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Monday, 31 March 2014

Pte. Samuel Rogers Willis - A Conscripted Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: June 14, 1891

Place of Birth: New Town, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Susanna (Susie) Whidden

Father's Name: Samuel H. Willis

Date of Enlistment: March 15, 1918 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 3180981

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Units: 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment; 4th Canadian Machine Gun Battalion

Location of service: England & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Farmer

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: James Willis, New Town, Guysborough County (brother)


Pte. Samuel Rogers Willis (courtesy of Jennifer MacKay, Truro, NS)
Samuel Rogers Willis was the sixth of eight children - two boys and six girls - born to Samuel and Susanna (Whidden) Willis of New Town, Guysborough County.  His father passed away sometime between 1901 and 1911, leaving his older brother James (DOB March 9, 1885) and Samuel to support the family.  Their widowed mother died on November 23, 1913, at which time James took over the family farm.

By the spring of 1917, as the war in Europe entered its fourth year, voluntary enlistment was unable to keep pace with the increasing number of casualties suffered by the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  As a result, on August 29, 1917, the Canadian Parliament passed the Military Service Act and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Robert Borden set in motion a plan to implement compulsory military service.

By year's end, thousands of Canadian males received notices to report for a preliminary medical examination.  Considering the fact that Samuel was 26 years of age at that time, it is not surprising that he was amongst the first group of Guysborough men selected for service.  He completed a preliminary medical examination at Sherbrooke on October 30, 1917 and was placed in category 'A-2' - men who had not been in the field but lacked only military training.  The following spring, Samuel traveled to Halifax and entered military service with the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, on March 15, 1918.

Prior to departing for overseas, Samuel assigned $ 15 of his monthly salary to his brother James.  On April 7, 1918, he sailed from Halifax on board the SS Ulua, landing in England twelve days later.  Upon arrival, Samuel was 'taken on strength' by the 17th Reserve Battalion at Frensham Pond, Bramshott, where he awaited a transfer to a front line unit.

On June 1, 1918, Samuel was assigned to the Canadian Machine Gun Depot at Seaford and immediately commenced 'gunner' training.  Five days after arriving in Seaford, he was admitted to No. 14 General Hospital, Eastbourne, Sussex, for treatment of rubella (measles) and tonsillitis.  He was discharged after twelve days and resumed training.

Samuel was transferred to the Canadian Machine Gun Overseas Pool on August 21, 1918 and crossed the English Channel to France the following day.  He made his way to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre on September 17 and eleven days later was assigned to the 4th Canadian Machine Gun (CMG) Battalion.  On September 29, Samuel joined his new unit in the field.

At the beginning of the war, each Canadian infantry battalion possessed a machine gun section consisting of at least four guns.  As the weapon assumed a critical role on the battlefield, military commanders recognized the need to form specific units trained in its use.  As a result, on January 1, 1916, each Canadian Infantry Brigade received orders to create a separate Machine Gun Company whose initial personnel was drawn from existing battalion sections.

By the spring of 1917, the Canadian Expeditionary Force contained sixteen Machine Gun Companies, four per division.  In early 1918, military commanders once again reorganized the Machine Gun Corps into 16 battalions, each initially consisting of two Companies equipped with a total of 64 guns.  Within four months, General Arthur Currie, Canadian Corps Commander, ordered the creation of an additional company, increasing the number of machine guns per battalion to 96.  By year's end, battalions were expanded to the traditional four-company structure followed by infantry units.

Diagram of a Machine Gun Battalion (Source: 2nd CMG Bn. War Diary)
The machine gun played a crucial role during the war's final months as a massive Allied counter-attack set the previously 'static' front in motion.  Light and portable, the weapon could be quickly deployed to provide barrages of 'indirect fire' in support of advancing infantry battalions.  Machine gun batteries were also called to the front whenever stiff enemy resistance halted progress.

At the time of Samuel's arrival, 4th CMG Battalion consisted of 55 officers and 1459 OR.  Throughout this period, the battalion's companies were attached to advancing infantry units, allowing their commanders to quickly direct their deployment.  Several of its batteries were engaged in offensive action along the Douai - Cambrai Road as part of the Battle of Canal du Nord (September 27 - October 11, 1918).

The unit's war diary summarized the action on September 30, Samuel's first full day at the front:
"Good targets were obtained but casualties were heavy from enemy Machine Guns.  At night defensive positions were taken up.  The troops suffered heavy casualties, and the machine guns were dispersed to cover the gaps in the Infantry Dispositions."

In fact, the unit suffered significant casualties as the Canadian Corps' 3rd and 4th Divisions pressed the attack against German forces on the outskirts of Cambrai.  The war diary recorded 17 'other ranks' (OR) killed and 140 wounded on the day prior to Samuel's arrival, while a total of 5 officers and 48 OR killed in action during the month of September.

As of October 1, three of the battalion's four Companies - Nos. 1, 2, and 3 - were 'in the line' with advancing infantry battalions, while No. 4 Company remained in reserve.  All Companies were relieved by the night of October 5/6 and retired to rest camp at Anzin, where personnel cleaned their guns and equipment in preparation for their next assignment.  Three days later, Canadian forces crossed the strategic Canal du Nord that passed through the outskirts of Cambrai as they pursued retreating German forces in a north-easterly direction toward Valenciennes, France.

4th CMG spent one week at Anzin, where the men trained in the morning and enjoyed sports and recreational activities in the afternoon.  Batteries began to return to the line on the night of October 15/16 near Sauchy-LestrĂ©e,  north-west of Cambrai.  No. 1 and 2 Companies assumed responsibility for "machine gun defence" in the Arleux and Aubencheul sectors, while No. 3 and 4 Companies remained in reserve.

As German forces retreated to a line along the Canal d'Escaut from Bruay to Prouvy, No. 1, 2 and 3 Companies, attached to the 10th, 11th and 12th Canadian Infantry Brigades respectively, remained "in close touch with the enemy".  Meanwhile, 4th CMG's No. 4 Company acted "chiefly in a defensive role, being seldom required to supply cover fire for Infantry".   One of its batteries provided two hours of direct fire during an October 24th advance on the villages of Thiant and Maing.

Before month's end, 4th CMG's Companies were once again relieved in the line, allowing personnel to prepare for the advance's next significant engagement.  By that time, retreating German forces had halted at Valenciennes, the location of the strategic Canal de l'Escaut, and made preparations to defend the last major French city under their control.

Diagram of a Machine Gun Battery (Source: 2nd CMG Bn. War Diary).
The Canal de l'Escaut ran from north to south along the city's western side, posing a major obstacle to advancing Canadian forces.  To make matters worse, German troops opened or destroyed numerous sluices and dykes on the city's outskirts, turning much of the surrounding land into a muddy quagmire.  The canal itself was wired with explosives and German machine guns were strategically placed in buildings on the city's outskirts.

At 5:15 am November 1, 1918, Canadian units launched a coordinated attack on Valenciennes, with three of 4th CMG's Companies playing a critical role in the assault.  No 1 Company advanced with the battalions of the attacking 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, assuming defensive positions in front of Mount Houy, a strategic area of high ground.  Two batteries from No. 2 Company and No. 3 Company respectively participated in a rolling barrage of machine gun fire "from positions north of Canal de l'Escaut… [while] two [additional] batteries [of] No. 3 Company… remained in position during the day for defence against counter-attacks."

Canadian forces reached the strategic canal by 10:20 am after four hours of heavy fighting in close quarters.  Two batteries of No. 3 Company "by diagonal fire assisted the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade to cross the canal, and enter Valenciennes from the west side."  Soldiers of the Brigade's 38th and 72nd Battalions crossed the strategic location by raft and cork bridge before mid-day.  Meanwhile, the 10th Brigade's 46th and 47th Battalions, supported by 24 Vickers machine guns from 4th CMG, pressed the attack into the city.

Later in the day, two batteries of No. 2 Company moved forward at noon and "took up positions on Mount Houy to give greater defence in depth."  Fighting continued into the early hours of November 2, with advancing Canadian units reporting that the city "was clear of the enemy" by 8:30 am and German forces once again in full retreat.  In the battle's aftermath, 4th CMG's war diary reported: "No casualties occurred in any of the batteries during the fighting."

The 11th and 12th Canadian Infantry Brigades pressed forward in pursuit of German forces as 4th CMG's Companies continued to operate "with their respective Brigade groups".  Two of No. 3 Company's batteries advanced into St. Saulve, assuming "defensive positions" on the night of November 3/4, while two additional batteries pushed forward into the vicinity of Onnairy the following day.

At 4:55 am November 5, 4th CMG's officers received notice that the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade would resume the advance at 5:30 am.  Its war diary noted:

"There was no time to issue instructions to Batteries.  Batteries had however been warned by Battalions and arrangements were made.  Two guns of J Battery moved forward with each attacking Company of the 78th Battalion and took up defensive positions east of Quarouble[; the] remainder of guns were held in reserve."

Two guns of 'M' Battery moved forward with a second wave of soldiers from the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), while the remaining guns establishing defensive positions in support.  As Canadian forces continued to press the attack against retreating German forces, 4th CMG's personnel were relieved on November 6 and retreated to billets at St. Waast la Haut, on the western outskirts of Valenciennes.

While three Companies - Nos. 1, 2 and 3 - provided detailed descriptions of their role in the fighting at Valenciennes from November 1 to 5, only No. 3 Company specifically reported on casualties, stating that the numbers were "comparatively large considering the small space of time in the line" - 1 'other rank' (OR) died of wounds, while 2 officers and 21 OR were wounded. 

Canadian soldiers entering Valenciennes, November 1918 (Source: Library & Archives Canada).
As no lists are available indicating the personnel of specific companies and batteries, it is impossible to determine Samuel's role in the fighting at Valenciennes.  His service record, however, states that he was amongst the gunners wounded in combat.  On November 5, Samuel was admitted to No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance suffering from "shrapnel wound[s] to his] face, arm [and] shoulder", probably inflicted by a German artillery shell.  The following day, he was evacuated to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station, where he awaited transfer to hospital.

On November 8, Samuel was admitted to 83rd General Hospital, Boulogne.  Three days later, as the Allied forces implemented the Armistice that ended fighting at 11:00 am, Samuel traveled by hospital ship to England, where he was admitted to Northampton War Hospital, Duston.  An initial medical examination described a "shrapnel wound, face, rt. arm", noting that the facial wound had been excised and sutured and a "foreign body" removed from his right arm.

Doctors removed the stitches on his facial wound the day following his arrival.  By January 1, 1919, medical personnel reported considerable progress, stating that the facial wound was completely healed but his right arm was "not quite healed".  Later that day, Samuel was transferred to the Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Buxton, Derby.  A January 17, 1919 note on his medical records described his condition at the time: "Well developed man without physical signs or symptoms of disease in any of his organs."  Samuel was deemed fit and "discharged from hospital [as] Category A" - fit for military service - on March 7, 1919.

Samuel immediately reported to the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, Seaford, where he awaited further orders.  On April 2, he was transferred to Military District No. 6, Seaford.  Two weeks later, Samuel reported to the Dispersal Area, where he boarded SS Belgic for the return journey to Canada.  He landed at Halifax on April 23 and was formally discharged from military service on May 1, 1919.  His medical examination at that time describes a physically fit young man - 5' 11", 160 pounds, with "no disability".  The only visible evidence of his war experience was "one wound scar, right cheek and right upper arm".


Samuel returned to New Town, where he resided on the family farm with his brother James.  He later traveled to Butte, Montana with a group of local men and worked for a period of time in the copper mines before returning to New Town and purchasing a property across from the Willis family farm.

After several years' farming, Samuel relocated to Cochrane, Ontario, where he worked in a local lumber mill.  On July 8, 1927, he married Mabel Catherine Cameron, a native of Pictou County, in a ceremony held at Cochrane.  The couple's first two children - daughters - were born there during the early years of their marriage.  In 1932, Samuel and Mabel relocated to Hanes, near Red Deer, Alberta, where Samuel purchased a quarter of land and once again took up farming.  In the ensuing years, Mabel gave birth to three more children - a third daughter and two sons.

As time passed, Samuel left farming for his preferred passion - working with his hands.  In 1944, the family moved to Lacombe, Alberta, where Samuel found employment as a carpenter at the Dominion Experimental Farm Station.  He worked at this location until his retirement, returning to New Town on several occasions for visits with family and friends.

Samuel Rogers Willis spent his last years in Lacombe, where he passed away in 1971 and was laid to rest in nearby Red Deer.  In the years following his return to Canada, Samuel received the British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his overseas military service in England and France.



Cook, Tim.  Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting in the Great War, Volume II 1917-1918.  Toronto: Penguin Group, 2008.

Regimental Record of Pte. Samuel Rogers Willis, number 3180981.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 10422 - 13.  Entire service record available online.

War Diary of 4th Canadian Machine Gun Battalion.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4986, Reel T-10818, File: 624.  Available online.

Photograph of Samuel Rogers Willis courtesy of Colin MacKay, Willowdale, Pictou County, reproduced by his daughter Jennifer Mac Kay, Truro, NS.

A special thank you to Samuel's son, Jack Willis of Gainsborough, Saskatchewan, who provided valuable information on Samuel's life after the war.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Sergeant Henry Michael Farrell - An 85th Battalion Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: October 22, 1894*

Place of Birth: East Roman Valley, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Mary Aikens

Father's Name: Patrick Farrell

Date of Enlistment: February 16, 1916 at Halifax, NS

Regimental Number: 223455

Rank: Sergeant

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Infantry)

Unit: 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders)

Location of service: England, Belgium & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Lineman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mrs. Mary Farrell, Guysborough (mother)

*: Taken from 1901 and 1911 Guysborough census data.  Henry's attestation papers record his year of birth as 1895.

Henry Michael Farrell was the sixth of fourteen children born to Patrick and Mary Farrell of East Roman Valley, Guysborough County.  The second-oldest of the couple's six sons, Henry worked as a telephone lineman in the years prior to the outbreak of war in Europe.  His younger brother, Douglas Augustine, enlisted with the 85th Battalion at Halifax on October 28, 1915.  Perhaps inspired by his example, Henry joined the same unit on February 16, 1916.

Sgt. Henry Michael Farrell at enlistment.
Officially authorized on September 14, 1915, the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was the first provincial unit formed entirely from volunteer recruits and the only such battalion to see action at the front.  Its personnel included a pipe band that played the Scottish air 'Cock o' the North' as the unit's anthem.  Its Gaelic motto, 'Siol Na Fear Fearail' ('Breed of Manly Men'), was further testament to its Highland Scottish character.

A sturdy 5' 10" and 171 pounds at enlistment, Henry was briefly hospitalized at Halifax with tonsillitis in early March before returning to barracks.  As the battalion trained at Camp Aldershot throughout the summer months, recruits deemed 'medically unfit' were honourably discharged.  Such was the case with Douglas, who was released from military service on August 17, 1916 and returned home.

Henry, however, remained with the 85th and boarded SS Olympic on October 12, 1916 for the journey across the North Atlantic Ocean.  Three other provincial units - the 185th (Cape Breton Highlanders), 193rd and 219th - that along with the 85th comprised the 'Nova Scotia Highland Brigade' also made the voyage.  Upon landing in England six days later, the four battalions proceeded to Witley Camp, Surrey for further training.

Unfortunately, demand for reinforcements at the front resulted in the dissolution of the Highland Brigade.  Two of its components - the 193rd and 219th - were dispersed amongst reserve units and battalions at the front.  The 185th remained intact until February 1918, at which time it suffered the same fate.  The 85th, however, proceeded across the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917.  Henry and his comrades spent three days in camp near Boulogne before relocating to Gouy Servins, where the battalion prepared for service 'in the line'.

On March 2, small groups of the 85th's officers and 'other ranks' (OR) commenced short 'tours' in the front trenches with other battalions.  Two days later, the battalion's war diary recorded its first fatality since arriving in France - a Pte. Young killed by artillery fire near 'Hospital Corner'.  The 85th relocated to Bouvigny on March 7 as small groups continued to serve in the line with other units.  The war diary recorded its first official 'front line casualty' on March 16 when Pte. W. I. Leslie (attestation number 222998) was killed "while on sentry duty in front line trenches with 46th Battalion".

In the meantime, Henry and the battalion's personnel completed a training program that included instruction in Lewis Gun operation, bombing, rifle grenades, bayonet fighting and sniping.  On the night of March 22, the 85th relieved the 95h Royal Sussex Regiment in the line at Lorette Spur for four hours as the men rehearsed the procedures for entering and leaving the front trenches.

In early April, the 85th began preparations for its role in the impending Canadian Corps attack on Vimy Ridge.  Due to its lack of combat experience, the battalion was assigned to support roles behind attacking infantry units - constructing dugouts and trenches; carrying wire, ammunition and supplies; escorting and guarding prisoners of war.  As events unfolded on the battlefield, however, its role changed dramatically.

At 8:00 pm April 8, 1917, the 85th moved to its assigned pre-battle position, advancing to the 'jumping off point' on 'Music Hall Line' at midnight.  Its war diary described the rather uncomfortable surroundings: "Very limited dugout accommodation.  Men crowded in trench, secured very little rest."

As the attack commenced in the early hours of April 9, Henry and the soldiers of the 85th soldiers carried out support roles behind the advancing infantry.  When the Canadian advance stalled along the left side of the Canadian line, the battalion's 'C' and 'D' Companies were dispatched to the front line at 4:30 pm and advanced toward the German line two hours later without the benefit of artillery support.  Its war diary proudly described the outcome:

"In spite of machine gun and rifle fire from the enemy, which immediately opened, the attack was pressed home, the Companies providing their own covering fire by Lewis Guns firing from the hip and riflemen firing on the move.  Many of the Germans finding themselves unable to stop the advance turned and ran but were soon put out of action by our fire.  About 20 prisoners, including 3 officers, were taken.  Two… officers and about 70 other ranks were killed.  At least three machine guns were captured."

The following day, the battalion's two remaining companies - one of which included Henry - took up positions along the newly captured line, under the command of the 47th Battalion.  The war diary reported "snow in afternoon, making conditions very bad for [the] men[,] who had no shelter except shell holes."

On April 11, 'A' and 'B' Companies returned to 85th Battalion command as it assumed full responsibility for a section of the new front line at Vimy Ridge.  The unit spent several days consolidating its position before being relieved on the night of April 14 and retiring to billets at Bouvigny.  Its first action at the front claimed the lives of 47 OR, while 6 officers and 116 OR were wounded and 3 OR missing after six days in the line.

Henry's performance under fire must have impressed on his superiors, as he was promoted to Lance Corporal on April 14.  Similarly, the 85th had demonstrated its resolve in battle and earned a well-deserved place in the Canadian Corps.  The battalion was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division's 12th Brigade, where it served alongside the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers), 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders) and 39th (Ottawa) Battalions for the duration of the war.

85th Battalion Crest - photo courtesy of Greville Nifort, Lunenburg, NS.
In the two months after its first combat experience, the 85th served on rotation in the Vimy sector, spending approximately one week in the front lines before retiring to support positions.  Tours were interspersed with several days' rest and training in reserve.  During the last week of June, the battalion participated in a series of attacks on German positions at 'Canada Trench' and 'Ontario Trench', near the Lens-Arras Road.  A total of 24 OR were killed, 8 officers and 118 OR wounded as Canadian units advanced a distance of one mile into the German line.

On the night of July 1/2, the battalion retired to Corps Reserve at Villers au Bois, where personnel followed a daily schedule of training and lectures for the next three weeks.  Henry received a welcome break from military routine during this time when he was assigned to service "with [the] Town Mayor" of Villers au Bois from July 4 to 24.

On July 25, the 85th returned to the trenches in the Zouave Valley, where its personnel logged 39 consecutive days in the line before retiring to reserve positions on September 2.  While no major combat occurred during this rotation, the war diary nevertheless recorded 8 OR killed, 3 officers and 36 OR wounded (4 'accidental'), 7 OR gassed and 14 OR 'wounded at duty' during the unit's longest tour since landing in France.

Once again, the battalion retired to camp near Avion for a week's rest, cleanup and training.  On September 9, Henry was assigned to a "Gas Course", rejoining the 85th in Divisional Reserve at Petit Servins on September 15.  He was promoted to the rank of Corporal on September 13 and at month's end was granted a welcome ten days' leave.  At the time of Henry's return on October 11, the battalion was training on a simulated battlefield near Etaples, France in preparation for the Canadian Corps' next assignment - an attack on the Belgian village of Passchendaele.

On October 23, the 85th relocated to St. Lawrence Camp near Brandhoek, Belgium.  Its officers visited the front trenches to view the battlefield while personnel made final preparations for combat.  On the night of October 28, the battalion entered the front lines near Potijze.   The following day, officers marked "jumping off" points with tape in preparation for the assault.  That night, the men received hot tea and rations before assuming attack positions at 4:50 am, one hour prior to the scheduled advance.

At 'Zero Hour' October 30, the 12th Brigade's machine guns opened fire as Henry and the men of the 85th advanced toward the village of Passchendaele.  "They were met by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire… all the way along our front" as 9 officers were killed or wounded in the battle's opening minutes.  The anticipated artillery barrage in support of the advance was "light", and "very little if any of it fell on our side or on the enemy's trench".  'A', 'B' and 'C' Companies nevertheless advanced, "providing their own covering fire with rifle-grenades, Lewis Guns and rifle fire until they had passed our old front line.  Then, in No Man's Land, a fierce fire fight took place….  Anyone who attempted to walk upright instantly became a casualty."

The battle continued for approximately thirty minutes before 'D' Company advanced in support of the attack, breaking enemy resistance as its men reached their comrades.  "The whole line swarmed across the hostile front line and pushed on to the final objective, sniping the fleeing enemy and dealing with those who remained in shell-holes behind his original front line."  The 85th captured its objective by 6:38 am as the officer in charge somberly reported: "Casualties are very heavy."  While German forces appeared to regroup during the day, an anticipated counter-attack never occurred.

Its officers took stock of the situation as the 85th was relieved on the night of October 31/November 1.  The battalion had entered the trenches with 26 officers and 662 OR.  In the battle's aftermath, more than half of its personnel were 'casualties' - 12 officers killed, 8 wounded and 3 'wounded at duty', while 371 OR were killed or wounded at Passchendaele.

Corporal Henry Farrell survived the battle but was amongst the October 30th firefight's OR casualties.  He was evacuated to 2nd Canadian General Hospital, Le Treport, France on November 1, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left forearm and a mild contusion to his head.  Medical records later described a small, three-point scar behind his left ear.  Luckily, neither injury was serious as Henry was discharged to 3rd Convalescent Depot, Le Treport on November 5 and returned to Canadian Base Details at Etaples, France six days later.

On November 22, Henry was officially classified 'Category A' - fit for active service.  He was transferred to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre (CCRC) on November 28 and rejoined the 85th in the field on December 3, a rapid recovery considering the fate of so many of his comrades.

At the time of Henry's return, the battalion was in Divisional Reserve at Reimbert, France.  Personnel spent the first half of December in training before relocating to Guoy-Servins on December 17.  The following day, the weather was "snowing and freezing" as the 85h moved "over Vimy Ridge through Givenchy to [the] support line of [the] left Avion sector" in relief of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion. 

The situation was quiet as the battalion endured twelve days in "freezing and hazy" conditions.  Personnel provided work parties for wiring before moving into the front trenches on December 23.  The war diary's Christmas Day entry described a typical winter's day in the line:

"Cold, turning fine, then snowy and strong wind.  Quiet except evening strafe and some 'pineapples' with gas sent on right half of Battalion front, stopped by Artillery retaliation."

In later years, daughter Eileen Haynes recalls her father Henry describing the experience of sleeping in the trenches and awakening to find one's woolen garments frozen to the ground.

85th Battalion pin - photo courtesy of Greville Nifort, Lunenburg, NS.
The 85th was relieved on December 29 and retired to Niagara Camp, Chateau de la Haie, having sustained light casualties during the month: 1 officer wounded; 2 OR killed and 4 wounded.  On New Year's Day 1918, the battalion served "Christmas Dinner for 'other ranks' at 1 pm."  In the evening, personnel "paraded… to [the] theatre to see new pantomime 'Aladin France' by 4th Divisional Troupe (Maple Leaves Concert Company)."  Two days later, the unit relocated to Alberta Camp at Souchez, where the men provided wiring parties for the front lines.

The weather was "stormy… [with] snow and high wind" as the 85th moved to support positions in Mericourt Sector on January 9, 1918.  After providing work parties for several days, the unit assumed forward positions on January 14.  That same day, the war diary reported that one its intelligence officers was fatally wounded while on patrol.  The January 15 entry described the weather as "cloudy [and] very mild" but made no mention of further casualties.

That same day, Corporal Henry Farrell was admitted to No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance with a 'bomb wound' to his left leg and left wrist.  There is no record of the circumstances in which he received these injuries.  It is possible that Henry participated in the previous day's patrol.  The battalion's month-end casualty report listed 9 OR with similar wounds to various body parts on January 15, suggesting that an artillery shell may have landed amongst a group of soldiers.  Whatever the circumstances, Henry was evacuated to No. 30 Casualty Clearing Station two days later and admitted to No. 26 General Hospital, Etaples, France on January 18, 1918.

Once again, Henry's injuries proved to be mild.  On January 31, he was transferred to No. 6 Convalescent Depot, Etaples.  That same day, he was promoted to Sergeant.  Henry was discharged from medical care on February 3 and transferred to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre, where he waited ten days before returning to the 85th in the field on February 13, 1918.

At the time of Henry's return, the battalion was in training at Petit Servins, moving to billets at Reimbert for further drill five days later.  The war diary recorded the arrival of 98 OR reinforcements from the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) - one of the 85th's former 'sister' Highland Brigade units - on March 3.  Ten days later, personnel returned to the line, assuming support positions near Bully Grenay before moving into the front trenches on March 18 near St. Emile.

The situation was "rainy [and] quiet" as the battalion worked at "wiring defended localities and cleaning out communication trenches" on its first day.  The men carried out similar tasks for several days before retiring to support positions on March 23 and moving into Divisional Reserve at Cite Colonne the following day.  On March 28, the 85th was briefly assigned to the "Odlums Composite Brigade".  Hastily organized in response to a massive German offensive launched on March 21 and placed under the command of Brigadier-General V. W. Odlum, the Brigade never saw action, as the Canadian sector was not subjected to a major German attack.

On March 29, the 85th returned to the command of the 12th Infantry Brigade, moving into the front trenches near Gavrelle later that evening.  The following day, the war diary described "very heavy enemy shelling in forenoon" in addition to a "great deal of enemy movement… in his rear area".  On April 1, the diary reported: "Quite a number of enemy aeroplanes flew over our lines.  One large bombing plane flew over about 10:30 AM and dropped 2 bombs on [our] front line.  One of these was a dud."

While observers continued to report "enemy movement much above normal", the situation remained relatively quiet in the 85th's sector.  Its war diary also recorded an unusual incident that took place on April 3, a small glimpse of humanity amongst the brutality of war:

"Lieutenants Ernst and Smith while on daylight patrol captured a wounded Bosche [German]….  Lieutenant Ernst carried him on his back a distance of about 900 yards.  The Bosche had been wounded during the attack of March 28th and had not been able to get back to his lines."

The following day, the war diary noted a "remarkable decrease in enemy artillery since [the] beginning of [the] tour.  Now below normal."  Later that evening, the 85th was relieved by the 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion and personnel made its way to Aubrey Camp, Ecurie.  The war diary recorded that conditions were "very wet and muddy coming out of line."  The comment may explain the third - and final - injury that Henry sustained during his service with the 85th.  On April 4, he was admitted to No. 13 Canadian Field Ambulance, suffering from a sprained right ankle and fractured fibula, injuries he incurred accidentally.

Henry was briefly admitted to St. John's Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Etaples on April 10 before being evacuated to England, where he was admitted to Norfolk War Hospital, Thorpe, Norwich on April 13.  He spent two and a half months recovering from his injuries before being discharged to the Canadian Military Convalescent Hospital at Woodcote Park, Epsom.  Medical records described his condition at the time of his arrival:

"Accidentally fractured… fibula… simple fracture. Union of bones good.  No sign of injury.  Movement good.  General Health good.  No complaints."

Henry was discharged from hospital on July 27, 1918 and transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion, Bramshott.  His days in the trenches, however, had come to an end as he was not reassigned to duty at the front.  Henry spent the next eleven months in England before departing for Canada on board HMT Mauretania on June 28, 1919.  Sergeant Henry Michael Farrell was officially discharged from military service at Halifax on July 13, 1919 and returned to his Guysborough County home.

Upon returning to civilian life, Henry resumed his work as a telephone lineman, an occupation that took him to various parts of Guysborough County.  On November 28, 1923, he married Margaret Ann Marr.  The couple settled in Riverside, where they raised a family of five children - three boys and two girls.

Sgt. Henry Farrell shortly after returning from overseas - photo courtesy of Eileen (Farrell) Haynes.
During the Second World War, Henry once again enlisted for military service but remained in Canada.  He served as a Lance Corporal with the Pictou Highlanders and a Corporal with the Royal Canadian Engineers from June 4, 1940 to June 21, 1946. 

Upon retirement, Henry spent his last years in his Riverside.  His daughter Eileen recalls her father suffering from circulation problems with his feet, the result of service in the cold, muddy trenches of northern France and Belgium.  Henry Michael Farrell passed away on August 26, 1968 at St. Martha's Hospital, Antigonish and was laid to rest in St. Ann's Parish Catholic Cemetery, Guysborough.



Service Record of Henry Michael Farrell, attestation number 223455.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 3003 - 47.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 4944, Reel T-10751-10752, File: 454.  Available online.

A special thank you to Henry's daughter, Eileen (Farrell) Haynes of Guysborough, who contributed a photograph along with valuable information to this account of her father's war experience.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Honour Roll of Guysborough County - Research Update

Over the past two years, I have 'published' a background post at the middle of each month, followed by a profile of a Guysborough County veteran at month's end.  While I will continue to research and write a monthly profile, I have decided to forego the mid-month post, unless a veteran's story requires background information.  As this month's veteran served with the 85th Battalion and my mid-October 2012 post already provided background information on its service, there will be no 'mid-month' post this month.

My main focus at present is researching and writing the stories of the 125 veterans listed in the Honour Roll of Guysborough County post (September 17, 2013).  Five veterans died in 1915, followed by 23 in 1916, 40 in 1917, 48 in 1918, and 9 in years immediately after the war.  My initial plan was to produce one volume containing profiles of all 125 veterans.  In the interest of creating a final product that is reasonable in length, I have divided the veterans into two groups.  The first volume will contain profiles from 1915 to 1917, with the second volume covering the years 1918 to 1921.  I hope to complete the first volume sometime in 2015, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces' arrival in France its initial service in Belgium. 


I want to provide readers with a connection to another blog that focuses on the stories of Canadian First World War veterans.  For several years, Debbie Marshall, an Alberta writer and editor, has been gathering information on Canadian nursing sisters who died while serving with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.  Titled 'Finding the Forty-Seven' after the initial number of nursing sister deaths believed to have occurred during the war, Debbie's project has grown as her research progressed.  She now estimates that as many as 76 Canadian nursing sisters died in uniform or shortly after the war, some as a result of enemy fire, others of sickness or disease sometimes contracted while working in Canadian hospitals in England or France.

Debbie's most recent post provides information on the tragic death of Minnie Follette, a Nova Scotian native and one of fourteen nursing sisters who perished in the June 1918 sinking of the hospital ship Llandovery Castle.  Check out Minnie's story, along with other interesting posts and pictures available on Debbie's blog, at the following link:

Debbie is currently working on a book that will contain the stories of all nursing sisters who died in the service of their country during or shortly after the war.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pte. Joseph Alexander Parris - A No. 2 Construction Battalion Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: March 20, 1899*

Place of Birth: Sand Point, Guysborough Co., NS**

Mother's Name: Ann Elizabeth 'Annie' Izzard

Father's Name: Charles Levi Parris

Date of Enlistment: July 25, 1916 at New Glasgow, NS

Regimental Number: 931017

Rank: Private

Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force (Labor Battalion)

Name of Unit: No. 2 Construction Battalion

Location of service: England & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Laborer

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. Charles Parris, Mulgrave, NS (father)

*: Date of birth taken from 1901 census.  Attestation papers list Joe's date of birth as March 21, 1897.

**: Place of birth indicated on 1924 marriage certificate.  Attestation papers list Joe's birthplace as Mulgrave, NS.

Joseph Alexander Parris was the second of six children born to Charles and Annie Parris of Sand Point, Guysborough County.  Like many other young men of his generation, Joe was excited at the prospect of serving overseas after the outbreak of the war in Europe.  His African Nova Scotian heritage, however, presented an obstacle as the majority of infantry battalions refused to accept 'black' recruits.
Pte. Joseph Alexander Parris (center) and unidentified No. 2 Construction Battalion comrades.  (Source: Ruck)
 When the Canadian government authorized the formation of a 'black' labour battalion on July 5, 1916, Joe quickly responded, 'exaggerating' his age by two years when he enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at New Glasgow, three weeks after the unit's formation.  His older brother, William 'Bill' Winslow Parris, joined the battalion at Truro two months later.  The following spring, the brothers embarked on a journey that took them to England and the Canadian Forestry Corps' lumber camps in France.

No. 2 Construction Battalion's formation occurred in the aftermath of considerable debate - public and private - over African Canadians' role in the war.  A dramatic contradiction existed between official government policy and local recruitment practice.  Canada's Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, clearly instructed recruitment officers that all men who met the requirements for infantry service were to be accepted, regardless of racial or ethnic background.  In practice, however, the vast majority of Commanding Officers (OCs) refused to accept 'black' recruits into their units. 

The issue came to a head in the spring of 1916, after African Canadian community leaders across the country questioned the blatant rejection of 'black' recruits.  Unwilling to overrule its OCs, the Canadian government sought a 'compromise' - but no less discriminatory - solution, authorizing the formation of a 'black' labour unit, No. 2 Construction Battalion. Established on July 5, 1916 and headquartered at Pictou, NS, it was the only Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) unit permitted to recruit across the entire country.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Hugh Sutherland, a native of River John, NS who had initially enlisted with the 193rd Battalion, was appointed the unit's OC.  The remaining officers, drawn from across Canada and England - a total of eight from Nova Scotia - were all 'white', with the exception of the battalion's Chaplain, Reverend William A. White.  A native of Williamsburg, Va., Rev. White earned a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity Studies from Acadia University, Wolfville, NS and accepted a ministry with Zion Baptist Church, Truro, NS.  An outspoken supporter of 'black' enlistment, Rev. White was appointed No. 2 Construction's Honorary Chaplain with the rank of Captain, thus becoming the CEF's only 'black' commissioned officer.

While organizers hoped to enlist a full complement of 1049 men 'all ranks', initial response was disappointing.  Whether discouraged by the CEF's previous discriminatory practices or dismayed at the prospects of serving in a segregated labour unit, young African Canadian men did not rush to enlist.  By August 19, Lt.-Col. Sutherland reported a total of only 180 recruits at the battalion's Water Street barracks.

On September 9, 1916, No. 2 Construction relocated to Truro, a community with a sizeable 'black' population, in an effort to stimulate recruitment.  Lt.-Col. Sutherland laid out plans to obtain half of the unit's personnel from the Maritimes, an additional Company from Ontario and a fourth from Western Canada.  In the end, 500 of the battalion's total enlistments came from Nova Scotia, 25 of whom were born or lived in Guysborough County.  New Brunswick contributed 33 recruits, 11 of whom were part of a group of 20 'black' recruits rejected by the 64th Infantry Battalion in late 1915. 

While the move to a more 'central' location increased provincial response, results from the remainder of the country were disappointing.  A total of 72 recruits from Ontario and 6 from Quebec enlisted for service, but appeals in Western Canada - where federal immigration policy blatantly discouraged African Canadian settlement - produced only 20 recruits.  By December 1916, total numbers stood at 575 'all ranks', as a campaign launched in the United States during the winter of 1916-17 produced an additional 165 recruits.

No. 2 Construction Battalion personnel, November 1916.

No. 2 Construction Battalion officially mobilized at Truro on March 17, 1917 with a complement of 19 officers and 605 'other ranks' (OR).  Several days later, the battalion travelled to Halifax, where personnel boarded the SS Southland and departed for England on March 28.  Upon landing at Liverpool, England on April 7, the men travelled to the CEF military camp at Bramshott.  As it was significantly below full battalion strength of 1000, No. 2 Construction was officially re-designated a 'Company' shortly after its arrival and attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC).

Joe and Bill remained in England for only six weeks.  They departed for France on May 17, 1917 as part of a group of 495 No. 2 Construction Company OR, accompanied by 11 Officers.  Upon crossing the English Channel, the men made their way to the Jura District of eastern France, near the Swiss border, where they were attached to No. 5 District CFC.  Its Headquarters' May 20th diary entry recorded the arrival of No. 2 Construction Company, "composed of Canadian Negroes… despatched [sic] as a labour unit... and… employed on the various railway and other construction work."

CFC's Jura operations involved all aspects of forestry production.  Teams of men worked in the forests year-round, selecting and harvesting mature timber that was transported by horse and wagon or narrow-gauge railway to CFC-operated mills.  The men produced lumber for various purposes - ties for standard and narrow gauge railways in addition to pickets, beams and boards for military camp and trench construction.  Joe and the men of No. 2 Construction worked in all aspects of the operation - assisting with mill and narrow-gauge railway construction, transporting logs to mills, milling timber, and shipping finished products.

While the majority of its personnel remained in the Jura District during No. 2 Construction's service in France, several smaller groups were dispatched to other locations.  On November 9, 1917, 1 officer and 50 OR proceeded to No. 39 CFC, Cartigny, near Peronne, France.  A second group consisting of 180 OR and two officers was assigned to Central Group CFC, No. 1 District on December 12, 1917.  Joe was part of the latter group, arriving at Alencon, southwest of Paris, on December 31, 1917.

The Alencon operation consisted of nine CFC companies logging the forests of Normandy.  Upon arrival, No. 2 Construction personnel were attached to No. 54 Company, CFC.  On March 25, 1918, the "entire district was put on production of pickets" for use at the front.  Its operations involved several diverse groups.  In addition to 'white' CFC and 'black' No. 2 Construction soldiers, several parties of 'Russian reinforcements' and 'companies' of German prisoners of war worked in its camps throughout the year.

In early April 1918, CFC Alencon personnel received orders to conduct infantry training when not working.  The following month, specific orders required each Company to devote two half-days a week and three hours each Sunday morning to "Military Training".  Considering the discriminatory practices followed by most CEF infantry battalions, it is not clear whether this directive applied to No. 2 Construction personnel. 

Before the end of the year, a small number of CFC men were selected for service at the front.  On October 4, 1918 - as the Canadian Corps spearheaded a major offensive against German positions in northern France - a draft of 6 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 150 OR left Alencon for the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp.  Given the timing of their departure, these men likely saw service at the front before the war's conclusion.

Meanwhile, Joe and his comrades spent the summer and autumn working in the CFC lumber camps near Alencon.  On May 25, the 'detachment' of No. 2 Construction Company men was reassigned to No. 42 Company CFC, with whom they remained for the duration of their time in France.  The District war diary reported record production in both timber tonnage and 'fbm' (foot board measure) of lumber in September and October 1918.

On at least one occasion, the No. 2 Construction Company personnel assigned to CFC's Alencon operations were victims of discriminatory treatment.  On June 30, 1918, the Headquarters War Diary reported that representatives of all Companies were invited to participate in a Sports Day at Alencon, in celebration of Dominion Day.  An estimated 25,000 spectators attended the July 1 festivities, with all proceeds - a total of 3000 francs - donated to the French Red Cross.  An event program outlined a variety of athletic, 'lumberjack' and recreational competitions, followed by an evening concert. 

Program Cover - CFC Alencon's Dominion Day Celebrations.
A second page in the program listed participants' names by company.  Noticeably absent from the list was No. 2 Construction Company, whose members appear to have been excluded from the day's competitions.  Such discrimination, while disappointing, was by no means uniform.  A similar gathering in CFC's Jura District included No. 2 Construction personnel:

"Dominion Day celebrated by the 11 Forestry Companies and No. 2 Construction Company in this District (No. 5).  Field sports held at Chapois….  During the day, the [No. 2 Construction] Band… by their excellent music... greatly assisted in entertaining the crowd and making the holiday a success."

In fact, a summary of the day's results reveals an impressive performance by No. 2 Construction's Jura personnel.  Private Davis, an American recruit, placed first in the 100 yard-dash and second in the running broad jump, while Private Whims, one of two brothers from Saltsprings Island, BC, placed first in the sack race "by a big margin".  Joe's brother Bill, the only Nova Scotian listed in the results, placed second in the 440-yard dash.  No. 2 Construction Company earned a total of 17 points in the day's events, placing third amongst the fourteen French, American and Canadian teams.

Throughout the late summer and early autumn, CFC personnel serving in France were granted leaves in small numbers.  In this instance, No. 2 Construction, having worked 'overseas' for fifteen months, received the same treatment.  On September 15, 1918, Joe was granted 14 days' leave to England, rejoining his unit at Alencon on September 27.  By the time of his return, his comrades had likely received word of a shocking incident that took place at Jura.

On September 23, 1918, No. 2 Construction Company's war diary recorded receipt of the following notice from Jura HQ:

"# 931410 Pte. Some, C. found dead (presumably murdered) on Road 45, a narrow road which leads from the main Andelot Road to Salins.  French authorities posted Gendarmes… and proceeded to investigate the case."

A native of Natal, South Africa, Charlie Some enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Halifax on January 13, 1917.  While he accompanied the battalion to England, Charlie was not initially selected for service with CFC.  Instead, six months after arriving in England, Pte. Some was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion, Bramshott, where he was the victim of a violent assault.  On November 30, 1917, Charlie was hospitalized with a 'lacerated wd. [wound to his] scalp" received when "he was hit in the head by a man with a piece of iron".

Charlie was discharged from hospital two weeks later and spent the winter of 1917-18 at Bramshott.  On May 19, 1918, he returned to the ranks of No 2 Construction Company and was subsequently selected for service with the CFC in France.  After his arrival in Jura on June 6, 1918, his service record contains no reference to further incidents until the day of his untimely death.

Authorities immediately convened a Military Board of Officers to investigate the incident.  Two days later, Charlie's remains were taken to La Joux, where Captain Emmett Scarlett, CAMC, conducted a post-mortem examination.  On September 26, Pte. Charles Some was "interned with full military honours in the Cemetery of Supt, France in the Department of Jura."

One week later, the Court of Inquiry reported that Pte. Some was "murdered by some person or persons unknown with a long sharp cutting instrument."  The report included a statement attributed to Major Sutherland, No. 2 Construction Company's OC:

"According to finding of Court of Inquiry, suspicion points strongly to one Barkat Toumi Mohamad # 27544 of a French Det. quartered in Supt, who was absent at the time of murder." 

Pte. Some's file contains no information as to whether the French soldier or any other individual was ever charged or convicted in connection with his death.

No. 2 Construction Battalion badge.
The men of No. 2 Construction Company continued to work in the forests and lumber camps of Jura and Alencon throughout the autumn of 1918.  Upon receiving news of the November 11, 1918 Armistice, No. 1 District CFC HQ's war diary reported that "a general holiday was to be observed throughout the District on November 12 for the purpose of celebrating the temporary cessation of hostilities".

As fighting came to an end, production at the CFC's various lumber camps ceased and personnel gradually returned to England.  No. 2 Construction Company was amongst the first to depart.  On December 4, 1918, the Alencon CFC HQ war diary stated: "1 Officer and 135 OR No. 2 Canadian Construction Company (coloured) left for Etaples on Demobilization Draft".

Joe Parris was amongst the men leaving Alencon on that day.  Upon his return to England on December 14 in the company of all No. 2 Construction members, Joe was posted to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Bramshott, where he awaited orders to return to Canada.  Their days in England were not without incident, as sometime after their arrival, another controversial event occurred. 

According to Private Benjamin Elms of Monastery, Antigonish County, a riot broke out between No. 2 Construction personnel and a group of CEF infantrymen at Kemmel Park, Wales, when "a white soldier made a racial remark".  After No. 2 Construction Sgt. Edward Sealy, a native of Barbados, ordered the man arrested, "his buddies came to release him and all hell broke loose".

Pte. Robert Shepard of Mulgrave, another No. 2 Construction veteran, described the incident in these words:

"No. 2 was on parade under the direction of Sergeant Sealy.  A sergeant-major from another unit ignored orders from Sergeant Sealy and interfered with the line of march.  When he was arrested, some of his comrades attempted to remove him from the guard house.  A riot broke out and a number of soldiers ended up in hospital."

Other reports suggest that the 'white' unit stepped in front of No. 2 Construction soldiers waiting their turn in the 'bath' line.  No official CEF documents refer to the incident, nor does Sergeant Sealy's personnel file contain any reference to his involvement.  

Pte. Joe Parris' Service Medals (Mulgrave Community Museum).
On January 12, 1919, Joe and the members of No 2 Construction Company boarded the SS 'Empress of Britain' for the return journey to Canada, arriving in Halifax ten days later.  Exactly one month after departing England - February 12, 1919 - Pte. Joseph Alexander Parris was officially discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  In recognition of his service in France, Joe received the British War Medal and Victory Medal, both of which are on display today in the Mulgrave Community Museum.


After his discharge, Joe returned to Mulgrave, where he found employment as a labourer.  On December 1, 1924, he married Annie Jane Jarvis, a native of Tracadie.  Sadly, their married life together was short-lived, as Annie passed away in 1936 from complications due to congestive heart failure.  Joe subsequently married Viola Jane Borden and raised a large family in Mulgrave.

In 1929, Joe became a member of the Mulgrave Branch, Royal Canadian Legion, giving his age at enlistment as 17.  He spent the remainder of his life working in the small Guysborough community close to his birthplace, passing away on April 19, 1972.  Pte. Joseph Alexander Parris was laid to rest in St. Lawrence Catholic Cemetery, Mulgrave, NS, alongside his first wife and two children who died in infancy.


List of Court-Martialed No. 2 Construction Battalion Servicemen Released.  Boxscore News.  Available online.

Regimental Record of Pte. Joseph Alexander Parris, number 931017.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: Rg 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7574 - 69.  Attestation papers available online.

Regimental Record of Sgt. Edward Sealy, number 931011.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 8751 - 48.  Service record available online.

Regimental Record of Pte. Charles Some, number 931410.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 9149 - 40.  Service record available online.

Ruck, Calvin W..  The Black Battalion 1916 - 1920: Canada's Best Kept Military Secret.  Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing Ltd., 1987.  Available online.

War Diary of Canadian Construction Company (Coloured), 1917/05/17 - 1918/10/31.  RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5015, Reel T-10866-10867, File: 747.  Available online.

War Diary of Canadian Forestry Corps - Headquarters - Central Group, 1916/11/30 - 1919/02/28.  RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5016, Reel T-10867-10868, File: 751.  Available online.

War Diary of Canadian Forestry Corps - Headquarters - Jura Group, 1917/11/26 - 1919/03/29.  RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5016, Reel T-10868, File: 751.  Available online.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

African Canadians and the Canadian Expeditionary Force

With the outbreak of the First World War, Canadians from many backgrounds were eager to serve with the newly created Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Unfortunately, some ethnic groups received a much less enthusiastic response than others.  Canadians of Native, Japanese and African ancestry in particular encountered indifference, resistance and outright rejection when they attempted to enlist for overseas service.

The rejection of African Canadians is particularly disturbing in light of their lengthy tradition of loyal service with British and Canadian military forces.  During the American Revolutionary War, Britain encouraged African American slaves to flee their 'masters' and enlist in the British Army.  A considerable number did so, while many others supported the British cause as labourers.

One particular Corps, the Black Pioneers, served throughout the Revolutionary War.  Some of its members followed the United Empire Loyalists to new homes in the Maritime colonies and Upper Canada after 1783.  Virtually every Loyalist unit contained African Americans, some of whom relocated to such Maritime locations as Birchtown, Preston, Digby and Saint John at war's end.

African Canadians also participated in military events that are part of Canada's colonial history.  During the War of 1812, for example, Blacks served in local militias.  The 'Company of Colored Men', a volunteer unit organized in the Niagara region and commanded by a 'white' officer, helped defend Upper Canada from invading American forces.  Black soldiers also served alongside Canadians of Scottish, English and French ancestry.  Some were former American slaves who had escaped to British North America via the 'Underground Railroad'.

Several Upper Canadian towns organized Black militia units after the outbreak of the Upper Canadian Rebellion in December 1837.  Five companies, once again led by 'white' officers, supported the colonial government's efforts to crush the local uprising led by William Lyon Mackenzie.

Canada Post stamp in honour of William Hall, VC.
 African Canadians also served in military conflicts abroad, on occasion with great distinction.  The first individual from a British colony to receive the Victoria Cross was William Edward Hall, son of a freed American slave and a native of Horton Bluffs, Nova Scotia.  Hall enlisted with the British Navy as a teenager and saw action in the Crimean War (1853-56).  He earned the Empire's most prestigious bravery award for his actions in rescuing British soldiers and civilians being held hostage at Lucknow during the 'Indian Mutiny' of 1857.

During the American Civil War, a considerable number of Black British North Americans crossed the border to serve with the Union Army during its four-year struggle against the Confederate States of America.  At the turn of the last century, a small number of African Canadians enlisted with the Canadian Contingent in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). 

Considering this record of service, it is not surprising that African Canadians were eager to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) after the outbreak of the First World War.  The response they received from recruiting officers, however, was disappointing to say the least.  While a handful of African Canadians succeeded in joining the First Canadian Contingent battalions that departed for England in September 1914, the vast majority was rejected due to their racial background.

To their credit, African Canadian communities and leaders across the country refused to accept such treatment.  During the war's early months, several individuals challenged the CEF's recruitment practices.  On November 6, 1914, Arthur Alexander, a prominent African Canadian living in Buxton, Ontario, wrote directly to Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, asking why Blacks were not permitted to enlist for overseas service.  Government officials responded that the selection of soldiers was entirely up to each battalion's Commanding Officer (CO) and military Headquarters did not wish to interfere with such decisions.

Objections to this practice increased as the war entered its second year.  On September 7, 1915, George Morton, a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, questioned the rejection of a number of 'coloured men' who attempted to enlist with a local battalion.  In his reply, Acting Adjutant-General, Brigadier-General W. E. Hodgins, stated that nothing in 'existing regulations' prohibited African Canadians from service with CEF units.  However, he pointed out that 'final approval' for such requests rested with each unit's CO, effectively ensuring that the majority of Black volunteers would continue to meet with rejection.

New Brunswick members of No. 2 Construction Battalion Band (Ruck, p. 21).
A November 1915 incident provoked considerable discussion of CEF recruitment policy and practices with regard to African Canadians.  Twenty-five Black volunteers who had persistently attempted to enlist throughout the year were turned away when they reported for service with the 104th Battalion at Sussex, New Brunswick.  In the aftermath of this incident, the unit's CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Beverley Robinson Armstrong, wrote to military authorities, asking if consideration was being given to the formation of a "Black' battalion anywhere in Canada.

Simultaneously, Minister of Militia Hughes responded to correspondence received from John T. Richards of Saint John, New Brunswick in relation to the Sussex incident.  The letter's content is both curious and contradictory.  Hughes stated that he had issued instructions that any African Canadian who met the CEF's physical requirements should be permitted to enlist in any battalion, a policy that was clearly not being followed.

Subsequent to Hughes' correspondence, Adjutant-General Hodgins wrote to the General Officer, 6th Division, Halifax, on November 29, 1915, stating that the Minister had issued instructions that "the coloured men are to be permitted to enlist in any battalion".  Despite these explicit statements from both civilian and military authorities, CO's and recruitment officers continued to reject Black volunteers.

A similar incident in Ontario eventually brought matters to a head, forcing government officials to resolve the blatant contradiction between national policy and local practice.  In November 1915, J. R. B. Whitney, publisher of the Canadian Observer, a prominent African Canadian newspaper, offered to recruit a 'Black' Ontario platoon of 150 men for service with a CEF battalion.  When Minister Hughes replied that there was nothing to prevent him from doing so, Whitney raised the required number of volunteers, only to be told in March 1916 that no CO was willing to accept such a unit.

The following month, Whitney once again contacted Minister Hughes, seeking an explanation for this rejection and requesting his platoon's accommodation within an existing battalion.  The military's failure to meet his request represented tacit acknowledgement that discriminatory practices at the local level, not official policy in Ottawa, determined the fate of African Canadians wishing to serve with the CEF.

African Canadian soldiers loading ammunition on a tramway (Canadian War Museum).
The availability and suitability of African Canadians for military service was readily apparent to some individuals within the military.  Reverend Joseph Freeman Tupper, an Honorary Captain and Chaplain who enlisted with the 193rd Battalion on April 1, 1916, wrote to Minister of Militia Hughes, volunteering to raise an 'integrated' battalion after local recruiters turned away more than 100 African Canadians.  His offer received no serious consideration or response.

By mid-1916, events occurring in the larger context of war eventually produced a 'resolution' to the issue of African Canadian military service.  Rising casualty figures overseas, combined with declining enlistment numbers at home, created a significant problem for the CEF - for the first time since the war's outbreak, it faced the prospect of declined numbers of men in uniform. 

At the same time, there was increasing support amongst military commanders in Ottawa for the formation of a separate 'Black' unit of some kind.  Unwilling to over-rule local CO's who consistently refused to accept Black recruits, such action was perceived as the only acceptable solution, albeit not an ideal one. 

In April 1916, after eighteen months of discussion, contradiction and lack of action, Major-General Sir Willoughby Garnons Gwatkin, Chief of the Canadian Militia's General Staff, recommended that the 'practice' of allowing individual Blacks to enlist in 'white' battalions at the discretion of individual CO's should continue.  He further suggested that African Canadians form one or more 'labour' battalions for overseas service. 

Gwatkin's memo became the basis for the CEF's recruitment policy with regard to African Canadians for the remainder of the war and prompted the formation of a separate 'Black' battalion.  On May 11, 1916, British authorities indicated their willingness to accept an African Canadian 'labour' unit.  Canadian military authorities quickly announced the formation of No 2 Construction Battalion at Pictou, Nova Scotia on July 5, 1916.  The unit provided the first 'official' opportunity for African Canadians to serve overseas.

African Canadian soldiers washing laundry (Canadian War Museum).
Over 600 men from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Western Canada and parts of the United States served with the No. 2 Construction Battalion for the duration of the war.  While its formation was a victory of sorts, there were significant elements of inequity in its formation, as all of its officers but one - Honorary Chaplain, Rev. William A. White of Truro, NS - were Caucasian, and infantry units by and large remained closed to African Canadian recruits.

There were exceptions to this practice.  While small in scale, one such case was the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles), a unit organized in Truro, Nova Scotia, with companies recruited in nearby Pictou and Springhill.  As all three communities possessed sizeable numbers of African Canadians, its recruiters soon faced the 'dilemma' posed by 'Black volunteers'.

The unit's initial CO, Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Allen, was forced to confront the issue when Samuel Reese, a native of British Guiana living in Nova Scotia at the time, attempted to enlist with the 106th after being rejected by both the Composite Battalion (Halifax Citadel) and Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax.  Reverend William A. White, Pastor of the Zion Baptist Church, Truro, wrote to Allen in support of Reese's enlistment.

Allen indicated his willingness to accept African Nova Scotian recruits if there were sufficient numbers to form a 'Black' platoon.  Shortly after Reese's application, Allen received Minister Hughes' instructions that "there is to be no distinction of colour for enlistment".  While convinced that Blacks ought to serve in some capacity and would make 'good' soldiers, Allen was not certain that they could do so alongside 'white' soldiers.

The 106th eventually accepted a total of 16 'Black' volunteers into its ranks between December 1915 and July 1916, although the majority enlisted after the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Innis as the unit's new CO in May 1916.  Rather than establishing a separate 'Black' platoon, the recruits were 'integrated' into the battalion's four companies.

British soldier Walter Tull became the first 'black' officer to command troops during the First World War.  Click here to read his story.
 While the 106th was disbanded shortly after reaching England, its African Nova Scotian members served in combat with various Canadian battalions in France and Belgium.  One 106th African Nova Scotian recruit, Rollie Ash of Guysborough, NS, was killed in action in France on January 16, 1917 while serving with the 26th Battalion, a New Brunswick unit.  His younger brother, Norman, a native of Antigonish, NS, fought with the same unit and was killed in action at Hill 70 on August 15, 1917.

The passage of the Military Service Act on August 29, 1917 once again created the dilemma of 'African Canadian' military service.  While official policy permitted their conscription into service, military authorities unofficially maintained the practice of racial segregation.  Upon arriving in England, many Black conscripts were placed in segregated units and assigned to 'fatigue' and labor duties, instead of military drill.  Later in 1918, the units were eventually designated as reinforcements for Nova Scotia's 85th Battalion, but the war ended before the conscripts were called to the front.

An estimated 2000 African Canadians managed to enlist with regular infantry units during the war, in addition to the 600 men who served with No. 2 Construction Battalion.  Their military service in the face of racism and systemic discrimination is testimony to their dedication and determination to serve their country in time of crisis.  It also represents a significant contribution to the tradition of African Canadian military service, one that continued throughout the military conflicts of the 20th and early 21st centuries.



African Canadian Community - World War I.  Windsor Mosaic.  Available online.

Black Canadians in Uniform - A Proud Tradition.  Veterans Affairs Canada.  Available online.

Mobilization Means War!  Canada Enters the Great War.  Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective.  Available online.

No. 2 Construction Battalion.   Historica Canada - Black History Canada.  Available online.

Ruck Calvin.  The Black Battalion, 1916-1920: Canada's Best Kept Military Secret.  Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing, 1987.  Available online.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron - A Nursing Sister's Story

Date of Birth: December 8, 1894

Place of Birth: Canso, NS

Mother's Name: Laura Condon

Father's Name: Frederick A. Cameron

Date of Enlistment: May 22, 1917 at Montreal, PQ

Regimental Number: n/a

Rank: Lieutenant (Nursing Sister)

Force: Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC)

Name of Unit: No. 4 General Hospital (University of Toronto Unit)

Location of service: Canada & England

Occupation at Enlistment: Nurse

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Mr. Fred A. Cameron, Canso, NS (father)
Mary Lillian Cameron was the oldest of three children born to Fred and Laura Cameron of Canso, NS.  Her father operated a general store in the small fishing port, while her mother's parents owned a similar enterprise in Guysborough.  A person with a keen interest in travel and adventure, Mary's life choices took her to places far beyond the small community where she was born.

Nursing Sister Mary Lillian Cameron.
Mary's journey began with her decision to enroll in a Montreal nursing school during the early months of World War I.  Upon graduation, it is not surprising that Mary chose to serve with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC).  Montreal was one of several Eastern Canadian military ports where soldiers departed for and returned from Europe.  As the war progressed and casualties spiraled, there was an increasing demand for nursing services.  The pay - $ 4.00 a day - was attractive, as was the opportunity to serve one's country in its time of need.  There was also the possibility of overseas service, bringing with it the opportunity to experience distant parts of the world.

In December 1916 and January 1917, Mary worked with 8th Field Ambulance CAMC at Montreal, possibly as part of her nursing training.  The experience may have piqued her interest, as Mary enlisted for 'home service' with CAMC on May 21, 1917.  Her age at the time - 22 years, five months - suggests that she had only recently completed her training, as nursing schools of the day accepted only women 21 years or older.

Mary spent the next nine months working in a Montreal military hospital, one of the city's seven wartime facilities that contained a total of over 900 beds.  Canadian medical services provided accommodations and convalescent homes for officers and men 'invalided from overseas' due to illness or injury.  The size of the CAMC's Canadian operations at war's end indicates the scope of its activities.  As of November 11, 1918, its 59 hospitals were providing medical care for 9,784 patients.

As with many young nurses who enlisted with the CAMC, Mary no doubt hoped to serve abroad.  In total, over 2500 Canadian women served overseas during World War I, one thousand of whom saw duty near combat zones in France or Belgium.  The remaining Nursing Sisters were stationed at various facilities in England, providing medical care for soldiers 'invalided' from stationary and general hospitals located on the continent.

Mary's opportunity arose the following year when she officially attested for overseas service on March 2, 1918 and departed for England shortly afterward.  Prior to leaving, she assigned $ 25 of her monthly salary to her mother, Mrs. Fred A. Cameron, Canso, NS.  On March 25, Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron was 'taken on strength' by the CAMC Depot England, pending posting to a general or stationary hospital.  Two weeks later, Mary was assigned to the nursing staff of No. 4 General Hospital, Basingstoke, Kent, England.
No. 4 General Hospital was one of four similar units organized by Canadian universities offering medical studies programs at the time of the war's outbreak.  Sponsored by the University of Toronto, it was officially created on March 25, 1915 and embarked for England two months later.  Personnel remained in England until mid-October 1915, when the unit was selected to provide medical services to Allied soldiers fighting in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The unit stopped briefly at Alexandria, Egypt before establishing operations at Salonika, Thessaloniki, Greece on November 9, 1915.  Six months later, the hospital relocated to nearby Kalamaria, where it maintained a general hospital until its departure on August 17, 1917.
Park Prewett Hospital (date unknown).
Upon returning to England, the unit assumed responsibility for the operation of a recently established 1040-bed general hospital, located on the grounds of Park Prewett Asylum for the Insane at Basingstoke, Kent.  No. 4 General Hospital remained in this location for the duration of the war.  On April 10, 1918, its war diary recorded the arrival of "sixteen Nursing Sisters… from C. A. M. C. Depot".  Mary Lillian Cameron was one of the new additions to the hospital's staff, which consisted of 31 Officers, 88 Nursing Sisters and 191 'other ranks'.

At the time of Mary's arrival, the facility was operating at approximately 70 % capacity.  Two factors combined to increase the workload as the events of 1918 unfolded.  As in previous years, fighting intensified with winter's end, as spring and summer weather made large-scale military action possible.  In addition, German forces launched a major assault on Allied positions in March 1918, part of a plan to achieve a final victory. 

As a result, casualties increased dramatically, resulting in a sharp rise in hospital admissions.  The hospital surpassed its capacity on April 23 when it accommodated 1046 patients, although numbers declined slightly the following week.  Throughout the month, staff ministered to a daily average of 798 patients, "principally surgical cases" from the battlefields of France.

Total patient numbers remained well above 900 throughout May 1918, reaching more than 1000 on several days late in the month.  The daily average of 953 patients indicates the increasing demands placed on staff as "convoys from France [arrived] daily - many severely wounded cases."  The situation was complicated by the fact that ten Nursing Sisters were "ill and off duty" at various times during the month, although the hospital's Matron, Annie Jane Hartley, commented: "General health of Nursing Staff is good."

As spring gave way to summer, admissions continued to rise as staff cared for a daily average of 997 patients in June.  The arrival of two small groups of 'ill' patients placed additional demands on a nursing staff struggling to tend to wounded soldiers.  On June 25, Matron Hartley reported: "60 men from [the] Forestry Corps near Reading [were] admitted to Hospital with severe attack[s] of Influenza.  Ward isolated."  Two days later, 18 Nursing Sisters from another facility were attached to the hospital "for quarters and rations… [and] isolated for Measels [sic] and Mumps contact cases, many have colds."  Throughout the month, the hospital received "some severely wounded, tuberculosis [and] Gassed Cases", indicating the breadth of medical care provided by hospital staff.

By July 1918, the number of 'evacuations' [patients being discharged to convalescent homes or other facilities] gradually surpassed admissions, resulting in a reduced daily average of 820 patients, "principally Gas cases, Kidney, Influenza and Surgical cases."  By this time, the German offensive had ground to a halt.  The following month, however, an Allied counter-offensive once more generated a rise in admissions, increasing the daily patient average to 1038 and producing a single-day record of 1290 occupied beds.  Matron Hartley also recorded the arrival of 21 gas cases and 127 femur cases in the last two weeks of August.

Amidst the frenetic pace of nursing care, a variety of events provided Mary and her colleagues with the occasional opportunity for recreation during the summer months.  Each week, staff organized 'cinema performances' and concerts featuring local musical groups and staged on hospital grounds.  Matron Hartley observed: "Bicycle Riding and Tennis are [the] principal recreations enjoyed [by nursing staff]".  Her monthly report also commented that 36 Nursing Sisters "spent a very enjoyable picnic on the River Thames" on the afternoon of August 9. 

Mary Lillian Cameron (left) and two colleagues, Basingstoke, England (date unknown).
Another welcome diversion was a steady stream of dignitaries who interacted with patients and staff.  On June 11, for instance, "The Duke and Duchess of Wellington entertained 60 patients at tea at [their] Ewhurst [estate].  A very enjoyable afternoon was spent."  Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, and his Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp, visited all hospital wards on July 28. 

The following month brought more distinguished guests.  On August 2, CAMC Matron-in-Chief Margaret MacDonald visited the facility, while University of Toronto President Robert Falconer held an afternoon tea in the Nursing Sisters' quarters on August 8.  Four days later, Sir William Osler, renowned Canadian physician and co-founder of Johns Hopkins University, visited the hospital in the company of Lady Osler.  Perhaps the month's most impressive visitor - Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria - toured the hospital on August 30.

By September 1918, the Allied offensive launched in early August pushed the hospital's resources to the limit as patient numbers surpassed 1200.  In response, authorities increased bed capacity to 1540, effective September 9.  The newly available space filled quickly as staff ministered to over 1500 sick and wounded by September 22 and the month's daily patient average rose to 1390.  Admissions were "principally Fractured Femur… and Surgical Cases", with medical staff performing 186 operations, twice as many as the previous month.

Patient numbers remained at or above 1500 throughout October, reaching a peak of 1573 as staff performed a record 249 surgeries.  Nursing staff was increased to 118 to accommodate the increased workload.  Throughout the autumn months, in recognition of the demands placed upon its staff, authorities granted short leaves to small numbers of Nursing Sisters.  Having worked steadily at the Basingstoke facility for six months, Mary received 14 days' service leave on October 28.  Given her interest in travel, she quite likely took the opportunity to tour the attractions of London, only 60 kilometres away, before returning to work on November 10.

No. 4 General Hospital operated at capacity throughout November 1918, accommodating a total of 1593 patients at month's end.  Staff paused briefly on November 11, when a "great deal of excitement [was] shown on [the] report that [an] Armistice was signed".  There was little time for celebration, however, as casualties continued to arrive from the continent and medical staff performed 136 surgeries.  Fortunately, there were several diversions amidst the month's busy schedule.  On November 19, distinguished British surgeon, Sir Arthur William Mayo Robson, visited the facility.  That same day, perhaps in conjunction with his visit, the 'Hospital Orchestra and Concert Party' staged a 'Minstrel & Vaudeville Show' for the entertainment of staff and patients.

Patient numbers briefly exceeded 1600 in early December before declining to 1425 by month's end.  Several lectures on English points of interest - the Thames and Oxford - and contemporary events - the Russian Revolution - offered staff a welcome break from patient care.  Matron Hartley described December 25 as "the happiest day of the year spent in Hospital.  Wards and Dining Halls decorated and splendid dinner and supper served to all.  All expressed their happiness" that hostilities had finally ceased.

While fighting had ceased almost two months previously, admissions continued to outnumber 'evacuations' as hospital staff welcomed in the New Year 1919.  On January 16, 235 new admissions briefly pushed patient numbers above 1700.  The hospital operated above capacity for the remainder of the month as staff daily tended to more than 1600 patients.  The departure of 33 Nursing Sisters for Canada at month's end suggests that CAMC operations in England were beginning to 'wind down', but much work remained before they ceased completely.

No. 4 General Hospital operated at capacity throughout February as Matron Hartley reporting 35 cases of illness - mainly influenza - among nursing staff.   These numbers declined slightly the following month, when 28 Nursing Sisters were unavailable for work.  Mary's health appears to have been unaffected, as her name is not amongst the monthly lists of nurses absent due to illness.  By April, patient numbers began a steady decline, reaching 1219 by mid-month and dropping to 864 at month's end.  The cases of illness amongst nursing staff also decreased to 14, suggesting that the influenza epidemic was also waning.

May's patient numbers clearly indicated that the hospital was fast approaching the end of its mission.  On May 15, only 649 patients remained in the facility, a statistic that declined to 255 as of May 31.  The war diary recorded one marriage in addition to numerous leaves to France by personnel wishing to visit deceased relatives' graves before returning to Canada.  Mary was fortunate enough to receive a brief 'service leave' from May 27 to June 3.  By the time she returned to Basingstoke, staff had received notice that all patients were to be discharged to other facilities by June 6.

The deadline was subsequently postponed until June 7, when the hospital's war diary officially recorded: "Hospital closed for the reception of patients.  All wards cleaned out and all equipment turned in."  The final 32 patients were 'evacuated' by day's end as staff commenced the remaining tasks required for the facility's closure.  Two days later, word arrived that No. 4 General Hospital was "to proceed to Canada as a unit and not to leave Basingstoke" until their departure.  On June 10, the war diary provided an update: "Wards nearly all closed.  Ordnance to take every thing over and sell it at an auction sale."  The following day, medical staff was granted leave as auxiliary personnel completed the tasks required to close the facility.

A sale of hospital contents took place during a two-day, on-site auction held on June 26 and 27.  The following day, 92 Officers and Nursing Sisters were designated to proceed to Canada "with the Unit" on board the SS Olympic.  The remaining 70 Nursing Sisters - including Mary - were scheduled to leave England on July 5.  After the first group's departure, Mary was briefly transferred to No. 15 Canadian General Hospital on June 30.  One week later - July 7, 1919 - she boarded RMS Carmania at Liverpool for the journey home, arriving at Halifax eight days later.

The Cameron family home, Canso, NS.
On July 15, 1919, Lieutenant Mary Lillian Cameron was officially discharged from the Canadian Army Medical Corps, her proposed residence listed as the family home in Canso, NS.  Mary received the British War Medal in recognition of her service with the CAMC in England.  She was also awarded a War Service gratuity of $ 366.00 upon discharge.
Following her military service, Mary continued to work in health services, finding employment in New York City and Montreal as a public health nurse.  On June 7, 1927, she married Colin Andrew Chisholm, a native of Port Hood, NS and son of her parents' long-time acquaintances, Dr. and Mrs. Duncan M. Chisholm.  A World War I veteran who had served with the 7th Siege Battery, Canadian Field Artillery before joining the Royal Flying Corps, Colin graduated from Queen's University in 1924 with a degree in mining engineering after returning to Canada.

After their marriage, the couple briefly resided in Montreal and a small community near Ottawa before relocating to Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where Colin took a position as Assistant Manager with Macassa Mines, a gold-mining operation.  Here, Mary devoted her time to raising a family as the couple's first child - a daughter, Laura - was born on May 28, 1928.  Four more daughters - Dorothy Lee, Jean Marguerite, Carole Ann and Nancy Jane - followed as Mary balanced the tasks of motherhood and family with an active social life that included concerts, theatrical productions and bridge games.  The family remained in Kirkland Lake until 1951, when parents and children relocated to Stirling, Cape Breton, where Colin managed a base metal operation owned by Mindamar Mines.

In 1956, the Chisholm family temporarily returned to Montreal as Colin assumed a Manager's position with a base metals mining company at Beardmore, Ontario.  Shortly after returning to the city where her nursing career began, Mary suffered a sudden, severe brain hemorrhage, passing away unexpectedly on August 26, 1956.  She was laid to rest in Cote Des Neiges Cemetery, Montreal.  Following her death, Colin returned to Montreal, where he remained until his death on September 4, 1977.  He was buried beside his beloved wife, Mary.

Canadian Army Medical Corps Overseas Hospitals.  Canadian Great War Project.  Available online. 

Service Record of Nursing Sister Mary Lillian Cameron.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-92/166, Box 1411-8.  Available online.

War Diary of No. 4 General Hospital, CAMC.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5035, Reel T-10925, File: 854.  Available online.

A special thanks to Mary's daughters, Carole (Chisholm) Henschel and Nancy (Chisholm) Rogers, and Carole's husband Lyman, who provided information about Mary's life in addition to the family pictures displayed in this post.  This story would not have been possible without their invaluable assistance.