|Sgt. John Daniel MacDonald in civilian life.|
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.|
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 .