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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Remembering Private Harry Lee Sutherland—Died of Sickness May 22, 1918

Harry Lee Sutherland was born at Country Harbour, Guysborough County on February 20, 1897, the youngest of Robert Henry and Elizabeth Jane “Libby” (McKeen) Sutherland’s 12 children. Robert died of pulmonary tuberculosis on July 19, 1913, leaving Libby to provide for Harry and four older siblings.

Harry Lee Sutherland (pre-war portrait)

Sometime after the outbreak of the First World War, Harry relocated to Millinocket, ME, where an older sister, Mary, and her husband, William Joseph Boddy, resided. For two years, Harry trained with the Maine State Guard while working in the local community. In spring of 1918, Harry made his way to Saint John, NB and attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on April 4, 1918.

Harry immediately commenced training with the 1st Depot Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment. On May 16, however, he was admitted to hospital with a case of measles. Two days later, he began experiencing severe pain in his left side. While his sister, Mary, rushed to his bedside, Harry’s health rapidly deteriorated and he passed away at Saint John Military Hospital on May 22, 1918.

Medical officials identified the cause of Harry’s death as pneumonia. His remains were transported to Nova Scotia, where Private Harry Lee Sutherland was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, Country Harbour Crossroads, Guysborough County.

Harry’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Remembering Sergeant Horace Goddard MacMillan—Died of Wounds May 19, 1918

Horace Goddard MacMillan was born at Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, on December 22, 1892, the youngest of Stephen and Jane (Buckley) MacMillan’s six children. Stephen owned and operated a store, warehouse and wharf in the local community. Following his father’s death on June 17, 1914, Horace assumed operation of the family business, as his two older brothers had left home to pursue careers elsewhere.

Sgt. Horace Goddard MacMillan (seated) & Captain J. J. McRitchie

The outbreak of the First World War, however, soon impacted Horace’s life. During the winter of 1915-16, recruitment efforts reach fever pitch as military officials canvassed the province, in search of soldiers for three recently established Nova Scotia Highland Brigade battalions. At the same time, the Canadian government authorized the formation of two Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) units—No. 7 Stationary Hospital (Dalhousie University) and No. Stationary Hospital (St. Francis Xavier University).

On March 3, 1916, Horace attested for service with No. 9 Stationary Hospital at Antigonish, NS. The unit initially organized and trained on the StFX campus before relocating to Halifax in early May 1916. After six weeks’ training at local military hospitals, No. 9 Stationary departed for overseas aboard SS Missanabie on June 19.

Upon arriving in England, its Nursing Sisters were assigned to London area hospitals for further training, while male personnel made their way to military camps in southern England. Horace was initially assigned to Moore Barracks Hospital, Shorncliffe, but was transferred to Bramshott Military Hospital on September 15. No. 9 Stationary assumed operation of the Bramshott facility in late November 1916, its personnel servicing the medical needs of the soldiers stationed at nearby military camps.

Horace’s service at Bramshott over the subsequent months earned him a promotion to the rank of “Acting Sergeant” on October 1, 1916. He advanced to the rank of Sergeant on December 5, the same day that No. 9 Stationary departed England for France. Upon landing on the continent, the unit’s personnel proceeded to the village of Longuenesse, near Saint-Omer, France, where personnel commenced establishment of a working hospital.

Within less than a month, the facility—located approximately 50 kilometres west of the forward area near Armentières, France—received its first patients. While the hospital initially helped ease “overflow” problems at other hospitals, it was ready to accept combat casualties by March 1918. The timing coincided with the anticipated resumption of combat as weather conditions improved. Within weeks, in fact, German forces launched a major spring offensive, called “Operation Michael,” in sectors to the south of No. 9 Stationary’s location.

By early April, the facility was processing “a steady stream of casualties,” many of them soldiers suffering from exposure to poison gas. Within days, however, the launch of a second offensive near Armentières placed the unit’s personnel and patients in jeopardy, as German forces advanced to within artillery range of Saint-Omer. In response, on April 12, military authorities ordered No. 9 Stationary to commence the process of evacuating its patients and dismantling the facility. Within a week, its personnel retreated to Étaples, on the French coast.

While No. 9 Stationary’s male staff immediately commenced work on a new facility at nearby Le Faux, its Nursing Sisters were temporarily assigned to nearby hospitals. Work at the new location proceeded steadily and by mid-May the hospital anticipated the arrival of its first patients within a week. Nobody anticipated the events about to unfold in a location previously untouched by the perils of the forward area.

In the aftermath of its failed “Spring Offensive,” German military authorities launched a new strategy, designed to hinder Allied forces’ operation in the forward area. Utilizing its newly developed Gotta bomber, Germany commenced a series of bombing raids on strategic locations well behind the front lines. The plan was to disrupt the flow of supplies to units in the line by targeting supply depots and railway facilities located along the French coast.

While Étaples was home to numerous medical facilities, it was also an important port of entry for supplies destined for the forward area. On the night of May 19, German aircraft launched the first of several night-time raids on locations in and around Étaples. While supply depots and rail facilities were targeted, numerous bombs also struck British and Canadian medical facilities in the area, despite that fact that they were clearly marked as non-military locations.

A total of seven bombs landed on the the No. 9 Stationary facility, striking personnel tents and hospital buildings. Thankfully, no patients had been admitted to the hospital. However, several staff members were wounded in the attack. Horace was amongst the injured, struck in the head by debris when a bomb landed nearby. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but died of wounds shortly after admission. Sgt, Horace Goddard MacMillan was laid to rest in Étaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Horace’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Remembering William Henry Carrigan—Died of Sickness May 16, 1918

William Henry Carrigan was born at Sand Point, Guysborough County on September 7, 1889 to parents  Edward and Rachel (Laurie) Carrigan. As a young man, William went to work in the local fishery. On November 12, 1917, he married Elizabeth Maud “Eliza” Ryan, a native of nearby Middle Melford.

On April 24, 1918, William enlisted for military service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Halifax, NS. While he signed the standard Military Service Act (MSA) form completed by young men conscripted into service, the words “Not Applicable” are stamped on the line provided for his MSA registration number, suggesting that William volunteered for duty. Four days after her husband’s enlistment, Eliza gave birth to a son, William Henry, at Middle Melford.

William’s days in uniform were short-lived. On May 6, he developed “a severe cold with pain in back.” Two days later, he was admitted to the Cogswell Street Military Hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Within days, sputum tests detected signs of tuberculosis and William began to experience severe pain in his left side.

Private William Henry Carrigan passed away in hospital at 6:05 a.m. May 16, 1918. Medical records attributed the cause of his death to “acute lobar pneumonia.” William’s remains were transported to Middle Melford, where he was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. His widow, Eliza, remained in  the community, where she resided next door to her parents, Philip and Anna Ryan. On January 7, 1924, Eliza married William James Kavanaugh, a First World War veteran and native of St. Francis Harbour.

Pte. William Carrigan's CEF headstone, St. Patrick's Cemetery
William James Carrigan Jr. eventually served overseas during the Second World War and returned to the Melford area, where he married and settled down. Tragically, William drowned on May 15, 1962, when his “boat overturned while fishing” on a lake near Sand Point. Struggling with poor health at the time of her first child’s death, Eliza passed away at St. Martha’s Hospital, Antigonish, on October 15, 1963.

William’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia—An Update

Since the publication of First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937 in November 2017, I have identified two more Guysborough County natives who died in service during the war’s final months and were not included in the second volume:

1. Henderson, John Howard: Born at Stormont on March 1, 1897, son of James Shier and Pamela (Latham) Henderson. Died of sickness at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, NS on May 29, 1918.

2. MacPherson, Leslie Reuben: Born at Guysborough Intervale on December 12, 1895, son of James and Maria (Nocton) MacPherson. Killed in action in the St. Mihiel Salient, France. on September 16, 1918.

I have added both names to the updated Honour Roll posted on this blog in November 2017. I will post a brief summary of John Howard Henderson's and Leslie Reuben MacPherson's stories on the 100th anniversary of their deaths, and add a detailed account of their family background and military service to the digital version of First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II in the near future.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Remembering Private William Kenneth Hape—Killed in Action April 5, 1918

William Kenneth “Kenny” Hape was born at Ecum Secum, Guysborough County, on October 18, 1886, the oldest of Sarah Adeline (Pye) and John Henry Hape’s four children. Sometime prior to 1901, the family relocated to Six Mile Road, near Wallace, Cumberland County, where Henry established a farm and worked in the local fishery.

Pte. William Kenneth Hape (85th Battalion portrait)
On October 19, 1915, Kenny enlisted with the 85th Battalion at Halifax, NS. He spent the next 12 months training with the unit, commencing at Halifax Common during the winter of 1915-16. Throughout the late spring and summer of 1916, the unit underwent an intense program of instruction at Camp Aldershot, alongside three new battalions recruited to form the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade. In mid-October 1916, the four units crossed the North Atlantic to England, where their overseas arrival coincided with significant Canadian casualties incurred in fighting at the Somme, France, during the autumn months.

As a result, military authorities authorized a reinforcement draft of 800 soldiers—200 from each Highland Brigade battalion—destined for undermanned units at the front. Kenny was one of the 85th soldiers selected for immediate service in France. Assigned to the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), he crossed the English Channel on December 5, 1916 and joined his new mates near Camblingneul, France, four days later.

The 13th Battalion was one of the Canadian Corps’ most experienced units, recruited by Montreal’s Royal Highlanders of Canada militia regiment, an affiliate of Scotland’s famous “Black Watch,” during the first weeks of the war. The battalion landed in France in early 1915 as part of the 1st Canadian Division, and served in Belgium for more than a year before relocating to the Somme in late summer 1916. Following Kenny’s arrival in early December 1916, the unit served in sectors near Arras throughout the winter of 1916-17, and took part in the Canadian Corps’ historic capture of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.

Kenny, however, did not see action at Vimy. Admitted to hospital with laryngitis five days prior to the battle, he was evacuated to hospital at Étaples for medical treatment and finally rejoined his comrades near Château de la Haie, France, in mid-May. Kenny received his first major combat experience on the morning of August 15, 1917, when the 13th’s soldiers took part in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, north of Lens, France. Shortly afterward, in a letter to his father, Kenny recalled the experience: “I never got a scratch on Hill 70…. Fritz tried to take it back, but we [gave] him too much [lead] and cold steel.”

Pte, Kenny Hape & his father Henry
In mid-October, the 13th broke camp and made its way northward, toward the Belgian frontier. Its soldiers arrived at Ypres, Belgium, on October 20 and marched to a nearby camp, where they completed final preparations to enter the line. In the early morning hours of October 26, the 13th’s personnel provided work parties in support of the first stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

The unit retired from the line two days later, but returned for another brief tour early the following month. For several days, the soldiers assisted with preparations for the assault’s third stage before once again retiring to camp. In the aftermath of the November 6 attack, the 13th returned to the front trenches, where its members bore witness to the battle’s devastating effects:

“The ground was in terribly bad condition, shell holes, smashed up wire, etc., everywhere, and the mud in many cases was waist deep. A great number of dead bodies… were also lying around[,] there having been little chance of burying them on account of the heavy shelling.”

Once again, the battalion retired from the line prior to the launch of the assault’s final stage on November 10. As the 13th made its way back to France, its Passchendaele casualties were minimal, in comparison to the losses suffered by Canadian combat units—five Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and 23 “other ranks” (OR) were killed and eight OR later died of wounds, while two Officers, three NCOs and 43 OR were wounded during its three Belgian tours.

In mid-November, the 13th returned to sectors near Lens, France, where its soldiers spent the winter of 1917-18 on rotation. On February 28, 1918, Kenny found a few minutes to write another letter to his father Henry:

“I am in a dugout. I couldn’t go to sleep so I will try and drop a few lines…. I have been lucky since I struck France. There have been fellows wounded right along side of me and I never got a scratch. I had a bullet… cut my Puttee in two but it never brought blood—if I had… got it in the leg I would have been in Blighty [England] by this time…. There ain’t many of [my old colleagues] together now[,] they are leaving one by one[,] but I have an idea that I am going to see old Canada again.”

The letter was Henry’s last communication with his eldest son.

Throughout the following month, the 13th served a regular rotation in the line. The launch of a major German spring offensive near St. Quentin, France, on March 21, 1918 prompted military commanders to relocate all available units to the forward area, in anticipation of an attack on the Canadian sector. In the early hours of March 29, the 13th entered Brigade Support near Arras, its soldiers quartered in an extensive network of caves located beneath the town.

Throughout the following week, the soldiers “stood to” each morning in preparation for a German attack, but none materialized. On the morning of April 5, as personnel once again awaited orders to enter the line, “there was considerable shelling during the day around the tunnel entrances. Five casualties were sustained by the Battalion.” Later in the day, the unit received instructions to march out to Brigade Reserve that evening.

As the soldiers prepared to depart, “in the process of relief, while just outside the cave entrance, a large shell landed among a party of ‘C’ Company—killing [an Officer] and nine other ranks—and wounding 21 other ranks.” Private William Kenneth Hape was one of the nine OR killed in the explosion. He was laid to rest in Duisans British Cemetery, Étrun, eight kilometres north of Arras, France.

Pte. Kenny Hape's Memorial Plaque
Kenny’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Remembering Private Benjamin Wallace Swaine—Accidentally Killed March 24, 1918

Benjamin Wallace “Ben” Swaine was born at Canso, NS on December 11, 1897, the fifth of Samuel Isaiah and Emily Myra “Emma” (McLellan) Swaine’s six children. All three of Ben’s older brothers enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Edward (DOB March 29, 1894) was closest in age to Ben and joined the 85th Battalion at Halifax on November 3, 1915. Discharged as “medically unfit” on March 14, 1916, he returned home to Canso.
Pte. Benjamin Wallace Swaine
At the time of Edward’s enlistment, Ben’s two oldest brothers were already in uniform. Roland Judson “Jud” (DOB February 6, 1893) joined the 40th Battalion at Camp Aldershot, NS on August 10, 1915. Four days later, Arthur (DOB May 10, 1891), the oldest of the Swaine boys, enlisted with the same unit.

Following the 40th’s dissolution in England, the Swaine brothers parted ways. Jud was transferred to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia) and was killed in action on April 14, 1916 near St. Eloi, Belgium. Arthur was assigned to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) and was killed in action near Courcelette, France on September 21, 1916.

 
Arthur Swaine
Determined to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps, Ben enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Canso, NS on March 31, 1916—only two weeks prior to Jud’s death. Two months later, Ben travelled to Camp Aldershot, where the 193rd and its Highland Brigade comrades—the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders) and 219th (Halifax, South Shore & Annapolis Valley) Battalions—underwent several months of intense military drill.
Pte. Roland Judson Swaine
During Ben’s final month of training at Aldershot, the Swaine family received word of Arthur’s death during the Battle of the Somme. On October 12, 1916, Ben departed Halifax with the Highland Brigade aboard SS Olympic and arrived at Liverpool, England six days later. The Brigade’s days, however, were numbered. Significant casualties incurred during the Canadian Corps’ autumn 1916 service at the Somme created a pressing need for reinforcements in the field. In response, military authorities assembled a draft of 800 reinforcements—200 from each Brigade unit—and dissolved two of its four battalions—the 193rd and 219th—before year’s end.

Young Ben Swaine was among the soldiers selected for the reinforcement draft. On December 5, 1916, he was assigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and crossed the English Channel to France the following day. After several weeks’s wait at the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre, Ben was temporarily assigned to the 3rd Entrenching Battalion and arrived in its camp near Arras, France, on January 2, 1917.

For almost two months, Ben worked at various tasks in the forward area—laying communication cable, repairing roads, installing water lines, and constructing a prisoner of war compound. On February 25, he received a second transfer to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), which had arrived in France two weeks previously. Once again, a temporary assignment postponed his arrival. Ben spent one week with 4th Entrenching Battalion at Villers au Bois before finally reporting to the 85th’s camp at Château de la Haie on March 5.

A newly arrived unit with no combat experience, the 85th was attached to the 4th Division’s 11th Brigade as a “working unit” during the Canadian Corps’ impending attack on Vimy Ridge, France. As the April 9, 1917 assault unfolded, however, the Brigade’s two attacking battalions failed to dislodge German forces from the western slopes of Hill 145. Before day’s end, two of the 85th’s Companies—“C” (Halifax, South Shore & Annapolis Valley) and “D” (Cape Breton)—entered the jumping off trenches and advanced up the ridge’s western slope in the early evening, securing the strategic location before nightfall.

Before month’s end, military authorities assigned the 85th to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade, where it served alongside the 38th (Ottawa), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) and 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalions for the war’s duration. In mid-June, Ben was gassed during a series of attacks on a section of the German line known as “The Triangle” and was evacuated to hospital at Wimereux for treatment. Invalided to England on June 22, he spent almost one month at Southern General Hospital, Dudley Road, Birmingham, before he was discharged to the Canadian Convalescent Home, Wokingham on July 19. Early the following month, he reported to the Canadian Corps Depot, Bramshott, and awaited orders to return to the front.

Temporarily assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, Ben spent several months in its ranks before crossing to France on November 10. Two weeks later, he rejoining the 85th’s camp at Raimbert, northwest of Arras, as part of a reinforcement draft of 21 Officers and 221 “other rank” (OR) reinforcements. The battalion had recently returned from Belgium, having suffered its heaviest combat losses of the war during its Passchendaele tour. Over the ensuing weeks, the unit reorganized and rebuilt its strength, finally returning to the Avion Sector on December 18.

For almost two months, Ben and his comrades served a regular rotation in the line, enduring uncomfortable winter conditions but experiencing little in the way of combat. On February 10, 1918, the unit retired to billets at Petit Servins, where its soldiers enjoyed a lengthy break from the trenches. Four weeks later, the 85th marched to Bully Grenay and returned to support positions in the St. Émile sector on the evening of March 13.

The soldiers occupied support positions and provided work parties for several days before advancing to the front trenches, where trench maintenance tasks continued. Relieved after 10 days in the line, personnel briefly marched out to support positions before making their way into Divisional Reserve at Cité Colonne on March 24.

No doubt exhausted after their first tour in a month, the men immediately retired to billets. Ben found accommodations in the cellar of the Opera House at nearby Cité St. Pierre, and two other soldiers later joined him. While Ben had laid down to rest, his colleagues occupied their time with other tasks. According to a later report, at 10:50 a.m. March 24, Private John Rankin (878060) was cleaning the bolt of his rifle when the weapon “discharged in the direction of… Pte. Swaine.” Pte. Rankin later stated that he “did not know [Ben] was in the cellar until I found he had been shot by the bullet from my rifle.”

A second soldier, Private Ralph Autton [Aulton] (877268), was eating dinner in the cellar at the time. Pte. Autton later recalled: “We were lying down and… Private Rankin… was cleaning his gun about 20 feet away. I heard his bolt work and the shot fired immediately afterwards. Pte. Swaine tried to get up but fell back. I ran for assistance.”

Private Harold Philip Eady (700218), a stretcher bearer with “D” Company, responded to Autton’s call for help. Upon entering the cellar, he found Ben “with a bullet wound in his head. I saw I could be of no use, so I went for the Medical Officer. When we returned, Pte. Swaine was dead.” A subsequent Court of Inquiry concluded that Private Benjamin Wallace Swaine died “through careless handling, causing discharge of a rifle in the hands of… Pte. Rankin,” and recommended that he appear before a Field Court Martial.

Canso's First World War Monument
Ben was laid to rest in Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France. In the years following the war, Canadian communities erected monuments to the memory of their fallen First World War soldiers. The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.) spearheaded a campaign to erect such a structure in Canso. When the monument was officially unveiled on September 7, 1925, Emma Swaine, the mother of three soldiers whose names were inscribed on the monument’s plaque, “performed the unveiling ceremony.”

Ben’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s "First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937," available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Remembering Private William Robertson Spears—KIA March 18, 1918

William Robertson Spears was born at Spanish Ship Bay, Guysborough County on May 18, 1898, the fifth of Nelson and Mary Ann “Annie” (Howlett) Spears’ eight children. William went to work at sea at an early age, an occupation that likely took him on occasion to Halifax. As the bustling city very much involved in the overseas war effort, William may have been caught up in the excitement. On August 2, 1915, he commenced training with the 63rd Regiment (Halifax Rifles), a local militia unit, on McNab’s Island and formally attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 28.
Pte. William Robertson Spears' Headstone
Within months of his attestation, however, health problems led to William’s admission to military hospital, where doctors initially diagnosed him with “tuberculosis, chest walls.” A closer examination  detected a “deformity of [the] chest wall” that, in the opinion of military officials, prevented William from “carry[ing] anything on [his] shoulder.” As a result, on April 15, 1916, William was discharged as “medically unfit.”

While William briefly returned to civilian life, he was determined to serve overseas. On October 3, 1916, he joined the 246th Battalion’s ranks and spent the winter of 1916-17 training in Halifax. On May 31, 1917, he departed for overseas as part of a reinforcement draft of 13 Officers and  230 “other ranks” (OR). Upon arriving in England, William was assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit tasked with providing reinforcements for Nova Scotia’s 25th and 85th Battalions. On August 27, William proceed to France for service with the 85th Battalion.

While William joined his new unit in the forward area in mid-September, for unexplained reasons, he returned to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) before month’s end. During his absence, the 85th followed the Canadian Corps to Belgium, where it participated in the second stage of the attack on Passchendaele Ridge. On November 7, William rejoined the 85th’s ranks near Caëstre, France, as the battalion rebuilt its ranks following significant combat losses during its Passchendaele tour.

William spent the winter of 1917-18 with the 85th in sectors near Lens, enduring conditions that varied from “snowing and strong wind” to “thawing fast and… becoming very muddy.” During late February and early March 1918, the unit enjoyed a lengthy break from the line before returning to support positions near St. Émile on the night of March 13. For several days, the situation in the sector was quiet as soldiers provided work parties for trench maintenance.

The 85th’s war diary entry for March 18, 1918 makes no reference to loss of personnel: “Fine Relieved 38th CI [Canadian Infantry] Battalion in front line left sub-sector St. Émile sector.” A monthly casualty list included in the diary’s appendix, however, tells a different story. According to its contents, four OR were wounded by artillery fire, while a fifth was “injured in the back by falling brick” when a shell struck a section of the 85th’s trench. The document also reported one March 18 fatality—Private William Robertson Spears, most likely killed in the same artillery barrage that wounded his comrades. William was laid to rest in Loos British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Loos British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
William’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Remembering Private Charles Patrick Knocton—Died of Sickness March 10, 1918

Charles Patrick Knocton was born at South Intervale, Guysborough County on December 25, 1895, the second of Patrick and Abigail Annie (Bond) Knocton’s four children. On May 3, 1911, Patrick passed away from complications related to asthma and Annie remarried the following year. While Charles’ older brother, Stanley, departed for the United States, he remained at home, where he looked after the family farm.

Private Charles Knocton's Headstone

Following the passage of the Military Service Act (1917), Charles completed his medical examination at nearby Guysborough town on October 26, 1917 and was “called up” early the following year. He completed his attestation papers at Halifax, NS on February 13, 1918 and was assigned to a detachment stationed at the Amherst Armouries.

The crowded, poorly heated quarters were a breeding ground for illness. On March 1, Charles was admitted to Highland View Hospital, Amherst, for treatment of pneumonia. According to medical records, his body temperature at the time of admission was 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) and his pulse rate was 110 beats per minute.

Within three days, Charles’ pulse returned to normal and his condition “seemed satisfactory.” He continued to improve until mid-day March 8, when he developed a severe headache and his temperature spiked to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Early the following morning, Charles fell into a coma and never regained consciousness. He passed away at 12:30 a.m. March 10, 1918.

St. Patrick's Cemetery, Guysborough Intervale

Charles’ remains were transported to Guysborough County, where he was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Guysborough Intervale. Private Charles Patrick Knocton was the first Guysborough “conscript” to die in uniform. His story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Remembering Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser—Killed in Action March 4, 1918

James Gibson Laurier Fraser was born at New Glasgow, NS on September 14, 1895, the youngest of Duncan Cameron “D. C.” and Elizabeth “Bessie” (Graham) Fraser’s five children. A lawyer by profession, D C. was elected Member of Parliament for Guysborough in 1891. He held this position until 1904, at which time he accepted an appointment to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Two years later, D. C. was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, a post he held until his untimely death at age 64 on September 27, 1910.

Lt. Laurier Fraser at training camp
Following her husband’s passing, Bessie relocated to Moose Jaw, SK, where she resided with her oldest daughter, Annie, and her husband, Rev. William G. Wilson. Laurier, as he was known to family, and his older sister, Sarah “Sadie,” accompanied Bessie to Moose Jaw.

Two other siblings, Alistair and Margaret Marjorie “Pearl,” had already left home. Alistair completed his legal studies at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, and later re-joined the family in Moose Jaw, where he commenced the practice of law. Pearl completed nursing studies at Lady Stanley Institute, Ottawa and commenced employment at Vancouver General Hospital. In the meantime, upon completing his schooling, Laurier entered a five-year legal apprenticeship with a nearby Gull Lake,  SK law office.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 soon impacted the Fraser siblings. Shortly after the British declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, both Alistair and Pearl travelled to Camp Valcartier, QC. Pearl enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, while Alistair accompanied the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia) to England, where he received a commission as a Lieutenant when he attested with the unit. Alistair subsequently served in Belgium with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and at Vimy Ridge, France with the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada).

Too young to enlist at the time of the war’s commencement, Laurier joined the 60th Rifles of Canada, a Moose Jaw militia unit. On February 19, 1916, he enlisted with the 229th Battalion (South Saskatchewan). At the time, he was five feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 195 pounds. As with his older brother, Laurier received the commissioned rank of Lieutenant at the time of his enlistment.

Following a summer of training in western Canada, the 229th made its way by train to Halifax, NS, and departed for England on September 23. Upon arriving overseas, the 229th was dissolved and its rank and file dispersed to existing units in the field. As a result, Laurier was placed on the Canadian Expeditionary Forces’s “General List” of Officers and awaited the opportunity to serve at the front.

Laurier spent seven months in England before receiving a transfer to the 16th Battalion on April 26, 1917. He crossed the English Channel to France on May 1 and joined his new unit in the field four days later. The 16th had been established at Valcartier, QC, in September 1914, its initial ranks composed of soldiers from four Highland militia units. As a result, the battalion adopted the title “Canadian Scottish.”

Lt. Laurier Fraser, 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish)
Following its arrival in France in mid-February 1915, the 16th served with the Canadian Corps in Belgium’s Ypres Salient until September 1916, when the Corps relocated to the Somme region of France for two months. The battalion spent the winter of 1916-17 in sectors near Lens, France and participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic April 9, 1917 attack on Vimy Ridge.

Laurier served with the 16th in France throughout the spring and summer of 1917. In late October, the unit made its way northward to a location close to the Belgian border, where it paused to prepare for its role in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge. At month’s end, personnel arrived at Ypres, Belgium. While the 16th served several tours in the line, its soldiers did not participate in the assault’s final stages. The unit remained in the area until mid-month, at which time its soldiers made their way back to their previous sectors near Lens.

Throughout the winter of 1917-18, the 16th completed a regular schedule of rotations, conducting occasional raids on German trenches and enduring intermittent machine gun, artillery and trench mortar fire during its tours. On February 25, its soldiers occupied “a little more than 1000 yards” of the St. Émile sector’s trenches. In subsequent days, personnel set about wiring and deepening the front line, amidst sporadic artillery and machine gun fire.

Early the following month, hostile fire intensified considerably. On March 1, a trench mortar shell killed three “other ranks” (OR) and wounded a fourth. Artillery and mortar shelling continued throughout the subsequent days, culminating in a heavy barrage on the 16th’s line in the early morning hours of March 4. As the hostile fire subsided, German soldiers attacked a section of the line to the battalion’s left.

The 16th’s No. 1, Company, located in support trenches at the time of the bombardment, was particularly hard-hit by the barrage. Two of its Officers were killed and a third wounded, while four OR were killed and the same number wounded. Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser was one of the two Officer fatalities. He was laid to rest in Bully Grenay Communal Cemetery. Laurier’s cousin, Lieutenant Roderick Douglas Graham, was in camp with the 85th Battalion at nearby Raimbert and attended Laurier’s interment.

Lt. Laurier Fraser's headstone, Bully Grenay Cemetery
Lieutenant James Gibson Laurier Fraser’s story is one of 64 detailed profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Remembering Lieutenant John Angus Cameron, DSO, MID—Killed In Action February 17, 1918

John Angus Cameron was born at Caledonia, Guysborough County on December 8, 1889, the fourth of Margaret A. (Cameron) and Daniel Angus Cameron’s nine children. After graduating from Pictou Academy, John Angus headed west sometime before 1911, eventually finding employment as a school teacher near Medicine Hat, AB.

Lieutenant John Angus Cameron
Perhaps in connection to his school responsibilities, John Angus volunteered as a Cadet Instructor. Four years of militia experience earned him the commissioned rank of Lieutenant when he enlisted with the 63rd Battalion (Alberta) at Medicine Hat on July 1, 1915. His younger brother, Alexander Hugh, attested with the 56th Battalion (Calgary, AB) shortly afterward and was transferred to John Angus’s unit in late October 1915.

Following a winter’s training in western Canada, the 63rd travelled by train to Saint John, NB and departed for overseas on April 22, 1916. Shortly after landing in England, the Cameron brothers were re-assigned to separate units. Alexander received a transfer to the 29th Battalion (BC) in late June 1916 and immediately departed for France. Tragically, he was killed in action near Fresnoy-en-Gohelle, France on May 7, 1917.

As a commissioned officer, John Angus’ time in England was considerably longer, stretching well into 1917. During that time, he was assigned to the 9th Reserve Battalion and served as a “bomb” instructor at the Clapham Common Bombing School. Finally, on June 27, 1917, he was transferred to the 31st (Alberta) Battalion and proceeded to France. After a brief period with an entrenching battalion, he joined his new unit in the field in mid-August.

Assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 6th Brigade, the 31st Battalion had commenced service in Belgium’s Ypres Salient in late September 1915. At the time of John Angus’s arrival, its personnel were providing “carrying parties” for Canadian units during an attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France. The 31st served a regular rotation in France into the autumn of 1917 before moving northward into Belgium’s Ypres Salient for the Passchendaele offensive in late October.

On November 6, Lieutenant John Angus Cameron led the 31st’s No. 4 Platoon toward its objective on Passchendaele Ridge during the third stage of the Canadian Corps’ Passchendaele offensive. Wounded during the initial advance, he remained at duty, leading a successful attack on a well-defended German post. John Angus remained in the line until a second wound necessitated his evacuation to a nearby field ambulance. His stellar leadership and determination in the field earned him the Distinguished Service Order.

Invalided to England one week later, John Angus underwent treatment for a shoulder wound and made a complete recovery. Following several weeks’ convalescence, he reported to the 21st Reserve Battalion on December 31, 1917 and three weeks later rejoined the 31st in France. At that time, the unit was completing routine winter rotations in the Avion Sector, near La Coulotte, France.

Tours continued into the following month, as the unit’s soldiers worked to improve the front trenches and conducted nightly patrols into No Man’s Land, probing German defences. The unit’s war diary took note of one particular example. In the early morning hours of February 17, 1918, John Angus led a routine patrol into No Man’s Land. Suddenly, the group encountered a German patrol and a fire-fight ensued. Lieutenant John Angus Cameron was killed during the subsequent exchange of fire.

John Angus Cameron was the first Guysborough County fatality during the war’s final year. He was laid to rest in Thélus Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. In the years following the war, family members erected a stone in Bethel Presbyterian Church, Caledonia, in memory of Lieutenant John Angus and his brother, Sergeant Alexander Hugh Cameron.

John Angus Cameron’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Sapper John Alexander Chisholm—An Antigonish County POW's Story

John Alexander Chisholm was born at Antigonish Harbour on April 1, 1873, the oldest of Alexander and Christine (McIntosh) Chisholm’s nine children. While records indicate that Alexander was born at Hallowell Grant, his father, “Gentleman John” Chisholm, became a well-known resident of Antigonish Harbour. The family traces its roots to Strathglass, Scotland, where the parents of “Gentleman John,” Catherine (Chisholm) and John Chisholm, were born and married prior to immigrating to Nova Scotia.

The Chisholm Family Farm, Antigonish Harbour (c. 1940)
John Alexander’s mother, Christine McIntosh, was the youngest of John (Og) and Christina (Chisholm) McIntosh’s 10 children. John, a native of Kilmorach, Scotland, immigrated to Nova Scotia and settled at Lower South River. Christine’s older brother, Alexander, attended St. Francis Xavier University and went on to become the first StFX graduate to enter the medical profession. Dr. McIntosh established a local practice and residence on Main St., located on a portion of present-day Columbus Field.

Several of Christine Chisholm’s nine children later pursued careers in medicine. Two daughters—Christine and Lydia “Lilly”—entered the nursing profession, while her second-youngest, Hugh Gillis, completed medical studies at McGill University, Montreal. Christine and Hugh also served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War.

Sometime after 1891, John Alexander Chisholm headed to the west coast, where two of his paternal uncles resided. Family lore suggests that his younger brother and closest sibling, William “Will,” may have accompanied him. Following their father’s passing in late 1902, Will assumed responsibility for the family’s Antigonish Harbour farm. On June 22, 1909, he married Mary McDougall, daughter of Angus and Jessie (Hanrahan) McDougall, Antigonish Harbour, and raised a family of six children on the Chisholm homestead.

John Alexander, however, remained on the west coast, where he worked as a miner. Documents indicate that he resided at several locations—Vancouver, British Columbia; Dawson, Yukon Territory; and Alaska—at various times prior to and after the First World War. Several of John Alexander’s younger siblings—sisters Christine and Lilly, and brothers Alexander, Vincent and Hugh—eventually followed him west. While Lilly and Vincent settled in California, Christine, Alexander and Hugh resided in British Columbia.

As with most families of the time, the outbreak of the First World War soon impacted the Chisholm clan. Hugh was the first to enlist, attesting for overseas service with No. 8 Canadian Field Ambulance at Calgary, AB, on November 18, 1915. A fully trained physician, he received the commissioned rank of Captain and served with the unit in France and Belgium for 18 months. In late November 1917, Hugh was transferred to a hospital in England, where he remained for the duration of his overseas service.

Alexander Chisholm was conscripted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Vancouver, BC on January 17, 1918. Transferred to the 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) in late July 1918, he joined the unit in France shortly afterward. Wounded in the leg on August 11, 1918 during the final stages of the Battle of Amiens, Alexander was invalided to England, where he made a full recovery. Meanwhile, in Canada, Christine Chisholm served as a Nursing Sister at Shaughnessy Military Hospital, Vancouver, BC, from April 1918 to February 1919.

Perhaps the most surprising enlistment was John Alexander, who attested with No. 2 Tunnelling Company, Canadian Engineers, at Vancouver, BC on January 11, 1916. At the time, he was almost 43 years old, stood five feet eleven inches, and weighed 180 pounds. John Alexander listed his occupation as “miner” and passed the thorough medical examination without any difficulty.

No. 2 Tunnelling Company was authorized in September 1915 and recruited its personnel from British Columbia and Alberta’s mining communities. Following mobilization at Calgary, AB, the unit travelled by train to Halifax in early 1916 and departed for England aboard SS Missanabie on January 22, 1916. Six weeks later, its personnel crossed the English Channel to France. Upon landing on the continent, the unit was attached to the 2nd Canadian Division and commenced service in Belgium’s Ypres Salient shortly afterward.

Tunnelling companies put their men’s mining skills to good use, constructing underground dugouts to accommodate soldiers in the front trenches. Personnel, known as “sappers,” also dug lengthy tunnels beneath No Man’s Land, where they established “listening stations” to detect German tunnelling activity. Sappers occasionally planted explosives beneath the enemy’s front line for use prior to an attack, and detonated “camouflets,” small charges designed to destroy nearby German tunnels. It was challenging work, the men toiling in cramped quarters where enemy detonation of a camouflet could trigger a collapse at any time.

Australian Sappers at work near Hooge, Belgium
Following a brief period of training and orientation, No. 2 Tunnelling Company assumed responsibility for a section of the front line near Reninghelst, Belgium, on April 7, 1916. While the unit’s initial duties were limited to “listening and repair work in existing galleries [tunnels],” by month’s end, its sappers were constructing a “system of dug-outs” in the front trenches.

Work continued without incident throughout the month of May, as Sapper John Alexander Chisholm and his mates adjusted to front line routines. On June 1, No. 2 Tunnelling Company started work on two projects at a location near Zillebeke, Belgium, variously known as “Tor Top” and “Hill 62.” One group commenced construction of “shallow defensive galleries and listening posts in front of trenches… [, and] deep dugouts” in another section of the line. At a second location, sappers continued work on a “system of deep dug-outs” connected to “50 feet of [ an existing] gallery.” A total of five officers and 101 sappers toiled underground, unaware of the danger about to befall them.

On the morning of June 2, 1916, German artillery launched a massive artillery bombardment on 3rd Canadian Division units holding the front line at three elevated locations near Zillebeke, Belgium—Mont Sorrel, Tor Top (Hill 62), and Hill 61. During the early afternoon, enemy forces detonated four mines beneath the Canadian trenches, after which six German battalions advanced across No Man’s Land toward the Canadian line. By day’s end, German units had captured and secured two of their three targets—Mont Sorrel and Hill 61—and advanced more than one kilometre into Canadian-held territory.

That same day, the daily entry in No. 2 Tunnelling Company’s war diary tersely reported: “The Germans attacked and captured the area in which our workings were situated.” In the aftermath, the unit reported one Officer killed and four others missing, while five of its sappers were killed, 11 wounded and 75 missing.

On the morning of June 3, a hastily organized Canadian counter-attack failed to dislodge German forces from the captured positions. Meanwhile, the fate of numerous personnel in the line at the time of the previous day’s attack remained a mystery as Allied commanders scrambled to re-establish a new defensive line. While Canadian soldiers re-captured most of the lost ground on June 13, by that time the dugouts where the tunnellers were working 11 days previously were “full of water.” Several “saps”—narrow trenches reaching into No Man’s Land—where other sappers were located were “still within the enemy’s lines.”

Gradually, word of its missing soldiers’ fate reached No. 2 Tunnelling Company. By month’s end, military officials confirmed that three of its Officers were prisoners of war, while a fourth remained “unaccounted for.” It was not until the following month, however, that the unit received word of its sappers’ whereabouts. On July 12, Sapper John Alexander Chisholm was “unofficially reported Prisoner of War [POW] at Dülmen.” Six days later, military authorities officially confirmed his fate.

Approximately 3,300 Canadian soldiers were taken prisoner on the Western Front during the First World War. While an estimated 10 % escaped from detention camps in Germany, only 200 escapees managed to reach neutral or Allied-held territory. If recaptured, escaped POWs received 14 days in solitary confinement, a punishment that increased to 21 days for a second offence. Detained in small, ventilated cells with a plank bed but no bedding, prisoners were permitted to wear their great coats during their sentence. Food was limited to bread and water for three days, with a regular meal provided every fourth day.

Apparently, John Alexander was wounded during the June 2 attack and was hospitalized at Dülmen Camp following his capture. The first of three POW facilities where he was detained, the camp was located in the northwestern German state of North Rhine - Westphalia, which shared a portion of its border with neutral Netherlands. Shortly after the outbreak of war in August 1914, German authorities cleared a local pine forest to make way for a detention camp and used the harvested timber to erect wooden barracks. The facility opened in May 1915 and initially housed 3,000 POWs, expanding to 5,000 before year’s end.

Location of Dülmen POW camp

Large, airy huts contained 120 to 140 enlisted men, while small rooms within each structure accommodated non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Hammocks provided an upper tier of sleeping accommodations. Sentries guarded the camp and its perimeter, where a barbed wire fence was erected. Searchlights swept the area throughout the night, providing additional security.

New arrivals were quarantined for 48 hours, their clothing “de-loused” to reduce the spread of the pesky parasites. For additional protection, hair was cut and kept short. Weekly baths were compulsory, although more frequent bathing was usually available. While POWs were vaccinated for smallpox, cholera and yellow fever, the camp provided little treatment for serious illness. While authorities established a separate compound for sick POWs, conditions were often unsanitary, with limited medical personnel and supplies.

Under the terms of the Hague Convention on Land Warfare (1907), all able-bodied, rank and file POWs were required to work, and received a modest daily wage in return. [Commissioned officers, who were detained in separate facilities, were exempt from such duties.] The day usually commenced with roll call at 6:00 a.m., followed by breakfast. Work parties commenced at 7:00 a.m., pausing for a mid-day meal. Following a brief rest period, work resumed at 2:00 p.m. and continuing until sundown. POWs received one-quarter of their daily wages—17 cents a day—in German marks, to purchase items at a camp store or, in some instances, in neighbouring communities. The remaining funds were deposited in a personal bank account.

Tasks generally consisted of light work—digging and grading on the camp grounds and adjacent property, repairing or erecting new barracks and camp facilities. In some cases, POWs were assigned to labour in German coal mines or local factories, while others carried out work on various civic projects in neighbouring communities. Under the Hague Convention’s terms, POWs were not permitted to directly assist in the production of “war material.”

Perhaps the greatest complaint amongst POWs was the food, or lack thereof. For instance, morning “coffee” at Dülmen was brewed from roasted chestnuts. Lunch consisted of a half-litre bowl of cabbage soup, occasionally sprinkled with fresh peas or pieces of grain. Potatoes formed a basic part of the menu. Fresh meat and other basic dietary items were scarce, as food shortages plagued Germany throughout the war. In response, the German government rationed all commodities, including provisions for POW camps. Many prisoners relied on food parcels from home for their primary sustenance, and scrounged through camp garbage for such treasured items as potato peelings.

Throughout their internment, POWs received regular mail, parcel and banking services. Incoming weekly mail was limited to one package, while prisoners were permitted to write two letters to family and acquaintances. The International Red Cross handled all incoming and outgoing items. While many camps contained a football (soccer) field, recreational opportunities were usually limited. Some camps established libraries, but books were in scarce supply.

Dülmen POW Camp
John Alexander Chisholm remained at Dülmen until mid-September 1916, at which time his caretakers deemed fit for work and transferred him to “Gefangenenlager [Prison Camp] Wahn,” located near the German city of Cologne [Koln]. While John Alexander later described his condition at the time as “barely strong enough,” he was put to work “on bridge construction across the Rhine, not far from Frankfurt.” In a later letter to his brother Will, John Alexander described the experience:

“They made the worst slaves they could out of us, compelling us to work from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and punished us severely. Some 100 of us English prisoners were building a steel bridge on the Rhine at Engers [50 kilometres from Limburg]. I was at that fifteen months.”

John Alexander spent the winter and spring of 1916-17 at the Wahn facility, which much larger than Dülmen, housing as many as 50,000 Allied POWs at various times. According to his correspondence with Will, he managed to escape from the facility in December 1916, but “was caught, brought back, and terribly punished.”

Wahn POW Camp, Köln, Germany
In mid-May 1917, John Alexander received a transfer to a smaller facility at Limburg, 80 kilometres northwest of Frankfurt. Located on a plateau along the road leading to nearby Dietkirchen, the Limburg camp housed approximately 12,000 POWs. Accommodations consisted of wooden huts with two rooms, each containing 50 men. The buildings, equipped with beds on wooden trestles and ample blankets, were well-ventilated and comfortable. Cramped conditions, however, created health issues. Tuberculosis became a serious problem at the facility, and lack of proper medical services resulted in a considerable number of deaths.

The fact that Limburg was more than 200 kilometres from the nearest “neutral” border allowed for a more relaxed routine. POWs were permitted to leave camp to purchase rations and other items in the nearby town. As might be expected under such an arrangement, escapes were frequent. Undeterred by his first failure and perhaps motivated by the opportunities his Limburg circumstances provided, Sapper John Alexander Chisholm was determined to end his captivity.

Limburg POW Camp
By late autumn 1917, Sapper John Alexander Chisholm had spent almost a year and a half in German prisoner of war camps. During that time, “a small party” of his comrades “made up our minds to get away.” In a later interview published in the Evening Empire, a Prince Rupert, BC newspaper, John Alexander described his November 5, 1917 escape:

“By great luck, we secured a fine little compass from a Russian. Then early one evening, when the guard had begun to make the regular count of prisoners, my partner—a young Englishman [named Frank Coombes]—and myself just faded away. We hiked across an open space and into a patch of woods, then out on a road…. [We] had just gained that road, when along came some civilians. We lay flat and they passed. We travelled across country all that night, and every other night, finally striking the Rhine, further north. We were near Coblenz and Bonn.”

John Alexander and Frank took cover during daylight hours and moved only under cover of darkness. A later letter to John Alexander’s brother, Will, also provided details of the remarkable journey: “We had our prison clothes on. We could not get anything else….. For a long time after being captured I had no clothes[,] loosing [sic] them all that day in June [1916] at Ypres, and the Germans wouldn’t give me any.” Their prison attire “had white and yellow facings—but we just had to take the best of it. Before long, however, we put shoe blacking all over the white and yellow.”

The escapees “swam rivers and crossed swamps to get out, but God was with us, and we got through all right.” One night, “by great good luck, we got hold of a small boat, which we saw anchored out in the river. It was a case of swimming out to that boat, lifting up the little anchor and bringing her to the shore, where we used small boards for oars. In one night, we made 34 miles.”

Upon reaching the German border with neutral Netherlands, the fugitives managed to pass undetected through “three lines of sentries,… posted chiefly to check the Germans themselves from flocking into Holland.” Having survived “on what they could pick up as they went along through the fields,… when they finally passed the border, they were bordering on exhaustion.” John Alexander noted, however, that “the [Dutch] people treated us well. We came down to Rotterdam, and the British Consul took charge of us.”

Quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, John Alexander and Frank crossed the North Sea to England at month’s end. An entry in John Alexander’s service record, dated December 1, 1917, provided an official update on his circumstances: “Now reported ESCAPED.” The following day, Canadian authorities informed will that his older brother was no longer in German custody and had safely arrived in England.

On December 3, John Alexander wrote a lengthy letter to Will, in which he reflected on his time in captivity and journey to freedom:

“It is a very hard country to get out of. Very few English prisoners get out. All the time we were very heavily guarded. I am sorry for the ones left behind. We suffered terribly in Germany…. It if were not for the parcels from home, we would all starve. They were just great. I know we do not get them all. For over three months last spring we got none. Hope the Red Cross has notified you now to stop sending.”

John Alexander closed by assuring Will that “my health is great, never felt better, after all the hard knocks…. I intend to go back to the front just as soon as I can.”

Military authorities, however, had other plans. A memo to the Canadian Engineers Regimental Depot (CERD), Seaford, bearing the same date as John Alexander’s letter to Will, stated:

“The marginally noted soldier, who is an escaped prisoner of war, has been instructed to report to your HQ. He should be taken on strength of his Regimental Depot and instructions issued that he is to be returned to Canada by the first available sailing, for disposal by the Military Authorities, in accordance with the policy at present in force governing the disposal of Escaped Prisoners of War.”

One week later, John Alexander reported to CERD Seaford, where he spent the remainder of the year. On January 3, 1918, he was transferred to the Canadian Discharge Depot, Buxton, “pending return to Canada.” Before month’s end, John Alexander departed from England and made his way by train to British Columbia after arriving in Canada. On February 25, he was officially “taken on strength” at New Westminster, BC, “for duty” with Military District No. 11, Victoria. After conducting a thorough medical examination, medical personnel noted that, despite his age, lengthy internment and arduous escape, 45-year-old John Alexander “is physically fit.”

On March 14, 1918, Sapper John Alexander Chisholm was officially discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force at New Westminster, BC. While given a clean bill of health after his medical examination, his service record identified the reason for discharge as “medically unfit (POW).” A second entry described his character as “Very Good.” On January 20, 1920, John Alexander received the Military Medal for “bravery in the field,” in recognition of his daring escape from captivity.

Sapper John A. Chisholm's Military Medal, British War & Victory Service Medals
In subsequent years, John Alexander resided at various addresses along the Pacific coast. In mid-July 1919, military officials forwarded his war service gratuity to Dawson, YT, while his British War and Victory service medals were delivered to Port Coquitlam, BC, in late June 1924. He also spent time in Alaska, suggesting employment at various mining locations during the years following his discharge.

In early February 1926, John Alexander was travelling by train from Alaska to Seattle, WA, when he fell ill. Rushed to hospital upon arrival, he passed away at Seattle on February 11, 1926. While his  final medical examination detected no health issues, a news item published in the Antigonish Casket stated: “His death was not altogether unexpected by his friends in the west, as he had been troubled with his heart for some time. Sober, industrious and God-loving, John Chisholm was a sterling character and highly respected wherever known.”

John Alexander’s remains were transported to New Westminster, where his younger sister Christine, brother Hugh, and “a large number of friends” attended “High Mass for the repose of his soul” at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Following the service, Sapper John Alexander Chisholm was laid to rest in the church’s cemetery, his Casket death notice suggesting: “His terrible experiences while in prison no doubt hastened his death” two months shy of his 54th birthday.

John A. Chisholm's Headstone
Postscript: One other Antigonish County native was among John Alexander Chisholm’s POW camp comrades. Dougald McPherson was born at Antigonish on July 21, 1874, the son of John D. and Anna (“Charleston” McDonald) McPherson. Dougald enlisted with the 46th Battalion at Regina, SK, on April 9, 1915. After arriving in England in mid-September 1915, he was transferred to the 32nd Reserve Battalion.

On January 20, 1916, Dougald received a second transfer to the 28th Battalion (Northwest), which was deployed in Belgium’s Ypres Salient with the 2nd Canadian Division’s 6th Brigade. He joined the unit in the field on March 1, 1916 and served in the line without incident until June 6, 1916, when German units over-ran the 28th’s front trenches, following the detonation of four mines beneath the position. Dougald was taken prisoner and sent to Dülmen Camp, where John Alexander Chisholm was also detained.

Dougald and John Alexander spent the next 17 months together at Dülmen, Wahn and Limburg POW camps. According to John Alexander’s December 3, 1917 letter to his brother Will, at the time of his daring escape, Dougald was in hospital, having suffered an injury while working on a steel bridge across the Rhine at Engers. He spent the remainder of the war at Limburg, returning in England in early December 1918. Upon landing at Halifax, NS in early February 1919, he received a two-month furlough “with sustenance,” and may have returned home to Antigonish. Dougald was discharged at Halifax, NS, on April 22, 1919 and eventually made his way back to western Canada, where he returned to his pre-war occupation as a carpenter.

On October 1, 1932, 58-year-old Dougald married Cicely Harriet (Cox) Kraitz, a 49-year-old native of England, in a ceremony held at Victoria, BC. The couple established residence in the Vancouver Island community. Dougald McPherson passed away at Veterans’ Hospital, Victoria, BC, on December 4, 1961.


Photograph of Chisholm family farm, Antigonish Harbour, courtesy of John A. Chisholm's great-nephew, Hugh John Chisholm, Antigonish. Photograph of John A. Chisholm's medals courtesy of great-niece Marg Tighe, Victoria, BC.