The following day, he crossed the English Channel to CBD Le Havre and was temporarily assigned to 3rd Entrenching Battalion on July 11.

About this time, officials in France discovered that Colin was actually 16 years old when he was transferred to the RCR. A family member, no doubt distraught over Jimmy’s death six weeks earlier, submitted a copy of Colin’s baptismal records—completed at Mulgrave by Rev. John Fraser, Parish Priest, St. Lawrence Church on May 7, 1917—to the Department of Militia & Defence, Ottawa. Military authorities subsequently notified officials in France, who immediately sent Colin back to England. He departed for Canada on August 26 and was discharged from military service at Halifax, NS on September 26, 1917.

A detailed version of Private Jimmy Fraser’s story is among the 72 profiles included in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available for purchase online.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Remembering Private Louis John Burns: Died of Sickness March 1, 1917

Louis John Burns was born at Sonora, Guysborough County, NS on June 2, 1896. The oldest of Helen “Nellie” (Cass) and John Penney Burns’s four children, Louis enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Halifax on January 23, 1917.


Authorized in August 1916 as a “reserve” unit for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, the 246th’s initial members consisted of personnel deemed “unfit for service at the Front” after the Brigade’s four units finalized their nominal rolls. Military authorities planned to provide the soldiers with additional training, and recruit sufficient personnel during the winter of 1916-17 to bring the unit to full strength.

Louis Burns was one of the 246th’s “winter recruits.” Unfortunately, response to the unit’s appeals fell short of expectations. Officials therefore decided to send the battalion’s soldiers overseas in two “reinforcement drafts.” Louis never departed for England. While his medical examination failed to detect any health concerns, he was admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital, Halifax, on February 27, 1917 for treatment of “acute nephritis” (inflammation of the kidneys).

On March 1, 1917, Private Louis John Burns died of kidney failure and pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs). Military authorities transported his remains to Guysborough County, where Louis was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Wine Harbour.

Private Louis John Burns’ story is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917, available at Bantry Publishing.