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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Remembering Sergeant Joseph Charles Morgan—Died of Sickness September 19, 1917

Joseph Charles Morgan (222955) was born at Guysborough, Guysborough County on January 5, 1879, the second of Elizabeth Ann (Hadley) and Joseph Christopher Morgan’s four children. Joseph Christopher passed away in 1905, while Elizabeth died three years later. Joseph Charles remained at Guysborough, where he earned a living as a farmer and carpenter during the pre-war years.

Joseph commenced training with the 85th Battalion at Halifax, NS on September 29, 1915. Considerably older than the majority of the unit’s recruits—he was 36 years of age at the time—he formally attested with the unit on November 1. Joseph spent the winter of 1915-16 training with the 85th at Halifax. The January 1916 formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade delayed its overseas departure for several months. Joseph’s promotion to the rank of Sergeant on April 2, 1916 suggests that his superiors were impressed with his character and leadership skills. Two months later, the 85th’s personnel relocating to Camp Aldershot for a summer of drill alongside the Brigade’s three newly formed Brigade units.

Joseph was not aboard SS Olympic as the Highland Brigade departed for England on October 12. At the first of the month, health concerns led to his transfer to No. 6 Military District Depot, Halifax. A formal medical report, completed at Camp Aldershot two days prior to the Brigade’s departure, concluded that Joseph was suffering from “chronic bronchitis” and “phthisis pulmonis [sic - pulmonalis, aka tuberculosis].” The document also stated that Joseph’s health had been “aggravated by service” and as a result he was plagued with several “chronic” conditions. The report recommended admission to a sanatorium and formal discharge as “medically unfit.”

On October 23, Joseph was admitted to military hospital, where he remained in care for one month. Officially discharged from military service on December 23, 1916, he returned to Guysborough, where Dr. G. E. Buckley monitored his health. In an April 18, 1917 report to military authorities, Dr. Buckley confirmed the military’s preliminary diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Joseph’s family apparently had a history of the disease, which the physician attributed in Joseph’s case to bronchitis contracted due to “exposure during camp life.” The prognosis was not promising: “He is losing some flesh and, unless [his] temperature subsides, must fail rapidly.” Dr. Buckley recommended “treatment in a Sanatorium under medical supervision,” if Joseph “recovers sufficiently to travel.”

Unfortunately, Joseph’s health continued to decline as the months passed. Sergeant Joseph Charles Morgan passed away at Guysborough on September 19, 1917 and was laid to rest in the local Methodist Cemetery. His younger brother and next of kin, William Henry Morgan, Guysborough, later received a Memorial Plaque and Scroll engraved with his name.

Bantry Publishing's First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917 contains a detailed summary of Joseph Charles Morgan's military service.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments—August 1917

Two Guysborough County natives enlisted for service with Canadian Expeditionary Force units during the month of August 1917.

1. Chester Alvin Strople (2075565) was born at North Intervale, Guysborough County on December 28, 1885 [1883 on attestation papers], the son of James Robert and Mary Eliza (Lipsett) Strople. Two of Chester’s brothers—Howard Nightingale and Whitfield Raymond—also enlisted for service during the First World War.

Chester appears to have spent some time in the United States prior to the war, crossing the border from South Dakota to Fort Frances, ON in October 1912. He gave his address as “Camp Leaside,” Toronto and occupation as “farmer” at the time of his attestation with the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada at Montreal QC on August 6, 1917. The Montreal-based militia unit had raised three battalions for overseas service. Two battalions—the 13th and 42nd—were still deployed on the Western Front at the time of Chester’s enlistment with a draft of reinforcements destined for service with one of the RHC’s overseas units. No further details are available on Chester’s military service.

Following his time in uniform, Chester returned to the Montreal area. He was working as a shoemaker at the time of his April 30, 1919 marriage to Elodia Sybil Stanley at Montreal. The couple settled in Mercier, QC following their marriage. No further information is available on Chester’s later life.

2. James Muriel "Jim" Pride (Pryde) (2303817) was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County on July 28, 1897, the son of Solomon E. and Jessie (Grant) Pride. Jim enlisted with the Nova Scotia Railway Construction and Forestry Draft at Camp Aldershot, NS on August 8, 1917.

James Muriel "Jim" Pride (right).

Jim’s days in uniform were short-lived. Hospitalized at Halifax on September 11, 1917 for treatment of a perforated eardrum, a thorough medical examination determined that his hearing was significantly impaired. As a result, Jim was discharged as “medically unfit” at Windsor, NS on October 31, 1917.

Following his discharge, Jim relocated to Ontario. He was working as a machinist at the time of his marriage to Jessie Matilda Grant at Toronto, ON on March 2, 1921. Online sources indicate that Jim passed away in 1959. No further details are available on his later life.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Guysborough County's "Hill 70 Boys"

In the aftermath of the Canadian Corps’ April 9, 1917 capture of Vimy Ridge, Canadian units served in sectors near the French city of Lens throughout the spring and early summer of 1917. Meanwhile, British forces prepared for a major Belgian summer offensive known as the Third Battle of Ypres, intended to relieve the pressure of the beleaguered French Army to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, British Commander in Chief, desired a diversionary attack in nearby French sectors to occupy German troops there and thus prevent reinforcements being sent to Belgium. He therefore instructed the Canadian Corps to attack and capture the strategic city of Lens. Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Currie, who had been appointed commander of the Canadian Corps in June 1917, studied the area and determined that an attack on an area of high ground to the north of the city of Lens—known as Hill 70—would be of more strategic value than the largely destroyed urban area below.

Currie therefore suggested to General Henry Horne—British First Army Commander and Currie’s immediate superior—that the Canadians capture and reinforce Hill 70, thus forcing the Germans to expend men and resources in efforts to recapture the high ground. Horne agreed and Haig consented to the change of plans.

While Haig’s Belgian offensive commenced on July 31, 1917, poor weather delayed the Hill 70 assault into the following month. At 4:25 a.m. August 15, while the 4th Canadian Division launched a direct diversionary attack on the city of Lens, 1st and Canadian Division units commenced the attack on Hill 70. Ten Canadian battalions advanced along a 4,000-yard front, crashing through the German front line in twenty minutes and seizing their first objective. By 6:00 p.m., the Corps had achieved all of its objectives and personnel set about establishing a new, consolidated line.

In subsequent days, German forces heavily shelled the Canadian line and launched 21 counter-attacks, but were unable to drive the Corps from the high ground. The Canadian success at Hill 70, however, came at considerable cost. Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed, while another 3,800 were wounded. Three soldiers with connections to Guysborough County were among the Canadian Corps’ Hill 70 fatalities.


Roy Quentin Grencon (Greencorn) (715105) was born at Canso, Guysborough County on May 7, 1899, the second of Mary Jane “Jennie” (Armsworthy) and David Frederick Grencon’s 10 children. Sometime after 1911, the family relocated to Belmont, Colchester County. On December 6, 1915, Roy exaggerated his age by two years when he enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Truro, NS.

Pte. Roy Quentin Grencon
The 106th’s ranks contained a number of men from Guysborough County and communities adjacent to its borders. James Alexander Cameron (716118) was one such recruit. Born at East River St. Mary’s, Pictou County on January 19, 1897, James was the oldest of Christina (Fraser) and Angus G. Cameron’s three children. On February 14, 1916, he enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) at Antigonish.

Lance Corporal James Alexander Cameron
James, Roy and their comrades departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 15 and landed in England 10 days later. Within two months of its overseas arrival, the 106th was disbanded and its personnel dispersed to other units. Roy and James were part of a draft of 106th soldiers transferred to the 26th Battalion on September 27. The following day, the group crossed the English Channel to France and arrived in the 26th’s camp in mid-October 1916.

The 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) was part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, where it served alongside the 22nd (Quebec’s “Van Doos”), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 25th (Nova Scotia) Battalions. Roy and James joined the 26th’s ranks following its costly service at the Somme, its personnel reduced to less than 300 “all ranks.” Throughout the autumn of 1916, the battalion rebuilt its ranks. Shortly after Roy and James’s arrival, the unit relocated northward, where it served in sectors near Lens, France throughout the winter of 1916-17.

On April 9, 1917, James and Roy were in the line as the 26th participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic attack on Vimy Ridge. The unit was part of the attack’s first phase, capturing its assigned sector of Zwischen Stellung—a German defensive support position—in less than an hour and suffering only “slight” casualties during the advance. The 26th served on rotation in sectors near Vimy Ridge until early June, when personnel retired to Estrée Cauchie for a period of training.

On July 1, as the 26th prepared to return to the line, James was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. The 26th served in sectors near Lens for three weeks, retiring before month’s end to Bois de Bouvingy for several weeks training. Personnel focused on preparing for the Canadian Corps’ second major engagement of the year—the attack on Hill 70, north of Lens.

On the night of August 14/15, the 26th returned to the line and completed final preparations for the following morning’s attack. While not part of the initial attacking wave, James, Roy and their comrades “pushed off” at 4:25 a.m. April 15, advancing behind the 22nd and 25th Battalions to a Second Assembly area “with very few casualties.”

As the soldiers went “over the top” toward their objective—a German defensive position known as “Norman Trench”—“a great deal of Machine Gun and Rifle Fire was met with and most of [the day’s] casualties took place just after leaving” the Second Assembly Area. The battalion nevertheless secured its objective and set about consolidating its position. During the day, the 26th repelled three German counter-attacks, its soldiers remaining in the line until relieved on the night of August 16/17.

Lance Corporal James Cameron and Private Roy Grencon were among the 26th’s casualties during the first day’s advance toward Norman Trench. Their remains were never recovered from the battlefield. Roy’s and James’ names are engraved on the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, two of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known final resting place. Lance Corporal James Alexander Cameron was 20 years, six months of age at the time of his passing, while Private Roy Quentin Grencon was only three months past his eighteenth birthday.


Harrington John “Hal” Barss (624382) was born at Canso, Guysborough County on February 10, 1888, the second of Sadie (Morris) and John Barss’ three sons. Sadie passed away on November 13, 1891 at age 36, leaving John to care for their young children. Hal’s grandmother moved into the home to assist, while John made a living in the local fishery.
Private Harrington John "Hal" Barss.
In 1906, John relocated to Irma, AB, where his oldest son, Fred, had established a homestead. Two years later, John obtained quarter section and took up farming. Hal and his younger brother, Layton, also obtained pieces of land nearby and established farms as the Barss family settled into a new way of life.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Canadian officials authorized the formation of the 151st (Central Alberta) Battalion, which recruited its ranks from the Strathcona, Battle River and Red Deer areas. On January 11, 1916, 28-year-old Hal Barss enlisted with the 151st at Wainwright, AB. After several months’ training at Camp Sarcee, near Calgary, the battalion made its way across the country by train and departed for England aboard SS California on October 3.

The unit arrived at Liverpool, England 10 days later but was disbanded within weeks of its arrival. Hal was initially transferred to the 9th Reserve Battalion, St. Martin’s Plain, Shorncliffe, but was quickly re-assigned to the 16th Battalion and proceeded across the English Channel to France on November 13, 1916.

One of the first Canadian units organized for overseas service, the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) initially consisted of volunteers from four Canadian Highland militia units. At the time of Hal’s arrival in early December 1916, the 16th was an experienced battalion, having served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient for 16 months and fought at the Somme during the autumn of 1916.

Hal served with the 16th in trenches near Lens, France throughout the winter and spring of 1916-17 and participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 7, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge. Two weeks after the famous battle, Hal provided a detailed description of his Vimy experiences in a letter written to “Irene,” a female acquaintance (see below).

The unit served in sectors near Vimy Ridge throughout the spring and early summer months. Following a week-long break, Hal and his mates returned to trenches near Loos on August 13 as the Canadian Corps prepared for its assault of Hill 70, north of Lens, France. At 2:30 a.m. August 15, the unit’s personnel assumed their assigned positions and awaited the opening barrage. Two hours later, the battalion “leaped out of the trenches led by its pipers” and advanced behind the supporting barrage.

Personnel encountered “little or no resistance” as they captured their objective and set about consolidating their position. The remainder of the day passed quietly, as German artillery fire fell on trench positions well behind the 16th’s location. The following day, however, the guns readjusted their range and heavy shelled the unit’s line throughout the day, causing considerable casualties.

In the early morning hours of August 17, the 16th withdrew from the line and took toll of its Hill 70 losses. Two Officers and 35 “other ranks” (OR) were killed, 201 OR wounded and nine OR missing after two days in the line. Private Harrington John Barss was one of the nine “missing” OR, most likely a victim of the August 16, 1917 artillery fire. He never returned to his unit and his remains were never recovered from the battlefield.

Hal’s name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, erected in memory of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known final resting place. A detailed version of Hal’s story, including his descriptive letter recalling his Vimy experiences, is available here.

Bantry Publishing's First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917 contains a detailed summary of Roy's, James's and Hal's family background and military service, along with 69 other profiles of soldiers with connections to Guysborough County who died of causes related to their service during the first three years of the war.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Remembering Private Truman Bishop Davidson—Died of Sickness August 1, 1917

Truman Bishop Davidson was born on August 2, 1885 at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, the oldest of Marcella M. “Mercy” (Langley) and Robert G. Davidson’s five children. Sometime after 1901, the family relocated to Stellarton, Pictou County, where Truman worked as a machinist in the local Intercolonial Railroad yard. Truman also became a member of the renowned Stellarton Band, a brass ensemble with deep roots in the community. In 1905, the band officially affiliated with the 78th Pictou Highlanders, a local militia unit, and was referred to as the “78th Band” during the pre-war years.

Pte. Truman Bishop Davidson
On February 19, 1908, Truman married Charlotte “Lottie” Baxter, a Stellarton native, and the couple established a home on River Street. Three children soon joined the family—Baxter Grier (1908), Truman Bishop (1910) and Isabel Josephine (1914). While family responsibilities hindered Truman’s ability to enlist, the Stellarton Band’s decision to affiliate with the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) resulted in all but two of its members joining the unit.

Truman was one of 24 band members who attested for overseas service with the 85th Battalion at Westville, NS on September 29, 1915. While their ages varied, the vast majority were older than the unit’s recruits, many of them—like Truman—married with children. Following their enlistment, band members relocated to Halifax, where they played a prominent part in the unit’s recruitment campaign and played at numerous functions in the city.

The formation of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade in January 1916 delayed the 85th’s overseas departure, as military recruiters recruited and trained three new infantry units. The band participated in a recruitment tour of mainland communities during the spring of the year and accompanied the unit to Camp Aldershot for a summer of drill and training. On October 12, the band was on board as the four battalions sailed out of Halifax harbour aboard SS Olympic and arrived at Liverpool, England six days later.

Throughout the winter of 1916-17, the band played concerts for the thousands of soldiers camped in southern England while awaiting orders to proceed to the continent. Before year’s end, military authorities dissolved two of the Brigade’s four units, but the 85th—the Brigade’s senior unit—remained intact and crossed the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917.

At the time, conventional military policy dictated that bands were not part of a unit’s regular personnel and therefore remained in England. However, the 85th’s attachment to its band was particularly strong and therefore assigned its members to stretcher-bearers with its four Companies, allowing them to make the crossing with their mates. A resourceful Quartermaster also managed to conceal their instruments among the unit’s equipment. Upon disembarking at Le Havre, the band members unpacked their instruments and led the way as the 85th’s soldiers proudly marched to nearby St. Martin’s Camp.

While the presence of Truman and his bandmates in France did not pose a problem—they were considered regular enlisted men, having been assigned to a Company for duty—their role with the unit as a band was another matter. According to Lt. Col. Joseph Hayes, the unit’s Medical Officer, until military authorities consented to the continuation of their traditional role, they were “treated as ordinary fighting soldiers and played their part as such.”

In mid-March, band director Lt. Dan Mooney and 41 OR [“other ranks”] left as [a] working party for 3rd Canadian Divisional Artillery” and were “under heavy shell fire day and night for ten days.” Before month’s end, the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and the band assumed its regular tasks, providing entertainment for the men when they were not in the line and entertaining various units encamped nearby.

On the night of April 7/8, the 85th entered the line with the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade prior to the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge. While temporarily attached to the Brigade as a “working unit,” two of its Companies entered the line on the evening of April 9 and captured the western slopes of Hill 145. Meanwhile, the band’s personnel remained in camp. When the tired but victorious soldiers returned to billets at Bouvigny Huts in the early morning hours of April 14, band personnel had made their bunks, lit fires and prepared hot rations for their comrades.

Following the Canadian Corps’ capture of Vimy Ridge, the 85th was permanently attached to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade and commenced regular rotations in the line. The band continued to perform its role, as described by Lt. Col. Hayes:

“Coming out of the line or back from a ‘Show’ [battle, the battalion] was regularly met by them. During the time ‘out,’ the days were replete with Band Concerts—if the billets were scattered, they took turns with the different companies. When the Battalion went ‘in,’ the Bands [brass and pipe and drum] accompanied it as far as regulations permitted, and everyone seemed to step a little smarter, and to hold their head a little higher, as the Bands swung into the old familiar Regimental, on parting.”

The brass band also became a 4th Division fixture, entertaining each Brigade’s units during their breaks from front line duty.

Meanwhile, throughout the spring and early summer, the 85th’s soldiers served regular rotations in sectors near Lens, marching out to billets at Suburban Camp, near Villers au Bois, in early July. After three weeks of rest, training and recreation, personnel returned to line in the early morning hours of July 26. Later that same day, Private Truman Bishop Davidson was admitted to a field ambulance station in respiratory distress and immediately evacuated to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Rouen with bronchial pneumonia. Despite medical staff’s efforts, Truman’s condition worsened and he passed away on August 1, 1917. The father of three was laid to rest in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France.

A detailed summary of Truman’s family background and military service is one of 72 detailed profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 17.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Guysborough County Enlistments—July 1917

Four Guysborough County natives enlisted for service with Canadian Expeditionary Force units during the month of July 1917:

1. Whitfield Raymond Strople (1031140) was born at North Intervale, Guysborough County on September 20, 1894, the eighth of James Robert and Mary Eliza (Lipsett) Strople’s 11 children and the sixth of the couple’s seven sons. In March 1915, Whitfield departed for the United States, where he joined his oldest brother, Ralph, who was living at Cambridge, MA.

When the United States entered the war in early April 1917 and implemented a military draft shortly afterward, Whitfield completed his draft registration card at Cambridge but decided to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Returning to Canada, he attested with the 236th Battalion (New Brunswick Kilties) at Fredericton, NB on July 2, 1917. No further information is presently available on his military service.

Two of Whitfield’s older brothers also enlisted during the First World War. Howard Nightingale Strople (DOB July 4, 1887) attested with the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada at Montreal, QC on June 14, 1917, while his older brother, Chester Alvin (DOB December 28, 1883), joined the same unit on August 6, 1917. The Royal Highlanders of Canada recruited three infantry battalions for service on the Western Front—the 13th, 42nd and 73rd Battalions.

Following the war, Whitfield returned to the Boston area, where he worked as a “servant” in the household of Herbert Nelson, Sharon, MA. Available documents suggest that he spent some time in Seattle, WA in 1923. Whitfield passed away at Montreal, QC on May 4, 1929. Online genealogical sources claim that he died “from the effects of poison gas,” but provide no documentary evidence to support the assertion. Commonwealth War Graves Commission files contain no record of his death, indicating that his passing was never officially connected to his military service.

2. Hugh Everett Bingley (2303811) was born on May 6, 1886 at Fisherman’s Harbour, Guysborough County. Hugh was the sixth child in a family of nine and the fifth of Nicholas and Mary Ann (Potter) Bingley’s six sons. On July 3, 1917, Hugh enlisted with the New Brunswick Forestry Draft at Inverness, NS. His time in uniform was brief. He was discharged as “medically unfit” at Camp Aldershot, NS on August 8, when a thorough medical examination discovered that Hugh had severely defective vision in his right eye. He eventually settled at Halifax, and appears to have remained single throughout his life. Hugh Everett Bingley passed away at Camp Hill Hospital on January 4, 1970.

3. Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison (2330457) was born at Melford, Guysborough County on October 20, 1879, the fifth of Roderick and Euphemia (McIsaac) Morrison’s six children and the third of their four sons. An experienced lumberman, Neil enlisted with the Nova Scotia Forestry Draft at Camp Aldershot, NS on July 16, 1917. He departed Halifax aboard SS Canada on November 6. Upon landing at Liverpool, England two weeks later, Neil reported to the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) Headquarters at Sunningdale.

On February 28, 1918, Neil was assigned to No. 139 Company, CFC and shortly afterward departed for No. 52 District operations near Jedburgh, Scotland with his new unit. Recognizing Neil’s expertise and leadership skills, authorities promoted him to the rank of Acting Sergeant the day after his transfer. In March 1918, No. 139 Company established operations in forests near Jedburgh, where its personnel harvested and milled timber throughout the spring and summer months.

On the morning of Thursday, October 10, Neil was overseeing operations at No. 139 Company’s harvesting site. A strong wind was blowing as he stood beside a load of logs being readied for transport to the mill. Without warning, a tree about 75 feet away teetered and fell, striking Neil and one of the horses hitched to the load. Neil was immediately rendered unconscious, but had recovered somewhat by the time the unit’s Medical Sergeant arrived on the scene.

Neil was immediately transported to a nearby doctor’s residence and subsequently taken to a local hospital. He died later that evening, the blow from the tree having fractured his spine in two places. A subsequent investigation determined that the tree had fallen as the result of the windy conditions and had not been touched by CFC personnel. Sergeant Neil Morrison was laid to rest in Castlewood Cemetery, Jedburgh, Scotland.

4. John William Ryan (67300) was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County on October 14, 1885. The second of five children child and second of three sons in the family of John and Isabel (McKeough) Ryan, John attested for service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps at Halifax on July 24, 1917.

It was John’s second attestation of the war. On November 15, 1914, he joined the 25th Battalion at Halifax and logged 13 months’ service with the unit. Discharged as medically unfit on April 30, 1917—the result of gunshot and shrapnel wounds to his left shoulder and hand—John spent less than three months out of uniform before re-enlisting.

No further details are currently available on John’s military service, but it appears that he may not have remained in uniform for the war’s duration. On February 4, 1918, John married Johanna “Hannah” Boutilier, a native of Glace Bay, at Halifax. At the time, he was working as an “oiler” aboard SS Scotia, the ferry that carried automobiles and train cars between Mulgrave and Point Tupper. John and Hannah took up residence in Mulgrave, where John continued to work aboard the ferry. He died of coronary heart disease at Mulgrave on January 18, 1935.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Remembering Private Joseph Manson "Joe" McIsaac—KIA July 21, 1917

Joseph Manson “Joe” McIsaac was born at Fox Island, Guysborough County on August 28, 1899. His mother, Sarah “Sadie,” was the daughter of Daniel “The Piper” and Jane (Watkins) McIsaac, Canso. Joe was raised in his grandparents’ home, his grandfather Daniel passing away shortly after his birth.

Pte. Joseph Manson "Joe" McIsaac
When military recruiters visited the area in the spring of 1916, Joe enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso on April 1, 1916. Not yet 17 years old the time, he misreported his birthdate by two years in order to qualify for service. Joe spent the summer of 1916 training with the 193rd and its Highland Brigade mates—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (Halifax and southwestern Nova Scotia) Battalions. On October 12, all four units departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic and arrival at Liverpool, England one week later.

Before year’s end, military authorities dissolved two of the Brigade’s four units—the 193rd and 219th Battalions—and redistributed their personnel to other units. On December 29, Joe was transferred to the 185h Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) and remained at Witley Camp for the duration of the winter. On May 27, 1917, he was transferred to the 25th Battalion and crossed the English Channel to France, joining his new unit in the forward area on June 15.

The first of two volunteer units recruited across the province of Nova Scotia, the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) departed Halifax on May 20, 1915 and four months later landed on the continent as part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade. For almost one year, its soldiers served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient alongside their Brigade mates—the 22nd (Quebec’s “Van Doos”), 24th (Victoria Rifles of Canada, Montreal) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.

Following several weeks’ service at the Somme, France during September 1916, the 25th relocated northward to sectors near Lens, France for the winter of 1916-17. The unit participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge and was enjoying a break from the line at the Canadian Corps Rest Area near Gouy-Servins, France when Joe and 146 “other ranks” (OR) reinforcements joined its ranks in mid-June.

The 25th spent the remainder of the month training, its personnel returning to trenches near Cité Beaumont, France on the night of July 2/3. German artillery subjected its sector to “heavy shelling,” while its soldiers worked to consolidate the front line. The 25th’s war diary reported a total of 44 OR casualties during a four-day tour. There was little respite when the battalion retired to support positions, which were also within German artillery range.

On July 10, the 25th withdrew to the safety of Brigade Reserve after a “hard tour in the line.” Following several days’ rest and drill, personnel returned to the Laurent Sector’s trenches on the night of July 16/17. German artillery once again subjected its soldiers to heavy artillery fire throughout a two-day tour. Following relief, the battalion retired to support positions at Maroc on the night of July 18/19, its personnel providing nightly work parties for trench repair for several days.

The 25th’s war diary notes for July 21, 1917 described what appeared to be a routine day in the forward area: “Battalion in support at Maroc. Work Parties supplied, 16 Officers and 515 OR.” The entry makes no mention of casualties. Private Joe McIsaac’s service file, however, states that he was “killed in action at Maroc” that same day, likely a victim of German artillery fire.

Five weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his death, Private Joseph Manson McIsaac’s remains were never recovered from the battlefield. His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Monument at VImy Ridge, France, one of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and whose final resting place is unknown.

Bantry Publishing’s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains a detailed summary of Joe’s family background and war service, along with 71 other profiles of Guysborough County personnel who died during the war’s first three years.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Remembering Private Courtney Alban Hull—KIA July 10, 1917

Courtney Alban Hull was born at New Glasgow, Pictou County on October 6, 1897, the eldest of Joseph and Alice (Moser) Hull’s five children. Joseph was a native of Country Harbour, Guysborough County, the community in which Courtney spent his formative years. Sometime after 1901, the family relocated to Linacy, Pictou County, where Courtney later worked as a “chainman” with a local surveyor.

Pte. Courtney Alban Hull
On January 10, 1916, Courtney enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Pictou, NS. He departed from Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain on July 15 and arrived at Liverpool, England 10 days later. Following the 106th’s dissolution, Courtney was transferred to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick), along with 250 of his former 106th colleagues. The group crossed the English Channel to France the following day and joined the 26th in the field during the second week of October.

During the previous month, the 26th had suffered significant casualties in fighting at the Somme, after which it relocated northward to sectors near Lens, where it gradually rebuilt its ranks. The battalion served in the Lens area throughout the winter of 1916-17. As winter gave way to spring, the unit prepared for its role in the Canadian Corps’ historic attack on Vimy Ridge, France.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 26th was one of two 5th Brigade battalions participating in the initial stage of the operation in its sector—an attack on the German front line and a supporting defensive position called “Zwischen Stellung.” Within half an hour, the Brigade achieved its objectives, at which point the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia)—another 5th Brigade unit—passed through its lines and onto the final objective.

While the 26th’s war diary reported “light” casualties, Courtney was wounded at some point during the day’s fighting and evacuated to a nearby field ambulance. He was admitted to No. 11 General Hospital, Boulogne on April 11, suffering from “multiple gunshot wounds.” A closer examination revealed “multiple contusions,” none of which proved serious. He spent the remainder of the month recovering and was discharged to No. 1 Convalescent Depot on May 6. Five days later, he was deemed “fit for duty” and returned to the Canadian Base Depot at Le Havre.

Courtney rejoined the 26th at Estrée Cauchie on June 7 as its personnel trained during a break from duty in the forward area. On July 2, the battalion entered Brigade Reserve near Angres and subsequently moved into the front trenches on the night of July 6/7. Personnel found the location “only in fair condition…. Companies are not linked up and parts of the line are not fit for occupation.”

In subsequent days, Allied guns conducted “harassing fire” on enemy defences, while German forces responded with artillery and mortar fire. Throughout the exchanges, personnel focused on “deepening and joining up” the intermittent front line defences. The battalion’s July 10 entry described a routine day during which artillery was active and “work was carried out improving the trenches.” The unit was relived later that night and retired to Divisional Reserve at Fosse.

While the entry makes no reference to casualties, Private Courtney Alban Hull was killed sometime during the day in what his “Circumstances of Casualty” form describes as “an attack near Lens.” He was laid to rest in Bully Grenay Communal Cemetery Extension, three and a half miles southeast of Noeux-les-Mines, France. At the time of his death, Courtney was three months shy of his twentieth birthday.

Pte. Courtney Alban Hull's headstone, Bully Grenay Communal Cemetery

Bantry Publishing”s “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains a detailed summary of Courtney’s family background and military service, along with profiles of 71 other Guysborough personnel who died in uniform during the first three years of Canada’s overseas service.