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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Remembering Private Russell C. Hendsbee—DOS October 16, 1918

Russell C. Hendsbee was born at Half Island Cove, Guysborough County, on October 26, 1897, the third of Mary Sophia “Minnie” (Snow) and Thomas Frederick Hendsbee’s nine children and the couple’s eldest son. At a young age, Russell went to work in the local fishery. Following the Canadian Parliament’s passage of the Military Service Act in August 1917, he registered for service as required by the law.

Pte. Russell Hendsbee's CEF Headstone, Union Cemetery, Queensport
For several months, Russell’s civilian life continued without interruption. Undeterred by the prospect of serving overseas, he married Mary Ann Laurie, a native of Sand Point, Guybsorough County, on May 8, 1918. At month’s end, Russell reported to Camp Aldershot, where he formally attested for military service on June 4, 1918.

While his first month of training passed without incident, Russell began experiencing episodes of “headache, dizziness and vomiting” in early July. When the symptoms failed to dissipate, he was admitted to hospital at Camp Aldershot on July 15. At the time, medical records indicate that Russell was suffering from a “severe headache [and] vomiting… [and was] unconscious for three days.”

Medical staff immediately diagnosed Russell with cerebrospinal meningitis. While caregivers performed a lumbar puncture and administered an “anti-meningitis serum,” doctors described his condition as “indefinite.” When a Medical Board recommended “at least three months in [a] convalescent home,” Russell declined further treatment and was discharged from military service as “medically unfit” on September 12, 1918. A comment at the end of the Medical Board report noted: “The Board considers the refusal to accept treatment as reasonable.”

Following his discharge, Russell remained in hospital at Camp Aldershot until month’s end. On October 1, staff permitted him to return home as a “convalescent,” but six days later he was admitted to Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, “as a stretcher case.” At the time, Russell was suffering from “severe headache and pain in eyes,” and was losing control of his lower limbs.

On October 16, 1918, medical notes state that “anaesthesia [was] given and two oz. spinal fluid removed.” Before day’s end, “failure of respiratory centre result[ed] in patient’s death.” Private Russell C. Hendsbee’s remains were transported back to Guysborough County, where he was laid to rest in Union Cemetery, Queensport.

Pte. Russell Hendsbee's Memorial Stone, Union Cemetery, Queensport
Russell’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 .

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Remembering Chief Gunner’s Mate James Baker Keating—Accidentally Killed October 11, 1918

James Baker Keating was born at Gloucester, Massachusetts, on November 22, 1888, the second of Mary Ellen (Flood) and James Keating’s nine children. It was Ellen’s second marriage, her first husband having perished at sea aboard a Gloucester fishing schooner. She married James Keating, a native of Canso, NS, at Portland, ME, on April 15, 1887, and the couple established residence at Gloucester, where James worked aboard local fishing vessels.
James Baker Keating
Following the sudden death of the couple’s eldest child, John, during the summer of 1889, the family returned to Canso, where their remaining seven children were born. While James Baker spent his childhood years in the Guysborough County community, he returned to Gloucester, MA, sometime before 1911. An American citizen by birth, he enlisted with the United States Navy at New York, NY, on July 26, 1912, committing to a four-year term in its ranks.

“Apprentice Seaman” James Baker completed his initial training aboard USS Constellation and was promoted to the rank of “Ordinary Seaman” on October 8. Before year’s end, he was assigned to USS Rhode Island, where he served the majority of his first term. After nine months aboard the “Virginia Class” battleship, James Baker advanced to the rank of “Seaman.”

While James was aboard the vessel, the Rhode Island cruised the waters off the coast of Mexico during the winter of 1913-14 as the US fleet provided protection for American nationals during the Mexican Revolution. The ship departed the area in February 1914 and spent two weeks at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before returning to regular duties along the American east coast.

During a brief stint aboard USS North Carolina in the summer of 1914, James completed training in the handling and firing of torpedoes. Following his return to the Rhode Island on September 30, 1914, the completed a six-month tour of the Caribbean aboard the vessel. Throughout the ensuing months, James continued his training in the operation and maintenance of the ship’s weapon’s systems, earning the rating of Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class on November 23, 1915.

The Rhode Island completed a second Caribbean tour in early 1916, while James advanced to 2nd Class ranking on March 31, 1916. Having fulfilled his four-year term of service, James was honourably discharged at Philadelphia. PA, on July 25, 1916. After a brief period ashore, he re-enlisted for another four-year term at Boston, MA, on October 6. While the Rhode Island was in fleet reserve at the time, he was once again assigned to its crew.

Increasing tensions between Germany and the United States during the early months of 1917 resulted in the vessel’s return to active duty on March 27, 1917. When the United States declared war on Germany 10 days later, the Rhode Island was appointed flagship of the Atlantic Fleet’s Battleship Division 3. Its crew immediately underwent a period of intense training and, after declared fit for combat, commenced anti-submarine patrols along the coast of Maryland’s Tangier Island.

Meanwhile, James continued to progress through the ranks, achieving the rating of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class on November 1, 1917. In a span of two years, he had progressed through his rank’s first three classes. Exactly three months later, he was promoted to “Chief Gunner’s Mate,” the class’s highest rating. The leadership position combined responsibility for operating and maintaining the ship’s various weapons systems with overseeing the training of the vessel’s subordinate gunners’ mates.

When the Rhode Island was transferred to Battleship Division 2 in April 1918, James was re-assigned to a “Receiver Ship” at New York, NY. After spending the summer months without a specific assignment, he was posted to the minesweeper USS Finch on September 23. The vessel, one of a new class introduced following the American declaration of war, was specifically designed to patrol American harbours and coastal waters for mines. The Finch operated out of Section Base 8, Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY, and was responsible for patrolling the various shipping lanes leading into and out of New York harbour. Following his transfer, James immediately commenced regular duty aboard the vessel.

On the afternoon of October 11, 1918, the Finch was “returning from minesweeping operations with [the] mine sweeper Crawford [a former Staten Island tugboat] in tow.” James was “detailed to attend to the tow line” as the vessel made its way into port. Around 3:45 p.m., the vessel altered its course to the right as it entered Swash Channel. As the ship changed direction, the tow line caught between the “taffrail” (handrail around a ship’s stern) and a chafing board, forming a “bight” (curved section of slack rope). James immediately ordered two men to assist him in releasing the line.

As the three men attempted to undo the bight, the chafing board broke, suddenly releasing the tow line. It snapped straight and struck the three men, knocking James and one of his two assistants overboard. Both vessels immediately attempted to rescue the pair. While crew successfully retrieved Seaman W. C. Lawson, there was no sign of James. Officers aboard the Finch immediately notified authorities on shore by radiogram: “Keating James Baker Chief Gunner’s Mate US Navy drowned at sea. Body not recovered.”

Naval officials immediately contacted James’ parents in Canso by telegram and informed them of the incident. While his service file provides no details, James’ remains were subsequently recovered from the harbour and identified. Chief Gunner’s Mate James Baker Keating was laid to rest in Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, during the month of November 1918.
Chief Gunner's Mate James Baker Keating's headstone, Cypress Hills National Cemetery
James’ 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, 10 October 2018

Remembering Sergeant Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison—Accidentally Killed October 10, 1918

Nathaniel “Neil” Morrison was born at Melford, Guysborough County, on October 20, 1879, the fifth of Euphemia (MacIsaac) and Roderick Morrison’s six children. Roderick, a native of River Inhabitants, Richmond County, was living at Cape Porcupine, near Auld’s Cove, at the time of his February 13, 1867 marriage to Euphemia, who was the daughter of John and Catherine MacIsaac, Tracadie, Antigonish County.
Sgt. Neil Morrison's headstone, Castlewood Cemetery
The family settled at Melford, near Mulgrave, where they raised a family of four boys and two girls. Roderick passed away sometime before 1891, and his two oldest sons departed for the United States before the turn of the century. Neil, as he was known to family, remained in Nova Scotia, where he resided with his maternal uncle, Neil MacIsaac, at Grosvenor, Antigonish County, and worked as a lumberman.

Following his uncle’s death in June 1911, Neil remained on the Grosvenor property. His mother, Euphemia, moved in with her son sometime after her brother’s death and passed away at Grosvenor on December 5, 1916. With no family commitments to keep him in Nova Scotia, Neil enlisted with the Nova Scotia Forestry Draft at Camp Aldershot, NS, on July 16, 1917.

Early the previous year, the demand for lumber products at the front prompted the British government to request Canada’s assistance in providing the manpower and expertise required to harvest and process timber in the United Kingdom. In response, Canadian military authorities recruited several battalions specifically dedicated to the task and transported the units to England. Part of the campaign included a “Nova Scotia Forestry Draft” that solicited volunteers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The first “forestry” recruits departed for England in early July 1916 and were assigned to units operating in the United Kingdom. On November 14, 1916, the Canadian government officially established the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) to oversee the work of its forestry units. By year’s end, 11 CFC Companies were operating in Britain, while three others had crossed the English Channel to France.

Recruitment continued into the following year as the CFC expanded its overseas operations. By the end of 1917, 58 CFC Companies were working in four separate districts in France, in addition to England and Scotland, supplying British and French units in the forward area with much-needed lumber products. Neil Morrison was part of this dramatic expansion, departing for England aboard HMT Canada on November 6, 1917. Upon arriving overseas, he reported to the CFC’s Headquarters at Sunningdale, England.

On February 27, 1918, Neil was assigned to No. 139 Company, CFC, a newly-formed unit that was preparing to depart for No. 52 District operations at Jedburgh, Scotland—approximately 75 kilometres southeast of Edinburgh—where its personnel were to establish a timber and sawmill operation in nearby forests. An experienced woodsman at the time of his enlistment, 39-year-old Neil Morrison was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the day following his transfer to No. 139 Company.

The unit’s personnel arrived at Jedburgh in early March and spent the remainder of the month erecting the required camp facilities—mess buildings, barracks and stables. In early April, work commenced on constructing a saw mill. By mid-month, progress to date permitted commencement of logging operations in the nearby Dades Forest. Meanwhile, work on the mill continued throughout the month of May as the Company built its ranks to full strength.

After several test runs, the mill commenced regular operation on June 3, processing timber “practically all day.” By that time, No. 139 Company’s ranks consisted of five Officers and 167 “other ranks.” A complement of heavy draft horses hauled felled timber to loading areas, where trucks loaded and transported the logs to the mill yard. Harvesting and lumber production were in full swing throughout the summer months, increasing significantly as loggers entered dense sections of the local forest.

As a non-commissioned officer (NCO), Neil was responsible for overseeing the logging and transport crews working at the harvesting site. As with any forestry operation, the potential for injury was always present. An October 7 war diary entry proudly noted that the Company had toiled in the area for seven months without a casualty. Within days, its unblemished record came to an end.

On the morning of Thursday, October 10, 1918, Sgt. Neil Morrison, “an experienced bushman,” was performing his routine duties, overseeing operations at the harvesting site’s loading area. Approximately 150 feet away, personnel were felling a cluster of approximately 30 trees, several of which were already on the ground.

Around 9:00 a.m., Neil was standing alongside Private A. Mercier, loading logs onto trucks for transport to the mill. Private William B. Smith was also present, in charge of a horse team bringing felled logs “unto the skids.” Private Malcolm Alex McDonald stood at the end of the skids, with Sgt. Morrison to one side and Pte. Smith approximately 12 feet away. Another enlisted man, Private W. Bollard, was driving a truck wagon and was approximately 30 feet from the skids.

According to Pte. McDonald, “there was a very strong wind blowing that morning, and I saw a tree, which was standing about 75 feet from us, falling.” He immediately shouted, “Look out for the horses!” and jumped around the end of the skid. McDonald first “saw the tree lying across one of the horses,” its crotch having struck its back. He then noticed Sgt. Morrison “lying between the skids. He was unconscious when I saw him at first, but after he had been moved… he partially recovered…. He never fully recovered consciousness while I was there.”

In McDonald’s opinion, Neil could have escaped the falling tree by going around the end of the skid, but based on the location where he was struck, he surmised that “he had endeavoured to protect the horses.” Witnesses later acknowledged that “the tree that fell had not been hacked or sawn,” but had fallen due to the strong winds.

While nearby workers assisted in moving Neil about 150 yards from the accident site, a colleague hastened to camp and retrieved the unit’s Medical Sergeant, Charles R. Cannon. Upon reaching the site a little more than one hour later, Cannon observed that Neil “had a severe cut out of [the] top of his head, and was conscious.” He administered first aid and supervised Neil’s transport to the residence of Dr. Hamilton Hume in nearby Jedburgh.

After examining Neil, Dr. Hume recommended he be admitted to Cottage Hospital for treatment. A thorough examination in hospital detected more than the deep scalp wound Sgt. Cannon had noted—Neil’s spine had been fractured in two places along its mid-dorsal section. As the hours passed, Neil slipped into a state of shock, his condition worsening as the day progressed. Sergeant Nathaniel Morrison passed away in hospital at 8:15 p.m. October 10, 1918.

Three days later, the “funeral service of Sgt. Morrison took place at 2 p.m. All ranks of 139 Company attending, also 129 Company.” A subsequent Court of Inquiry concluded that the incident was entirely accidental. Neither Sgt. Morrison nor any of the CFC personnel present at the time were at fault. Neil was laid to rest in Castlewood Cemetery, Jedburgh, Roxburghsire, Scotland.
Inscription on Sgt. Neil Morrison's headstone, Castlewood Cemetery
Neil’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 .


Friday, 5 October 2018

Remembering Private Laurier Falconer Pye—DOW October 5, 1918

Laurier Falconer Pye was born at Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, on October 26, 1896, the fourth of Eugenia “Gene” (Jollota) and Charles Waddell Pye’s eight sons. In April 1914, Laurier followed two of his older brothers to the Massachusetts, where he found employment as a leather worker in the town of Salem.
Pte. Laurier Falconer Pye's headstone, Étaples Military Cemetery, France
Following the United States’ April 6, 1917 declaration of war on Germany, Laurier faced the prospect of being conscripted into military service. An older brother, Lloyd, registered for the American draft in June 1917 and departed for France with an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) unit in late September. Facing the prospects of being drafted into the AEF, Laurier decided to contact Canadian Expeditionary Force recruiters in Boston. He completed the required medical examination and departed by train for Saint John, NB, where he voluntarily attested for military service on January 22, 1918.

Laurier was “taken on strength” by the 1st Depot Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment, on February 7 and departed from Halifax aboard SS Melita 11 days later. Upon arriving in England, he was assigned to the 13th Reserve Battalion (New Brunswick) and reported to Camp Bramshott for training. On August 18, Laurier proceeded to France for service with the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick). Shortly after arriving on the continent, however, he was re-assigned to the 44th Battalion (Manitoba) and joined the unit in the forward area on August 29.

The 44th had recently participated in the Canadian Corps’ August 8, 1918 attack on the German line east of Amiens, an event that marked the commencement of a major Allied counter-offensive. Before month’s end, the western Canadian unit was re-designated a “New Brunswick” battalion, to accommodate soldiers recruited under the Military Service Act. On the afternoon of August 27, the 44th travelled by train from Amiens to Aubigny-en-Artois, northwest of Arras. Two days later, a draft of 89 “other rank” reinforcements—a group that included Private Laurier Pye—joined its ranks.

Within days, the battalion returned to the front lines. On September 2, its soldiers participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on the Drocourt - Quèant Line, a section of the Germans’ vaunted Hindenberg defensive system east of Arras, France. Relieved on the night of September 4/5, the 44th retired to camp and spent the next three weeks training and re-organizing its ranks. On the night of September 25/26, the unit returned to the front trenches between Inchy and Mœuvres and spent the following day preparing for combat.

On the morning of September 27, the 44th participated in the opening stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, an incomplete waterway on the outskirts of Cambrai. During the initial advance, its personnel succeeded in crossing a dry section of the canal and established positions on its eastern bank. Before mid-day, supporting 3rd Division units passed through its lines and continued the attack.

The following day, the 44th’s personnel once again moved forward and resumed the advance. While the battalion successfully secured its objectives, German forces launched several counter-attacks on its positions throughout the day. While personnel repelled each assault, persistent enemy fire took its toll on the unit’s ranks. Forced to retreat to a nearby railway line when an evening counter-attack penetrated its right flank, the weary soldiers managed to push forward to the Douai - Cambrai Road after nightfall.

By 3:00 a.m. September 29, almost 48 hours of combat had reduced the 44th’s ranks to two Officers, three Sergeants and 100 “other ranks.” Two hours later, 12th Brigade units passed through the 44th’s lines, finally allowing its remaining personnel to withdraw. The battalion’s war diary later reported a total of 405 casualties during its Canal du Nord tour—31 killed, 306 wounded and 68 missing, many of whom were “believed killed.”

At some point during the fighting on September 28, 1918, Laurier received a severe gunshot wound to the head. The exact details are unknown, his “circumstances of casualty” card stating only that “he was severely wounded; stretcher bearers rendered first aid and he was taken to a dressing station and later evacuated to No. 22 General Hospital, Camiers.”

Laurier was admitted to the hospital on October 2, but there was little that staff could do to improve his situation. After lingering for several days, Private Laurier Falconer Pye “died of wounds received in action” on October 5, 1918. Three weeks shy of his twenty-second birthday at the time of his passing, Laurier was laid to rest in Étaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Étaples Military Cemetery
Laurier’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, 30 September 2018

Remembering Private Raymond Edward Smith—KIA September 30, 1918

Raymond Edward Smith was born at Mulgrave, Guysborough County, on January 25, 1887, to Mary (MacNeil) and Thomas Smith. The eldest of the couple’s three children, Raymond worked as a trackman on the Intercolonial Railway prior to the outbreak of the First World War. During the winter of 1915-16, Raymond travelled to Halifax, where he served for an period of time with the “Composite Battalion.” On March 10, 1916, he attested with a Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) reinforcement draft and departed for England in late June.

Pte. Raymond Edward Smith's headstone, Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension
On July 6, Raymond arrived in England aboard SS Olympic. He spent six weeks at Caesar’s Camp, Folkestone, before proceeding to France on August 17. Following a brief time with 3rd Entrenching Battalion, one of several working units in the forward area, Raymond joined the RCR’s ranks near Warloy, France, on September 23, 1916.

At the time of Raymond’s arrival, the battalion was deployed in the Somme region of France, where it had participated in an attack on the German line on the day following the Canadian Corps’ September 15th capture of Courcelette. In early October, its soldiers took part in an attack on Kenora and Regina Trenches, two well-fortified defensive positions located on Thiepval Ridge. Following its withdrawal from the line on October 10, the unit made its way northward to sectors near Lens, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916-17.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, the RCR was one of three 7th Brigade units participating in the initial attack on Vimy Ridge. During the advance, Raymond was wounded in the right hand and evacuated to hospital at Boulogne, France, on April 11. The following day, he was invalided to England, where he received treatment for a serious wound to his right thumb. Discharged on June 16, he remained at Camp Bramshott throughout the remainder of the summer and early autumn, finally rejoining the RCR at Rely, France, on November 23, 1917.

Raymond thus missed the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Corps’ successful capture of Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. The RCR served in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the winter of 1917-18. While the battalion and other Canadian Corps units were placed on alert during the German “Spring Offensive” of late March and April 1918, no attack materialized in the Canadian sector and tours quickly returned to normal.

The unit’s personnel enjoyed a break from the forward area during the month of May, retiring to Lières for a period of rest, training and recreation. In late June, the soldiers returned to the Neuville-Vitasse sector, where they served regular tours throughout the following month. In late July, the battalion made its way south to Saleux, near Amiens, and prepared for their first major combat assignment of the year.

Having successfully withstood the German “Spring Offensive,” Allied commanders commenced planning a major counter-offensive, scheduled to occur east of Amiens in mid-summer. On the morning of August 8, the RCR’s 7th Brigade waited in support while the 9th Brigade launched the initial phase of the attack at 4:20 a.m. Four hours later, three 7th Brigade units—the RCR, 42nd and 49th Battalions—passed through their 3rd Division comrades’ lines and continued the advance, securing its objectives by mid-day.

While the RCR’s soldiers remained in the line until mid-month, its most intense combat occurred on the tour’s first day. Several days later, the unit made its way northward, receiving only a brief rest before returning to the trenches on August 25 for its second combat assignment of the month—an attack on German positions east of Arras. The following morning, the unit once again participated in the attack’s second wave. Despite heavy machine gun and rifle fire, its personnel made steady progress into German-held territory throughout the day.

During the ensuing 48 hours, the RCR’s personnel remained in support positions before withdrawing to billets at Arras in the early hours of August 29. Having survived two major battles in less than a month, Raymond enjoyed several days’ rest before marching through Tilloy to the old British line, approximately three kilometres east of Arras. For the next two and a half weeks, he and his mates conducted salvage operations in the area as the RCR rebuilt its ranks.

Following a week’s training at Berneville, the battalion travelled by bus to Bullecourt, west of Cambrai, and prepared for its third major combat assignment—the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of the strategic city. In the early morning hours of September 28, the unit’s soldiers advanced to Bourlon Wood, captured only hours previously by other Canadian units, and “jumped off” toward the German line south of Raillencourt at 5:30 a.m.

While the battalion encountered heavy machine gun fire along its right flank, it managed to reach its objective—a section of the German front trench—and secured possession of the area shortly after mid-day, pressing forward into the support trenches as the afternoon progressed. Despite suffering considerable losses, the RCR remained in the line throughout the night and was ordered to resume the advance the following morning.

At 5:30 a.m. September 30, the unit’s personnel moved forward and immediately encountered “intense machine gun fire… from both flanks… as well as frontal [fire].” As the day passed, the soldiers twice attempted to push forward, each time being “checked by cross-fire from both flanks.” The RCR maintained its position along a sunken road throughout the night. At 5:00 a.m. October 1, 9th Brigade units passed through its lines and resumed the attack. Later in the day, the battalion’s remaining personnel retired to camp at Quarry Wood.

The RCR’s advance, while less successful than perhaps desired, managed to capture 54 German machine guns, five anti-tank and field guns, and 130 prisoners, and inflicted an estimated 700 casualties on the enemy. The achievements, however, came at a price. Three Officers were killed, a fourth died of wounds, and 16 others—including its Commanding Officer—were wounded. Among its “other ranks” (OR), 31 soldiers were killed, one died of wounds, 185 were wounded and 53 were missing after three days in the line.

Private Raymond Edward Smith was one of the OR lost in the fighting on the outskirts of Cambrai. While initial reports indicated that he had been “wounded in action,” a subsequent entry in his service file, made by the Burial Officer, reads: “Buried. Now reported killed in action 30-9-18.” Raymond was laid to rest in Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France.

Raymond’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 .

Remembering Private Charles William “Charlie” Marr—KIA September 30, 1918

Charles William Marr was born at Boylston, Guysborough County, on April 16, 1896, the fourth of Mary Amanda (McPherson) and Lawrence M. Marr’s 10 children. On March 1, 1916, Charlie commenced training with the Composite Battalion at Halifax, NS. While he attested for overseas service before month’s end, he left the battalion’s ranks after several weeks’ service and was officially “struck off strength” in late July. A later Court of Inquiry, held in August 1916, officially discharged him from military service.
Pte. Charles William Marr's headstone, Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France
Charlie eventually made his way to Ontario and was working in Toronto when he attested for service with the 2nd Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment, on November 11, 1917. On this occasion, his enlistment was not voluntary—Charlie was ordered to report for duty, under the terms of the Military Service Act (1917). His second enlistment, however, followed a pattern similar to the first—Charlie was officially listed as “AWL [absent without leave]” from the date of his attestation until March 31, 1918.

Officially placed on the pay list the following day, Charlie made his way to Halifax in the company of other conscripts and departed for overseas aboard HMT Tunisian on April 8. Upon landing in England 11 days later, he was posted to the 12th Reserve Battalion (Central Ontario), the unit that provided reinforcements for five Ontario infantry battalions at the front. Charlie spent the next four months at Camp Witley, where he and his fellow draftees completed their training.

On August 15, Charlie was assigned to the 75th Battalion (Mississauga, ON) and two days later crossed the English Channel to France. He joined the 75th in the forward area on September 6. The unit had recently seen combat at Amiens (August 8 & 9) and Arras (September 2 & 3), battles that marked the beginning of a major Allied counter-offensive. The battalion’s soldiers spent the early part of the month resting and training, in preparation for the Canadian Corps’ next major assignment—an attack on Canal du Nord and the strategic city of Cambrai that lay behind it.

During the late evening of September 26, the 75th’s soldiers returned to the forward area and prepared for the following day’s assignment—the capture of Bourlon Wood, an elevated area adjacent to the village bearing the same name. Personnel reached their assembly point north of the road between Pronville and Inchy-en-Artois in the early morning hours of September 27. At precisely 5:20 a.m., the opening barrage signalled the beginning of the attack.

One hour later, the 75th moved forward, passing the northern outskirts of Inchy and proceeding toward the banks of Canal du Nord. After crossing the canal in mid-morning, the unit continued eastward toward Bourlon Wood. As the 11th Brigade’s designated reserve battalion during the advance, the 75th followed in the wake of two attacking Brigade mates—the 54th and 102nd Battalions—and the supporting 87th Battalion.

The 75th advanced to support positions as the attack commenced, and occupied Bourlon Wood following its capture. The soldiers spent the night in the wooded area, establishing a consolidated defensive position. At dawn the following day, 3rd Canadian Division units passed through the 11th Brigade’s lines and continued the attack. Meanwhile, Charlie and his mates rested in the wooded area.

In the early hours of September 29, the 75th received notice that its Brigade would provide support for a 12th Brigade attack north of the village of Sailly. Personnel moved to the assembly area at 7:00 a.m. and advanced in support as the 12th Brigade launched the attack. When fierce German resistance prevented the attacking units from capturing the village, the 75th remained in support. Before day’s end, the battalion was informed that its soldiers would join the 54th Battalion in resuming the advance the following day.

During the early hours of September 30, the 75th moved forward to jumping off positions along the Douai - Cambrai road, south of Sancourt. As the supporting artillery barrage commenced at 6:00 a.m., its soldiers went “over the top” toward their objective. Despite intense retaliatory fire, the unit over-ran a number of machine gun nests and continued toward its final objective. However, 3rd Division units to its right failed to keep pace, exposing its flank to heavy fire.

The two battalions therefore retreated to a railway cutting and established defensive positions. The soldiers repelled a German counter-attack and held their ground until mid-afternoon, when military commanders ordered them to retreat to a more secure location. While German artillery heavily shelled their trenches throughout the remainder of the day, the 75th’s soldiers maintained their position. Later intelligence revealed that the units’ attack had occurred immediately prior to a planned German counter-attack, information that explained the stiff resistance the soldiers encountered.

At 5:00 a.m. October 1, the “remnants” of the 75th’s soldiers withdrew from the line, having suffered eight Officer and 85 “other rank” (OR) fatalities, while 280 OR were wounded during the tour. As the unit regrouped in quarries near Bourlon Wood, initial reports indicated that Charlie was among the soldiers listed as “missing.”

Subsequent inquiries confirmed that Charlie was one of the day’s fatalities: “He was killed while taking part in the attack southeast of Sancourt. No further information as to the actual circumstances under which he may his death is available.” Private Charles William Marr was laid to rest in Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France.

Charlie’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, 29 September 2018

Remembering Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett & Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers—KIA September 29, 1918

Ralph Stanley Lipsett was born at Middle Manchester, Guysborough County, on March 16, 1891, the second of Caroline “Carrie” (O’Brien) and Edward Stanley Lipsett’s two sons. While his older brother, Robert Bruce Lipsett, married and left the family home, Ralph remained on the farm, where he worked alongside his father.

Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett
As with many young men living in the county at the time, the appearance of military officials in Guysborough County during the early spring of 1916—part of a recruitment campaign for the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade—soon impacted Ralph’s life. On March 13, 1916, he enlisted with the 193rd Battalion at Guysborough.

As the campaign continued, numerous young men from the county’s communities joined Ralph in uniform. One such recruit was Willard Spurgeon Myers, born at Cole Harbour, Guysborough County, on June 27, 1892, the son of Catherine Margaret (Gillie) and William George Myers. Willard enlisted with the 193rd at Canso on April 1, 1916, and commenced training with its Guysborough detachment shortly afterward. Unbeknownst to Willard and Ralph at the time, their military journeys would intertwine throughout the upcoming months.
Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers
In late May 1916, Ralph and Willard followed the Guysborough detachment to Camp Aldershot, where the four Highland Brigade units—85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd and 219th—spent the summer in training. The battalions departed Halifax aboard SS Olympic on October 12, 1916, and arrived in England after a six-day passage. On the day prior to their departure, both Ralph Willard were promoted to the rank of Acting Lance Corporal.

The Brigade’s overseas arrival coincided with the Canadian Corps’ involvement in the bloody Battle of the Somme (September - October 1916). The resulting casualties created a pressing need for reinforcements and led to the dissolution of the 193rd and 219th Battalions before year’s end. Eager to serve at the front, both Ralph and Willard “reverted to ranks” on December 4, 1916. The following day, the soldiers were selected for service with the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and crossed the English Channel to France with a “reinforcement draft” destined for its ranks.

The group joined the 42nd at Neuville-Saint-Vaast on January 2, 1917. Quickly integrated into its Companies, the inexperienced soldiers soon commenced regular rotations in sectors near Vimy Ridge, France. Ralph and Willard received their first combat experience on the morning of April 9, 1917, as the 42nd participated in the Canadian Corps’ historic capture of Vimy Ridge.

While its soldiers succeeded in securing their initial objective by early morning, units on its left flank, facing the daunting challenge of capturing Hill 145, failed to keep pace. As a result, the 42nd was exposed to devastating German fire from the ridge’s highest elevation and incurred significant casualties until an early evening attack secured the location.

Ralph and Willard came through the experience without injury and served regular rotations in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the spring and summer of 1917. In mid-October, the 42nd made its way northward to Caëstre, France, near the Belgian border, as the Canadian Corps prepared for its next major assignment—an attack on Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. Its soldiers relocated to Ypres, Belgium, on October 23 and three days later provided support services for attacking units during the assault’s opening stage.

On October 29, while on a work party near Ypres, a piece of artillery shrapnel struck Ralph in the left shoulder. While the wounds was “superficial,” he was evacuated to hospital at Rouen and subsequently invalided to England on November 6. Discharged to duty one month later, Ralph spent four months at Camp Bramshott with the 20th Reserve Battalion before finally rejoining the 42nd’s ranks.

Meanwhile, Willard and his mates occupied reserve positions during the second stage of the Passchendaele assault, which took place on October 30. The unit retired from the line in early November and made its way back to France, where it served in sectors near Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18. Willard was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on January 10, 1918, while Ralph rejoined the unit on May 30 as its personnel was training near Bomy, France.

The 42nd returned to the line in late June and served in sectors near Lens for one month before making its way southward to Dury, near Amiens, in late July. Having successfully withstood a major German offensive in late March and April 1918, Allied commanders set about planning a major counter-offensive, scheduled to commence in sectors east of Amiens in early August. The 42nd entered the line on the night of August 7/8 and participated in the second stage of the following morning’s attack.

The soldiers remained in the line for several days, participating in a 10-hour assault on German positions during the night of August 13/14, action that involved significant “hand to hand fighting.” Two nights later, the unit retired from the line, having incurred 143 casualties during a week-long tour. Once again, Willard and Ralph emerged from the line without injury. In subsequent days, the 42nd made its way northward to Manin, near Arras, where Canadian Corps units launched a second offensive on August 26.

In this instance, the 42nd’s soldiers occupied reserve positions during the initial advance, moving forward to occupy a newly established front line on the night of August 27/28 and capturing a section of enemy trench the following day. While personnel retired from the line on the night of August 28/29, the brief tour had inflicted an additional 312 casualties. Once again, Ralph and Willard had escaped harm. Shortly after withdrawing from the line, Willard was promoted to the rank of Acting Corporal.

There was little time to rest as the 42nd returned to the line near Cagnicourt on the night of September 5/6. Three days later, the unit moved forward to positions near Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of Cambrai. The soldiers retired to Divisional Reserve near Chérisy on the night of September 11/12 and spent the next two weeks recovering from their recent tours. On the evening of September 26, the 42nd made its way to an assembly area north of Quéant, in preparation for an impending attack on Canal du Nord.

The battle commenced at 5:20 a.m., the 3rd Division—to which the 42nd belonged—occupying support positions while the remaining three Canadian Divisions advanced toward an incomplete section of the canal north of Mœuvres. The 42nd’s Brigade passed through the line following the initial attack, the unit moving forward in reserve while its three “sister” battalions continued the attack.

Shortly after mid-day, the battalion crossed the canal via a newly constructed infantry bridge and spent the night in the open, enduring a heavy gas bombardment that forced the men to don their box respirators. At 7:00 a.m. September 28, the unit assembled behind a railway embankment east of Bourlon Wood and west of Cambrai. When its Brigade mates attempted to resume the advance later in the day, they encountered “heavy opposition,” forcing the 42nd to remain stationary.

During the evening hours, the battalion received orders to resume the advance the following day, with the goal of establishing a bridgehead across the St. Quentin Canal. Weather on the morning of September 29 was “fine with a heavy ground mist which prevented any visibility.” As the unit moved forward, “a withering fire from Machine Guns at point blank range… caused very severe casualties.” Despite the resistance, small groups of soldiers managed to cross the Douai - Cambrai Road and establish a forward post.

Allied artillery provided supporting fire early during the afternoon, but the 42nd was still unable to advance and dug in behind whatever shelter was available. The following day, personnel attempted to move forward but once again encountered fierce resistance. Finally, on October 1, the unit succeeded in capturing an area of high ground near the railway embankment and withdrew from the line later that night.

The 42nd suffered heavy losses during its Canal du Nord tour—six Officers and 55 “other ranks” (OR) were killed, while 221 OR were wounded. Neither Ralph nor Willard survived the fighting. On the morning of September 29, Corporal Willard Spurgeon Myers “was hit in the head by a machine gun bullet and instantly killed, while taking part with his Company in at attack west of Tilloy.” He was laid to rest in Mill Switch Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai.

Lance Corporal Ralph Stanley Lipsett also died during the second day’s fighting: “During an attack on Cambrai in the morning of the 29th September 1918, he was instantly killed by a machine gun bullet.” His “circumstances of casualty” card’s description suggests that Ralph fell victim to the same fire that killed Willard. Ralph was laid to rest in Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, Sailly-lez-Cambrai, France.

Ralph’s and Willard’s stories are two 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 .