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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Guysborough Enlistments - September 22, 1916

Five Guysborough County natives enlisted for service with No. 2 Construction Battalion one hundred years ago today:


1. Thomas Ash was born at Upper Big Tracadie on May 4, 1897 (1901 census) to Thomas (Sr.) and Jane (Day) Ash. The 1911 census gives his birthdate as December 1898, while his death certificate records the date as January 1, 1901. Thomas enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, NS on September 22, 1916 (attestation number 931271) and departed for England with the unit on March 28, 1917.

Thomas crossed the English Channel to France on May 17 and proceeded to the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District with his comrades. In late October, Thomas “began feeling weak,” according to his service record. Hospitalized at Jura and initially treated for influenza, Thomas was discharged to duty but continued to feel unwell. Readmitted to hospital on November 21, he was diagnosed with nephritis (kidney disease). Following several months’ treatment at Jura, Thomas was transferred to Hoole Bank Auxiliary Military Hospital, Chester, England on March 3, 1918, where his condition slowly improved.

Discharged to King’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Bushy Park  on July 29, Thomas recuperated sufficiently to return to Canada, arriving at Quebec in late September 1918. He spent several months at Pine Hill Hospital, Halifax before being released on March 21, 1918. Seven days later, Thomas was discharged from military service as “medically unfit.”

Thomas returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, but later relocated to the Sydney area, where he worked in the local coal mines. He married Eleanor Gero at Sydney on December 14, 1926. Thomas never fully regained his health, passing away at Upper Big Tracadie on January 29, 1935.

While his death lists the cause of death as “dropsy”—commonly known today as edema (excessive fluid retention)—his previous medical history suggests nephritis as the likely cause.  Although military authorities were notified of his death, no Memorial Cross, Plaque or Scroll were issued as his mother, Jane, was deceased at the time of Thomas’s passing and he married after his military discharge.


2. Joseph Clyke was born February 14, 1899 at Guysborough, NS, son of Archibald and Elizabeth Clyke. He enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro on September 22, 1916 (number 931272). Joseph departed Nova Scotia with No. 2 Construction on March 28, 1917 and crossed the English Channel to France on May 17. He worked in Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District from May to December 1917, at which time he was transferred to the Forestry Corps’ Alcenon District’s operations in the Normandy forest.

Joseph returned to England with No. 2 Construction on December 14, 1918 and departed for Canada in January 1919. He was officially discharged from military service on February 15, 1919. According to the 1921 Canadian census, Joseph was living in Truro with his father, Isaac B. Paris. He later married and in the mid-1940s was living in the Amherst area, working in the local coal mines. By 1949, Joseph had returned to Truro, where he found employment with Canadian National Railways. No further information is available on his later life.


3. Lavin Day was born at Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County on June 30, 1898, the son of Harriet Eliza “Hattie” Day. Lavin enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro on September 22 (attestation number 931273). Unlike Joseph Clyke, Lavin spent his entire overseas service in the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District, close to the French - Swiss border. He received a Good Conduct Badge on September 22, 1918.

Following his February 15, 1919 discharge, Lavin returned to the Tracadie area, where he worked as a labourer. While his service record contains no reference to health issues, Lavin developed “Bright’s disease—a term used at the time to describe kidney ailments—sometime after returning to civilian life. Lavin passed away at Upper Big Tracadie on November 20, 1923 and was laid to rest in Hillcrest Cemetery, Upper Big Tracadie.


4. John William Elms was born at Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County on July 22, 1888, the son of John (Sr.) and Alice Elms. John enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, NS on September 22, 1916 (attestation number 931274). Married at the time of his enlistment, John was also father to two small children, a two-year-old daughter and an eight-month-old son. He spent his entire overseas service woking at the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District operations.

John’s dedication to duty earned him a Good Conduct Badge on September 22, 1918. He also maintained a “clean sheet” throughout his time in uniform. Following his discharge from military service on February 15, 1919, he returned to Tracadie, where he passed away on June 25, 1959.


5. William Henry Gero was born at Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County on September 30, 1876, son of Thomas and Eliza Gero. He enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro on September 22, 1916 (attestation number 931269). At the time of his enlistment, William was married to Alice Day and had two small children, James (age 12) and Annie (age 7).

As with John, William maintained a perfect record throughout his service in the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District and was awarded a Good Conduct Badge on September 22, 1918. Following his discharge on February 14, 1919, William eventually settled in Truro, where he passed away on October 8, 1945.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Guysborough Enlistment - September 21, 1916

Carmen Milward Croft was born at Guysborough, NS on November 19, 1896, the son of Rev. William Isaiah and Mary Elizabeth (Thompson) Croft. The youngest of four children, Carmen enlisted with the 246th Battalion at Camp Aldershot, NS on September 21, 1916. He rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major prior to the unit’s departure for England on May 31, 1917.


Upon arriving overseas, Carmen “reverted” to the rank of Private upon receiving a transfer to the 17th Reserve Battalion. Twice promoted to Acting Lance Corporal, he reverted to ranks each time, to increase his opportunity to serve at the front. Finally, on March 16, 1918, Carmen was transferred to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) and joined the unit in the field on April 3, 1918.

After almost five months’ service in the line—including the battle of Amiens (August 8 - 11, 1918)— Carmen returned to England for officer’s training, prior to receiving a commissioned rank. Initially appointed Acting Sergeant on August 31, Carmen was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on November 22, 1918. He enrolled with the Khaki University of Canada, London, on February 3, 1919 and proceeded to the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, for completion of a course of study.

Carmen departed England on July 18, 1919 and was formally discharged from military service on July 31, 1919. He subsequently settled at Ottawa, where he commenced employment as a chemist. Arriving in Vancouver, BC in July 1927, Carmen departed for New Zealand shortly afterward. He married Sybil Marion Martin at Auckland, NZ in 1928. The couple’s first son, John Martin, was born the following year. Two more children - a boy and a girl - later joined the family.

The family returned to Vancouver, BC in 1932, but relocated to San Francisco, California in 1941 and moved on to Hawaii in 1949. Carmen Milward Croft passed away at Sydney, Australia in 1955, and was laid to rest in Forestlawn Cemetery, Vancouver, BC.

Remembering Private Arthur Swaine - KIA September 21, 1916

Arthur Swaine was born at Canso, Guysborough County, NS on May 10, 1891, the second of six children and oldest son of Samuel Isaiah and Emily Myra “Emma” (MacLellan) Swaine. All four Swaine boys enlisted for service with Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) units. One brother, Edward, returned home as medically unfit. All three remaining brothers—Arthur, Roland Judson “Jud” and Benjamin—served at the front. None returned home to Canso.


Arthur enlisted with the 40th Battalion (Halifax Rifles) at Camp Aldershot, NS on August 14, 1915. The unit departed from Quebec City aboard SS Saxonia on October 18, 1915, its recruits spending the winter of 1915-16 in England. During that time, the 40th provided several reinforcement drafts to units at the front and was eventually reduced to the status of a “reserve” battalion.

In late April 1916, Arthur received a transfer to the 17th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia). Finally, on August 17, he was selected for service with the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) and crossed the English Channel to France. Ten days later, Arthur reported to the 43rd’s camp near Steenvoorde, Belgium.

Within days of his arrival, the 43rd relocated to the Somme region of France with the Canadian Corps’ first three Divisions. Its soldiers arrived at Albert on September 14 and two days later provided work , carrying and wiring parties for Canadian units in the aftermath of their attack on the village of Courcelette. During the evening of September 18, Arthur entered the front trenches for the first time.

In the early hours of September 20, one of the 43rd’s Companies attacked and captured a German position known as Zollern Trench. Later that same day, a massive German counter-attack and severe bombardment forced the soldiers to abandon the position. One Officer was killed and two wounded, while 59 “other ranks” (OR) were killed and 73 OR wounded in the fighting.

The following day—September 21—German artillery heavily shelled the section of the line occupied by the 43rd’s “C” Company, near Mouquet Farm. The unit’s war diary reported 11 OR killed, 19 OR wounded and two missing following the bombardment. Private Arthur Swaine was one of the two soldiers reported missing and presumed dead, when the 43rd withdrew from the line later that night.

Arthur’s remains were never located. His name in inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, erected in honour of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known grave. Arthur was the second Swaine fatality of the war. His younger brother, Jud, was killed in action on April 14, 1916 near St. Eloi, Belgium, while serving with the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia). Their stories are among the 72 profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at bantrypublishing.ca .

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Antigonish Cenotaph Project

For years, Antigonish native Bill Landry participated in the annual Remembrance Day ceremony, marching in the parade alongside his fellow Antigonish Fire Department volunteer firemen and standing in silence throughout the solemn event. While he recognized two names on the First World War cenotaph—Tommy Kenna and Alex Landry were his grandfather’s cousins—he found himself wondering, “Who are the others? What are their stories?” Even the details of his relatives’ military service were a mystery.
Antigonish's First World War Cenotaph.
With the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s historic battles rapidly approaching, thought led to action. A long-time “student” of local genealogy, Bill “recruited” fellow genealogy enthusiast Paul MacDonald and Jocelyn Gillis, curator of the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Within a matter of days, the trio expanded to a committee that included several others who shared their interest in local genealogy and history.

Fraser Dunn had compiled an extensive list of veterans from the St. Andrews area and oversaw the construction of a monument in the village, bearing their names. Catherine (Laureys) MacGillivray, a regular contributor to the Antigonish Heritage Museum’s monthly newsletter, also joined the team. Marie Terese Redican, a Pennsylvania resident with family ties to the Antigonish area, extensive genealogical knowledge and resources, became an important “online” contact. James Matheson, a retired serviceman and member of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch, also came aboard. This blogger agreed to assist with the research, particularly the process of extracting information from war diaries, circumstances of casualty cards, and available service records.


The “Antigonish Cenotaph Project” thus came into existence, its mission to research the family background and war experiences of approximately 100 Antigonish town and county soldiers who died in the service of their country during the “Great War.” The Project’s goal is to publish each soldier’s story in the weekly Antigonish newspaper, as close as possible to the 100th anniversary of his death. The stories are also posted on a blog—https://antigonishcenotaphproject.wordpress.com/—precisely 100 years to the day of each soldier’s passing.

During the war’s first two years, a total of five Antigonish soldiers died in uniform, two fatalities due to sickness. Their stories are currently available on the blog. Local fatalities dramatically increased when the Canadian Corps move to the Somme region of France in late summer 1916. From September 15 to November 14, 1916, a total of 17 Antigonish natives died during fighting at Courcelette and Thiepval Ridge (Regina Trench), France.


Committee members are currently completing research on the soldiers who died in 1917 and will publish their stories in the local newspaper and online as each anniversary arrives. Once completed, the committee hopes to publish the entire collection in a pamphlet. For now, you can visit the committee’s Word Press blog page and read each soldier’s story, published on the 100th anniversary of his passing. “We will remember them.”

Guysborough Enlistments - September 18, 1916

Three young Ecum Secum, Guysborough County natives enlisted for service with the 246th Battalion—the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade's reserve unit—at Halifax, NS on September 18, 1916. Their consecutive attestation numbers indicate that the trio enlisted together and were likely "buddies" at the time.


1. William Roy Fleet was born at Ecum Secum on September 25, 1897, son of Charles and Isadore (Whitewood) Fleet. Attestation number 1060093, William was discharged from military service at Halifax as “medical unfit” on February 16, 1917. No further information is available on his later life.

2. Murray Alvin Pye was born at Ecum Secum on January 12, 1898, son of Henry and Phoebe (Mosher) Pye. Attestation number 1060095, Murray listed his occupation as “fisherman” at the time of his enlistment. No further information is currently available on his military service.

Murray was living at 42 Maynard St., Halifax at the time of the 1921 Canadian census, but later returned to the Ecum Secum area, where he worked as a fisherman. No further information is available on his later life.

3. Charles F. Veinotte (Venotte) was born at Ecum Secum on February 17, 1898, son of Alden and Annie Veinotte. Attestation number 1060094, Charles was working as a “brakeman” at the time of his enlistment. No further information is available on his military service or later life.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Remembering Private Lester Conwell O'Hara - KIA September 17, 1916

Lester Conwell O’Hara was the fourth of 15 children born to James Alexander and Alina (Sangster) O’Hara of New Harbour, Guysborough County. The third of the couple’s six sons, Conwell, as he was known to family, enlisted with the 64th Battalion (Maritime Provinces) at Sussex, NB on August 31, 1915.

Private Lester Conwell O'Hara
Conwell spent the winter of 1915-16 training with the 64th, which relocated to Halifax in January 1916 and departed for England on March 31, 1916. The unit was disbanded shortly after arriving in England and its soldiers dispersed among several existing battalions. Conwell was transferred to the 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles, Montreal) on June 28 and crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France the following day. He arrived at the 24th’s camp near Dickebusch, Belgium in mid-July 1916.

The 24th Battalion was part of the 2nd Division’s 5th Brigade, which also included the 25th (Nova Scotia) and 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions. The Brigade followed the Canadian Corps’ 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions to the Somme region of France in early September, arriving at Brickfield Camp, Albert on September 10.

Four days later, Conwell and his mates entered the Somme trenches for the first time. On September 15, 1916—their first full day in the line—the 24th’s soldiers provided support to its three Brigade units as they attacked the village of Courcelette, the Canadian Corps’ first offensive action since arriving in France. Throughout the fighting, personnel carried bombs, ammunition, rations and other supplies to the front lines and evacuated the wounded.

Two days later, the 24th received orders to continue the attack on the German line, its soldiers going “over the top” at 5:00 p.m. September 17. The supporting artillery barrage landed behind the German front trenches, doing little more than warn the enemy of an impending attack. As a result, German forces successfully repelled the advance, the 24th’s three attacking Companies suffering 10 Officer and 320 “other rank” (OR) casualties.

While Conwell’s Company did not participate in the attack, he was among the soldiers listed as “missing” following the evening’s action. Battalion officials later confirmed that Conwell was “killed while taking a message to the Battalion holding positions to the right of his unit.” While his remains were initially buried in the vicinity of Sunken Road, southwest of the village of Martinpuich, his grave could not be located after the war.

Lester Conwell O’Hara’s name is engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, one of more than 11,000 soldiers who were killed on the battlefields of France and who have no known grave. His story is among the 72 detailed profiles contained in “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917,” available at bantrypublishing.ca .

Friday, 16 September 2016

Guysborough Enlistments - September 16, 2016

Two Guysborough County natives enlisted with Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) units on September 16, 1916:


1. John Joseph Backus, born at Goldenville, Guysborough County on December 25, 1876, son of Joseph and Annie (Williams) Backus, Goldenville, enlisted with No. 2 Construction Company at Montreal, QC. John listed two daughters—Gertrude, age 24 years, and Maud, age 26 years—on his enlistment papers, and was employed as a “teamster and veterinary” at the time of his attestation.


John departed for England with No. 2 Construction aboard SS Southland on March 28, 1917, arriving at Liverpool ten days later. He proceeded to France on May 17, 1917, serving with Canadian Forestry Corps units in the Jura District, near the French border with Switzerland, until December 30, 1917, at which time John proceeded to the Al├ženon District with a party of No. 2 Construction soldiers.

Returning to England with No. 2 Construction on December 14, 1918, he departed for Canada aboard SS Aquitania on January 18, 1919, arriving at Halifax six days later. John was formally discharged from military service on February 19, 1919 and returned to the Goldenville area.

Widowed following the war, John married Lizza Janette Ash, a native of Boylston, on December 6, 1922. No further information is available on his later life.


2. James Joseph Shields was born on May 21, 1880 at Half Island Cove, Guysborough County, the son of John and Mary (Rhynold) Shields. He enlisted with the 246th Battalion—the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade’s reinforcement unit—at Canso on September 15, 1916. He was married to Lottie Hurst, a native of Canso, at the time of his enlistment. No further information is currently available on his military service.


Following his return to Nova Scotia, James returned to the Guysborough area. Stricken with tuberculosis several years later, he passed away at Canso on November 5, 1931. His wife, Lottie, died at Canso on September 27, 1939.